Where Parking Reform Ideas Go to Die…or Not?

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Multiple times I have lived the adage, “If you’d like to kill something, send it to a committee.” I’ve sent things to committees, and I’ve been appointed to committees where things have been sent to die. So, when the opportunity to serve on my city’s ad-hoc parking committee was presented, I unsheathed my rhetorical blade and prepared for the fight I was certain was coming.

I’ve been around this place a long time and I know the passion Brainerd residents have for downtown parking. It was just four years ago that the area economic development authority was publicly advocating for, among other things, a downtown parking ramp. A ramp has long been the dream of the generation that dismantled the downtown, but I should have recognized in their own words how the tide was turning.

This once fait accompli was now open for discussion. The most outspoken advocate for this multi-million dollar public investment acknowledged he “heard both sides of the parking ramp argument.” And while he had not given up on a ramp, just acknowledging that there were counter arguments—and maybe even some validity to them—should have signaled a shift.

But, as I indicated, I’ve been here a long time and I, too, struggle with defensiveness and cynicism when it comes to city policy. I thought I would be fighting against the worst ideas of a handful of entrenched professionals. Instead, I found myself working on the best committee, with the most insightful and dedicated group of friends and neighbors, that I’ve ever been part of.

I wrote in July about the committee being such a positive experience. My friend and neighbor was the chair; he was really a model for leadership, running the meetings in a way that was efficient yet collaborative. One committee member was a classmate from high school and, wow, was she smart and engaging. Other committee members were downtown business owners and I found them thoughtful, as well. Even the staff, which I have a history of being somewhat critical of, were great. (For what it’s worth, the current group of professionals is the best we’ve had in my life.)

By the end of the summer, we had come up with a consensus plan, one that was a compromise for everyone yet retained a significant amount of visionary thinking. That is where I thought this experience would end: a great committee recommendation sitting on the shelf or even being rejected by the city council. We hadn’t killed anything, after all, but were recommending some bold action. There is no way the city council, despite the really positive changes that have happened to their membership in recent years, was going to go for our plan.

And, once again, I was totally wrong. The council listened to our recommendations, asked great questions, and discussed it in a thoughtful and deliberate way. And while they have a couple of process things they need to work through, I anticipate that most or all of this is going to come to fruition as city policy. There are still a couple of places for this to die, but if I had to bet, I would bet on our leaders seeing this through.

So, as we head into Black Friday Parking Day, I wanted to take this space to pass on a little bit of hope. Four years ago, I would have given any aspect of this plan near zero chance of becoming local policy. Today, it’s an entirely different reality.

Keep pushing. Listen, be a good neighbor, and respect the concerns of others, but also keep pushing. It will never happen if you don’t, and when you do, sometimes the result is amazing.

Click here for a copy of the plan the ad-hoc parking committee submitted to the Brainerd city council.

(Cover image source: Unsplash.)

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