Duluth taking steps to make downtown parking easier

After months of studying parking in downtown Duluth, Tony Janowiec has found one certainty. "We believe there's plenty of parking," he said. Now it's his job to make sure drivers know it as he heads up the Interstate Parking Co. and its contract ...

Angela Weldon
Angela Weldon of Duluth pays for her parking at a pay station in the parking lot at the Depot on Wednesday evening. (Bob King /

After months of studying parking in downtown Duluth, Tony Janowiec has found one certainty.

"We believe there's plenty of parking," he said.

Now it's his job to make sure drivers know it as he heads up the Interstate Parking Co. and its contract to run Duluth's off-street parking program.

Witness the west side of downtown, he said, as parking on the street fills up every weekday morning.

"Forty stalls are empty on top of Starbucks," he said, referring to a lot off Fourth Avenue West.


The same holds for the east end and the three parking ramps the city owns. Janowiec says there are 500 spots available in them at any given time during the day.

So how do you coax people to use the parking that's so readily available?

Janowiec said it's being done through better customer service, better technology and better account management.

Contract parking under the past city system used a manual list to keep track of cars. Now they will be entered into a computer system that will allow multiple cars to use a space through carpooling and, in possibilities for down the road, reduced-rate parking for employees downtown.

Janowiec and Matt Kennedy, parking manager for Duluth, talked Wednesday about changes taking place in parking throughout downtown and Canal Park.

The hiring of Kennedy and the contract with Interstate is an effort to streamline the parking program to make it more user-friendly and, eventually, increase revenue for the city.

The biggest change can be found in Canal Park, where new pay stations have gone up in the surface lots. Gone is the gated system that required payment before a car could enter the lot as well as punching a card and paying on the way out.

The pay stations take cash and multiple coins and also credit and debit cards.


Janowiec, whose company runs parking in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Milwaukee, said up to 80 percent of people will use card technology to pay for parking. The system in Duluth has been up for a month and Janowiec said his expectation has held.

"You can tell it's a convenience missed," he said.

The technology deepens with the ability to use smart phone applications or plain phone-in systems to pay for parking. All of it is explained by signs at the pay stations.

The goal in Canal Park was to end long lines in entering and exiting that led to traffic problems on the streets.

"There's no gate to malfunction anymore," Janowiec said.

The new system will allow for extended parking beyond two hours. Spaces will be patrolled by Interstate staff who have the ability to write tickets for unpaid use of spaces. The pay lots are in effect 24 hours a day.

Parking in Canal Park lots will remain free in winter months but that could change as Interstate works with city and private lots. Janowiec said the private lot owners find it difficult to compete with free spaces and a uniform reduced winter rate could be applied.

The City Council has final say on any rate changes, which is why the pay station implemented downtown at the Duluth Depot lot will not take money after 5:30 p.m. The revamped lot once had metered spaces that fell in with other meters downtown and were free after the workday.


The attendants who took money at exits will now be employed as parking "ambassadors," Kennedy said, helping drivers negotiate the new system.

So far, reaction to the technology has been positive, Janowiec said. Many who visit Canal Park from other cities are accustomed to the pay stations, he said. They even help those ahead of them who have less familiarity.

"For the tech-savvy, it's a no-brainer," Janowiec said. "For others, they get it after the first use."

Kennedy hopes that enthusiasm will linger as similar changes come to street parking. He expects some test runs by this winter. Duluth could be one of the only cities in America to have parking by cell phone for meters and lots, Janowiec said.

And drivers will know which lots are city-run with the new technology because of a new logo and signs.

"They'll have a common appearance," Janowiec said.

The three city lots along Superior Street -- at Technology Village, next to Fond du Luth Casino, and behind the Sheraton Hotel -- have aging technology that will be updated in 2013, Janowiec said.

He said he's learned through talking with business groups, business owners and people who use parking that incentives need to be used in each area of the city to suit the needs of people who park at varying times of the day. He said one idea is to offer employees a break on ramp parking.


"We have room in the ramps, so why not use it," Janowiec said. "We need to cater to our market."

Duluth is unique in the amount of street and off-street parking space it owns, Janowiec said. And with the relatively low cost of street parking at meters, the city may want to balance rates to get more use out of all its spaces, he said.

Business owners complain that people use street parking beyond the allowed two hours and hog space that customers could use.

"On-street parking is for quick-stop parking," Janowiec said. He is crunching usage numbers for the city to try and get a balance between lots, ramps and the street.

"We want to understand how the parking assets can be used," Janowiec said.

Janowiec said his company is well on the way to bettering the city's bottom line when it comes to parking revenue.

"Absolutely," he said. "This is a progressive city plan."

He and Kennedy made a call for the public to share ideas about improving parking in downtown and Canal Park by calling 727-PARK (7275) or visiting

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