Parking Madness: Grand Rapids vs. Salt Lake City

The final spot in the “Elite Eight” of parking craters is riding on this match. Either Grand Rapids, Michigan, or Salt Lake City, Utah, will move on to the second round of Parking Madness, Streetsblog’s annual contest for eternal parking infamy.

Both cities have their natural strengths. Grand Rapids, of course, is part of the state that automobiles built, and Salt Lake City is known for its gigantic blocks that make walking difficult.

Let’s see what each city has in store for us, starting with Grand Rapids:


An anonymous submitter writes of this spot: “It is on some of the most valuable riverfront land in the city. It even has a skywalk connection to it in the northeastern corner. I have been here over 20 years and there has been a lot of newer development in the immediate area, but for some strange reason this spot is still vacant.”

The parking blight in this part of Grand Rapids probably has something to do with that highway — U.S. Route 131 — cutting through the frame. (Boy, if you zoom in, is that highway empty.)

Let’s see if Salt Lake City can do worse:

Picture 8
This location comes to us via Mike Christensen, who explains the photo “shows the area around Energy Solutions Arena and the Salt Palace Convention Center with Temple Square just beyond. The second full-block parking crater is now sponsored by Lexus — as if that made it alright. Fortunately, this parking lot did serve a useful purpose during the 2002 Olympics as the Medals Plaza.”

Car companies sponsoring parking craters? Too perfect!


Let us know which of these locations you find most offensive by casting your vote below:

Which city has the worst parking crater?

  • Grand Rapids (69%, 359 Votes)
  • Salt Lake City (31%, 164 Votes)

Total Voters: 522

  • WoodyinNYC

    Notice both craters are near convention center/arena facilities. City father like to put those things downtown (often clearing blocks of old buildings), and talk about how that’s good for the hotels and restaurants. Really? Hard to walk from the meetings to the hospitality businesses that could benefit from the customers. They might as well locate on an Interstate.

  • Bob Gunderson

    Both are just so beautiful I’m getting all choked up inside *tear

  • sforick

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder 🙂
    To many of us, all parking is beautiful and those who try to impose their personal views on us are misguided.
    But everyone can have an opinion and a vote. I’m sure there’s passion on both sides.

  • Alan

    Slight edge to SLC for the impressive entire city block of surface parking downtown.

  • WoodyinNYC

    Of course parking is beautiful, if most of the expense is paid by someone else, as it almost always is. Your parking is a price imposed on those who do not drive or park. You got a sweet deal.

  • sforick

    I don’t feel subsidized when I pay $30 to $60 a day in downtown SF. I’m actually a supporter of transit. But I think we can actually get more people on tranist and more cars out of the city by providing parking at good transit hubs just outside the city. Parking a is critical component of true multimodal area transit plans.

  • Andrew

    A tiny, tiny fraction of 1% of parking nationwide is subject to pricing that high.

    Park-and-ride lots near transit stations come at the expense of residential or commercial development at transit stations. They should be considered with caution.

  • Kevin Love

    Meanwhile, in the rest of the world…

    Everyone else seems to have the capability of building convention centers without car parking craters. For example, every European country, Japan, Canada, etc.

    One of the world’s largest convention centers and the only one that has hosted both G-7 and G-20 summits is in Toronto. And the amount of surface car parking there is exactly zero. See:

  • Greg

    Salt Lake’s crater has been vacant for 30+ years. That block was scheduled to be part of the Triad Center. Only the part to the west of it was ever built and there were numerous schemes to develop this land.

    Parts of the convention center replaced…
    a parking lot.

  • mountainsage

    Salt Lake wins because the TRAX light rail runs along the south side of this giant parking crater (only one of many that litter downtown and environs), and many transit buses serve the area – as well as an increasing number of bike lanes thanks to a supportive Mayor. If sports tickets at the ToxBox (Energy Solutions Arena) served as a round-trip transit pass like those at the U of Utah now do, it would really help get more people to ride – that said TRAX is heavily used for events already. Big, convenient parking lots like this don’t help discourage driving. Given the serious air quality issues in Utah, Salt Lake gets not only the win but bonus points for an oversupply of “cheap” and “free” parking downtown.

  • Pete

    Of course you can always build parking underground or in neighboring garages. While its more sightly, its also a LOT more expensive to build like this. Hence parking garages are only found in areas where land is at a premium. If expo centers are built in places where land is cheap, like Salt Lake City, parking will consist of surface lots because that is all the economics can justify, Europe and Asia however are the opposite.

  • C Monroe

    The thing about the Grand Rapids parking crater is that there are plenty of pedestrian traffic to the north, west and east of this, but it just completely dies like a ghost town past these three parking lots and a restaurant(right next to the highway on the river). Also there are other large development along the highway including a residential tower(tallest bldg. in Grand Rapids) exactly a half mile north of this that is fronted by two freeways(131 and 196). The freeway has development along it, with the local university on the opposite side and north of the crater(which has added more buildings than in this outdated picture) and redeveloped older warehouses now lofts south of this picture. So the highway is not really that much of a deterrent.

  • Anthony Slater

    In Grand Rapids, the parking lot predates the arena. The arena did come with its fair share of parking lots, but those are being developed now.

  • Anthony Slater

    The convention center in Grand Rapids was built without a parking lot and adjacent to none. Underground parking was built beneath the building.

  • JohnnyRetail

    This parking lot is where the Outlet mall or Cabelas should have built.

  • Erica_JS

    And those prices are why downtown San Francisco is not a parking crater.

    This contest is about places that are insanely underpriced, where space is unused and wasted. I don’t think wastefulness is ever beautiful.

