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Lincoln Park Chamber Asks Merchants to Lobby Against Free Sunday Parking

5:53 PM CDT on March 17, 2014

Chicago Lincoln Park 2005
The Clark Street business strip in Lincoln Park. Photo: JH01 via Flickr

Kudos to the Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce for taking a stand against free Sunday parking. As reported by DNAinfo, last week the chamber sent its members an email titled, “Call to Action: End Free Sunday Parking at Meters.” The message asks merchants to contact aldermen like Scott Waguespack (32nd), Michele Smith (43rd), and Robert Fioretti (2nd), to show support for bringing paid parking back to their retail districts sooner than later. "Our understanding is feedback from business constituents would help sway those forces that are holding it up," explained chamber spokesman Padraic Swanton.

The chamber has been trying to get the parking policy reversed for several months, because free parking on business strips encourages long-term parking, which reduces turnaround and makes it harder to patronize shops. Under the current rules, some people leave their cars in spaces on Saturday night and don't move them until Monday, so there are fewer spots available for short-term parking, Swanton said. Merchants in Lincoln Park and other retail-dense neighborhoods are complaining that the lack of turnover is hurting their bottom line.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel pushed for free Sunday parking outside of the central business district as part of last spring’s fishy renegotiation of the hated parking meter deal, which also included adding meter hours on other days of the week. During City Council hearings on the reboot nearly a year ago, aldermen from neighborhoods like Lincoln Park, Wicker Park, Lakeview, and Portage Park asked about opting out of free Sundays and were told they could eventually do so.

Last summer, after the new policy was implemented and turnover slowed down in their districts, some aldermen sent letters to Emanuel’s office asking to bring back metered Sunday parking. In December, the mayor’s office asked them to resubmit their requests.

Earlier this month Emanuel issued a press release crowing about a study by Navigant Consulting that found the “savings” for drivers from free Sunday parking have been greater than expected. As Steven Vance wrote at the time, the report raises questions about whether the mayor will keep his promise to allow aldermen to opt out, because then the numbers wouldn’t look as good.

Waguespack, who spearheaded the opposition to the reboot, responded with his own press release. He argued that the report “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.”

Last week the alderman told DNA that it’s clear Emanuel doesn’t intend to allow business strips to opt out of free Sundays. He said that if there’s no action on the issue within the next few weeks, he’ll introduce an ordinance on the matter at the April City Council meeting.

Hopefully, pressure from aldermen, chambers of commerce, and business owners will force Emanuel to give in on this harmful policy. Free Sunday parking and the resulting space hogging doesn’t just hurt independent retailers and inconvenience people who want to patronize businesses by car. By causing motorists to cruise for spots and double park, it also makes conditions worse for walking, biking and transit use. Rather than offer free spaces, the mayor should pressure the parking concessionaire to adjust the price of parking throughout the day so that an optimal number of spaces will be available.

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