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Posted on Sat, Jan 7, 2012 : 12:59 p.m.

Complaining about downtown parking fees has a long history in Ann Arbor

By Ryan J. Stanton


This 1938 photo from The Ann Arbor News shows a woman standing behind an automobile with a sign that reads: "Keep Parking Meters Out. I will not trade at any store that has a meter in front. Join Us."

Ann Arbor News file photo

Strong opposition to paying for parking in Ann Arbor, as well as threats of boycotting downtown businesses because of meter rates, can be traced back at least 74 years.

Ray Detter, chairman of the Downtown Area Citizens Advisory Council, recently discovered a collection of old newspaper stories and photographs from the Ann Arbor News archives, now maintained online by the Ann Arbor District Library.

His favorite find is a 1938 photo taken by Eck Stanger, chief photographer for The News for 40 years from 1934 to 1974.

The photo shows a woman standing behind an automobile with a sign that reads: "Keep Parking Meters Out. I will not trade at any store that has a meter in front. Join Us."

Nobody likes to pay more for anything, and that includes parking. But past predictions that another parking rate increase might be detrimental to downtown Ann Arbor — a fear being echoed again after the latest rate hike — never have proven true.

Another newspaper clipping from April 24, 1970, when the downtown parking system was facing a financial crisis, carries the headline: "Parking Rate Hike Plan Criticized."

At the time, the increase in parking rates under consideration by the Ann Arbor City Council was opposed by a group called the Downtown Business Association, which argued doubling the rates "would be detrimental to business and, in turn, to the city."

But what did doubling the rates mean in 1970? Going up from 10 cents to 20 cents per hour.

A news article from July 14, 1970, confirms those changes took effect. And of course, downtown never died.

The Downtown Development Authority last week approved increasing the on-street meter rate again — this time from $1.40 to $1.50 an hour.

That won't take effect until Sept. 1, but other changes, including increases in the cost of parking in some structures and lots, take effect Jan. 21.

A number of business owners and downtown visitors think it's a bad move. But DDA officials maintain the increases are needed to cover costs of the parking system, including a new structure being built on Fifth Avenue, and to help augment the city's general fund.

Even with steady increases in parking rates in recent years, DDA officials point out demand for parking and the number of people visiting downtown continues to grow.

Building a parking system

Some of the old Ann Arbor News stories give credit to former Mayor William E. Brown Jr. for the proliferation of the city's parking system early on.

A May 19, 1969, news article written by staff reporter Glen Harris offers a retrospective look back to 20 years prior when the first-term mayor hit upon an untried plan for financing parking facilities, and he wasn't even sure it was legal at first.

Brown went on to serve five more terms, the method of financing was upheld by a court, and the system for adding parking spaces was copied by cities across the country, according to the article.

The 1969 article commemorated the 20th anniversary of the dedication of what it referred to as "the W. Washington St. carport, the first parking facility in the country built by revenue bonding — and also Ann Arbor's first structure."

Brown told the newspaper he got the idea for using revenue bonds to build parking structures after the Michigan Legislature in 1947 passed a law allowing cities more leeway in using revenue bonding to build public utilities. He saw using parking revenue to finance construction as an alternative to special assessment districts or asking voters for more tax money.

"During his stay in office, Brown spent a good deal of time traveling to various parts of the country explaining the system to other city officials," the 1969 article reads. "He says the system originated here was copied whole or in part by such cities as New York, Detroit, Miami, Cleveland, Portland, plus most of the cities in Michigan."

In 1950, the city's off-street parking facilities could handle 585 cars, but by the end of Brown's administration in 1957, the city had constructed the Washington Street and Maynard Street structures and had acquired and developed land for eight off-street parking lots, providing 1,442 spaces, according to the 1969 article. And with the increased facilities, the revenue from parking boomed from $116,000 in 1950 to $330,00 in 1960.

Three other parking structures were built in the decade that followed. In October 1966, the Forest Street parking structure was finished, and in 1967, the Fourth and William and Fourth and Washington structures were completed, adding more than 1,000 spaces.

