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Rahm Made the Meter Deal Worse, and That Shows No Signs of Changing

Traffic on Belmont
Now that parking is free on Sundays, retail areas see less parking turnover and more traffic. Photo: Julie Gibson

Mayor Rahm Emanuel still hasn't let any aldermen reinstate metered parking on Sundays, despite promises last summer to do so after he announced a renegotiated parking meter deal. A new study released today shows why it may never happen.

Navigant Consulting's report for the mayor's office [PDF] says that "parkers" are paying less than Navigant had estimated last summer. It also shows that the city is paying less to Chicago Parking Meters, LLC, because it no longer has to pay for road closures (including street festivals and construction) that happen on Sundays. Combined, CPM is collecting $8.7 million less from Sunday parkers and the city annually. (The report doesn't specify how much of that total is attributable to each source.)

This result suggests why Emanuel has been dragging his feet on letting aldermen opt out of free Sunday parking, because then the numbers for the "savings" wouldn't look as good. The study supports 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack's assertion that allowing metered Sundays would "hurt the deal they cut," as he told DNAinfo.

Waguespack's chief of staff Paul Sajovec says he’s responded twice to the mayor’s office’s demand that aldermen prepare a packet containing an explanation of why they want metered parking on Sundays, where they want it, and letters of support from local businesses and associations. The last time was January 13 and the intergovernmental affairs office still hasn’t responded as to what the next steps are.

In a press release from the 32nd Ward office [PDF], Alderman Waguespack called the report "flawed and misleading," adding that the purported savings of $8.7 million on Sundays "overlooks or simply ignores that removing Sunday parking fees alters the utilization patterns of metered parking spaces in ways that make parking less convent for residents and less beneficial for businesses." Sajovec says he’s not surprised anymore at the lack of response from the mayor’s office.

What's getting lost in the administration's rush to claim victory is that free Sunday parking is bad transportation policy. The city continues to frame parking policy in terms of how much drivers are paying. But putting the right price on street parking is a crucial part of keeping traffic in check, improving access to business districts, and reducing illegal parking that creates hazards on the street.

Emanuel should be putting pressure on CPM to achieve these goals through its management of parking meters. Rather than eliminating meters on Sundays, CPM should be adjusting prices throughout the day to attain the optimal number of open parking spots. This would reduce cruising and double-parking, creating a better street environment for transit, biking, and walking. Instead, all we're getting is more inane discussion about who’s paying what.

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