A photo of a snowplow clearing a street in Minneapolis
Call Mr. Plow/That's my name/That name again is Mr. Plow. Eric Miller/Reuters

Sorry, drivers. Record-breaking February snowfall has forced the Twin Cities to remove more than a third of their street parking.

Minneapolis has run out of places to put its snow, so the cars have to go.

Last week, the city banned street parking on even-numbered sides of many city streets, removing more than one-third of all the street parking in the city overnight. St. Paul, the other half of Minnesota’s Twin Cities, followed suit a few days later.

Unlike typical “snow emergencies,” which restrict street parking for a few days to let plows work, the new even-side parking restriction is scheduled to last all the way until April. It’s a response to the area’s record-breaking February snowfall: 39 inches of white stuff. All that snow has increasingly encroached on streets, with curbside snow banks pushed inward as plowed snow piled up, and standard 32-foot-wide streets getting narrower and narrower.

By late February, the situation got to a breaking point: Fire trucks and buses simply couldn’t make it down residential streets stuffed with snow banks and parked cars on either side. Minneapolis doesn’t have either the staff or the storage space to remove all those snow banks, but it does have the authority to order people to remove their cars.

It’s a fairly rare occurrence: The city has only imposed such restrictions four times in the past 20 years. But this weather-related parking crunch comes as Minneapolis is trying to forge a less car-dependent future: The city’s recently adopted 2040 city plan encourages more density and less off-street parking. This winter, Mother Nature is also giving residents a little taste of what a slightly less auto-friendly Twin Cities might feels like.

Many Minneapolis neighborhoods have seen little impact from the snow-parking ban, since off-street parking is abundant. But in some densely populated neighborhoods, where apartment-dwellers rely on street parking to stow their cars, adaptation has been rougher as what was already a tight parking situation became much worse.

“I had to circle around for 10 minutes for a spot,” Whittier neighborhood resident Andre Eggert said of the first night the even-side parking ban was in effect. Kate Ryan, who lives in another dense Minneapolis neighborhood, Stevens Square, had to park six blocks away from her apartment on Thursday. The night before, she left her car at a downtown parking garage overnight and took the bus home.

But just as the inconvenience has been immediate, so have the benefits. Before the ban, many streets had become too narrow for two-way traffic, or even for one-way traffic in some cases. “It’s an inconvenience, but I respect the decision they had to make,” Ryan said.

Minneapolis public works director Robin Hutcheson said most people are complying with the rule, but some aren’t, especially in neighborhoods where street parking is most in demand. Over the first three days of Minneapolis’s winter parking restrictions, the city issued about 500 tickets for violating the even-side parking rules, and towed around 90 cars. Many scofflaws were in the Uptown neighborhood and the Dinkytown neighborhood near the University of Minnesota. “There are areas of the city that rely much more heavily on street parking,” Hutcheson said. “Those are the areas where we see the biggest challenges in clearing snow.”

The even-side parking ban will remain in effect until April 1 or until it’s no longer needed, which could happen if March sees a major thaw—no sure thing in chilly Minnesota, where snow banks sometimes linger until May.

This car crackdown comes a few months after Minneapolis adopted another measure aimed at scaling back the city’s parking: a plan to eliminate the city’s legal requirements for residential developers to build off-street parking spaces. The 2040 plan also discourages the construction of new parking lots and auto-oriented development, such as gas stations or drive-throughs, and allows denser housing in residential neighborhoods. The goal is to encourage walking and mass transit use, and includes even stricter parking restrictions around transit stations.

This winter’s parking restrictions aren’t necessarily a preview of that future—they limit street parking, while the 2040 plan targets off-street parking. The neighborhoods most impacted by the even-side parking restrictions are precisely those places without a lot of off-street stalls. Other neighborhoods—such as the Northrop neighborhood of South Minneapolis, where Hannah Neely lives—have suffered fewer effects because most residents have garages or driveways. She parks on the street because her 1920 home’s garage is too small for modern cars, but hasn’t had any issues finding a nearby spot, even with the snow ban.

Still, the city’s hope is that by restricting parking and expanding transit options, there will be fewer parked cars and therefore less driving overall. And the local transit agency, Metro Transit, has taken advantage of the winter-season parking limits to spread that message by encouraging people to ride the bus or train.

Many residents are doing just that, or other options that don’t require parking a car. Ryan said she’s taking Uber or Lyft for some errands she would ordinarily drive for. She and Eggert have both also taken public transit more often. “It certainly is a little inconvenient,” Eggert said. But he’s “really happy they did it — I can finally drive down my street without worrying about dinging a mirror.”

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