Two members of Evanston’s Economic Development Committee Wednesday night sharply criticized the rates charged shoppers at the city’s downtown parking garages.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said the “first hour free” that the city promotes “is a scam.”

Two members of Evanston’s Economic Development Committee Wednesday night sharply criticized the rates charged shoppers at the city’s downtown parking garages.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said the “first hour free” that the city promotes “is a scam.”

A driver who leaves the garage in less than an hour is charged nothing — but one who stays just over an hour is charged double the normal $1 hourly rate.

Plan Commissioner Seth Freeman agreed, saying it’s only “free” if someone parks for less than an hour.

“We don’t want people to just stay an hour,” Rainey said.

Garage rates as shown in a table on the city’s website.

But Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, who is on the Parking Committee as well as the EDC, said that in 13 years on the parking committee she’d “never heard anybody talk about that.”

Freeman said the city supposedly wants to encourage people to use the garages, instead of parking on the street where empty metered spaces often are unavailable.

But the city’s current rates make it cheaper for people to park on the street.

A shopper who parked downtown for an hour and 20 minutes would have to pay $1 at a meter, but $2 at the garage, he noted.

The discussion arose as EDC members were working out an agenda for a joint meeting with the Parking Committee next month.

Current garage parking rates also discourage people shopping and dining downtown in the evening from using the garages.

Meters are free after 9 p.m. downtown — but the hourly rates continue to be charged in the garage. So someone arriving downtown at 7 p.m. and planning to linger until 9:30 p.m. would spend about $1.25 to park at a meter, but $3 to park in a garage.

Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons said he would try to get some background information on the cost to the city of different parking rates in time for the joint meeting of the two committees on Oct. 27.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Evanston Parking Rates

    When I park in a Chicago City lot downtown, it typically costs $17.00 to $25.00 for 1-4 hours. The Evanston parking system is a true bargain. Why are the city council members wasting any time at all time on this trivial matter?

    1. Free one hour parking

      I am not commenting on the rate – whether it is too much or too little. My concern is our advertising is misleading. We tout 1 hour free garage  parking but fail to say, "this does not apply if you park for more than 1 hour."

    2. Really?

      I was just about to say the same thing. We just moved to Evanston from Chicago, where you typically need to pay $20 just to drive INTO a parking garage. Not to mention the meters hitting you for ~$4/hour if you can ever find a spot not used up by construction sites.

      $2 for an hour is a nice change of pace.

      But if this is the extent of things city council needs to worry about up here, then that’s fine.


  2. Parking Rates

     All the big box vendors like Home Depot, Target, Aldis, Petsmart, etc have free parking. Free parking downtown would be the number one thing the city council could do to spur downtown shopping.

    1. Parking Rates

      This is really pretty simple. 

      On-street spaces should be high-turnover for convenient short-trips.  The garages should be for longer stays… they aren’t as convenient because of the time it takes to get in/out, search for a space, use the elevator, and it may not be as close to where you want to shop/eat/visit.  Therefore, parking on-street should be more expensive than off-street parking.  Currently, there is no incentive to park in the garages if you are staying more than an hour… leading to people searching around for on-street spaces.  While this isn’t New York, studies in the Soho and Park Slope neighborhoods suggest that up to 30% of the traffic on the streets are looking for parking spaces.  The inequitable pricing between on- and off-street parking leads to more auto traffic on the streets and potentially more congestion.

      Now, parking rates shouldn’t just be a revenue source.  They should be used to control the parking utilization.  If we have no on-street spaces available, then parking is too cheap.  If there are too many spaces open, the the rate is too expensive.  In other words, price the on-street meters for the market.  I think we should bump up the on-street meter prices (maybe to $1/hr).  At a minimum, that makes it equitable with the off-street parking rates.

