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Free parking ups holiday garage use

Expanding a free parking offer at Evanston’s downtown garages seems to have increased garage usage during the holiday shopping season.

Usage figures presented at this week’s Parking and Transportation Committee meeting show parking garage usage increased 6 percent during the Nov. 27 to Jan. 4 run of the promotion last year compared to the same time span in 2008.

Expanding a free parking offer at Evanston’s downtown garages seems to have increased garage usage during the holiday shopping season.

Usage figures presented at this week’s Parking and Transportation Committee meeting show parking garage usage increased 6 percent during the Nov. 27 to Jan. 4 run of the promotion last year compared to the same time span in 2008.

The discount promotion, offering free parking after 5 p.m. on weekdays and all day on weekends, didn’t start until Dec. 13 in 2008.

The promotion cost the city nearly $32,000 in lost parking revenue, compared to what it took in during the same five-and-a-half weeks in 2008. But that was less than the $42,000 loss city officials had projected before the 2009 version of the discount program began.

Sales tax revenue figures are not available yet to assess whether the program had the hoped-for result of increasing holiday sales by downtown merchants.

During the promotion during the holiday season just passed, 28,437 people parked in the Sherman Plaza garage, up 1,197 from the year before; 74,713 parked at the Maple Avenue garage, up 7,145 from the year before; and 9,659 people parked at the Church Street garage, a decline of 1,482 from the previous year.

Breaking out figures for before and after the start of the shorter 2008 promotion showed no major differences — 2009 traffic was up at Sherman Plaza and Maple Avenue and down at Church Street during each segment of the holiday promotion.

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