The City needs to take a comprehensive look at its multifaceted parking problem. A close look at what passes for reasonable parking in Evanston reveals little more than a hodge-podge of regulations with little in common but being clumped together in the City Code.
There are problems with parking rates and the potential for serious discrepancies in designating special parking districts.
What we see is that parking rates are too high to bring benefit the community. The parking apps are not always reliable, and parking enforcement is draconian. Patrons are fleeing our parking nightmare, and would-be customers cast a cold eye on parking apps of questionable benefit, hourly rates that are unreasonably high rates enforcement that seems to border on draconian.
Parking hours for street-cleaning do not match – by whole swaths of time – what actually goes on in the streets. And often when a street-sweeper has passed by, it still leaves trails of trash and debris-covered drains.
It looks like some parking districts were created for their own mini-universes, and there does not seem to be an overall plan about what to do about it. Parking rates and fines seem to be crafted not by trying to ascertain what the Evanston traffic will bear but by what Chicago can get away with.
Our parking looks like a conglomerate of reactions and intentions that, individually and at the time, probably seemed reasonable but that did not build reasonably on what was already there.
A person venturing into Evanston for the first time to shop or dine will have to figure out whether the lack of parking meters on a street means that parking is free or that there is a parking box lurking somewhere in the block.
If there is a box and it is not rainy or freezing and she does not have a child or a large bag to carry and she does not need to use a cane or a walker, then paying the parking exorbitant parking fee should be a breeze. But she must not plan to stay too long if she is parking on the street. Dinner with friends might work, but if she plans to shop first, she will have to trundle back to the car with her shopping bags, find a new space and repeat the process.
If there is not a parking box, she will have to study the signs at the end of the block. Let’s see, what day of the week is it and what week of the month – the second, third, first or fourth? What if it is the fifth, say, Tuesday? Is that covered somewhere on the signs? Oh, wait – now Sunday afternoon parking is a paid event.
How much snow is there on the ground? Well, it does cover the top of her boots, but the heels are not very high – so it’s probably not two inches yet.
What if someone is visiting a friend? Be careful. It may not be possible to park near the friend’s home for more than two hours. State law allows public streets to be essentially privatized so two-hour limits are enforced in residential districts as well. Maybe across the street or a few blocks away there will be, not free, but more expansive parking.
City Council has imposed all these restrictions and fines, much of the time with input from City staff or appointed committees. Some people proposed these; some debated them; a majority approved them. We know this. But we believe it is now time for a comprehensive, holistic look at parking limits and restrictions Citywide.
Evanston has grown in the past two decades, and its challenges are increasing. As growth was beginning again in the late 1990s, the City Council often looked to the Water Fund for extra dollars to fund operations, transferring money from there to the General Fund. We fear that parking has become the new default “go-to” place to find money. It is handy and there is always and altruistic, if somewhat patronizing, rationalization for increasing parking rates and fines: The pain is spread more widely than just to residents; visitors, shoppers and diners will have to pay as well. This is tempting but cliché and passé.
Parking revenues should not be used to balance the budget. Parking rates and restrictions should be figured collaboratively with businesses and residents, and there should be valid, stated reasons for imposing them.
Right now, we believe the fees and fines are so great as to be potentially harmful to the businesses Evanston needs. The City Council should not be afraid to backtrack on these in next year’s budget.
As for parking districts, it may be that they are fairly well drawn but need to be updated in some way. We may need to do a little or a lot.
But first, let us see what we have.
We acknowledge that adjusting parking fees, fines and districts is one way, a short-term way, to solve one problem. Long-term, we all need to reduce our carbon footprints, and driving less is one way to do that. But until we have more options for public transportation within Evanston, and as long as people are driving their cars to get food or entertainment, we would like to have them drive here to spend their money. Then maybe we will have enough to buy smaller green circulator buses and add more protected bike lanes to make the air cleaner and the atmosphere more attractive for everyone