      I know businesses and people will think that will drive away customers.  But if the market supports the parking rate, people are obviously coming downtown.  People go downtown or Old Orchard or Home Depot because of the stores/restaurants/attractions… not to park.  One way to get buy-in from the businesses is that the parking revenue increment received after a rate increase can go back into the neighborhood in which it was generated.  For example, if on-street rates were bumped up to $1/hr, then $0.25/hr would go into a pool to fund improvements that directly benefit the neighborhood businesses (streetscape improvements, downtown marketing, downtown events, maintainence of sidewalks, bike parking, facade improvements, etc) and not into some general fund that nobody knows where it goes or what its used for.  This is standard parking theory.  It’s politics that gets in the way.  It’s part of the reason Chicago leased its spaces… there wasn’t the political will to increase rates to market levels.  When the concessionaire increased rates people whined, but continue to park.  Now you can more easily find a space in Chicago conveniently, although spaces are still occupied.  Also, now that most people have gotten over the rate increase, they are complaining that the City leased off this assest and could be pulling in the revenue that the private operator is now collecting.  But they didn’t have the political will to so.

      Again, if the market supports a rate increase, then spaces will be utlilized and people will still be shopping downtown.  If the spaces aren’t being used, then the rate is too high.  It is simple supply/demand pricing.


      I apologize for the long-winded rant… but this is simple stuff.

  3. Garage rates

    One would think that if we wanted people to use garages for longer term parking rather than meters they would charge lower rates in the garage.


  4. Compared to Chicago, a bargain – compared to Skokie, a scam

    I am in agreement with Alderman Rainey.  We aren’t competing directly with Chicago’s downtown retail, but we are competing with other local business districts that offer more retail variety along with free parking.  I am afraid to say that I do a lot of shopping in outlying suburbs in part because it’s easier – and most of my local shopping is done in our strip malls where there’s free parking.  

    By handicapping our main business district, we’re losing a considerable amount of tax revenue, not to mention what we could gain by growing the districts, e.g. licensing and permits for new retail.   While Evanston isn’t set up for large free parking lots, we have to make sure that somehow we can compete successfully with the suburbs that have them, as sales tax is one of our few non-property-tax-based sources of revenue.  Parking fees and revenue need to be very carefully balanced against these issues.

    Yes, compared to $25, it’s a bargain.  Compared to free, not so much.

  5. Hollow Parking Arguments

    "Current garage parking rates also discourage people shopping and dining downtown in the evening from using the garages."

    Where is the data to back up this statement and where does it come from? Sounds like more unsubstantiated hot air scare tactics.

    With all due respect to Alderman Rainey and Commissioner Freeman, if shoppers are having issues with spending $2-4 for up to 4hrs of parking then I think there are larger economic issues at play. Parking rates are very reasonable in Evanston garages and the positive they have over meters is that you don’t have to worry about continually feeding them. It’s called a convenience factor. And what is the percentage of people shopping/dining downtown that stay more than 4 hrs?

    And the argument about shoppers travelling to Old Orchard will never be decided. Shoppers travel to Old Orchard for a variety of other reasons than parking. And if the people that argue for Skokie (gas prices, shopping, crime stats, etc) vs Evanston love it soooooo much, then they should seriously give thought to relocating there. Housing market is ripe for the pickin’.



    1. Compare tax revenue, then

      We can’t compare on other issues, but I’m pretty sure we can show the tax revenue of the various shopping districts.  IIRC, the plaza at 2845 Howard (with large free parking lot) is the biggest or one of the biggest sources of sales tax in Evanston, despite having far less than half the number of stores as downtown. 

      Not exactly sure why anyone would be pro-expensive parking downtown?  Who benefits?

      I’m not saying that parking downtown should be free – I’m just saying it needs more careful consideration.  We need restricted parking to control traffic and congestion downtown – but protecting sales tax revenue should take precedence over parking revenue.

      I’m out.  

      1. who likes parking revenue?

        Not exactly sure why anyone would be pro-expensive parking downtown?  Who benefits?

