The City Council is scheduled Tuesday to review a consultant’s study that says the city “has ample parking” and should raise parking rates.

The study, from Florida-based WGI, says the city should raise on-street parking rates.

It doesn’t offer a specific figure for increasing the basic meter rate, now at $2 an hour.

But it suggests doubling the discounted 12-hour zone rate from 50-cents an hour to $1 to reduce the need for the parking system to handle coins.

It also suggests raising the maximum daily rate in city parking garages to a consistent $2 per hour after the first hour, or increasing the hourly rate in the last two rate bands from 50-cents to 75-cents per hour.

It also suggests raising the monthly rate in the parking garages and considering a dynamic pricing program for on-street parking downtown that would raise rates after a time threshold to encourage turnover.

It bases the proposed rate increases largely on rates charged by what it considers peer communities to Evanston.

The study also generally recommends against adopting an on-street employee permit parking program in residential permit zones.

And it suggests increasing parking penalties and fines to better reflect lost revenue and enforcement costs.

It also suggests conducting a parking occupancy and demand study to evaluate Evanston’s transit-oriented development zoning policies.

And it claims that “Evanston does not have a gameday parking problem” around Northwestern’s sports facilities, but needs to address traffic congestion and circulation issues there.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Let’s see: aggressive panhandling/homeless presence, smelly porta – potties, a half – dead downtown, and even *more* expensive parking… “Yeah, everybody, let’s go to downtown Evanston…!!!”

  2. I had an office for 40 plus years in Downtown Evanston. The lack of convenient parking was always a complaint of my clients. Now 3 years later, when I come to Downtown Evanston or on Central Street. It is still a problem. The quickness of the parking meter “vultures” to issue tickets in addition to this, all works to discourage people from frequenting Evanston for shopping and eating at the restaurants. Nearby Wilmette does not charge for parking.

  3. Parking is a major deterrent for patronizing downtown businesses including restaurants. When the Fla. consultant compared Evanston with “other similar communities”, it didn’t seem to realize we are surrounded by Old Orchard mall and Wilmette and Winnetka that do NOT charge for parking. Charging for parking after 5:00 , and especially on Sundays, is a major aggravation for visitors and a choice for Evanstonians choosing a restaurant. Also climbing over snow and searching for unreadable parking meter stations is a real detterment for seniors. Special rates could be implemented in the garages for employees who plan to park for longer than two hours. Rates should stay low for parking for people who use CTA and Amtrak. Raising fees is definitely not a good idea. Why did we pay a consultant to address parking when we have our own residents who can give plenty of advice?

    1. Skokie is also next door to Evanston, does not have meters. I remember when they wisely dispensed with them only a few years ago. Made a good difference with their downtown I should say. Meters discourage shoppers.

  4. This study is another example of how out of touch the city (staff, council and mayor) are regarding the local (small)business community. It makes total sense to raise rates in the downtown area when there are so many vacancies. It makes total sense to make it even harder for businesses to recruit employees by making it more expensive and restrictive for employees to park. It makes total sense in a city that has seen an exodus of businesses to leave Evanston for them to waste time and money on a parking study. I wish I could live in the delusional world the staff and council live in, because the reality is Evanston is not a very appealing city to live or work in. Surrounding communities are thriving and actively recruiting businesses and customers. Barriers are being removed, or shockingly they work with their residents and businesses to make things easier, not more difficult and aggressive. The city should be doing everything to make it easier to shop and patronize all Evanston businesses. The reality is, they need to start selling the city and realize people don’t want to visit a dirty, empty downtown devoid of life. It would be great to see the city actually be welcoming, progressive and friendly to the small business community rather than projecting an air of superiority thinking Evanston is such a gem in its current state. The last 4 years this city has become a black hole and it’s apparent when you see how many city staff have left, the businesses that have closed and even families that are leaving the city. But, making parking more expensive and restrictive will solve Evanstons problems.

  5. Has there been any study about the effect of free street parking on businesses? I’ve noticed that Elmhurst, for example, has lots of free parking and the downtown is bustling, stores full of customers. Same for other towns with a similar policy.

    For me, if I have an option to go to a business in the downtown area of Evanston and a nearby location with free lot or street parking available, I go for the other location. I am then free to shop without worrying that the meter is about to run out; I don’t have to rush and may linger at stores and pick up more items. In turn, there is more tax revenue through sales.

  6. This is insane! No thought to the businesses, restaurants and cafes that are loosing out to strip malls, wilmette and old orchard which all have free parking. The $2 parking tax on buying a coffee from a great local business like brothers k is really too much. Why not allow an hour of free parking or allow businesses to validate parking for customers for 2 hours? So many creative possibilities that would do so much to bring back the vitality that evanston commercial zones need! Evanston loves to hire consultants (often unqualified) to do studies but what do they actually do with any of them? Right now we are paying consultants to address commercial districts, the same time we are paying outside consultants to study parking. As if the two aren’t related?!?

