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Parking math – everybody does it nearly every day: calculating the costs and benefits of patronizing the shops, restaurants and entertainment venues in Evanston. The benefits are obvious; Evanston’s bounty is unquestioned. Too often the word on the street is that the hassle of parking in Evanston is such that shoppers, diners and movie-goers are voting with their wheels and taking their money elsewhere.
And that would be the end of that were it not for the calculators in the Civic Center who essentially control our parking math. They figure out the parking expenses and revenues – how much is owed on the capital debt of the downtown garages, how much it costs to operate the garages, how much the meter-tenders must be paid and how much the City is likely to get from parking meters, garages and fines – then balance them with escalating parking fees and fines.
Let’s face it: Ours is an antiquated parking system that increasingly alienates residents and visitors.
The Maple Avenue garage is so poorly designed that we have heard people say they will go to the movies at Old Orchard rather than take on the frustration of parking there. The Sherman Avenue garage, much better designed, still seems like a mountain to climb if one is seeking only a light supper, a reasonably quick shopping trip, a haircut or a library visit.
Street space is always at a premium, as many employees prefer street spaces to those in garages.
But even when one finds a place, there is a double “gotcha”: When the meter runs out after two hours, one risks a ticket. But putting more money in after two hours will not solve the problem: One has to re-park the car to enjoy the movie or the dinner.
The longer-term spaces to the immediate south of the downtown area offer some relief to the dedicated patron of Evanston businesses, but these also underscore the real problem: When it comes to parking, Evanston is sooooooo twentieth century. The City should welcome visitors, not repel them. Budgets should not be balanced on the anticipation of nickel-and-diming residents.
Sustainability – the use of bicycles, feet and public transportation – could be on a collision course with our traditional parking ideas. Encouraging those things can mean less income from parking.
We need a new parking outlook to accommodate both our need for money and our commitment to reducing traditional vehicle use. We need new parking formulas – we need a new parking math.
The Parking and Transportation Committee is a good place to start. There are a lot of thoughtful, concerned and interested people on that committee, who are willing to look at parking not just nationally but internationally. They have responded to the use of vehicles powered by alternative fuels by recommending solar canopies and electric plug-ins in public parking areas. In their meetings and in others over the past two years we have heard references to ID systems that scan a car to see whether the wheel tax has been paid, eliminating the need for vehicle stickers. We have also heard a suggestion of having each resident pay a greater wheel tax that would cover parking in any space in Evanston for the year.
Perhaps new solutions will involve different types of transportation rather than parking: a few smallish Evanston circulators that will get folks there (to the train station, the beach, the movies, James
Park, the shops, the theatres, the concerts or the restaurants, as examples) and back. Perhaps new traffic patterns or parking or street configurations will help solve the problem.
Whatever the new solutions are, we think the community – residents and businesses – could benefit from a new approach to parking.