"The city's parking facilities currently consist of carports at Maynard, Forest, Washington and First, William and Fourth and Washington and Fourth, providing 1,883 parking spaces, 12 parking lots with 838 parking spaces and 1,150 street metered spaces," reads the article from 1969. "Expansion of the Maynard St. carport across the street and above the Jacobson's store is expected to be completed next month, adding spaces for about 270 cars."

Today, the DDA manages the city's 7,200-space parking system, which includes six structures with about 4,300 spaces, 18 lots with about 1,200 spaces and about 1,700 on-street metered spaces. Annual revenue from those sources is more than $16 million.

The city's first underground parking structure, being built on Fifth Avenue between Liberty and William, is set to open in July with about 700 more spaces. The city issued bonds for the construction of the $50 million garage, financed with parking revenues and tax money.

The city and DDA also are partnering with developer Village Green on the Ann Arbor City Apartments project at the corner of First and Washington. The high-rise project includes a 244-space parking garage to be owned by the city and managed by the DDA.

Of the 244 spaces, about 72 are expected to be held for residents, leaving 172 spaces for the general public. The City Council agreed in October 2010 to authorize up to $9 million in general obligation bonds for a substantial portion of the costs of the four-level garage.

Increased parking rates help cover those costs.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.



Mon, Feb 6, 2012 : 1:37 p.m.

There are two reasonable options to paying for on and off-street parking downtown: either it can be paid for by drivers or subsidized by downtown business owners and landlords. Free parking sounds great, but it amounts to a government subsidy for downtown business. After all, business in any other part of Ann Arbor are required to provide (at their expense) a minimum amount of parking spaces per square foot, while downtown business are spared this cost because their customers pay it. I suspect most of the people complaining about parking prices wouldn't love the idea of a downtown business tax either, which means what they're really asking for is for one set of homes and business to subsidize parking for another set through their property taxes. Parking fees are part of the price of living in a dense, urban area. It seems like a lot of people wish Ann Arbor was something else: a suburb. If you want to live in that kind of town, Brighton, Chelsea, Dexter, and Saline all have plenty of real estate available. I'll be here, in the educational and cultural center of Michigan, and I'll gladly feed the meter if it means I never have to go to Briarwood again.


Tue, Jan 10, 2012 : 9:02 p.m.

I have never understood paying to park! Maybe I should set up a barricade on the road in front of my home and charge a passing fee? Oh, yea it's called highway robbery! I think of paying to park as a form of highway robbery. And don't get me started on having your car impounded and having to pay cash to get it back without due process!

Elaina Robbins

Tue, Jan 10, 2012 : 4:10 a.m.

It's funny to think that Ann Arborites have been viciously complaining about something so small for nearly a century. For me, it is a reminder of the fact that the residents of this city are opinionated and not afraid to show it. This fighting spirit is one of the most valuable traits that Ann Arborites have to offer and, indeed, it does a lot of good. The fact that it also shows longevity in an issue as trivial as a few cents more an hour for parking is a mere side effect. Deep down I think most inhabitants of this city know that a couple of quarters an hour is a low price to pay for the perks that we enjoy living here.


Mon, Jan 9, 2012 : 6:46 a.m.

I don't know how I do it, but I rarely go down town. We now have so many great businesses that ring Ann Arbor with free parking; there is no need to go down town. I only go on Saturdays for the farmers market. Just park on the old Westside it's free. Many cities' that want folks to come down town, subsidize parking though a business's tax that is passed on to the customer. It is plain and simple Vegas phycology. People often lose money gambling, but feel happy about it if they have been entertained and pampered. Parking is already a big hassle. First you try to find a space. Next make sure you have the right change to pay, or you must stop shopping sooner than you would have liked. Now find the ticket you just lost. What a hassle, just go to the mall or away from downtown. I have been to city's that subsidize hotel room in the downtown area and it seems to work on the same premise. If the customer chooses to make a purchase even at a higher price, the customer has made the choice. This brings symmetry to the whole customer business relationship. It also gives the customer the feeling of control of what one dose with one's money. We all make more purchases online now simply because of better deals, more control, and it's so easy. Ann Arbor needs to start thinking outside the box, if they truly want more business in the downtown area. We are not all students with limited mobility in a captive market.