    There are so many ways to incentivize parking turnover and support for local businesses at the same time and just simply raising prices isn’t one of them.

  7. I’m sure that paid Florida based advisors are wise to the affairs of Evanston.
    But… if Evanston raises their parking rates in business districts, I’ll regretfully spend my money in Skokie or Niles, or… the internet.

  8. Evanston has more than parking fee problems to spend money on a consultant to study…waste of money out of touch management. The city congestion with slow speed limits speed humps on every block or traffic circles, poorly timed lights it takes 20 minutes to get from one end of Evanston to next…ridiculous for a city eight mile apart. Now talk about the empty store fronts, and overdeveloped downtown area.

    1. Yes, I’ve noticed the poorly timed lights particularly in the last couple of months. Some poorly-thought-out change was made, and this at a time of high gas prices when people can ill afford idling for five minutes at a badly programmed intersection.

  9. Other commenters have described Downtown as dead, and that doesn’t square with my observations. Restaurants look busy. Downtown Evanston gets a bit emptier while Northwestern is on summer break, but it’s been busy since the quarter started.

    The report recommends an 85% parking occupancy rate. The report doesn’t list any citations, but I’m guessing the number comes from Donald Shoup, who is an expert on parking. The study does not look at utilization, so how would they determine whether parking rates are too low or too high?

    A couple of other commenters mentioned that they go to Old Orchard. Old Orchard has nowhere near the charm that areas of Evanston like downtown or the Main Dempster-Mile. I’m guessing that the people going to do their shopping and dining in other places are just creating empty parking spaces for those that don’t mind paying a little bit for parking.

  10. So out of touch and out of date! What communities did they compare Evanston to? How were these consultants vetted? Did they look at the problem holistically and comparatively with neighboring communities? Yet again another joke of a useless study that will do nothing for Evanston’s business growth!

  11. Count me also unimpressed with this report.

    I will say, kudos to City of Evanston for transparently posting the report for us all to read. I looked through it using the link posted in this story.

    However, the report does very little actual analysis. Any analysis it does, is, at best, making bar charts comparing Evanston to other peer cities, something that a high schooler could do. For example, to support its conclusion that Evanston must charge more for on-street parking, it mainly compares the $2 an hour rate Evanston charges to the rates charged by other peer cities, including Pasadena, Boulder, and Madison. I’m sorry, but downtown Evanston is not like Pasadena or Boulder. Pasadena and Boulder have thriving, vibrant downtowns. Evanston’s downtown is in decline with more and more vacant storefronts and, at best, mediocre restaurants because many of the good ones have left. Pasadena and Boulder can charge more for parking and people will still come because their downtowns are safe, trendy, beautifully landscaped, and have very few commercial vacancies. Evanston’s downtown is like a ghost town by comparison.

    Also, while it says cities should aim for 85% parking spaces occupied, the report doesn’t do any such supply-demand analysis for Evanston. Did the city not want to pay the extra cost of having the consultant doing the analysis? Or did the consultant have no capability of performing that analysis?

    It’s also completely unclear why the city spent money commissioning this report. What problem were they trying to solve? Was it to just maximize revenues, full stop? Or to determine if they should rezone some parking spaces? Or to make sure they’re maximizing parking revenues without hurting foot traffic to downtown businesses (which would be a legitimate reason, but this report fails to do so, as I described above)?

  12. I wonder why we are paying city officials whose main talent seems to be handing analysis and decision making off to poorly qualified out of state consultants?
    Is there anyone in city government who understands this situation as more than a one dimensional academic exercise?
    The next election cannot come soon enough…

  13. I agree with the super majority of commenters. Parking in Evanston should be free as it is in Wilmette and Skokie. The minor concession of allowing free 2 hour parking outside the downtown perimeter doesn’t offset the loss of business that the parking fees impose. If the garages were free, they’d be utilized more and parking wouldn’t be an issue.

    1. While we’re dreaming of free parking, it would be well to remember that the city generates in the neighborhood of $11 million a year (in non-pandemic years) from all its parking operations. (That covers enforcement and maintenance costs and generates a sizable surplus transferred to the general fund.) To replace all that revenue would require a roughly 20% increase in property taxes.
      — Bill

      1. Not in favor of *free* parking since Evanston would collect taxpayers money from other sources. Evanston needs money to provide services to its residents…just not by raising (*not* eliminating) parking rates.Slightly lowering rates might even be a better idea, IMO.

