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Brown: No such thing as free parking?

Kyle Vocelka

Kyle Vocelka

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Updated: June 27, 2013 7:05AM

Free Sunday parking in the neighborhoods.

That’s the sweetener Mayor Rahm Emanuel is offering Chicagoans and their aldermen to help swallow the bitter pill of a revised parking meter lease deal.

But on Friday the Emanuel administration opened the door for some aldermen to over-ride his offer of a “day of rest” and keep the meters running in their wards seven days a week.

That’s because some aldermen say businesses in their neighborhoods may prefer meters as a way of turning over parking spaces to accommodate more customers.

“What if my chamber [of commerce] comes to me and says we’re willing to pay on Sunday?” asked Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th), who earlier had been among a group of 24 aldermen who endorsed the free Sunday parking concept.

“We can work with you to accommodate exceptions,” city Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton promised Reboyras and other aldermen during a hearing before the Finance Committee.

Patton went on to explain that carving out such exceptions on a block-by-block, case-by-case basis will only be possible if the City Council goes ahead and approves the changes to the parking meter contract negotiated by the Emanuel administration.

“We have to get the free Sundays first,” Patton said.

I’ve been expecting something like this since the mayor’s plan was first outlined: for the realization to emerge that there is a cost to free Sunday parking.

Forgotten in our parking meter travails of the past four years is that meters actually serve a purpose other than just providing another opportunity to gouge the citizenry. In congested commercial areas, exacting a price for using a parking space discourages anyone from hogging it too long and allows others to take a turn.

I’m not arguing against Emanuel’s free Sunday parking plan. It’s a gimmick, but it’s a politically valid gimmick as long as everyone recognizes the tradeoffs.

The biggest tradeoff is that it comes at the expense of those who use parking meters at night. Under Emanuel’s plan, they will have to feed the meters an extra hour per night in most parts of the city and an extra three hours until midnight in River North and Streeterville.

Some aldermen are also challenging the city’s revenue projections that suggest motorists will collectively save more on Sundays than they will spend for the extended night parking the rest of the week.

I need to see that debate play out a little longer before deciding who is correct.

As it stands, the mayor’s free Sunday parking plan applies everywhere outside the central business district — defined as the area from North Avenue to Roosevelt Road and from Halsted east to the lake.

Reboyras said he still supports Emanuel’s plan for free Sundays but is interested in carving out exceptions in his Northwest Side ward if free parking creates problems.

“This could be something that we fix later on,” he said.

Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) also expressed interest in the possibility of keeping the meters running Sundays in his Lakefront ward, asking if a given community could give back free Sundays to avoid the longer meter hours on other days.

Patton told him that would violate the agreement with Chicago Parking Meters LLC.

But Patton said allowing some aldermen to continue charging for Sunday parking could benefit the city in other ways by offsetting some of the charges the parking vendor is allowed to assess the city when meters are taken out of service.

I’m not really sure how many aldermen would want to take a chance on the possible fallout over not giving their constituents Emanuel’s day of rest at the meters.

The possibility of the rules being different in different parts of the city could also be problematic.

“I think it’s dangerous to have a piecemeal approach to Sundays because you’re going to confuse the hell out of people,” said Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd), who represents the thriving 26th Street business district, which supports free Sunday parking as does he.

This reminds me of the first rule of Chicago parking before we raised the meter rates. Do you remember what it was?

Read the signs.

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