Some drivers with “disabled” placards would have to pay for the on-street metered spots they are now using for free under a proposal that received mixed support at the City’s Transportation/Parking Committee meeting Aug. 26.

At the meeting, Committee members backed staff moving forward, drawing up a proposal charging for “disabled” parking spaces for all disabled drivers except those holding a yellow/silver placards, denoting permanently disabled.

City staff brought the issue to the Committee last October, looking for direction to proceed. Under a change in State law in 2017, legislators eliminated automatic free parking for most people with disabilities, staff noted.

The State currently issues four different types of placards for people with disabilities, staff said in a memo.

Of the four, only the yellow/silver cards, which are issued to people with permanent disabilities, exempt drivers of those vehicles from paying at metered spaces, staff said.

The other three – which include placards that are non-meter exempt, permanent (blue in color), temporary (red), and organizational (green) – do not exempt owners of those vehicles from paying at metered spaces, under the change in the law.

Staff surveyed communities similar to Evanston and found Oak Park, Waukegan and Springfield all charge for “disabled-meter” parking, unless the vehicle has a yellow-and-silver placard.

In discussion at the Aug. 26 meeting, Committee member Alejandro Anon, repeating a position he first voiced at the October meeting, said he opposed the City continuing to offer the free parking spots.

“If they have a significant disability, I’m all for that,” he said.

Also, he said he supported the City subsidizing services in other areas to help members of that group, such as providing greater bus service near where they live or making infrastructure repairs, such as improved sidewalks.

He said if the City is trying to help, “I think there are better ways to do that than giving them a free parking spot.”
He noted the City is already making accommodations to businesses and organizations requesting designated disabled parking spots close to their establishments.

Michael Rivera, the City’s Interim Parking Division Manager, noted the cities charging for spaces since the change in Springfield include neighboring Chicago.

Mr. Rivera told Committee members that Evanston might benefit from charging, noting that people who are disabled are visiting the Chicagoland area, including Evanston, and may have become used to paying for their space.

Alderman  Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, though, cited Evanston’s reputation as a City with “sympathy” for these situations.
“We’re not saying [continuing the free parking] is making your life a whole lot easier,” she said. “It’s definitely not improving the infrastructure, but you don’t have to pay us the buck-fifty for parking,” she said.

Mr. Rivera suggested that the proposal be brought back to the Committee at its next meeting with a positive recommendation to charge for all disabled parking spaces, unless they have the yellow-and-silver exemption.

Any final action by the Committee would then have to go to the full City Council for approval.

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.