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Evanston City Council members moved forward June 28 on a pilot program that would charge non-residents for parking along the City’s lakefront, which until now has been free.
At the June 28 regular Council meeting, Council members initially voted 4-4 on whether to introduce the proposal.
Council Member Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, was absent from the meeting and did not take part in the vote.
Mayor Daniel Biss, who has the authority under Council rules to break ties in such cases, then voted in favor of the proposal moving forward.
Council Member Braithwaite could be the clinching vote when the issue comes before the Council for final action at their July 12 meeting.
Voting in support of introducing the issue were Mayor Biss and Council Members Bobby Burns, 5th Ward; Thomas Suffredin, 6th Ward; Devon Reid, 8th Ward; and Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward.
Voting against were Council Members Clare Kelly, 1st Ward; Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward; Jonathan Nieuwsma, 4th Ward; and Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward.
The proposal comes in the wake of a move by the Council to create three free beach days for residents in 2021, eliminating the charge for beach tokens – a step City officials estimated would create a $1 million budget hole.
With Council members considering making all beach days free for residents in 2022, officials will have to look elsewhere to find a replacement for the lost revenue, said Council Member Suffredin, in discussing the pilot parking program. The program calls for installation of pay stations in lots across the lakefront that are now used for free.
“Everyone who wants free beaches next year, be aware,” he said. “The money has to come from somewhere. And in this instance, [the pilot program] would be giving us information so we can tell how much money we can raise by charging people for parking who don’t live here, so nobody who’s a resident would be affected by this at all. So when we come to this for action, I’d like you all to just consider what you’re willing to do in order to get free beaches next year.”
Ald. Devon Reid, 8th, who led the move for free beaches, also supported the move to charge for parking but said the “onus” for it shouldn’t fall completely on the free beach decision.
“I think it makes sense to charge for parking. I think we can expand this later; it’s a pilot program,” he said.
To comments earlier about the Evanston lakefront remaining a welcoming space, Mr. Reid said, “I think the woods, the beach itself, should be free and accessible. But the monstrosity that is pavement, and the manmade noisy world that we have made, I do not believe that folks should feel entitled to free parking, particularly along the lakefront.”
“There are plenty of alternative modes of transportation that are better for our environment, that actually protect that planet, the beauty of our lakefront by not having as many cars and exhaust from cars, polluting the air near the lakefront,” he said.
Concerns about impact
Other Council members spoke of the need to do more study before moving forward on the program.
“Actually, a number of us on the Council here, our residents, would be directly affected by this,” said Ald. Wynne, “because what we know is that people will hunt for free parking.”
Once the City begins charging for the lakefront lots, she predicted streets adjacent to the lakefront will fill up with people looking to avoid the parking charge.
As for the message the City is sending through its action, she said, “I think one of the things we pride ourselves on in Evanston is our beautiful parks that are lakefront, and the fact that unlike our neighbors we don’t charge people, or make it so restrictive that someone can’t come to our lakefront.”
An Expensive Day in the Park
At the $3 an hour rate City parking officials have recommended charging to park along the lakefront, she calculated, a family which came for an afternoon could end up spending over $12 “And if you came with several families, which is really what you see along the lakefront all the time… suddenly a day in the park is now $25 or more.”
“I also think that we need to study this more, to understand what the impact would be and what the revenues would be from this,” she said. “I think this is hasty. And I don’t know that we’ll see the revenue that we’re expecting.”
Council Member Clare Kelly, whose northeast First Ward, like Council Member Wynne’s, includes a portion of the lakefront, also argued against instituting a charge.
“I think your lakefront is a very beautiful coveted part of Evanston, and it should remain – it should become an even more welcoming place,” she said. “I don’t think this is the right place to generate revenue; just like I think it’s the wrong place to generate revenue by making people buy tokens.”
Ald. Fleming pointed out that Council members were talking about a program that could potentially generate revenue and “would not hurt our citizens … who pay for parking everywhere else around our City.
“You know we have done a variety of things on parking that people have screamed at us about,” she said. “[The lakefront] is one place we have free parking. And people do utilize it, and so the idea that we could charge someone from out of town – I’m not sure how we say that that’s not okay, but we charge people who live in town to go downtown.”
Under parking officials’ initial proposal, the pilot program was to start July 1 and run through Labor Day.
The pay-for-parking program would apply to the following lakefront spots:
1) 1700, 1800 Sheridan Road, both sides;
2) 1400 Sheridan Road, the Arrington Lagoon lot;
3) 1400 Sheridan Road, Dawes Park lot;
4) the 400 block of Sheridan Square on the east side (from Garden Park to Sheridan Road), and
5) 2611 Sheridan Road, Lighthouse Beach lot.
Staff is recommending rates of $3 per hour for streets along the lakefront with enforcement between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. seven days a week.
A vehicle registered to an Evanston address and having a paid current wheel tax will not need to pay, officials said.
Staff would install pay stations for coin or credit card transactions and ensure signage that clearly noted pay station locations and zones where payment is required.
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.
“Not a Good Way to Conduct Public Policy”
Speaking at the June 28 meeting, David Reynolds, a longtime resident and former member of the City’s Parking Committee, called the proposal “not a well thought out plan.
“Generally, when making changes to parking regulations or pricing, a study is done to determine the likely outcome,” Mr. Reynolds said.
“No study has been done to determine who is presently parking on the lake, where they’re from, and how long they stay. Without such information, one is just guessing – not a good way to conduct policy.”
He said he also found it “ironic to propose charging people to use our lakefront just as we finally opened our beaches to everyone.
“To lift the price on one group, only to lower it on another is inconsistent, and it was not the welcoming community Evanston strives to be,” he argued.