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Parking nightmares

It's kind of amusing that I just did a post last week advocating "dynamic pricing" with regard to middle class families being priced out of Disney vacations. Because dynamic pricing reared its head last night at our transportation commission meeting while discussing parking. Several of my fellow commissioners mentioned it as a way to manage our parking problem in the village.

There's no secret that Oak Park has a parking problem. It's an ongoing, frequent cause for frustration. For as long as anyone can remember (1930's?) there has been an overnight parking ban in the village. Not such a problem when we were a streetcar suburb, but American car ownership patterns have changed and there are more cars in essentially the same space. One study by the village showed that nearly half (49%) of all multifamily housing units do not have on-site parking. There's plenty of room to park on the street in less-dense, especially single family home neighborhoods. In the multifamily, high population density areas (mostly apartments and condos), however, the village was writing upwards of 160,000 parking tickets prior to the beginning of the parking permit program.

For background, our village is completely built-out with multiple business districts, several types of residential districts, 2 CTA L lines, and a trenched expressway running through it. So there are some unique parking situations--commuters, shopping, and a lack of space/money to simply build more parking. And not the least of which is that overnight on-street parking is only allowed (by ordinance) in the highest-density zones. But add to this a collection of garages, off-street enclaves, parking lots, and you basically have a mess. Oh, did I mention we have day, night, snow, and resident-only restrictions? Our street signs get quite confusing.

Last night the transportation commission began a study (it was really an extensive overview of current conditions to prepare for a study) of several of the on-street overnight zones. (We're looking at Y2, Y3, Y4 if you're a resident who cares.) The goal is to "standardize, eliminate conflicting restrictions, improve use of shared parking resources, and increase the supply of parking spaces." Frankly, I'm not sure any of this is possible for a variety of reasons. The parking fund is supposed to be paying for itself (and currently is) but the twilight of other funds means it will soon be in the red. Which means that when nearly 200 private spaces disappear from one of the overnight zones soon--for development--there may not be much of an appetite to also increase the prices. Even if that's what good policy and financial needs indicate.

There's a lack of political will to enact real parking reform. And one key point in my head going into all this is that the reason things are the way they are is that we've achieved a crazy mix of regulations and restrictions because it's been an as-needed solution to smaller problems without much looking at the big picture. We address micro-local concerns, but what do we lose at the village-wide level? As was pointed out last night, we don't have a parking shortage--contrary to what popular opinion would most likely say. We do have a parking management problem where we don't sort out the difficulties in a few key neighborhoods. It strikes me--as it has others--that the burden of finding parking falls unequally on residents in the lower income areas of the village. People with large houses have plenty of space, a driveway, a garage, and pay the property taxes that make them complain--loudly--if the village's parking problems spill their way. So we comfortably ask renters--by nature transient-- and the owners in (usually historical) larger buildings like ours to deal with their parking problems via the privilege of paying hundreds of dollars a year to try to get a coveted municipal space.

I can see many ways to tackle the issue...none of which are probably viable given the circumstances on the ground. I'm a bit of a parking libertarian. Yes, I know that in business districts we want turnover to drive dollars spent. I get it. But I'm also of the opinion that the street is a public place and should be divided up for use in a way that benefits everyone, the public, or at least more people...not just those who own or live in property alongside. I think we've catered for too long to the whims of localized needs instead of being fair to everyone. Our current system is most definitely not fair. But the sad thing is that any attempt to reform the unfair system is going to be perceived as...yep, unfair. At least by a very vocal group of citizens. They're going to be the ones standing in line at Parking Services saying they can't find a place to park or mad that somebody is now parking in front of their house. We, literally, can't make everybody happy.

But one thing I'd like to throw out there as we begin to discuss...the problem with use taxes is that they fall not according to ability to pay. As I pointed out in my previous blog post about Disney needing to find a way to allow families to piggyback affordability during low volume with their need to raise rates during high volume seasons, dynamic pricing can have a few drawbacks to the public using the system. It essentially prices some people out. But it also changes buying patterns and strategies. My hope is that we can somehow balance these interests. Dare I say even give vehicle owners a lower burden if they're willing to give up a few things?

Just a few things to keep in mind as we try to figure it all out.