The city of Chicago is launching a pilot project to discourage commuters from the suburbs from parking in the West Loop and West Town areas.
You don’t even have to own a car to notice that every morning from 7-9am and every evening from 4-6pm, hordes of downtown office workers pile out of The Loop and into the streets west to hop into their cars, and clog up the highways getting back to the ‘burbs.
It’s not that Chicago doesn’t appreciate the $4.95 they contribute to the economy when they buy lunch in Chicago each day. But they’re sucking up valuable street parking spaces that are needed by people who actually live in the area.
By and large, these are people who should be driving to their local train station, or park-and-ride facility and taking mass transit into town. Why they don’t is an unsettled question. It used to be assumed that it was because driving in was cheaper than transit. But that’s last-century’s thinking. These days with the cost of gas and parking, transit makes much more sense.
So, the only explanation remaining is the one that polite people and politicians won’t say (but urban planners will whisper to you when no one’s looking) — Most people from the suburbs are afraid of buses and trains.
To help them get over that fear, CDOT is going to turn many popular parking streets into no parking zones from 1:30pm to 3:30pm on weekdays. That’s a strategically placed window that will vex commuters, but not bother the locals so much. The signs will start to go up any minute now, and the entire area should be re-signed by July 10, 2013.
To a free-market thinker it would make sense that the forces of economics would sort this out — that if there’s such a big demand for parking, private enterprises will build enough new garages to lower the prices to make off-street parking an attractive option. That’s a great idea, except for the camel that got under the tent a few years ago — the parking meter privatization deal.
There’s a clause in the meter deal that prohibits the city from allowing any new public parking garages to be built downtown. It sounds crazy, but it’s true. A condo or an office building can go up and provide parking for its own people. But random strangers? Nope.
The city accidentally (?) allowed the Aqua tower (225 North Columbus Drive) to offer public parking in its garage, and the city landed in court. Now it’s on the hook for millions of dollars in fines it has to pay to the private parking company for that slip-up.
Of course, if you’re a commuter or a Near West resident, you’re wondering where the new parking restrictions will be. Do we have a map? Are you kidding? Does the Pope wear comfy slippers?
Here are four maps, courtesy of 2nd Ward Alderman Bob Fioretti’s office, showing the locations of the restricted parking.
Red shows new restricted parking areas. Yellow is unrestricted parking. Orange is parking meter parking. The remaining colors are other restricted zones like bus stops and loading zones and other places you shouldn’t leave you car anyway. Click the maps to embiggen them.
Will this help the people of Chicago’s Near West Side get a place to keep their cars? Or will it just make the suburbanites angry and hurt the area’s economy? I don’t live in the West Loop anymore, so I don’t have an opinion. But you should share yours below.