Free Sunday parking coming two weeks early to some Chicago wards
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter email@example.com June 13, 2013 9:25PM
Updated: July 16, 2013 6:13AM
Parts of a dozen Chicago wards will get free parking this Sunday, two weeks ahead of schedule. The only question is, how long the freebie will last.
As many as 15 aldermen have talked about repealing the political sweetener negotiated by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in exchange for a longer parking day.
They’re concerned that free Sunday parking would adversely impact neighborhood commercial strips.
But until they repeal the Sunday freebie, Chicago Parking Meters LLC is methodically altering pay-and-display boxes across the city to accommodate free Sundays and the longer parking day.
They were supposed to make the switch by July 1. Instead, it’ll be completed by this Sunday in parts of a dozen wards: the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 11th, 12th, 14th, 15th, 20th, 22nd, 23rd and 25th.
That’s a far cry from the botched transition to private control that saw drivers stuff their pockets with quarters to pay steep rate hikes only to have pay-and-display boxes break and freeze while overstuffed and improperly calibrated meters overcharged them.
Ald. Will Burns (4th) seemed surprised about the early start of free Sunday parking.
“I understand they’re looking for a place to implement this. But I let them know we need to have some conversations about downtown Hyde Park,” he said.
“The Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce has expressed concern about free parking on 53rd Street and the major shopping corridors. Their concern is parking spots won’t turn over, and people who want to park to use their businesses won’t be able to do so.”
After meeting with Chicago Lawn merchants, Ald. Toni Foulkes (15th) has agreed to test free Sundays to gauge the impact on businesses along 63rd Street and Western Avenue. Aldermen Pat Dowell (3rd) and Willie Cochran (20th) plan to do the same for their commercial strips.
“Before the parking meter deal went through, [rates were low and] you could never find parking. After the deal, you had open parking for their customers because you had to pay to park, and it was enforced. You didn’t have people parking cars and staying all day long,” Foulkes said.
“They were looking at how it was before and saying, ‘Oh my God. It’s gonna go back to that.’ But we decided to try it and see how free Sundays work. Whatever is good for the businesses and creating revenue in my ward, that’s what I’m for. It’s a decision I won’t make by myself.”
Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) said he’s not considering a repeal, adding, “My neighborhood likes free Sundays. I’ve talked to them at block clubs and community meetings, and they want it. It’s a good thing.”
Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) is hoping to make two changes before the transition ever gets to her congested Lincoln Park ward: Repeal free Sundays and keep the evening end to paid parking at 9 p.m., instead of the 10 p.m. deadline negotiated by the mayor.
“We’ve got thousands of young singles and college students in our neighborhood. We’re worried people will park on the street all day Sunday and merchants won’t be able to have their loyal customers come,” Smith said.
In a statement announcing the earlier-than-expected Sunday freebie, Emanuel said he is “proud to have fought for and won” a side-benefit for motorists while settling outstanding claims by Chicago Parking Meters LLC in a way that could relieve taxpayers of a $1 billion burden over 71 years.
“Everyone in Chicago deserves a day of rest from the awful parking meter deal and the sooner that relief can begin, the better,” the mayor was quoted as saying.
Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) has warned of yet another “windfall” for Chicago Parking Meters LLC. He doesn’t buy a city consultant’s claim that taxpayers would come out $1.3 million-a-year ahead by extending the parking day by one hour for 25,818 meters and by three hours for 3,217 other meters downtown and in River North.