John Q

Mon, Jan 9, 2012 : 1:29 a.m.

Why is the city in the business of providing parking? If businesses want it and need it, let them pay for it. Then they can decide whether they should charge for it or provide it for free. But for all the whiners who think that they should be entitled to free parking, go to the mall and eat at Applebee's or go and shop at Wal-Mart. You'll get all the free parking you can want and need.


Mon, Jan 9, 2012 : 3:29 a.m.

There's free parking at local restaurants as well as chain restaurants other than Applebee's. There's free parking at stores away from downtown, but then there are few stores downtown. It wasn't just the stores that stopped doing business. Former downtown business that have moved away from the most congested parts of downtown include Delux Draperies and Fantasy Attic costumes which moved to Packard Road and then to Depot Town in Ypsilanti. There are restaurants away from downtown and some more outside the city limits that are really good. We were downtown a few hours ago, but this is Sunday and that's all I should post to avoid giving the DDA ideas that would hurt downtown restaurants on Sundays. The entry fee into parking lots is even worse that paying for actual time parked in a lot or structure. It reminds me of the old lemonade game of figuring out at what price and generating what amount of sales are the profits maximized. Besides the cost of meters is the anxiety over how much money is left in the meter. In some instances it isn't just the cost of the meter, but the cost of a potential parking ticket. When rates were lower, it easy to insert money for an hour just in case, even though the expectation was to be parked there for less than an hour. At least someone else could use the excess money when I pulled out. Now, there's no such thing as letting someone else benefit from the meter time left. Thus, in many instances the same meter time is paid for twice. Likewise, when charging enough for multiple hours via a structure entry fee, the spaces of cars that pull out in an hour can be paid for again by other cars that pull in for an hour or two.


Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 11:24 p.m.

Supply and demand. Free market. Blah blah.


Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 7:34 p.m.

Plain & simple, if you don't want to pay the price don't go to AA. I'm personally staying out of the town. Let them keep their high image.


Mon, Jan 9, 2012 : 4:12 p.m.

Another reason we shop near Canton.

Ron Granger

Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 7:04 p.m.

Counterpoint: Retrtospective: Raising downtown parking fees has a long history in Ann Arbor


Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 4:24 p.m.

@ Soothslayer: Not sure how paying with nickels constitutes a form of protest in the age of automated coin sorters... And the economics of that strategy doesn't really add up, since it takes almost one nickel's worth of time to insert three. Speaking of nickel meters, though, I remember feeding a meter out in Denver about ten years ago. When I looked up to see how much time I had purchased, and how much more money I should feed in, I found that I had paid for about a week's worth of parking... So I slept in my car for a few days.


Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 3:50 p.m.

I have not paid for parking in over a year because I no longer go to "downtown" A2. There is truly no need to shop downtown as there are plenty of retailers and food establishments where you park for free. Plus you don't have to deal with all the stupid one way streets and U of M students that walk right in front of you and expect you to come to a screeching halt. Go Green Go White


Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 3:40 p.m.

I go downtown a lot. It doesn't look to me as if increased parking fees has diminished the number of people who visit downtown one bit. If you folks want to deny yourselves the fun of going downtown because it costs you a couple cents more, it's your loss, as far as I'm concerned.


Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 7:38 p.m.

FUN in AA. Get real


Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 2:56 p.m.

Folks there's a simple and passive way to protest, use nickels for the regular and electronic meters. It may take more time to "feed the meter" but it will really screw with the system and let them know you don't approve. Nickels are legal tender for all debts public and private.


Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 2:24 p.m.

