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Four-hour meters considered downtown

Evanston’s Parking Committee is considering switching from a two-hour to a four-hour time limit on some downtown parking meters.

The committee asked city staff members Wednesday to continue developing plans for a switch to the longer meter limits in certain parking lots around the edges of the downtown core.

The parking deck next to the Best Western Hotel and the surface lot near the Evanston Public Library are among those being considered for the change.

Committee members have heard complaints from restaurant owners and their customers that the current two-hour limit, with meter hours lasting until 9 p.m., is inconvenient for people coming downtown for a leisurely dinner.

Unless they park in a city garage, they either have to get up from their meal to feed the meter, or face having a parking ticket added to the cost of their dinner.

The parking committee has rejected one alternative — rolling back the meter enforcement hours until 8 p.m. — because of estimates that could cost the city nearly $200,000 in meter revenue each year.

Another suggestion — that the rules be changed to permit four-hour parking at any meter after 5 p.m. — can’t be implemented with the city’s existing parking meters. Ricky Voss, who heads the city’s parking division, said new meters with electronics capable of handling the dual time limits could cost as much as $600 each.

Public Works Director John Burke said the city is considering replacing all its meters over the next several years with new systems that would let meter users pay with credit cards. Those systems could permit much greater flexibility, he said, but just adding the time-limit capability to the conventional meters at this point doesn’t seem economically wise.

Jonathan Perman, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, voiced concern that having the longer meter limits run all day could add to the problem of downtown workers tying up the meter spaces all day. The committee recently approved lower monthly parking rates for the top floor of the Sherman Plaza garage in an effort to lure workers away from the meters and into the garage.

The committee also discussed whether to bring back parking meters near the intersection of Chicago Avenue and South Boulevard.

That area was metered when the block housed commercial uses, but the meters were removed before the townhouses that now fill the block were built.

Voss said a survey of cars parked in the area shows that it is used by a mix of immediate neighbors and by residents of other parts of town and people from other suburbs — who presumably are parking there to use the South Boulevard CTA station.

Committee members rejected a suggestion that the city discourage commuter parking in the area by barring parking there between 7 and 9 a.m.

Alderman Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, said those day-part restrictions used around train stations in north Evanston show "the ultimate in the toothpaste tube theory of life."

"You squeeze parking in one spot and it just moves somewhere else," he said.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, suggested the city do a better job of marketing unused spaces in the nearby parking lot on South Boulevard.

"We need to figure out how we can market that lot, maybe get some long-term meter rental from these people. Some folks would use it if they knew they had a space each day," Wynne said.

The committee is expected to discuss both issues at its next meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 24. 

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