To address parking problems in downtown Evanston, such as overly crowded street parking and largely empty parking garages, the City might increase or decrease parking prices based on supply and demand. 

The City, anticipating higher traffic and more crowded parking post-pandemic, discussed changes in parking rates at the Sept. 22 Economic Development Committee meeting. Lindsay Bayley, Senior Planner at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning gave a presentation on public parking. 

CMAP helps counties and communities in northeastern Illinois address quality-of-life issues including transportation, housing, economic development and the environment. CMAP aims to help communities prosper, Bayley said, and that often involves reorganizing a city’s parking and transportation system.

Bayley wrote a report, “Parking Strategies to Support Livable Communities,” for CMAP and also co-founded the Parking Reform Network, a nonprofit working to educate the public about parking policy. She used findings and graphics from her report in her presentation.

(Photo by Adina Keeling)

Bayley also discussed a survey she circulated at a board of directors meeting of Downtown Evanston about two years ago. During the pre-pandemic meeting, Bayley discovered that at least half of those in attendance considered finding parking in downtown Evanston difficult. But in a follow-up question about the Maple Street parking garage, most reported that finding parking in the garage was quite easy. 

Parking spots that are directly in front of a popular destination tend to fill up first, while spots a five-to-10-minute walk away usually have plenty of availability, Bayley said. Many suburbs like Evanston don’t need additional parking spots, she added. “It’s not a supply issue that we’re dealing with, it’s more about managing what we have.”

One way to address this parking imbalance is by shifting prices, such as increasing prices at parking meters to create more of an incentive for residents to use parking garages. Municipalities also could consider decreasing prices in parking garages and adding signs to help direct traffic to garages. 

Nobody likes parking meters, Bayley said, but at the same time, people are frustrated when parking spots are filled. “I just want to emphasize that meters are not to be used to generate revenue; their purpose should be to create vacancies in your targeted high demand areas,” she said. 

Bayley added that in order to prove to residents that meters aren’t just there to collect revenue, cities could give nearby business owners a say in how that money is spent. 

During the presentation, Bayley spoke about Hinsdale, another municipality with which she has worked. In Hinsdale, metered downtown street parking was packed. After an analysis, Bayley discovered that an employee parking area was underutilized because the employee permit cost more than street parking. As a result, employees parked on the street, leaving little space for customers. 

Following the analysis, Hinsdale raised street parking from 25 cents to $1 per hour. “The morning that it went live, village hall ran out of employee permit hang tags,” she said. Hinsdale was very happy with the result, she added. 

Pricing makes the largest impact when it comes to managing parking, but there are many other strategies that don’t involve pricing, Bayley said. 

One involves decoupling parking from housing to ensure residents who don’t have a car aren’t paying a higher rent because it includes the cost of parking. Another strategy includes getting rid of employee parking mandates to help spread out parking spaces. 

Reducing the need for cars altogether also increases the number of parking spaces, leads to a more equitable system, improves the environment and is more affordable for residents and the government, said Bayley. 

At the end of the meeting, City staff discussed the possibility of dynamic parking. In this model, staffers would routinely reevaluate parking rates on street meters and in parking garages to spread out parked cars, attract more residents to downtown Evanston and encourage the use of other forms of transportation. 

During a Q&A period, 4th Ward City Council member Jonathan Nieuwsma asked how Evanston could address equity issues while reevaluating parking rates. In response, Bayley said cities need to direct residents to free or discounted parking that may be a little farther away, and she discussed other options, like taking the bus. 

Council member Devon Reid added that there are other ways of addressing equity that don’t involve pricing, such as decoupling parking from housing. 

City staffers said they will continue to discuss downtown parking rates once they have more data. 

Adina Keeling

Adina Keeling is a photojournalist and reporter, covering city news, sustainability, schools, and art. She also investigates mental health systems and environmental injustices in Evanston, and puts together...