On vacation last month, I ran across a scene that seemed amazing to this Evanstonian. In downtown Holland, Mich., there are no parking meters.

Downtown parking is available to shoppers at no charge. There’s no limit to how long a shopper can park.

And the business district, at least on the day my wife and I were there, appeared to be booming. Attractive shops, lots of customers, and very few retail vacancies. And there are also parking decks and lots scattered around the downtown area.

On a Friday afternoon, most on-street parking was full, but it wasn’t very hard to find an open space.

So how does this college town of 33,000 people do it?

It seems that some years ago the city created a Downtown Development Authority that imposes a tax on downtown property owners to provide parking. 

It also encourages employees of downtown businesses to park in the lots, rather than on the street — and nags them about it with “Customers First!” cards placed on offenders’ windshields.

The town also charge a relatively modest fee — would you believe $120 a year? — to downtown residents for overnight parking in the lots.

The fee is so low that for students at Hope College it’s cheaper to park downtown than on campus.

With Evanston on the verge of spending big money to replace its aging parking meters, it may be time to look at more radical solutions, like Holland’s, to the downtown parking question.

Update 11:45 a.m.: Holland’s city budget documents say the Downtown Development Authority tax raised $187,000 in FY2010-11 and $178,000 in FY2011-12. Unclear whether they managed to fund construction of their parking decks from that fund.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Commuters

    Sure, and watch spots get filled up by people taking the trains downtown. That's how Holland can do it — they don't have CTA stations and commuter rail heading to Chicago sitting right next to those meterless parking spots.

    1. Commuters

      Parking could be limited to 3-4 hrs, which is plenty of time for shopping and a meal, but not enough for someone to leave a vehicle for an entire work-day.

  2. Vision, courage … And understanding of customers

    That's what it will take to bring this type of change to Evanston. Pocket change is old school, as is our city leadership.

  3. Downtown Parking

    The idea seems novel, I'd like to look at their income figures versus our income figures. 

  4. More business taxes to spur business?

    Bill, are you feeling okay today? In many places where there is significant population density, the demand for parking will outstrip supply when the price is $0 to the parker. Even downtown Iowa City out in the middle of the sticks charges for parking because if they didn't the area would be overrun with college kids' cars. I've paid a princely sum for my two parking spots in downtown Evanston because space is at a premium. In other words, it is the opposite of Holland, Michigan. And as someone else pointed out, the overtaxed business owners and downtown property owners should absolutely not get hit with yet another tax so someone riding the Purple Line or Metra downtown can get free parking.

  5. Parking / commuters

     Evanston residents are required to pay for stickers and parking permits when there are large stretches of  totally unrestricted, free street parking (particularily near CTA/Metra stations)  available for daily commuters who neither live or shop here.   At the same time, we hear  of the City"s need for revenue,  underutilized parking garages and the inability to provide appropriate bicycle parking.  Admittedly, quaint  Holland doesn't have all Evanston's problems but at least they have what appears to be a modern way of problem resolution  … and you don"t  see a bike strapped on every street sign. parking meter and tree.

  6. Holland, MI, Parking

    Is there public transit in Holland MI? One problem with no meters would be people who would park all day and take a train downtown. I don't think a "no meter" approach would work in Evanston.

  7. Holland, MI, Parking

    Is there public transit in Holland MI? One problem with no meters would be people who would park all day and take a train downtown. I don't think a "no meter" approach would work in Evanston.

  8. Parking

    Who wants to shop at stores or eat a restaurants when you see a jeep frequently circling around your car to give out parking tickets.   It is just a little overkill.  Evanston downtown is very nice but I rather frequent other towns that you don't have to check our parking meter every hour or so to avoid overzealous parking enforcement .  Not worth it…

    1. Pay For Your Time

      I don't understand why you're so concerned about the enforcement patrols – unless you don't put money in the meter. Pay for your time. If you're going to be more than two hours, put it in one of our many parking garages. It's called planning, or more simply, it's called thinking. Far too many Evanstonians are doing far too little of the latter, and it is long past time they started.

      Has anyone actually ever proved they got a parking ticket while there was still time on the meter in Downtown Evanston? I don't think it's ever happened.

  9. Apples to apples

    What I can see missing from the picture is people.  I see a family of four with a couple behind them.  Way down at the other end of the block looks like maybe another couple,  This during what looks to be prime time day time hours.  My God, Downtown Evanston has more panhandlers than that.

    Holland is nice and they do a good job, no argument there.  While they have a nice little downtown they have way less than half the retail & restaurants we do and more importantly, they have nowhere even close to the daily office worker population we have. 

    I believe that's where the most  important key difference is and that is why they can go without meters.  Same for other little downtowns like Wilmette.   When your daily draw is close to 10 thousand office workers comparisons cannot be made to downtowns that simply don't have that sized daily user demographic.  

    I would be interested in knowing about a downtown with 90+ restaurants, 80+ retail stores, 80+ service stores plus a few dozen other users, along with a movie theatre that all by itself draws many hundred thousands of people a year PLUS close to 10 thousand office workers every day operating a couple hundred street spaces without meters, successfully. Now that would be interesting. 

    Not saying Evanston can't get better, but apples to apples.  

  10. Re: Wilmette

    Wilmette took out its meters but monitors parking by hand-held computer on your license tag from a jeep that rides along in the business district. 

    You get up to 90 minutes between 10 A.M and 4 P.M., that's it. Sorry.

    Commuters and local employees ruin it for the retail and restaurant customers everywhere along the shore.

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