Metra Will Build 68 Parking Spaces at Grayland Stop for About $17K a Pop

Building the new parking spaces will involve flattening more of the embankment, eliminating green space and creating new impermeable surfaces. Image: Google Street View
Building the new parking spaces will involve flattening more of the embankment, eliminating green space and creating new impermeable surfaces. Image: Google Street View

When you think about appropriate uses for federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement dollars, pouring concrete to make more room for warehousing automobiles is not the first thing that comes to mind. [Yes, CMAQ grants are often used for other types of car-centric projects, but that doesn’t mean they should be.]

But that’s largely how Metra will be spending $1.2 million, mostly from CMAQ funds, at its Grayland station on the Milwaukee North Line this year. The station is located in the Irving Park community area at Milwaukee and Kilbourn, a couple blocks south of Irving Park. The project will add a 68-space surface parking lot on the east side of Kilbourn, between Milwaukee and Patterson, on the west side of the tracks. The station, which sees about 300 boardings a day, currently has eight car parking spots, located on the east side of Kilbourn, just south of Milwaukee.

This year 92 on-street parking spaces will be eliminated on Milwaukee between Addison and Irving Park to make room for new buffered bike lanes. However, the reason the Chicago Department of Transportation was able to get approval for stripping this on-street parking in the first place was because parking counts showed that these spots were getting little use.

It also should be noted that the parking lot project also includes a retaining wall, sidewalks, wheelchair ramps, stairs, landscaping, lighting, signs, and some bike parking racks. But the raison d’etre for, and the main expense of, the project is to create more space for cars, so essentially the agency is spending $17,647 per space to encourage people to drive to the station.

The rationale for this expenditure, and the excuse for using funds that are supposed to be used for projects that result in fewer traffic jams and air pollution from cars, is that the parking spaces will coax some people into driving only part of the way to work, instead of the whole way. While that’s true, at most the lot will result in 68 additional Metra customers a day (plus the occasional person in a passenger seat of a car, but most car trips to work are single-occupancy.)

Moreover, it’s likely that many of those new spaces will be used by people who currently walk or take the bus to the station. The convenience of being able to park steps from the platform will probably encourage quite a few of these folks to switch modes in the wrong direction.

“We understand that our commitment to providing excellent service is not confined to our trains,” said Metra CEO Don Orseno in a statement. “This parking lot will improve the experience for our customers who board at Grayland by giving them a place to park other than city streets.”

Think of all the other ways Metra could have used $1.2 million in taxpayer money to improve customer experience instead of just using it to facilitate driving.

Update 3/22/17 3:00 PM: Metra spokesman Michael Gillis provided some additional information about the Grayland project. Gillis confirmed that most of the $1.2 million cost is related to creating the parking lot. For example, the lot necessitates the construction of the retaining wall, which is one of the more expensive elements of the project.

Gillis said the motivation for building the 68 new spaces is probably unrelated to the removal of 92 on-street spaces on Milwaukee. “[The parking lot plan] has been underway for quite some time,” he said. “It’s really to create commuter parking, not to replace street parking.” I’ve edited the above paragraph about the on-street parking removal accordingly.

Gillis said the new parking spots will cost$1.50 a day to use, and the payment system will probably be managed by a private contractor, as it is at other Metra lots. Customers will be able to pay via a smartphone app, including the option of a lower monthly rate, and there will also be a pay box or pay-and-display payment option. The parking revenue will be used to maintain the lot, Gillis said. Assuming the lot is fully occupied every weekday, 250 days a year, the gross revenue would be $25,500.

Since the plentiful on-street parking on Milwaukee is free and it still doesn’t get much use, it’s hard to see while building parking spaces that you have to pay for would attract significantly more commuters. Perhaps for some people, having to walk a block from an on-street parking space to the station is a deal-breaker. Maybe some folks believe their car is safer parked for the day at a Metra lot rather than on the street, although the configuration of the new lot will be more-or-less the same thing as curbside diagonal parking.

At any rate, it will be interesting to see if this $1.2 parking lot winds up get much use, or if most people will opt to use the free on-street spaces instead.

  • kastigar

    Is this free parking, or will there be a parking fee collected to replace the 1.2 million spend?

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Good question. It certainly *should* be paid parking, but it looks like the eight existing spots are free parking. I’ll look into this issue.

  • Small potoatoes compared to what is happening at Wilson Redline.
    On the south end over 100 spots to be leased to 3 area businesses for the employees to you know…drive to work.

    The number unkunown now but probably 40-50 spots on the north end of the station.

    There was a serious attempt by the community to create a pedestrian-friendly area arounf the new $200+Million station but the idea got stone-walled or slow-walked to death by Alderman Cappleman.

    Think about it..a new transit station surrounded by non-public parking in a dense urban neighborhood. The parking isn’t even for people who will use the CTA to “drive less” as the Metra spots will assuredly do to some degree.

    The same Cappleman who brags to select people…like readers of this blog…that he doesn’t own a car…gets shuttled around by husband…in their car.

    Its a fraud and a wasted opportunity and resources…it would be nice if someone other then an artist in neighborhood called it out.

  • Metra typically is paid parking.

  • simple

    You acknowledge that the “project also includes a retaining wall, sidewalks, wheelchair ramps, stairs, landscaping, lighting, signs, and some bike parking racks” but then you attribute 100% of the project cost to just the parking spaces. That’s disingenuous. You’re implying that the retaining wall, sidewalks, wheelchair ramps, stairs, landscaping, lighting, signs, and bike parking racks have no meaningful value apart from facilitating park-and-ride access to the station. Really?! Your failure to allow for any nuance in discussing this transit facility improvement makes you come across as a zealot out to attack parking no matter what, rather than as a journalist trying to encourage a healthy debate about the relative desirability of the various components of the improvement.