Most likely complaining about paying for parking meters in Ann Arbor is related to ANN ARBOR itself creating the parking meter. Some lost history there. But a 10 cent per hour increase in parking is NOTHING compared to the cost to keep our city running and maintained. Whining about everything is an Ann Arbor pastime, so this was a really fun read! Thanks for the article. It's sometimes fun to take a look at the "every committee has an anti-committee" attitude that has prevailed in Ann Arbor for a century.


Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 2:58 p.m.

It's not the cost itself, its the taxation without representation. We're not interested in paying for the mistakes the City & DDA make.

Eric Paul

Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 2:09 p.m.

I'd much rather spend some pocket change on a visit to a vibrant downtown vs. a mall, devoid of character, that offers free parking.


Tue, Jan 10, 2012 : 8:57 p.m.

Brighton has free parking and is quite vibrant!


Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 8:16 p.m.

I can go to Sparrows and the farmers market and do all my grocery shopping for a week, in less time and with less walking than it takes to wander meijer. Better food too. And I don't pay for parking on Saturdays. If you do, you're lazy.


Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 7:45 p.m.

You are right on:)


Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 2:59 p.m.

"vibrant downtown"... Plymouth or Royal Oak? Downtown Ann Arbor is just a food court.


Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 2:04 p.m.

After all of these years and they still do not get it.


Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 1:23 p.m.

I think an interesting question would be: who is coming downtown these days? Is downtown a destination for wealthy people from other cities and suburbs of Detroit, or is it a place where Ann Arborites come? Nothing against people from other cities --- of course we need the visitors--- but it would be nice to have things downtown that local people come down for, as it used to be when we had basic men's and women's clothing stores, hardware stores, etc. downtown.


Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 9:38 p.m.

With the mall, Sams, a new Costco, and everything popping up out on and around Eisenhower, the downtown just isn't an convenient or pleasant destination anymore. Plus you have to repeatedly stop for dozens of pedestrians as they dart out in front of you. This is extremely difficult when trying to make a left or right turn.

Alan Goldsmith

Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 11:23 a.m.

"We've noticed over the last several years that we usually dine out just outside of downtown: Zingerman's Roadhouse, Casey's, Knight's, etc." Here we see the real damage to the DDA and Mayor's handiwork. Casey's has a handful of 'free spaces' in their small lot but now you need pay to park, for a restaurant blocks from 'downtown'--which likely has impacted the restaurant. Previously, you could never find a table--now there's rarely a wait. It all adds up so frankly Scarlett I don't can if people complained about parking during the era when the film Gone With The Wind came out.

Alan Goldsmith

Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 11:18 a.m.

Ray Detter, the 'citizen' who was on the committee that rubber stamped the giant City Center Building urinal water fountain art project. Not future questions for this witness your honor. He's on of the Mayor's most reliable supporters for most anything coming down the track--including parking increases. The name "Downtown Area Citizens Advisory Council" would probably make George Orwell smile


Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 10:15 a.m.

Great article, Ryan. Reminds me of how, not too long ago, all of the downtown bars were going to have to close down due to the smoking ban.


Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 7:18 a.m.

We recently paid $1.30 for about 25 minutes to visit the library downtown on Friday morning. A lot of money for this short period of time. This confirms our thoughts that we will take our business elsewhere.


Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 2:44 p.m.

Unless you have to go to the downtown library. Then you have no choice but to pay these nutty prices. Take the bus to the downtown and save yourself a headache. BTW? 11 minutes for one quarter outside the Rackham BLD. Sucks doesn't it?


Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 1:27 p.m.

Each of the library branches has free parking. Try one of those!


Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 5:06 a.m.

We've noticed over the last several years that we usually dine out just outside of downtown: Zingerman's Roadhouse, Casey's, Knight's, etc. Even more than the cost, it's too much hassle parking, the new parking computer things that replaced meters is just one more pain.


Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 12:16 a.m.

