“Order something simple” is a good strategy for trying out a restaurant. If the place can ably execute something straightforward, you can proceed with confidence in the establishment’s other offerings. Anyone who has ever had a subpar grilled cheese knows that simple and easy are not the same thing.

Parking policy should be simple, but it is clearly not easy … and the City of Evanston has served up a half-cooked meal.

This publication recently asked “How Many Parking Tickets Does It Take to Ruin a City?” The answer is one. One ticket to someone who actually paid to park. One ticket issued while someone is standing at the pay station down the block. One ticket to a resident in a restricted zone that should never have been approved in the first place. One ticket in a restricted zone that should be reevaluated and eliminated. One ticket in a “resident-only” zone, like the one on the lakefront at Sheridan Square, that did not actually exist. One ticket for street cleaning when confusing, far off and hard-to-read signs may or may not accurately describe the street cleaning zone. One ticket to a churchgoer on a Sunday when the sermon and socializing ran a little long. One ticket on an empty street at 8:55 p.m. – and so on.

The City of Evanston completely forfeited its authority to credibly enact and enforce parking policy; therefore, the City should not write another ticket until it has this figured out. We are literally writing tickets to people who have paid (or are standing in line waiting to pay) and enforcing ordinances that were never approved. Continued enforcement undermines the City’s legitimate authority and credibility on not just parking but all issues. This affects every resident, visitor and business in Evanston. We have to fix this – and now.

To start, we need a comprehensive parking study. Though there have been calls for exactly this, they have been met with resistance from the Transportation and Parking Committee. I can see why. An outside study will expose some of the nonsense perpetuated on the residents of Evanston. The Sheridan Square scandal demonstrates the crying need for the comprehensive study. If there’s a phantom resident-only zone not supported by ordinance on the lakefront, where else might they be? How many other residents are getting bogus, illegal tickets?

Let’s have a comprehensive and independent outside study and set our policies from there. No aldermanic interference, just data. The study could provide other important information – such as the actual market rate for monthly parkers, as it seems the City may in fact be charging far less than the actual market rate in some areas like the City-owned lot on Hinman.

Essentially, we need to start over and craft an entirely new comprehensive set of parking policies. Parking policies in our business districts – from Central Street to Howard Street and every district in between – need to be made with input from business owners on the front end. Parking is an economic development issue and one-size-fits-all does not work.

As for long-term and monthly parking, we need to encourage higher utilization of our garages and surface lots. If a lot is not being sufficiently used, we need to consider alternative uses.

On the other hand, if a lot is jampacked with a long waiting list, we need to make sure we are collecting the actual market rate.

The City loses goodwill every time a shopper or visitor returns to a car to find an improper parking ticket. Businesses lose a customer. The City loses more revenue than it gains.

We have to fix this, and we have to fix this now.

Mr. Suffredin serves as alderman of the Sixth Ward.