  • mike innocenzi

    My guess is this will be free parking. There is ample free street parking on the 3800 block, so nobody is going to pay to park there.

  • Jared Kachelmeyer

    Is there a reason people aren’t allowed to park on the east side of Kilbourn as it is now?

  • Jacob Wilson


    Imagine if all you had to do to add 68 parking spaces worth of concrete anywhere in the city was to do a little bit of aesthetic improvement and install a few bike racks. What would the city look like?

    There are actually many places in America where this is standard practice. They’re called suburbs.

    The landscape improvements are a non issue in comparison to the amount of land being converted to automobile use. You can’t see this?

  • Kevin M

    I agree with Jacob’s counterpoints. Additionally, I’ll put forth that my amateur engineering knowledge says that the retaining wall is a significant portion of the quoted other costs/benefits of this expenditure of public dollars, and I don’t think this wall would be necessary to build if not for the increased parking spaces for 60 more 9′ X 20′ slabs o’ land.

  • mike innocenzi

    I live a block away and the landscape improvements are very much an issue. This is an ugly, industrial stretch of Kilbourn.

  • simple

    Jacob and Kevin, Rather than assuming the worst, how about enlightening us with some facts? Do you know where and how the retaining wall is needed? How much of it is needed due to the ADA ramps and improved stairs versus parking? How much do the ADA ramps, stairs, and lighting and associated walls cost relative to the project cost (with the remainder presumably being required for the parking spaces)? The ramps and stairs clearly benefit pedestrians; does the lighting not also serve pedestrians? Is there another realistic use for the space to be occupied by parking that would generate more transit trips than the spots are likely to? I’m not saying that parking is necessarily a good idea here, all I’m saying is that the author has presented a poor journalistic effort, which doesn’t give the reader the info needed to make in informed decision. Instead the author appears to be casting aspersions on a public agency’s decision-making by providing insufficient evidence about the nature and costs of the project and mis-representing the evidence he has presented. Unfortunately there are plenty of news outlets that operate this way. I’d like to hold Streetsblog to a higher standard.

  • Brian Sheehan

    The question I have is, are these ramps just going to be plain ADA curb ramps (i.e. just street to sidewalk) in the immediate vicinity of the station, or will this include a ramp or two from sidewalk to platform level?

  • Andrea Kaspryk

    Why not build a 68-space bicycle parking area?! It would likely cost less than vehicle parking leave more room for landscaping the area around the parking, and cost much less. Or offer a compromise, provide both vehicle parking and bicycle parking, each getting 34 spaces? The issue need not always be either/or and car vs bicycle.

  • rohmen

    I struggle with how to react to this. On the one hand, like most on here, I’d like to see people drive much less and walk/bike to transit in order to get to work. On the other hand, increasingly the “core” of the city around legacy mass transit is becoming unaffordable for many working class people, and those communities get pushed further and further to the edges of the city as a result. Driving from terribly underserved transit areas to get to a metra park and ride stop may be the only affordable way for many of those people to get to work.

    I’d love to see a good breakdown of where the park & riders come from. If it’s distances less than a mile, or there are decent bus routes the people could use coming from even a greater distances, I’m more likely to view this as an avoidable disaster. But sometimes I see an undercurrent of treating people like they simply chose not to live next to mass transit, while increasingly many people simply can’t afford to do so, and the holes in our network make driving to a metra station the lesser evil than the alternatives.

  • I was just curious so looked up how it ever came to be named Grayland.
    Humble a stop it may be, it has been in operation for 144 years.

    Excerpt from Wikipedia entry:

    The station was opened in 1873 to service Grayland, at the time a suburb of Chicago (annexed in 1889) created by subdividing John Gray’s farm.[2] Gray deeded the land the already built depot was on to the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad in return for a promise to maintain and service the depot, thus insuring that the inhabitants of Gray’s subdivision would have easy transport to Chicago and back.[3]”

  • johnaustingreenfield

    I originally wrote “The raison d’etre for, and the main expense of, the project is to create more space for cars, so essentially the agency is spending $17,647 per space to encourage people to drive to the station.” As noted in the update, Metra confirmed that most of the cost of the project is the parking lot, and the retaining wall is necessitated by the lot — it probably isn’t something they would build if they weren’t paving the green space. Ditto for the wheelchair ramps, stairs, sidewalks, lighting, and signs, although some of these things certainly have collateral benefits for non-drivers.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    If there are people who can’t afford to live near transit and want to commute by Metra, but aren’t currently using the plentiful, free on-street parking, why would the option of a paid parking lot make a difference?

    And, of course, for *some* people who can’t currently afford to live near transit, it might be an option to save money by living car-free and investing that extra money in transit-friendly housing.

  • mike innocenzi

    Thanks for digging for the info. I don’t know why anyone would pay to park there when there’s plenty of room on Kilbourn north of Milwaukee. I assumed those were the very commuters they were trying to accomodate.

  • rohmen

    To the degree the Milwaukee parking wasn’t time limited and just sat there empty, this is a dumb move, but not all stations that add parking fall into that category.

    And while it’s true that some could likely afford the increasing rents in places like logan square that otherwise couldn’t if they gave up their cars, some clearly still wouldn’t be able to, as has been reported on in depth on this site. For those people who are then forced to move to neighborhoods with much worse transit (or out of they city to suburbs like north riverside, maywood, etc.), I continuously fail to see anyone suggesting solid transit options to help them.

    Just sayin’ there’s a lot more layers to the onion than anyone ever seems to pull back when discussing these issues.

  • b_hack

    I’ve heard the CMAP Committee that chooses the projects for the CMAQ program has stopped awarding funds for commuter parking, so it’s unlikely you’ll see those funds going towards projects like this in the future.


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