State Shouldn’t Pay for Employee Parking at an Office 2 Minutes From the ‘L’

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The office building, right, and the garage across the street. Image: Google Streetview

Yesterday DNAinfo reported that a block club is pushing to expand permit parking in Uptown and Andersonville, in response to complaints that workers at a nearby office building are taking up too many parking spaces on side streets. The Illinois Department of Human Services recently took over three floors of a ten-story building at 5050 North Broadway, owned by Imperial Realty, to house about 400 workers. The building is otherwise largely empty.

Representatives for the DHS workers, local alderman Ameya Pawar, and Imperial all argued that the perceived parking woes should be addressed by providing free spaces for employees in a six-story garage across the street from the office, also owned by the real estate company. The lone voice of reason in the article came from a state official, who pointed out that public transportation is a viable alternative for getting to the building, located only a two-minute walk from the Red Line’s Argyle stop.

The Winona Foster Carmen Winnemac Block Club has been seeking support for converting about 1,100 curbside spaces on nearby side streets to permit parking. The process requires support from 65 percent of residents within the Block Club’s boundaries. Block club president Randy Heite said the move is necessary because there’s a dearth of parking for residents during the day, partly due to DHS workers using on-street spots.

Fran Tobin, an organizer from the Alliance for Community Services, which includes a union representing state employees, claimed that the parking shortage is to blame for workers arriving late to the DHS offices. “They are driving around and around, looking for parking,” he said.

Since there are roughly 400 employees and about 200 clients visiting each day, he argued that several hundred spaces are needed. Tobin said state officials should “take responsibility for the damage they’ve made,” by addressing the perceived parking nightmare. He said that renting spaces for employees at the garage, which has room for more than 600 cars, “would certainly be the most logical thing to do.”

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The office is ridiculously close to the Argyle ‘L’ stop — and great Asian food. Image: Google Maps

Pawar’s chief of staff Jim endorsed that idea. “The ideal solution here would be for the State of Illinois to provide parking for their employees,” he said. Imperial president Alfred Klairmont said that, as a show of goodwill, he planned to give the state 66 free parking passes for employees. He noted that only about 30 DHS workers currently pay for spaces, which cost $125 per month.

Understandably, the state has not expressed interest in spending money to encourage employees to drive to an office a stone’s throw from an ‘L’ stop. Illinois Department of Central Management Services spokesman Mike Claffey told DNA the state’s policy is to “encourage employees to use mass transit, and other sustainable transportation means, whenever they are available.” He added, “If an employee chooses to drive to work, they are responsible for parking legally.”

Some DHS employees truly may not have practical alternatives to driving to work, and others may need to use a car during the day in order to serve their clients. Car-sharing vehicles housed at the garage would be a good way to address the latter type of trip.

However, it’s likely that the Red Line, buses, walking, and/or biking would be fairly easy alternatives for dozens, if not hundreds, of their colleagues who are currently choosing to drive because it seems more convenient. If permit parking is implemented, it’s likely that these folks would reconsider their options and the overall demand for parking would be greatly reduced.

One commenter on the DNA piece noted that the state could create incentives for employees to leave their cars at home. The reader suggested offering discounted transit passes, or helping to establish shuttle bus service between the Ravenswood Metra station and Uptown’s business districts.

Commenter Peter Chen nicely summed up the folly of addressing the perceived parking shortage by providing additional free parking. “If people would simply switch to public transportation (unless [a car is] absolutely needed, not merely more convenient), there would be plenty of parking,” he wrote. “People have the right to choose to drive, but that choice may come with parking and traffic issues — that’s just the ‘cost’ of their choice. So, if you don’t want to have to deal with parking and traffic issues, don’t drive.”

  • tooter turtle

    Public transit from many suburbs to this location is not good. Some auto parking is needed. But the state should strongly encourage employees not to bring more cars into this neighborhood. Maybe reimburse 25% of parking expenses but more like 75% of public transit expenses?

