Non-residents would have to pay parking fees year-round to park close to Evanston’s  lakefront under a proposal that moved forward at the Oct. 10 City Council meeting.

Evanston City Council members voted 6-3 in favor of introducing an extension of the pilot program, launched in August, to being year-round, charging non-residents for parking in areas close to Evanston’s lakefront that previously were free.

During discussion, several Council members – Clare Kelly, 1st Ward, Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward and Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward – whose wards all contain a portion of the lakefront, argued against the measure.

The newest step is putting up a “barrier,” declared Wynne during discussion. “And I think that’s a bad idea. I think our recreation areas should be open and available to everyone and not have any barriers.”

Capturing demand

In recommending extension of the program to year-round, said Michael Rivera, the city’s Parking Manager, officials are aiming to create a “demand-based” pricing system, which will allow the city to charge for parking in select areas such as the lakefront, rather than increase parking rates city-wide.

Evanston City Council members took a step forward Oct. 10 to extending a pilot program to year-long, charging non-residents fees for parking close to Evanston’s lakefront (RoundTable photo). Credit: Evanston RoundTable

“Usage of demand-based models,” he said in a memo, will also “allow the department to increase and lower rates in under-utilized or congested areas.”

Under the proposal, a rate of $3-per-hour will be charged non-resident parkers from April 1 through Oct. 31, which includes the beach season.

As the weather changes, the number of transactions and parkers will likely decrease, Rivera said.

From Nov. 1 through March 31, the city will impose the same commuter rate of 50-cents-per-hour that it assesses at commuter lots, Rivera wrote.

The original program included parking areas at 1700 through 1800 Sheridan Road, 1400 Sheridan Road (Arrington Lagoon and Dawes parking lots); the 500 through 600 blocks of Sheridan Square on the east side as well as 2611 Sheridan Road (Lighthouse Beach lot).

Under the proposed year-round program, the areas will be expanded to include the 1000 through 1200 blocks of Lake Shore Boulevard, 100 block of Kedzie Street and the 500 through 800 blocks of Sheridan Road, Rivera said in his memo. From Aug. 2 through Sept. 26, the city received 13,421 transactions for a total of $73,530, Rivera reported, with the figure since passing the $80,000 mark.

Responding to questions from the Council at the meeting, Riviera said his department has received “maybe less than 10 complaints” through the city’s 311 system “and those complaints probably came within the first three weeks of the program from residents who weren’t sure if they had to pay.”

Reid suggests parking fee for residents too

Speaking in support, 8th Ward Council member Devon Reid called extension of the pilot program “a good idea.” He maintained – and said he anticipated he would receive emails because of the idea – that it should be designed, though, to charge everyone across the board, including residents.

He said that is particularly so with Council members agreeing earlier this year to his proposal that called for the Evanston beaches to be made totally free to residents in 2022, with the purchase of beach tokens no longer required.

If the city can just expand from the parking revenue received in the pilot program to $50,000 a month, Reid said, it will be able to meet that goal.

“This is a great way of covering those costs,” he said of the parking program.

Moreover, with beaches free, an Evanston family of four would still end up paying less for a visit to the beach, even if the parking costs were added in, he said.

Or they could ride their bikes or take public transportation, he said, avoiding the parking costs altogether.

“While I believe the beach should be free and I hope that we can make it that – one of God’s creations,” he said later in the meeting, “parking lots are not, and so I don’t mind people paying for access to a parking lot.”

Revelle said that kind of system may work for some residents, including those who live close to the beach. “They’ll be fine because they can just walk,” she said.

But people living farther away, in the western part of the city, would have to pay to park under Reid’s suggestion, she said, “and I would be against that.”

Council member Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, praised Rivera for finding a creative revenue-generating idea.

At the same time, he said, while he was willing to support the free-beach program this past season, “I have yet to have a breakdown in terms of how many Evanston residents were able to take advantage of this.”

“So my concern is basically this: we’re reducing the revenue [the city would ordinarily receive] to support the beach operations. And at the same time the operational cost, we understand, is going to increase. So, I think our conversations are all over the place.”

Council member Jonathan Nieuwsma, 4th Ward, said he planned to support the move to a year-long parking fee program when it is scheduled to come up for a final vote at the Council’s Oct. 25 meeting.

“I would position this as saying that our parks and our lakefront are free for folks to use,” he said.

At the same time, he said, “we need to maintain that infrastructure, and charging non-Evanston residents for parking near the beach is a way for them to share some of the cost burden that otherwise Evanston taxpayers would be paying out of our pockets.”

If the proposal does move forward, he suggested, he would like to see better signage along the lakefront, informing residents they can still park for free.

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.