  • GrandRapidsDataMiner

    Hello, I hail from Grand Rapids, MI. I work with data for a good share of my work, but am commenting anonymously 🙂

    It’s not a surprise that the prime real estate alone the river that this article identifies hasn’t been developed. Amway Global, headquartered in Ada, Michigan (right nearby GR) has made several families very very wealthy. In fact, Amway has offered them the chance to get their names on nearly all the buildings in town. Factual – whether people like it or not, etc.

    The parcel this article identified in Grand Rapids, MI, is owned by the Amway Hotel Corporation as we can see from this parcel search:

    I don’t see that land being sold to ANYONE outside of the ‘wealthy/controlling families’ of Grand Rapids. Amway Hotel Corporation is very active downtown and they’d only sell if it was a mutually beneficial relationship.

    Some facts, some musings, but I think I’m spot on.

  • C Monroe

    You are spot on, Amway owns it.(Amway Hotel Corp, I believe, is a division of Amway Global).

  • GrandRapidsDataMiner

    You are correct with that belief 🙂

    Amway Hotel Corporation’s Corporation Filing for the State of Michigan (via LARA) shows Kim S. Mitchel as the contact, with the address of 7575 E. Fulton ST (Amway Global Headquarters).

    Kim Mitchel is shown as working in the legal department of Amway.

  • C Monroe

    I agree. Well with the outlet mall. But some still have the belief to build things like that “2 miles just outside of the town” Which only leads to more sprawl.

  • KEO

    That parking lot you speak of in Grand Rapids is the parking spaces for the 1,100 employees that work at the 3 main hotels downtown. Even though it is employee parking, we still even pay monthly to park there since it is a lot downtown. Where should all 1,100 workers park for work everyday? If they built an alternative parking ramp for employees, closer than what they have to walk to work now, which isn’t close, then yes, build away in that location.

  • Andrew

    One would be excused for thinking, based on this comment, that Grand Rapids doesn’t have a transit system.

    In fact, not only does Grand Rapids have a transit system, but ten of the system’s 19 bus routes run within a few blocks of this location.

  • sforick

    True multimodal transportation leaves choice up to individuals. Providing safe, clean, convenient, public transit and safe streets for bicycling is good and provides that choice. Parking adjacent to good transit is a plus for commuters to use transit locally. But why do transit oriented individuals keep trying to impose their views and choices on the rest of us?

  • C Monroe

    There are 5 hotels in downtown Grand Rapids. You mean the 3 that are owned by Amway.

  • JSK

    What a terrible idea. There is minimal parking as it is downtown and that location is certainly not big enough to support a Cabelas let alone the additional traffic it generates.

  • A Grishaber

    Grand Rapids, hands down for parking nightmares.

    But if you want to talk about wasted real estate, let’s talk about SLC’s eight-lane surface streets. I do have a lot of trouble in Grand rapids, though, when I try and turn my covered wagon and four oxen around. Let alone find a place to park them!

  • Andrew

    I agree, true multimodal transportation leaves choice up to individuals. That means that it allows, for instance, high density, mixed use development, with no legal barriers and with no mandated parking. More generally, it means that people who wish to get around by car pay for the costs they incur, including the cost of the land that their cars consume.
    If a parking lot is provided entirely at its owner’s discretion, with parking fees determined by the market, then I have no objection. But I suspect that the parking lots pictured here are required by law.

    I’ve already briefly addressed park-and-rides, so here’s a bit more.

    A parking lot adjacent to a transit station allows people who live elsewhere, and who own cars, to use transit for parts of their commutes to and from work. Since these people already have to get in their cars, park-and-rides primarily serve trips to and from work, where the roads may be heavily congested and parking fees may be high. For most other trips, driving all the way I’d more convenient, and transit is not attractive.
    High-density housing and commercial development adjacent to a transit station, on the other hand, allows people to walk directly to the station, without the need to drive there. With commercial development nearby, many of these people won’t need a car in the first place – and the transit system will be attractive for noon-work trips as well as work trips. The transit station will also serve trips to work in the opposite direction – commutes from other areas to the commercial employers near the station.
    So which is the best use of the land close to a transit station? Vast parking lots, so that car owners can have easier commutes to work and so that the transit system ends up inefficiently serving a highly peaked ridership? Or dense development, so that people can get directly on the train or bus, perhaps without the need for a car at all, and can use the transit system at all times of day for all sorts of trips, increasing the system’s efficiency?

    Choose one – any square foot of land used for one is not used for the other.

  • MaceKelly

    Why do I see so many bicycle riders blasting through red lights, stop signs, and totally ignoring all traffic laws, and then often giving the one finger solute to anyone that annoys them. There is a over the top sense of entitlement of too many bicycle riders that generate a bad reputation for safe riders, like me for over fifty years.

  • Andrew

    I don’t know. Why do I see so many motor vehicle drivers blasting through red lights, stop signs, and totally ignoring all traffic laws, and then often giving the one finger solute (on the horn) to anyone that annoys them.
    (And what does this have to so with the topic at hand?)

  • MaceKelly

    You are right, I am off topic. It seems like some motorists and cyclists are at war with each other. 20-30 years ago, SF was not over run with the latter, out of control, and things like critical mass, which are just mob action.

  • Andrew

    Gotcha. I’m sure that, back then, motorists never broke any laws.

  • MaceKelly

    Of course, there is a long history of terrible loss of life from bad drivers. drunk driving, running red lights, etc.
    I will probably drop off of this conversation now. Thanks and Bye.

  • Zach

    Those wide streets are wonderful for cycling in, though. You can ride most streets without fear of being crowded out by traffic, which isn’t the case in many other cities.


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