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At any given time, up to 300 big trucks are legally parked on Minneapolis city streets, ready to pick up their next load before taking to the open road.

For some, these rigs represent a critical cog of commerce, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown when demand for speedy home delivery of items ranging from groceries to medical supplies skyrocketed. And the trucks are vehicles of upward mobility for drivers, many of whom hail from Minneapolis' East African immigrant community.

But for others, the trucks are a neighborhood nuisance and a safety and environmental hazard.

While parking big trucks on residential streets already is verboten, the City Council will decide in coming weeks whether to expand restrictions to ban truck parking on all city streets. The council's Transportation and Public Works Committee on Wednesday approved such a ban on a 4-0 vote with one abstention — though several council members expressed concern that the city isn't offering truck drivers a tangible alternative.

The measure was prompted by an increasing number of complaints about the practice in recent years, according to city officials. At Wednesday's public hearing, several residents described their frustration with parked trucks near their homes and businesses. It's difficult for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists to navigate around the rigs, they said, and the rigs often obstruct speed limit and other safety signs. Some drivers, they said, leave behind trash or let their trucks idle, spewing fumes.

But John Hausladen, president of the Minnesota Trucking Association, said the city's timing on the matter is unfortunate, given the lack of safe parking options in the Twin Cities and across the state.

"Every day, professional truck drivers deliver essential food, medicine, products, materials and supplies to our communities and local businesses," Hausladen said. "Throughout the worst days of the pandemic, truck drivers played a critical role in supporting our supply chains that continue to be stretched to their limits."

Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins, primary author of the amendment, said truck parking is a "growing, pernicious" challenge in the city, particularly since other municipalities in the metro area have banned them from street parking altogether.

Because of bans elsewhere, Jenkins said, trucks are gravitating to Minneapolis streets, including Lake Street and Washington, Nicollet and Minnehaha avenues.

"This is not a Minneapolis problem, it's a metrowide, Minnesota problem," she said.

A complex issue

On that point, there is agreement. Demand for truck parking is exploding in the metro. A 2019 Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) study found that the overall tonnage of cargo carried by trucks increased 24% in the preceding decade.

Moreover, regulations limiting the number of hours drivers may spend on the road are prompting many of them to park near their homes or where they're slated to pick up cargo, said Dillon Fried, assistant parking systems manager for Minneapolis.

The MnDOT study characterizes truck parking as a complex issue that calls for a solution crafted by both government and private industry. As of 2019, there were just 4,846 parking spaces available in Minnesota for more than 26,000 long-haul trips on any one day, the study notes.

Though Jenkins said she sympathizes with drivers' concerns, she said truck parking is a "cost of doing business. There's a cost to being an entrepreneur."

According to a city report, the vehicles that generate the most complaints are "large straight trucks and semi tractors with or without trailers.

"It's common for these vehicles to cluster together and park along entire city blocks, sometimes for several blocks in a row and on both sides of a street," the report states.

Many immigrants and people of color have started their own trucking companies because there's a relatively low barrier to entry — basically buying one or two trucks, the report notes.

The U.S. Labor Department estimates that 40% of truck drivers nationwide hail from communities of color. But demographics quantifying the number of local minority-owned trucking firms and truck drivers of color are hard to come by, the city report says.

Mohammed Elmi, who owns Twin Cities-based trucking firm ELMI Transportation, said in an interview that many of his drivers are East African immigrants.

"In Somalia, in particular, folks own their own businesses. They like being their own stakeholder," he said.

Elmi said Minneapolis-based drivers often must pay to park their rigs in suburban lots, undermining their ability to earn a living.

City officials have added the parking issue to their legislative agenda and will work with groups interested in providing their own paid parking lots for trucks.

If the council adopts the full ban, the new rules would take effect in 2022. The fine for illegal parking would increase to $150 from $45 for the first infraction and $250 for additional offenses.

Janet Moore • 612-673-7752