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Searching for spaces: A look at area parking

Spend enough time in meetings about developing downtown Brainerd and a common refrain arises: there's not enough parking. It's often cited as the reason why shoppers choose to drive to the malls in Brainerd or big box stores in Baxter to shop. Th...

Reporter Spenser Bickett measures the distance of parking from Dunham’s Sports in Baxter. (Kelly Humphrey, Brainerd Dispatch - Gallery and Video)
Brainerd Dispatch reporter Spenser Bickett measures the distance from the front door to a parking space at Dunham’s Sports in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey/Brainerd Dispatch

Spend enough time in meetings about developing downtown Brainerd and a common refrain arises: there's not enough parking.

It's often cited as the reason why shoppers choose to drive to the malls in Brainerd or big box stores in Baxter to shop. Those locations offer acres of open parking spaces, in contrast to the on-street parking or parking lots in the core of downtown Brainerd.

To put some numbers to this theory, this Brainerd Dispatch reporter conducted a semi-scientific study of this issue.

First, an evaluation of the number of parking spaces in parking lots at the Brainerd malls and Baxter big box stores, as well as on-street spaces available in downtown Brainerd. For this exercise, I used the four core blocks of downtown Brainerd, bounded by Front and Maple streets on the north and south, and South Sixth and South Eighth streets on the east and west.

Using Google Earth, I tallied the number of parking spaces in lots at the Westgate Mall, East Brainerd Mall, Costco, Wal-Mart and Target. I also counted the number of on-street parking spaces in downtown Brainerd.

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To put the amount of parking into context, I compared the size of these parking lots to football fields. According to state statute, an average parking space is 8 feet wide by 18 feet long, for 144 square feet per space. A football field including both end zones is 57,600 square feet. I didn't include the driving lanes in the parking lots in these calculations, so this is just parking spaces.

As an aside, the size of these parking lots is put into context using the Google Earth overhead view. All of the mall and big box store parking lots were visually at least the size of the building itself, if not bigger.

• Westgate Mall: Between the parking lots on the north and south sides of the mall, there are about 900 parking spaces. This is about 129,600 square feet of parking spaces, or a little more than two football fields of parking spaces.

• East Brainerd Mall: About 574 parking spaces, which doesn't include spaces on the east or north side of the building. This is about 82,656 square feet of parking spaces, or a little more than 1.4 football fields.

• Walmart: About 670 parking spaces, not including the spaces on the east or south side of the building. This is about 96,480 square feet of parking spaces, or a little more than 1.6 football fields.

• Target: About 508 parking spaces, for about 73,152 square feet of parking spaces. This is a little more than 1.2 football fields.

• Costco: About 665 parking spaces, for about 95,760 square feet of parking spaces. This is a little more than 1.6 football fields.

For downtown Brainerd, I counted the number of on-street parking spaces on the streets in the downtown core. There are about 259 on-street diagonal parking spaces. The posted restrictions for these free spaces are a two-hour limit from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. weekdays and no parking during street cleaning 4-8 a.m. Wednesdays.

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There are an additional 30 parking spaces in the parking lot next to the former Blue Ox restaurant. These free parking spaces have a two-hour limit from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays.

For the second part of this study, I measured the distance from an average parking spot to the front door the business. For the malls and big box stores, I didn't park as close as possible to the door, but I didn't park on the outskirts of the lot. If you like to park closer to the door, the distance is going to be shorter than mine, while if you like parking farther away, the distance is going to be longer than the figure I have.

For each business, I walked to the door and back twice, for a total of four trips. I then averaged these four trips.
At the Westgate Mall, the distance to Herberger's was an average of 163 feet. On the other side of the mall, the walk to Dunhams and Big Lots averaged 144 feet.

At Walmart, the average distance to the door was 288 feet. At Target, the average distance was 260 feet, while at Costco, the average distance was 209 feet.

For downtown Brainerd, I took five different trips from one business to another to provide a variety of distances. Walking from E.L. Menk Jewelers to Coco Moon was about 262 feet, while walking from E.L. Menk Jewelers to the Pit Stop was about 380 feet.

Walking from Atlas Abstract to the American Legion Post 255 was about 181 feet. Walking from VIP Vapors around the corner to the Front Street Cafe was about 258 feet. Finally, walking from 612 Station to Coco Moon was about 486 feet.

Visually and physically, the walks in the parking lots and in downtown are different. In the big box store and mall parking lots, walkers mix closely with and must watch out for moving vehicles. The visual environment is mostly pavement and other vehicles.

In downtown Brainerd, walkers are separated from traffic by walking on a sidewalk. There are planters, trees, streetlights and other features to break up the monotony. There are also the architectural difference of the different buildings in the area.

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This is not meant to be a comprehensive engineering study of this issue or to settle any arguments in this discussion. Instead, I hope it provides more context to the discussion, instead of relying on surface-level talking points.

Related Topics: WALMARTAMERICAN LEGION
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