        That said, I do agree that money spent on consultants is money poorly spent & I say this as a non-consultant. Further agree that, even worse, raising parking rates would be a foolish move. It would turn a blind eye to how high parking rates have already affected businesses- one has only to read the other comments on this story.

        With the last raise in rates, I increased my online purchases & did my shopping at stores which provided free parking in their lots whether in Evanston or another community. My money should be spent for goods, services, food, etc. not on unnecessarily high parking rates necessary to obtain them.

        Someone needs to rethink this counterproductive idea.

        Thinking of the Beatles song, “Taxman” the the line about “tax your feet.”

    2. Before the last parking meter increase, parking meant circling around the block. Reducing the cost of on street parking or making it free would likely be harmful to businesses as customers would be unable to find parking. Why is Wilmette able to offer free parking and Evanston isn’t? Are there fewer people visiting downtown Wilmette? As I said in my last post, Evanston restaurants seem busy. I’m not convinced that current parking rates are hurting businesses. However, Evanston should look at parking utilization before raising parking rates. And Evanston is not Wilmette, and I definitely don’t want it to turn into a shopping mall like Old Orchard. Free parking simply wouldn’t work here.

  14. Highland Park, Wilmette, and Winnetka do not have paid parking. I have been asked before how to make DT Evanston more vibrant; This is not the way! On another note I have also heard ” I will not travel south of Central Street”,which is so sad. Evanston needs to look at its striving neighboring communities such as Wilmette and Winnetka. Why are they even considering this?

  15. I have no idea who these parking consultants are, but the city just wasted a lot of money hiring them. Everyone who lives in Evanston and surrounding communities knows that Evanston has suffered significantly because of the relatively high price of parking here.
    For example, the free up to one hour policy in the city garage on Maple in downtown Evanston was extremely convenient for the many Farmer’s Market visitors each week. That has now disappeared, slowing down the exit process and causing consternation.
    And then there are the less expensive rates for street parking in Skokie, and totally free parking in Wilmette’s downtown area, plus Old Orchard, where shopping and entertainment options abound.
    Personally, I have treasured finding the few areas in Evanston where one can park for multiple hours for .50 per hour…it has been a godsend for long appointments that require longer parking time.
    And paying .50 for a five minute pick up on Central St or wherever is annoying….raising rates in Evanston will only lead to increasing numbers of empty storefronts and anger longstanding Evanstonians who have been loyal to shopping locally despite the hassles and cost.
    Please do NOT raise parking rates in Evanston!

    1. Speaking for myself, I considered eating at Mt. Everest when it was open across from the library, and changed my mind because the parking was another 10% tax on lunch that I didn’t want to pay. Sales tax is actually 15-20% if you buy anything under $20 in downtown Evanston and didn’t walk there. Skokie knew this when they took out the meters not too many years ago.

  16. It seems we have a city council that does not listen to its constituents. That they send out surveys is great but I am not sure why they felt needed an outside consultant to advise them re parking fees. This reminds me of the 1.6 million the city of Evanston spent on coming up with a new zoning code for new construction which took just long enough to be obsolete once completed and never actually was used. In other words a waste of taxpayer dollars.
    Our city council is completely out of touch with the community and what is needed to revitalize it. I think our new city manager has his work cut out for him and hope he is up to the task.
    We have a dying downtown with panhandlers on many corners.
    Business owners are struggling to stay open and this just further deters shoppers and diners. I agree paid parking is necessary for the income it generates but raising rates is a very bad idea and city council should not need consultants for them to realize this.

  17. Regarding the WGI Parking Study:
    1. Some context might be useful. The Chamber of Commerce was the motivator, asking the City to monitor parking in the downtown area, not as a revenue source, but to manage the parking of Realtors and their customers. At the time real estate brokerage offices occupied much of the street frontage and the parking blocked needed parking for the retailers. Now rather than retailers it appears that a number of retail spaces have been taken over by hospital health care offices. The downtown needs the energy of retail zoning should reflect it.
    2. The electric “space available” signs such as pictured in this article don’t serve any purpose but to advertise the huge vacancies downtown. There are hundreds of spaces available in each parking structure. Why not just turn these signs off?

  18. How is it that people actually think parking is free at Old Orchard? Do they believe in parking fairies who appear at midnight to maintain and repair those lots, shovel the snow, pay the very substantial r.e. taxes on that massive square footage?
    Believe me, you go to Old Orchard and purchase anything you are paying for parking, it’s wrapped up in the price of the goods or service you buy. And the more you buy the more you’re paying. Don’t be naive, unless you purchase absolutely nothing parking at Old Orchard is not free and very likely more expensive than Evanston.

