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Rahm Blinks, Agrees to Restore Metered Sundays on Some Retail Strips

Lincoln Avenue in Lakeview, one of the neighborhoods where aldermen have requested restoring metered Sundays. Photo: Jarell Watson

After ten months of stonewalling, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is bowing to pressure from aldermen, chambers of commerce, and business owners and finally making good on his promise to bring back paid Sunday parking in some commercial districts. The Sun-Times reports the mayor plans to introduce an ordinance at the April City Council meeting that will eliminate free Sundays on select retail strips in Lincoln Park, Lakeview, Bucktown, Wicker Park, and Portage Park. This is in response to longstanding requests from aldermen Scott Waguespack (32nd), Tom Tunney (44th), and John Arena (45th).

“We believe the vast majority of Chicagoans are pleased with free Sunday parking in neighborhoods that the mayor was able to provide with the renegotiated parking agreement,” said a statement from the mayor’s office explaining the recent decision. “But we understand that three out of 50 aldermen prefer to restore paid Sundays in certain areas where the businesses/residents support it. To that end, as promised, we intend to introduce an ordinance in April that will combine the requests of the few aldermen who requested paid Sundays be restored.”

Emanuel originally pushed for free Sunday parking outside of the central business district as part of last spring’s fishy reboot of the reviled parking meter deal. During Council hearings on the renegotiation almost a year ago, these aldermen, plus Michele Smith (43rd), asked about opting out of free Sundays and were promised they could eventually do so.

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

Earlier this month, when the Emanuel issued a press release boasting that the “savings” for drivers from free Sunday parking have been greater than expected, it raised questions of whether he would ever keep his promise, because then the numbers wouldn’t look as good. Last week the Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce emailed a call to action to members, asking them to voice their support to aldermen for reinstating paid Sundays. Also last week, Waguespack told DNAinfo he planned to introduce an ordinance on the matter at the April City Council meeting himself if the mayor didn’t take action.

It’s commendable that Emanuel is finally doing the right thing and allowing aldermen to opt out of a policy that hurts their constituents. However, the wording of the statement from the mayor's office suggest that Waguespack, Tunney, and Arena make up a fussy minority to whom the mayor is catering. Smith and 2nd Ward Alderman Robert Fioretti have also expressed concern about the impact of free Sundays on merchants. It’s likely more aldermen with dense retail districts will ask to opt out as the negative effects of the policy become more apparent.

Furthermore, Emanuel’s office was completely unapologetic about his delay in keeping his promise. “The original parking meter deal was hastily reviewed and adopted, and its impact is well-known,” spokesman Bill McCaffrey told the Sun-Times. “We are not going to repeat the mistakes of the past and are taking a short but reasonable amount of time to properly evaluate the operational impact on residents of restoring paid Sunday parking in these specific areas.”

Emanuel doesn't seem to have much to lose from the concession, other than the muddying of his supposed win from the meter deal reboot. As long as he's responsive to future requests from aldermen to restore metered Sundays where needed, his previous stalling tactics are water under the bridge.

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