Evanston officials are moving toward extending standard two-hour time limits for street and lot parking to four hours in some places, responding to concerns raised about the new parking system.

At a special City Council meeting on April 29, aldermen  voted in support of introducing an ordinance changing the maximum time allowed at meters and certain surface lots.

During last year’s budget discussions, aldermen approved  a series of  increases to parking fees and fines. The changes, which went into effect on March 1, include a hike in two-hour meter rates from $1 to $1.50 an hour and an end to free Sunday parking. Meters must be fed after 1 p.m. on Sunday

Some merchants, however, particularly  in the Main-Dempster area, have voiced frustration at the new system, citing stepped up enforcement  by the City since the rules went into effect and the inflexibility of the new system to accommodate parking stays of more than two hours.

Speaking during public comment April 29, Amalia Malos, an Evanston resident and owner of Evanston Stitchworks, located just off Main St., at 906 Sherman Ave., told aldermen that, at the advice of the City, she sought to provide customers an “experiential” experience at the shop,  offering hands-on knitting and sewing  classes that run up to three hours long.

“Until now we’ve been doing okay with that, in terms of public parking,” she told aldermen. “There are metered parking spots right in front of my store – there’s Main Street, and there’s a parking lot across the street from Vogue Fabrics.”

She said that will change when new kiosks programmed to limit parking stays to two hours  come to the street  “will no longer be able to offer three -hour classes, at the risk of my clients being ticketed,” she said. “If they can stay for two hours that’s great,  but it’s really logistically not feasible for them to have to stop in  the middle of what they’re doing after two hours, leave  the store, and move their car to another parking zone.”

She  said the City’s new parking rules also do not take into account the model in place for businesses in the Main-Dempster area, which “encourages people to not just stay in one business,  but to visit  many businesses and have an experience in our neighborhoods.”

Julie Matthei,  co-owner of Hewn Bakery, located farther north at 810 Dempster St., said some of the  changes the City is now proposing address some of the concerns merchants raised recently with officials, but not all.

The merchants’ concerns included a request  that the City “stop the aggressive ticketing of our customers, residents  and staff,” she said.

“I will say that there seems to be a slight backing off of the parking citations over the last week, but I’m only speaking for myself with this observation,” she told aldermen.

Merchants had  also asked that the City create a “B” or business zone parking in residential areas, running from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., to accommodate small business employees.

“There’s absolutely nowhere for them to park for an extended period of time, which makes it even harder to hire and retain staff,” she said. “Hiring right now for any small business is difficult as it is.”

She said merchants are also hoping the City will provide local business vehicles with signage,  allowing the vehicles to be parked in residential neighborhoods. “Smaller delivery vans should be able to park. We pay the same wheel tax as everybody  else,” she said.

She said merchants hope, too, that parking enforcement officers  issue a warning ticket for first -time parking offenses, “so that when people come in from outside Evanston their first experience of Evanston is not to get a parking ticket.”

Evanston resident Lori Keenan, another speaker, registered a concern from the customer side. She told aldermen she received two invalid tickets within the week, watching the enforcement officer write the second one as she was enjoying her birthday dinner April 24 with family and friends at Bluestone Restaurant on Central Street.

On that ticket, she  said she had literally just paid her meter and had another hour and 45 minutes on it, “but for some reason it wasn’t showing up in their system.”

She said then talked to others at Bluestone and patrons of other businesses on Central Street, who related  a similar experience.

“This can’t be an isolated incident,” said Ms. Keenan. “It can’t just be happening to me.”

Asked about the issue by Mayor Stephen Hagerty, Assistant City Manager Erika Storlie, leading the parking  presentation for  the City, said the vendor for the City had identified a “bug” in the system, where the tablets which enforcement officers were using were not pulling the recent information from the cellular connection. She maintained the problem, affecting Ms. Keenan and others, has since been resolved.

In her presentation, Ms. Storlie highlighted a number of parking changes the City will be putting in place  in response to concerns from residents  and the business community.

“The Parking Division is striving to be adaptable and amenable to new ideas so some of these changes were proposing are directly in response to the feedback we gained from the residents and business owners,” she said.

 These include extending the standard two-hour time for  street and lot parking, with a four hour maximum limit in different areas.

Officials are considering establishing four-hour maximum times at City surface parking lots; on secondary meter streets outside of downtown (at least one block from the storefront area); and in business districts outside of downtown as well as select downtown areas after 5 p.m.

The City’s Transportation/Parking Committee has discussed the changes on several occasions, said Ms. Storlie. “Generally, times have changed, people are doing experience businesses, having dinner and a movie,” she said. “Two hours is just not simply long enough to accomplish what people want to accomplish, especially in the different business areas where there is not a long-term parking garage option.”

Currently, said Ald. Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, a longtime member of the Transportation/Parking Committee, and whose ward includes the Main-Dempster area, “We do have areas where people will visit Main  Street in the morning  for breakfast at Lucky Platter [Restaurant] and might come back in the evening at 5 o’clock to park for dinner, and they’re locked out – they’re not allowed to park again. I know at that at Transportation and Parking this was a significant issue and it was incredibly confusing.

“Especially, for people coming from outside Evanston for one visit – perhaps to Dave’s Rock Shop or some other business, they  are completely flummoxed,” by the current system, she said.

 Some of the other changes highlighted by Ms. Storlie and also on the City’s website, cityofevanston.org:

  • Installing more long-term meters in underutilized areas.
  • Offering incentives, , including waiving the convenience fee charged by the city application for those who pay for the maximum amount of parking time allowed; as well as offering $5 in free parking credit for those who load $20 onto their Park Evanston mobile wallet.
  • Reducing the “lockout” period in between parking sessions imposed by the ParkEvanston mobile app and pay-by-license-plate pay stations to 30 minutes from several hours, allowing people the flexibility to pay for street parking in the same location multiple times a day.”

In discussion at the April 29, some aldermen also pushed for a comprehensive study of how the City’s parking system is working.

Ald. Judy Fiske, whose First Ward includes a portion of the downtown area, asked if officials are considering additional places where the City could build a new parking garage. Ms. Storlie said officials are currently looking at some options on Central Street but that is the only place under consideration right now. “But I’m certainly open to any suggestions the Council might have,” she added.

“I guess I have never received so many complaints as I have about the parking changes,” Ald. Fiske said. “People are almost literally tearing their hair out, they’re so upset about this.”

“In some ways we’re making it more complicated. I think we just need to make it simpler. I’m almost to the point where I would even consider eliminating the parking altogether and making spaces on the  street in front of business short-term parking, so people could go in,” she said. “I want to encourage people to park somewhere and walk around and go to shops throughout Evanston, but I don’t want them sitting in their restaurant or, for whatever they’re shopping for, and thinking all the time about ‘Oh my God, my meter is going is going to expire’ or ‘I’ve got to check my app’ or ‘I’ve got to do something.’”

Ald. Thomas Suffredin, 6th Ward, noted that business owners on Central Street in his ward have raised concerns. He encouraged aldermen to allocate resources for a City-wide parking study.

“You know we can get the best information possible and still make bad policy,” he observed. “But if we don’t get complete information it pretty much guarantees we’re going to make bad policy, and I think the approach of a one-size-fits-all parking policy is probably not appropriate for the City of Evanston.”

In that regard, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz told aldermen that officials plan to report back to the Council by the end of June with information about a study, including looking at what other similar communities have done.