        One of the many dumb arguments put out by the tower-haters was that the stores and offices in 708 Church bring in a lot of parking revenue to the CIty.  If we believe that parking revenue is an important source of income, the goal should be to maximize it – not necessarily by increasing the price, but by pricing it high enough to bring in the most revenue without scaring parkers away.

        [ For the record, I disagree with the tower-haters.  The point of meters downtown should be to prevent people from just parking all day while they go to work or take the CTA into Chicago…we want it to be easy for people to park at a meter and go into a store or restaurant, but we also want them to leave once they are done shopping instead of hogging the spot.  Long-term parkers should use garages.   The rates of municipal  parking garages should be set high  enough   to maintain them and pay off debts..rates should only be increased if the garages are full, not to increase parking revenue.  ]

  6. Let’s focus on important issues.

    This city has far too much to worry about, and now we are bringing up trivial matters such as parking garage rates? What’s the scam? If you are there for 60 minutes or less, it’s free. Period. If you are there for 75 minutes, that’s over an hour, and you pay. Period. You pay for the convenience, just like Walgreen’s charges more than Target on certain items, it’s a convenience. Some people don’t want to drive around looking for a metered spot on the road. Some people don’t want to park on a snowy street, or get wet in the rain. 
    Sunday’s are free! Most holidays are free. I think our Aldermen and women need to focus on more important issues. As a frequent user of both the garages and street parking I honestly don’t think this is an issue. There is ample parking in garages or on the street. And more importantly I doubt this is the deciding factor on whether people come here or not to shop, eat or play. 
    Let’s quit chasing our tail and getting bogged down in trivial matters. 
    1. Let’s focus on important issues.

      Look, Ryan,  – the committee spent 30 seconds to a minute discussing this. It took you a lot longer to chastise.

      1. Ms. Rainey

        Ms. Rainey – I wasn’t chastising, simply stating my opinion. As you know there are certain things that get people riled up on here and money, the council, mayor and libraries are certainly at the top of that list. It only takes 30 seconds to do that, and as you can see by the number of posts already on here before lunch it’s a topic that people are interested in. 
        I’m confused by the word “scam”. I agree with you that the city would want to encourage people to stay longer than an hour, but it’s not a scam. If the city keeps getting quality places to eat and shop like Five Guys, Urban Outfitters, Uncle Dan’s etc.. people will come and shop and stay. 
        1. It is a ‘scam’ in the sense

          that you do get a free hour if you park for 1 to 59 minutes.  Once you hit 60 minutes, your ‘free’ hour disappears– you pay both for it and the second hour.  So the ‘free’ hour is truly free only in some cases.

          ‘Scam’ might be a bit strong, but I do think the situation is misleading– when I am told something is free I don’t expect to pay for it (under any circumstances). 

          1. Free time

            That you do get a free hour if you park for 1 to 59 minutes. Once you hit 60 minutes, your ‘free’ hour disappears– you pay both for it and the second hour. So the ‘free’ hour is truly free only in some cases.

            This is only if you assume that the rate for the first hour would have been $1.  Few parking garages work this way – there is almost always a significant charge for the first time interval, then additional intervals are charged at a lower rate.

            So maybe people would be happier if the sign said:

            "Parking:  $2/hour for the first two hours, $1/hour afterwards. "

            Then the City could declare that the first hour is free, and nobody would complain. 

  7. I use it. . .

    I find the free first hour rate terrific for the Farmer’s Market. I don’t have to struggle to find on-street parking, it’s convenient and it’s free. Ann Rainey may want me to stay longer than an hour but I’m not going to. If I can drive to the Farmer’s Market and park for free, I’ll go. If I have to pay for parking, I may think twice about it.  What’s the big deal?

    People will use the garages over the meters and will pay more for the convenience. They don’t have to feed a meter or worry about being longer than two hours. If they’re going to a movie, they get a break on parking at the garage anyway. Why should meter parking and garage parking be the same price?

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