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Evanston’s Plan Commission got a primer this week on ideas for better managing the city’s scarce parking resources.

The introduction came from Evanston resident Scott Bernstein, president and co-founder of the Center for Neighborhood Technology.

CNT is the non-profit that established the I-Go car sharing service and ran it for 10 years before selling it to the owner of Enterprise Rent-A-Car last year.

Variable pricing

Bernstein said one step the city could take is to adopt the variable-pricing approach for parking meters advocated by Donald Shoup, the UCLA urban planning professor whose book, The High Cost of Free Parking, has made him something of a guru in the field — complete with a Facebook group for fans who call themselves Shoupistas.

Shoup says cities should vary the price of metered parking — raising it just enough in high demand areas so one or two spots are almost always open on each on block — and lowering it elsewhere so more empty spots fill up.

A video from StreetFilms focusing on the introducing the variable pricing model in San Francisco.

What’s believed to be the first large-scale pilot test of the concept is underway now in San Francisco, with a report scheduled for release this spring.

Evanston is in the midst of installing new parking meters that accept credit cards and could be easily be used in a variable pricing model, but has not so far invested in the in-pavement sensors that San Francisco is using to provide real-time monitoring of whether spaces are occupied.

Make garages cheaper

Variable pricing advocates also argue that parking garage rates should be cheaper than on-street rates — to compensate drivers for the inconvenience of not parking right in front of their destination.

Evanston has recently raised its basic hourly meter rate downtown match the garage rate after years of charging garage parkers extra.

Eliminate meter time limits

The bane of many Evanstonians’ existence is getting a parking ticket for exceeding the two-hour limit on most metered spaces.

Advocates of variable pricing says that if you set the price right so spaces are always available, you no longer need to impose time limits in an effort to force turnover.

Increase metered parking in lots

Bernstein says that in congested parts of Evanston now “it’s sort of painful to see people cruising to find a parking meter at the same time there are empty permitted spaces in parking lots.”

He also suggested that the city could investigate more techniques for space sharing — perhaps using digital technology to  increase usage.

Promote reduced demand

Bernstein suggested the city website could be used to provide information that encourages people to cut back on their car usage.

“A family can increase its disposable income by 10 to 20 percent by cutting back from two cars to one,” Bernstein argued, and with so many transit stops, Evanston has a competitive advantage compared to other communities in making that saving feasible.

The economics of parking

Bernstein also argues, as does Shoup, that inefficient use of parking resources can have a major adverse impact on the economy.

The Center for Neighborhood Technology is one of several consultants working with King County in Washington State on a Right Size Parking project to develop new standards for parking at multi-family residential developments in the Seatle metro area.

Among the project goals are to make it possible for developers to “build more housing near transit and sell it for less.”

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Chicago-Main project gets Plan Commission OK

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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4 Comments

  1. The problem with parking is failed city leadership

    These things that Bernstein talks about are old hat.  If you look at the city's most recent transportation plan–which cost thousands of dollars to execute–the professionals acknowledge that parking issues in Evanston are the result of inefficient management, rather than supply.  Yet the city has done very little to implement the reforms suggested in the 2008 Multimodal Transportation Plan. 

    There is plenty of parking in Evanston.  The city went on a drunken binge downtown during the past decade or so and we see these huge parking garage behemoths with about 60% peak occupancy rates that are losing money in their operations  and have saddled the city with significant debt.

    As Bernstein points out, the technology to more effectively manage demand is proven and has been successfully implemented in cities throughout the country.  Yet, we never see these things being considered by city staff or council.  That is a failure in leadership.

    It is a shame that we have to rely on residents to educate the city on the basic trends in transportation planning.  

  2. What is appropriate for San

    What is appropriate for San Francisco may well not be appropriate for Evanston, a city of less than 1/10th of SF's size. There is also a big difference in climate. Sensors in the pavement are not going to survive our winters or even work when we have snow and ice. I also don't think people are going to think much of parking prices that constantly change due to demand. If you raise the rates at meters and lower those in garages there will be more of an incentive to use the garages. 

    On a personal note, I live within walking distance of downtown Evanston and walk whenever possible. These past two months it has seldom been possible, due to the cold and the ice on the sidewalks. I've never spent as much on parking as I have this winter. I prefer meters that take coins.  It is easy to just stick in coins as you need to. I do use garages when going to the movie theater or an event on the NW campus. Otherwise for quick trips to do errands, I prefer parking near to my destination or just walking from home once it is warm enough again and the ice is gone. 

    By the way, I notice that commuters park for free on our street which is on the west side of Ridge and has restrictions only for street cleaning. It is free and they seem willing to walk a few blocks. 

    1. Sensors are used in cold climates

      Setting the right price for parking applies across the board to large cities, medium-sized downtowns, and even small downtowns. The difference will be the price. All you are trying to do is open up one or two spaces per block, so you set the lowest price that creates availability. If there's not much demand for parking, then you don't charge for it. 

      They are using sensors in Indiannapolis, New York City, and Boston–those are just the ones I know of. Climate does not affect them as one might think.

    2. Parking on the perimeter

      The people who gripe most about parking in downtown Evanston are those unwilling or too lazy to walk a couple of extra blocks. And many of us who don't mind the walk would rather park around the perimeter of downtown than use one of the parking garages.

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