Non-residents may soon have to pay for parking along the lakefront. (Photo by Bob Seidenberg)

Parking along Evanston’s lakefront has historically been free for visitors to the area, but that would change under a staff plan that received backing from a City committee June 14.

Members of the City Council’s Administration & Public Works Committee spoke in general support of a pilot program that would require payment by non-residents for parking at various lakefront locations. The proposal comes in the wake of a move by the Council to create three free beach days for residents in 2021 and look at making the beach completely free to residents in 2022.

Officials had previously budgeted revenue of $1 million in beach-token sales, a figure they will be looking to make up elsewhere.

In a memo to the Committee on the issue, City Parking Manager Michael Rivera said Council Member Thomas Suffredin, 6th Ward, first recommended the City explore charging for parking along the lakefront, at a A&PW meeting in April.

“As all visitors currently pay for admission to the City’s beaches; parking staff believe that only charging parking fees for visitors to Evanston would be appropriate at this time,” Mr. Rivera wrote. “Allowing Evanston registered vehicles the opportunity to park for free would not adversely affect the residents. Considering new metered revenue streams near Evanston destinations will contribute to a demand-based pricing model.

The demand-based model will help control uniformed parking increases in established business districts,” the memo continued.

If approved, the pilot program would go into effect this year on July 1 and run through Labor Day.

The pay-for-parking program would apply to the following places:

1) 1700-1800 Sheridan Road, both sides 2) 1400 Sheridan Road (Arrington Lagoon lot)
3) 1400 Sheridan Road (Dawes Park lot:
4) 400 block of Sheridan Square, east side (from Garden Park to Sheridan Road), and
5) 2611 Sheridan Road (Lighthouse Beach lot).

Mr. Rivera said staff is recommending rates of $3 per hour for streets along the lakefront, with enforcement from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

A vehicle registered to an Evanston address and having a paid current wheel tax will not need to pay, he said.

Staff would install pay stations for coin or credit card transactions and ensure signage clearly notes pay station location(s) and zones where payment is required, he said.

Mr. Rivera told the Committee the pilot program is set to run 68 days in all.

Staff is anticipating the parking charges will generate $109,344 of revenue with usage of the spaces 50% of the time at 33% total occupancy, “which is a very modest estimation,” he said.

He named a number of other communities that charge for lakefront parking, including Lake Geneva, Wis., which charges $2 per hour close to the lake. St. Joseph/Silver Beach, Mich., charges a daily parking fee of $8 per vehicle for Berrien County residents and $15 per vehicle for non-Berrien County residents, he said. Duluth, Minn., charges $0.75 an hour or a flat rate of $4 to $8 for the day at its municipal parking facilities near its lakefront, Mr. Rivera wrote in his memo.

In discussion at the Committee, Clare Kelly, 1st Ward, was the lone Council Member to voice concern about the change.

“My initial thought is this is not the year to be doing this,” Ms. Kelly said.

“One, we’re looking to try to attract as many people to Evanston to help our recovery in all of our business districts and the lakefront is a big attraction, so I don’t feel that I could support this. I think we want to be the friendly city that really draws people in right now.”

Council Member Devon Reid, 8th Ward, who led the drive for the City to make beaches free for residents, said he was very supportive of the paid parking program.

“In fact, I think it would be smart to go a step further, which is that everyone should pay to park along the lakefront, including Evanston residents,” he said during the Committee discussion.

“I think the idea of subsidizing free parking is something that we have to really start to educate residents on the burden and the cost to taxpayers. … it’s kind of an unsustainable system if we want to maintain our infrastructure.”

He pointed out that the City derives approximately 10% of its revenue through property taxes, “and so we need to find revenue in responsible sources, and I do not think that paying for parking along the lakefront is a regressive source of revenue, especially if we make the beaches free,” he said.

“Next year, I think we can use this to encourage folks to bike, walk and use alternative forms of transportation to get to the beach, because we know that we really have to move away from encouraging people to park. We know that every expense that you use with your car leaves the City of Evanston – you know when you pay for gas, that leaves the city of Evanston …. insurance, all of that leaves. If we can get more people walking and use parking as a method to induce that behavior… I support this.”
Officials are expected to bring the issue to the Council for a final vote at the Council’s June 28 meeting.

Bob Seidenberg

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.