A plan to charge $1 per hour to park along Chicago’s lakefront will move forward despite the protests of several aldermen who say the fees will restrict access to one of the city’s crown jewels.
“This is about access to the lakefront, which is an asset that’s owned by all the citizens of Chicago,” said Ald. Tom Allen (38th), who along with Ald. Richard Mell (33rd) called for a special meeting Aug. 18 of the Chicago City Council’s Committee on Parks and Recreation.
The aldermen said the parking fee, set to begin within four to six weeks, contradicts Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Chicago Plan of open access to parks and will strain the budgets of low-income families hungry for recreation during hard times.
“I do think that we’re nickel and diming people in the city of Chicago, and we need to stop,” said Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd).
But Chicago Park District Superintendent Timothy Mitchell, facing a $12 million deficit this year, defended the plan. He argued that charging for lakefront parking is a better solution than raising property taxes.
“There are seniors who don’t go down to the beach at all, and I’m not going to raise their property taxes,” Mitchell said. “I believe people who are using the beaches and creating those expenses should pay $1 an hour.”
An estimated 4,425 parking spaces along the lake will be subject to the new pay-and-display boxes, in which drivers must pre-pay for parking and leave a receipt visible in their windows. The boxes will likely be installed in the next four to six weeks, said Park District spokeswoman Jessica Maxey-Faulkner.
Money collected at the boxes will feed $700,000 into parks coffers in the last quarter of this year; revenue is expected to jump to $2 million per year after that, according to Park District estimates. Chicago-based Standard Parking will maintain the boxes for roughly $85,000 per year, under a three-year contract that is expected to be signed in six weeks, Maxey-Faulkner said.
The park district spends about $400 million per year on its 570 parks, Mitchell said. Sixty-five percent of that money comes from property taxes.
Tuesday’s committee meeting gave aldermen a chance to vent over the done deal; the Park District Board of Commissioners approved the parking plan as part of its budget process last December, and the city council has no jurisdiction over the decision.
Several aldermen on Tuesday did suggest other funding sources, such as charging $1 admission to the city’s Air and Water show, eliminating the park district’s public relations department and approaching the Chicago Blackhawks for sponsorship.
Parks advocate Charlotte Newfeld, one of four speakers to address the committee, said she hopes the fee will reduce the number of cars parked near the lakefront, but Newfeld added that she would prefer a system of parking lots and shuttle buses to transport beach goers.
“We need every inch of green space for people, just to feel like they’re not all surrounded by concrete,” Newfeld said.
The Independent Voters of Illinios-Indpendent Precinct Organization has filed a lawsuit to void the city of Chicago’s parking meter contract with Chicago Parking Meters LLC claiming the deal violates state law. You can read the lawsuit at IVIIPO.org.
For more reporting on the parking meter lawsuit, you can listen and read WBEZ’s report at chicagopublicradio.org.