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    If the state workers needs to use their autos, such as for calling on clients or home visits, defraying some of the cost of parking may be necessary. All others are on their own. Permit parking should be kept to a minimum as businesses nearby use it too. The trouble is once you kick the door open for permit parking, the next street over wants it and so on.

  • kastigar

    There is a dark blue Chevy Volt with the license plate “BOXRBOY” that
    constantly illegally parks under the Western El tracks. There is even a
    “NO AUTOS” sign that the guy parks directly under. This is marked “no parking” and the owner claims it’s a “perk” of free parking provided by the CTA.

  • CL

    Public transit is a good option if you live along the red line, but anywhere else, driving is probably saving them a great deal of time. They’re driving because it’s the best option — the alternatives likely would mean less sleep and less personal time. People who point out that you don’t NEED to drive just aren’t being realistic when the alternatives mean less time with your family. The employees are going to choose the option that is best for them.

    For those who could switch to transit without much difficulty, DHS could help by reimbursing employees for transit expenses (but not driving expenses).

  • It’s likely that, when you factor in sitting in rush-hour traffic and circling the neighborhood for parking, many of these employees would save time by switching to other modes. Perhaps they’ve never looked into alternatives because driving *seems* like the fastest, easiest way to get to work. If free parking stops being an option, they’ll take another look at alternatives. At any rate, taxpayer dollars shouldn’t be used to incentivize driving to the DHS.

  • Driving is clearly not the best option since employees are driving laps around their office in the morning. Providing easy parking (there is no such thing as ‘free’ parking) though, is not going to create the demand for greater access to public transit that these employees, and the city-at-large, require. Only after that will we get the public transit we all deserve so we don’t have to live by the mercy of available urban car storage. Andersonville can then create a Daily State Employee Grand Prix at their own discretion.

  • If the DHS workers need cars during the day to see clients the huge parking structure across the street is a great place for an iGo station. Last I checked iGo does offer group rates. In fact, there used to be iGo cars parked in that garage when I lived in Edgewater around the mid-aughts. Maybe they are still there…?

  • CL

    “Driving is clearly not the best option since employees are driving laps around their office in the morning.”

    You don’t know that. The time spent circling could easily be less than the additional time it would take to ride the bus. Plus, after work, they get to jump right into their cars.

    I think you have a good point that we might need to make life more inconvenient to get better public transit in the long run — but I don’t buy that these employees are just not aware that transit would save them time. I drive a lot, and I take public transit a lot, and driving almost always saves a great deal of time. It saves about 20 minutes for short trips, and an hour+ for long trips (crossing the city).

  • CL

    Public transit almost never saves time. The bus sits in rush hour traffic too, and time spent circling for parking would need to take 20+ minutes to make driving less convenient (give or take depending on the route).

    The only people who could potentially break even or even save time are people who live along the red line, with little walking on either end. If you need to take a bus going east, and then go north or south, driving is going to save tons of time easily.

    Sometimes transit is a superior option because it’s more relaxing, you can read, you get exercise, etc — but it’s just not true that it saves time.

  • Guess it all depends on your idea of time well spent.

  • Cameron Puetz

    Unfortunately, unless an employee lives on the Red Line, it’s unlikely that transit would save them time. The CTA is good at getting people downtown, but getting between neighborhoods is difficult. Even if both neighborhoods are well served by transit, they may not be well connected to each other. For example a commute starting near the Logan Square Blue Line station would take 20 min to drive and be 1 hour by transit.

    Do you know where these offices were located before? It’s possible that many workers once had an easy transit commute but are now driving because the new location is harder to reach.

  • I said many employees who switch to other modes, not just transit, would likely save time. To use your Logan Square station to the DHS offices example, Google Maps says driving the 5.6 miles at a low-traffic time would take 20 minutes, so let’s say 25 minutes at rush hour. Add 10 minutes for the parking search (The union guy says employees are wasting so much time circling that they’re late for work) and you’ve got 35 minutes.

