The head of Evanston’s Chamber of Commerce says a mayoral candidate’s plan for free evening parking downtown is worth discussing — but he has several concerns about it.

Mayoral candidate Barnaby Dinges earlier today proposed that metered parking spots across the city be made free for Evanston residents with city vehicle stickers after 5 p.m.

Chamber Executive Director Jonathan Perman said he agrees with Dinges that parking issues downtown do grate on people and harm Evanston’s image.

“I’m glad he’s raising the issue,” Perman said, “but it’s not as simple as he suggests.”

Perman said he questions the idea of making parking free for residents, but still charging for visitors.

“We’re trying to make Evanston a destination city,” to draw people in from other communities to shop and dine, he said, and it would likely turn visitors off to discriminate against them.

He noted that some museums in Chicago now charge out-of-town visitors more than Chicago residents. “I don’t find that to be tourism-friendly,” Perman said.

Perman, who’s also a member of the city’s Parking Committee, added that part of the reason meter parking hours were extended to 9 p.m. downtown is that when the cutoff time was 6 p.m., restaurant employees coming in for an evening shift would park at a meter at 4 p.m., pay for two hours and tie up the meter the rest of the night.

“We ended up not having any meter parking available for business customers downtown,” he said.

He said the Parking Committee has been looking at solutions to extend the meter limit from two hours to three hours in the evening — so that restaurant customers could linger longer over their dinners.

That plan has been at least temporarily stalled by the inability of most of the city’s meters to be adjusted for different time limits at different times of day, and uncertainty about what new parking meter technology solutions the city should invest in.

“The principle — to make downtown more business-friendly — is a great one,” Perman said, but there also are financial considerations to face.

He said parking meter revenue, in addition to paying the cost of parking enforcement and producing revenue for the general fund, also helps pay off the bonds used to build the city’s downtown parking garages.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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3 Comments

  1. Meter parking
    Mr. Perman’s parroting of the official Chamber line is not surprising; I question, however, how many Evanston businesses support this position. Evanston is the only suburb that has parking meters and, worse, aggressive enforcement thereof. I believe this to be counterproductive to enticing customers and potential patrons to the many attractions of downtown as well as Central Street. There should be shorter, or no, hours rather than the regressive step of lengthening the time when payment is required. I believe that the Chamber continues to be out of touch with reality.

    1. Parking meters
      Whatever the merits of meters, the assertion that Evanston “is the only suburb that has parking meters” is incorrect.
      One need go no farther than downtown Skokie to find another suburb with parking meters.
      — Bill

    2. At least now you can usually
      At least now you can usually get a parking spot downtown if you want to make a purchase in just a store or two. Before the 2 hour parking rule and ramped up fees, I would often drive around for 10-15 minutes looking for a spot and then finally decide to go somewhere else or go home. I’m not a big fan of the 2-hour rule, but you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. So, indeed there is plenty of parking given the parking garages and it’s not that hard to park there if staying in Evanston for the day or night.

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