Raising the prices in an area already difficult to navigate, park, and shop in is not a good decision. Especially when you can park for free at the mall, REI, and every other store and restaurant not in the congested down town. Why pay to park blocks away so you can wander in the cold and rain when you can park within 100 ft of most of the other businesses in A2 free of charge?


Mon, Jan 9, 2012 : 2:09 a.m.

Hut Hut works for the DDA


Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 9:32 p.m.

I apologize for the typo's. The iPhone is a bit difficult to type the long responses on.


Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 9:31 p.m.

hut hut - Try parking downtown on a Friday or Saturday evening. It's a little different than a Tuesday at 3. And your walking blocks arrive at one place. Then blocks to the next. I love the downtown, but high parking rates with limited parking is a major contributing factor to the extinction of downtown shopping across the country. Malls and large box stores and cheaper and more convenient. If the downtown wishes to remain competitive they need to invite and accomodate their customers and visitors instead of charging them for being there. After 40 years of being in A2 and constantly driving around the downtown I would hope you could navigate it. For others who haven't lived there that long, are from out of town, or not even 40 years's a pain. You need to know exactly where you are going, and where to park in advance. At the mall and other stores you can just pull up and park. The larger stores and the mall have maps to guide you around. This is what the downtown is competing against.


Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 2:42 p.m.

We agree with this one. We tried to find a parking spot downtown Ann Arbor around 4 on Saturday? Couldn't. Parked at a structure for $5 after hours. We too very rarely come downtown Ann Arbor unless we absolutely positively have too. O by the way, we had to drop off someone at the Rackham and had to go in for a few? 11 minutes for one quarter. Sucks doesn't it?


Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 7:20 a.m.

Yes, voicing ones opinion is pathetic - eh?

hut hut

Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 3:58 a.m.

I live in Ann Arbor, 40 years, drive downtown 2-3 times per week, drive to work on the outskirts of town and to local shopping centers and I have NEVER had any problem navigating the streets or finding a parking place, either on the street or in a structure. This criticism is just so exaggerated to be laughable if it weren't so pathetic. Waling a block or two is not a big deal. Even if you park at the mall, you have to get out in the weather and a little rain or snow is just par for the course. Even at strip malls and Briarwood you still have to walk more than 100 ft. What is wrong with people that have to park in front of wherever it is they are going and hate to even think about walking a bit?

Ruth Kraut

Sat, Jan 7, 2012 : 11:04 p.m.

Thanks for that picture! I love it!

Wolf's Bane

Sat, Jan 7, 2012 : 9:52 p.m.

Well, that was all before the DDA!


Sat, Jan 7, 2012 : 9:21 p.m.

In 1970 I was making 5.50 per hour .10 was .01819% of my hourly wage. At $1.40 per hour one would have to make $42.28 per hour to maintain the same parking purchasing power. Inflationary city costs have increased much more than general wages.


Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 9:13 p.m.

I divided .10 by 5.50 to get the .01819 and you're right about the ratio equivalent being 77 dollars at 1.40. The 5.50 per hour was just a normal blue collar wage where as I suspect that type of position is not being paid 35 dollars per hour. There probably isn't anyone in those downtown Ann Arbor stores making 35 dollars per hour, unless they own it. So I contend that, in general, and compared to ordinary wages, that city fees have incurred much greater inflationary costs.


Sat, Jan 7, 2012 : 11:28 p.m.

Think you meant to compare to $.20/hr--.01819 of $42.28 is $.77, not $1.40. But believe it or not, $5.50/hr in 1970 dollars is nearly $32/hr in today's dollar. Furthermore median income has jumped about 10% since 1970 even when adjusting for inflation, so the local wage equivalent to $5.50/hr is probably at least $35/hr, not so far from $42/hr. So inflationary costs have gone up a little faster for parking, but not much faster. Considering that A2's population has doubled since then, putting about twice as many cars on the streets, it's not really surprising at all.

hut hut

Sat, Jan 7, 2012 : 8:37 p.m.

Complaining about anything has a long history everywhere.