    Meanwhile, Google Maps says taking the #76 bus to the Diversey Brown Line stop, and then transfering to Red at Belmont, would get you there in 45. But biking at 10 mph would get you there in about 34 minutes. Riding Divvy from the Logan stop to the Belmont Red Line station, then catching the train, would only take 32.

    Granted, bike commuting isn’t for everyone. But, as discussed, many DHS employees who switch from driving to transit might find that the financial and stress savings, plus the ability to read or use electronic devices during their work trip, are well worth a few extra minutes of commuting time.

  • Kevin M

    ” Plus, after work, they get to jump right into their cars”

    You make it sound as if they’re off and running at full speed towards their homes; leaves blowing in the wind behind their zooming automobiles. Have you driven in Chicago during rush hour in the last, oh, 20 years?

  • jared

    But the bus is subject to the same traffic plus time spent letting passengers on and off. Then the wait for the first, second and possibly third bus. Taking the bus versus driving can easily triple ones travel time…

  • Alicia

    The bus isn’t the only option. There’s also commuter rail. A couple I know who moved to Chicagoland earlier this year said that they quickly learned that trying to drive downtown was a waste of time, and whenever they want or need to go downtown, they take Metra.

  • rohmen

    This. I commute from Oak Park to the Loop on the Blue Line each day. The same distance–even in rush hour–could be completed in 30 minutes with a car. The train takes around 40 to 45 door-to-door. I take the train because (1) parking costs a fortune, and (2) I can read and relax on the train. There are several real benefits to using public transportation in Chicago that make it well worth it, but unfortunately getting to a destination “faster” is rarely one of them.

  • Str0ng

    Sorry not sorry. Most employers don’t provide free parking for their employees downtown, unless your a big wig and then it’s just factored into your compensation.

  • Fred

    Just like walking more than 10 minutes is a deal breaker for non-walking enthusiasts, transferring more than once is a deal breaker for most commuters. Bus to Brown line to Red line? Not happening for many (most) people. Anyone trying to get to this location from a suburb that isn’t Evanston or Skokie is also likely driving.

  • The Belmont Brown/Red transfer is an exception to that rule. Since rush hour trains are frequent and you don’t have to switch platforms, transfering takes minimal time and effort, so this itinerary is similar to a simple bus/train commute. For the transfer-phobic, a slightly longer alternative is a 5-minute walk to Fullerton + bus to the Red Line.

    For anyone coming from the North Shore and beyond, Metra to Ravenswood + Divvy is a convenient option.

  • lindsaybanks

    It would be great if they could make the on-street parking metered with residential permit exemption. I don’t think this has been done in Chicago, but it is needed in many neighborhoods.

  • Cat

    Take it from someone who works in that building. We are not trying to make more difficult for the residents of the area, most of us hadn’t planned on being in that office and got side lined. The “show of goodwill” with the free spaces ended up being for managers and NOT staff, few were informed of the possibility of renting spaces (if any) and any one that calls about renting a space has said they have been refused. In addition, while public transportation is great for some, it’s not for others. It gets expensive and time consuming! From where I love it is actually CHEAPER for me to drive and taking public transportation means taking the train and then the el and takes around 2 hours to get to work. Driving can still take some time but that commute can almost be cut in half. It’s a bad situation for ALL involved; staff, residents, and clients.

  • Anonymous

    Most of the employees don’t even live in the city. They live in various suburbs and some are FAR! Public transit is a GREAT option if you are already in the city, but the many many employees that aren’t either don’t have that option at all or at least easily! When you factor in the costs of the parking at a train station, then a round trip train ticket, then a ventra ticket, in addition to the 2+ hours of travel… Driving becomes the best option. Plus, they still need to be able to afford to live. Despite what has been said, not all state employees are paid so well that they can afford all those additional costs.

  • sartt

    S n i t c h lol

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