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June 26, 2019

5/21/2019 3:09:00 PM
How Many Parking Tickets Does It Take to Ruin a City?
A Guest Essay by Shawn Jones

A familiar sight greeted those walking down Sherman Avenue to attend the grand dedication of the new fountain at Fountain Square Saturday late morning – an Evanston Parking Enforcement Officer patrolling resolutely, printing out tickets and punishing offenders. Excited residents streamed toward the celebratory event, kids on their shoulders, but one wonders how many of them returned to unpleasant missives under windshield wipers. 

“Thanks for coming! Please visit downtown Evanston again!” 

How many others left the ceremony but did not stay to shop or have lunch for fear of a getting a ticket?

We know that at times our parking boxes pose difficulties for users. The glare of the sun makes it difficult to see the screens, and anyone who does not have two free hands is hampered in completing a payment.

We know that those using the parking app to pay for the privilege of shopping downtown have at times received tickets anyway. And yet, out there every day, you see the blue-shirted deliverers of punitive tardy slips pounding car after car.

The cost of parking is high for a middle-sized City surrounded by communities that offer free and virtually unlimited parking.

Right now, residents and visitors are losing faith and are upset about the cost of parking. They feel preyed upon. Business-owners cringe when the parking jeeps roll up.

We hear that this whole new parking system – the parking boxes, the aggressive ticket-writing, mistakes with the apps, the high rates and the limited maximum time allowed for on-street parking – is creating a hostile environment.

This system does not welcome, it punishes residents and visitors for wanting to patronize Evanston enterprises, it diminishes our attractiveness as a community, and it hurts businesses.

As an example, Curt’s Cafe on Central Street recently held a benefit. Many residents reported returning to their cars to find tickets – all issued between 8:55 and 9 p.m. (parking becomes free after 9 p.m.). This is venial, not reasonable enforcement.

Yet those parking at 8:45 or so would have received an error message if using the app. “Parking not available now,” they would have read, then found a ticket when they got back to their vehicle.

It does not help matters that City Council very publicly viewed parking revenue as a way to solve a budget hole. Increasing rates and eliminating free Sunday parking were seen as revenue-generators without, it seems, any consideration of the damage that is too monstrous to be called “collateral.”

Pure and simple: Council made the decision to fine visitors and patrons to help balance its budget.

As Dirk Cumulo might report in an April Fool’ article: “’Cha-Ching!’ said Parking Punishment Czar Pearl LeBlanc.”

The City seems to know this is a problem, but so far the Council has taken limited action to address it. They have extended the meter time to four hours in certain locations.

We lay these problems at the feet of the City Council, which approved them. Aldermen voted to change to parking boxes that many do not like. Aldermen voted to contract with a parking app company that charges a fairly high service fee for every transaction and then does not report parking payments in time to register with the ticket-writers. They voted to increase rates and fines and to eliminate free parking on Sunday – to try to balance their budget on the backs of Evanston parkers.

Votes were not unanimous, and apologies are due to those like Sixth Ward Alderman Tom Suffredin, who has for months called for a comprehensive parking study, which aldermen finally approved earlier this month.

But this is not enough, not right now, not by a longshot.

Anyone walking through downtown cannot help but notice the vacant storefronts. Business owners feel the pinch. Many, many shoppers shake their heads in dismay, muttering a similar refrain: “Next time I am just going to Old Orchard. Parking there is free.”

The City must take immediate action. Trust has already been destroyed. The damage is real.

It must stop. Until we solve our parking problems, the City should cease issuing violations for any expired meter. The continued viability of Evanston businesses depends on it.

A moratorium must begin immediately and continue until the City has resolved the parking mess, both in terms of the exorbitant rates and the flawed system. The City owes it to residents, visitors and businesses to have a system that works properly, records payments accurately and feels fair.

Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, June 7, 2019
Comment by: Craig Likhite

It really has gotten out of hand, and not just with meters but also with the high increase on parking ticket fines. A neighbor just received a $75 ticket for leaving his car on the monthly cleaning side of the street. 1x a month, it happens, right? But to be fine $75 seems excessive. And back to the meters- just last night I was paying to park on Central, in front of Bluestone, and while the meter said $1/hour, the electronic screen stated $1.50/hour. I almost missed that as I put in a buck, to only realize I had actually just paid for 45 minutes. Obviously not a big deal, unless that overly enthusiasitc ticket writer for EPD was out cruising for mistakes. The same guy that waits in front of stores/restaurants at 8:55 just waiting to write folks up. Redunkulous.

Posted: Thursday, May 30, 2019
Comment by: Kimberly Kurrus

Parking in Evanston is such a terrible arrangement all together. There is not enough spaces, nor are they convenient, and now they charge excessively, and make it INconvenient to pay!
Why not block the downtown area and make it foot and bicycle traffic only?Or have 4 hour free parking on weekdays in all of Evanston to encourage shopping and social gatherings in the downtown area, especially at night? Just watch how this new system will deter people from spending their time and money downtown.

Posted: Thursday, May 30, 2019
Comment by: Jim Signorelli

I understand the complaints in this article, but I also appreciate the financial position the city is in, and the need to increase revenues. Instead of depending on parking meters for revenue, increase the price of a city sticker to allow for parking anywhere anytime in the city. Use the parking meters for cars that do not have city stickers.

Posted: Tuesday, May 28, 2019
Comment by: Kathy Stohrer

I used to be able to put a nickel in a meter by the post office to check the P.O. box of a club for which I am a board member. Now? The pay box “convenience” fee means I park three blocks away at my church. No problem for the able-bodied, but I currently am not. I shop elsewhere, I borrow books from other suburban libraries, and I would avoid Evanston shopping altogether if not for a few merchants to whom I stay loyal. At least bring back free parking all day Sunday, but better, bring back the meters, and hire people to empty them. The people who currently drive to Old Orchard and everywhere else with free parking!

Posted: Friday, May 24, 2019
Comment by: Leslie Walsh

Well said, Mr Jones. I have been sharing this op-ed with friends and family. All of whom agree with this opinion whole heartedly. I had an electrician in the other day. He lives elsewhere and was stunned by the restrictions and almost barbaric rules now in effect regarding parking. I’m telling you, it sounds like a real perverted mindset came up with hiw to serve the needs of the people and the town’s bedget shortfalls. And, by the way, I thought our very high taxes, you know, the ones that continue to rise despite the failure of the city counil to rise up and FIX things here, were intended to meet those budget deficits.
People are complaining everywhere. At the grocery stores, the Starbucks, in shops, restaurants, salons and spas all over town people are outraged. Every member of the city council should be receiving this essay in their emails on a daily basis. The mayor as well should be bombarded with copies of this essay by Shawn Jones.

Posted: Thursday, May 23, 2019
Comment by: dawn okamoto

Thank you for so accurately describing the horrendous parking situation created by this new system that began March 1. It is only because of public outrage and negative media coverage that the City Manager and Asst City Manager have taken action to address these serious concerns. Thank you ROUNDTABLE for having the courage to speak the truth.

Posted: Thursday, May 23, 2019
Comment by: Bonnie James

I attended a work lunch in downtown Arlington Heights last week. 2 hour parking - FREE.

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