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Incremental parking change

Photo via Wednesday Journal
I have to say that last night's Transportation Commission meeting was pretty demoralizing. Not because it wasn't productive. It was. But because I found it philosophically challenging. After 3 hours--keep in mind this is a project we've been working on for 18 months--we took no vote after extensive public testimony and feedback. And it's not that I was itching for a vote. Rather, if one had been taken...one will eventually be taken...I'm still not sure where I come down on the issue. It probably would have been a "no" vote last night. Not because I disagree with the work we've done up to this point but because I think it falls drastically short of what is actually needed. 

The problem is that we've been tasked to improve the parking situation in the Y2, Y3, and Y4 zones in Oak Park. Clearer signage. Eliminate (unnecessary?) confusion. Simplify. Find more spaces. Which we've done. Sort of. The problem I'm having in my head is that we can take small steps to do all that but it's just one piece of what residents are really asking for overall. 

One of the things that really jumped out at me last night is that the residents--many of them--who came to speak and ask questions had the dual purpose of both providing evidence of the inequality that exists within the parking programs and had constructive things to say about how those needs could be addressed. But, unfortunately (in my opinion), the relatively minor changes we're considering for implementation are not the kind of "revolution" that is at a level higher than my relatively minor volunteer committee status. We can make recommendations, but ultimately it will be up to elected village officials and village staff to do the truly hard changes. Things like, for instance, overturning the ordinance that prevents permit parking in front of single-family homes. There are other things, policy-wise, like being less restrictive overall. 

I made the comment last night that one reason Oak Parkers struggle with the parking situation is that it flies in the face of the fundamental principle of fairness. "First come, first served" is not an option in a system where a woman testified last night that despite her purchasing a parking permit she sometimes comes home and finds no spots available. So she purchases a temporary pass on top of the regular permit she already paid for. Can I in good conscience vote for changes that marginally improve a few basic concerns while leaving in place an otherwise broken parking concept? Is incremental change enough? Do your part in moving things forward hoping that some future person is able to do more heavy lifting? As we tabled the topic for future meetings, it struck me that this is the very worst of why people become frustrated with their government. We all know what is wrong, but struggle with ideas on how to fix it because change is slow and progress is difficult to find when numerous people have to congeal around the reform for it to happen. 

While I can enthusiastically get behind simpler signs and the amount of extra parking spaces we've managed to find, it's the daytime restrictions that are throwing everybody. Under the current rules, it is a complicated tangle of times when you can and cannot park. Street sweeping times work against rules to keep commuters from parking in spots near the trains. And those are in conflict with parking signs meant to keep spaces "turned over" for business or get night parkers out of the way for day needs. The proposal (it has a list of pros and cons) under consideration is to move to alternate side of the street times so that the No Parking restriction on the West and South sides of the street is different than the time for No Parking on the East and North sides of the street. 

The commission specifically requested that staff reach out to survey the public...hence the little yard signs you've seen around the village. In all, 616 people had taken the survey as of yesterday. 60% dislike the current regulations. Ok, cool. But 57% of respondents said they want change but this set of rules will make things worse. My emphasis. 69% think the proposed regulations are difficult to understand. Which is actually more than the number who dislike the current regulations! At that point, I throw my hands up in the air and figure that if I'm not willing to argue to the death about the marginal benefits of new rules then it's probably a silly exercise to consider that over two-thirds of survey takers were confused. That's not the kind of bottom-up governance we should be aiming for without some serious data or findings to back up that the change is clearly necessary. 

To me, it just seems futile and needless. I'm not completely willing to say that the work we did is meaningless...extra spaces, clearer signs, a better understanding of the problem is something. But I think we need a clearer mandate from the public about what kind of parking rules they want to see before I'm fully on board with this nip and tuck. 


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