Steve Pierce

Sat, Jan 7, 2012 : 7:55 p.m.

In return for the rate increase the DDA should once again make the parking occupancy including real time data available for free. That was how it was before until the DDA shut off access. There used to be a free app developed by local citizens that would tell you where parking places were available but the DDA shut off access to the data stream. I won't cost the DDA a penny to make the data available and there will be no increase on load on their servers.


Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 8:10 p.m.

The raw data link is there.. are they really blocking an app from using it?


Sat, Jan 7, 2012 : 8:30 p.m.

Why sir, you're talking about transparency in pseudo government. That's outrageous! LOL!


Sat, Jan 7, 2012 : 7:55 p.m.

" I will not trade at any store that has a meter in front. " -- That worked out fabulously, didn't it? Hah! From 20¢/hour to $1.50 / hour in 41 years. 750% increase - Yay! That's 18.29% per year inflation. What is this, the medical insurance business we're talking about?! No wonder the city is adding 100s of parking spaces: with that level of revenue, you could run a middle-sized European country! Maybe Ann Arbor is thinking of buying Belgium. ;-) I DO remember the parking rate increases of the Seventies. I arrived here in 1974 and it seems they went to 25¢/hour around that time. I also remember, at that time, you could find nickel-an-hour meters in many other towns. I also remember paying a $5 parking citation back then (the only such citation I've received in 50 years). But then, before coming to A2, I lived in Berkley, Mich. They had welcoming signs which read: Welcome to the City of Berkley -- NO PARKING. (followed in much smaller type by: "Between the hours of 12 AM and 6AM").

Billy Bob Schwartz

Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 12:34 a.m.

My hometown had the same sign. Small town, big sign, huge NO PARKING letters. My Mom used to go berserk every time she saw that sign. I took years, but she finally prevailed.


Sat, Jan 7, 2012 : 7:44 p.m.

At the increased rate for art fair parking it's cheaper to get a parking ticket and pay it online than it is to park. lol If you're parking for more than six hours at a meter its cheaper to get and pay a parking ticket than to feed the meter. :)


Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 2:38 p.m.

I agree with this one. Parking tickets are $20 last I paid one in Ann Arbor and after reading this post? There is more then one way to skin a cat. Thanks for the idea.


Sat, Jan 7, 2012 : 7:45 p.m.

Two can play this game. :)


Sat, Jan 7, 2012 : 7:18 p.m.

Shame that the parking "gotcha' game" makes downtown hostile. The DDA, government officials and their foot soldiers should be ashamed of themselves. I want a nice welcoming town. Not a town full of self-important, low-rent hustlers imposing their shake-down schemes on my guests and myself.


Sat, Jan 7, 2012 : 5:22 p.m.

Back then when Republicans ran the town, if you didn't like the parking meters you could vote the mayor and city council out of office. Now if you don't like the increase in parking rates you cannot vote the DDA out of office. Taxation without representation goes back over 200 years!

Marshall Applewhite

Sat, Jan 7, 2012 : 6:56 p.m.

You can certainly vote with your wallet.........


Sat, Jan 7, 2012 : 5:09 p.m.

Boycotting a downtown business because of the high parking rates is like blaming a gas station because you ran out of gas. Merchants are the victims of the misguided increases. It doesn't help hurts them. Where us the occupy City Hall movement? Whats the point of raising taxes and fees when the real problem is misappropriation of our money after it has been picked from our collective wallets?

Old Salt

Sat, Jan 7, 2012 : 4:57 p.m.

In the 1930's before parking meters were in a policeman in his three wheel motor cycle put a blue mark on the left rear tire of every car parked in the downtown area he used a long stick with blue chalk on the end so he just kept moving along and came back an hour later and if the blue mark was still on the tire the owner was given a parking ticket. I cannot remember what the ost was but pribably not more then a dollar, of course some people were smart enough to come back before the hour was up and wash the blue chalk off.


Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 8:05 p.m.

Ypsi still does this in the un-metered but time limited sections of downtown.