  19. It sure sounds to me like a lot of people would rather live in nearby communities! Move there and pay higher taxes to get the free parking. Where do you guys think services come from? Everything costs money! If you would rather drive 5-10 miles out of the way to get a haircut or buy groceries, or eat a meal, then do it, but don’t you dare say that you want to save the environment. Let’s look at Chicago for a second. That’s a nearby community. Do they charge for parking? YES! A lot more than Evanston too. I can imagine the “but that doesn’t count, that’s a much bigger city” comments. That may be, but do you complain when you drive down there and shop, or see a show? We live in a town that’s near the CTA and Metra. Imagine the people who would come into Evanston and park all day and take the CTA to Chicago for work. There would be NO parking all day. Then what? You’re going to complain about that too. Would a business like that? I’m guessing no.

    1. Having read the comments, I don’t recall that “a lot” of people would rather live in nearby communities. Please remember that a huge swath of Evanston real estate is taken up by the non-tax paying NU so comparing Evanston to wealthier northern suburbs is an apples to oranges comparison, IMO.

      I also don’t remember that people stated their “save the environment” EPA preferences. Further, let’s not look at Chicago with their totally outrageous parking rates! Daley made a one-time 99-year deal with a parking company for a one time windfall & those in Chicago have been suffering ever since. That was the death knell for me in terms of shopping in Chicago.

      That said, as I noted in an earlier commentary, the city does need to earn some (not more & possibly less) money from parking in order to provide necessary services Evanstonians need.

      I don’t think people are complaining so much as expressing their opinions about this proposal to raise parking rates – I know I am.

  20. Parking is cheap and abundant in Evanston. I’d be thrilled to see a downtown here with the bustle of nearby Andersonville, where parking is a relative nightmare.

    Our primary problem is that Evanston’s downtown is actively hostile to pedestrians. There is a ridiculous amount of interface with automobile traffic. The awful scar of Ridge discourages people from walking east. If we unwisely encourage Evanston residents to get in their cars, we can’t be surprised when the drive away from downtown. I have to wait at seven pedestrian crossing signals to get from my home west of Ridge to the lake, and the lack of consistent draws on the lakefront mean people have little incentive to filter through our downtown from western neighborhoods.

    Slow and divert traffic. Raise pedestrian crossings. Prioritize walkers over drivers. Make our lakefront a vibrant draw. These are well-established ingredients for a thriving business district.

    1. Not truly being ‘walkable’ is certainly a big problem with the downtown area, especially for those with mobility issues. I’ve recently helped multiple elderly folks cross the streets around downtown. Apparently, turn signals and stop signs are optional around here, and no one has 3 extra seconds to spare for a senior at a crosswalk.

  21. I read the study. The “Purpose of Study”: to “determine best solutions for resolving current parking challenges,” which were 3, and were enumerated as follows:

    1.Lack of institutional flexibility to make…policy, process and /or parking rate changes
    2.Friction with Evanston residents, especially…the business community….
    3.Inability to invest parking revenues into parking infrastructure.. THIS INTERNAL ISSUE WAS NOT ADDRESSED, AND DID NOT REQUIRE A CONSULTANT
    It appears the consultants applied a pro-forma parking analysis to Evanston that they had used before, and billed for it, but did not address the questions/ issues raised. Their goal was to advise on how to raise fees collected by the city. Their consulting fee should possibly be returned to the city. And the City Council should stop wasting taxpayer monies on consultants’ reports they ignore and then repeat: see recently updated parks report now being repeated by another consultant when prior recommendations were not implemented.

  22. We need to support retail merchants today, not for their sake but for ours – retail is an important part of a community ecosystem and it has been significantly threatened by the internet. Who wants to live with a hollowed out downtown? We are competing for retail business with other communities that don’t have so many vagrants hassling people AND have free parking. Be competitive. Make it easy and sensible to shop in Evanston.

    1. Monday night I walked home from my office, located in the Evanston Public Library downtown, with a stop at Target on the way and them home to Grove. So a short distance, but on that way home there were almost as many panhandlers, vagrants, and mental cases aggressively “acting out” as there were pedestrians. Who would even park downtown for *free* if they have to navigate this ugly gauntlet? One guy was verbally harassing a young mom and her little kid outside of Target, they were trying to get away as fast as they could…

      Twice lately I’ve been eating *inside* restaurants, and vagrants wandered in, bothering staff and customers. I asked one of the resto owners how often this happened, “At least once per day – and sometimes more…”, he answered…

      How can city “leadership” be so clueless about what any ordinary person can plainly observe every day?

      “Oh , yes please, let’s hire another out – of – state consultant to assess the situation!”

      I’d laugh, but this is fairly dire… all of these “negatives” (parking, panhandling, poor traffic management…) in downtown form a “synergy” that drives away businesses, thus reducing sorely – needed revenue…

      In any case, looks like our public downtown spaces will soon be resembling those of Seattle, Portland, San Francisco…

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