Parking Study A Good Start, But…


Ever since Park Ridge’s Uptown area was reborn a few years ago as a dining and drinking mecca, enough folks have complained about a lack of parking that it spurred the Park Ridge City Council to engage the firm of Gewalt Hamilton Associates, Inc. (“GHA”) to perform a parking study.

The Uptown Parking Study dated June 8, 2017 makes several noteworthy points, not the least of which is that “the Uptown area has a sufficient amount of parking” (Report, page 2) – even if any difficulty in finding parking is perceived by some residents as a shortage. GHA explains the perceived shortage as “a lack of balance in parking supply at primary locations or destinations” (Report, page 18).

Tell that to our local merchants, especially those who need parking to accommodate both their customers and their employees.

One potential problem identified by the consultants is that Uptown parkers have become used to free and cheap parking. Commuters can park all day in the 125-space Summit “lot” along the METRA tracks (from Euclid down past St. Paul of the Cross) for a mere $1.50, or in the 58-space Prairie Ave. lot for a mere $2.00. Based on an average of 21 work days per month, that’s a paltry $31.50 and $42.00 per month, respectively.

“Prime” commuter parking can be found in the 38-space triangle lot just west of the Uptown METRA station. Those permits cost $350 per 6 months, or $2.70/workday – a slight convenience premium based on its proximity to the METRA station.

Even the 12-hour meters on the south side of Summit between Prospect and Euclid are only $6 for 12 hours – although with the current meters you’ll have to suffer the inconvenience of feeding them 24 quarters.

The Council needs to face the basic fact that commuter parking, although a necessity for commuters, is an economic drain on Uptown: The parking spaces taken up by commuters from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. produce no other direct or indirect parking revenue, or indirectly help generate sales tax revenue from parkers who presumably are purchasers of products or services.

Should commuters be charged more than $1.50 or $2.00 per day? Given the perceived shortage of Uptown parking – and the 10-12 hour occupancy of spaces – just the basic concept of supply and demand would dictate “yes.” And based on the Summit meters, the appropriate amount would appear to be at least $6 per day.

Another noteworthy conclusion is that “[a]t this point GHA does not recommend a parking garage be constructed anywhere within the Uptown study area” (Report, page 19), either on the City lot at Summit and Euclid or on the Park Ridge Library lot. GHA believes such a garage would cost too much and be hard-pressed to pay for itself, at least if constructed and owned by the City.

That might be the case IF the current fee structure for commuter parking remains in place. At $2 per day for 252 workdays per year, a 125-space parking structure – that could basically replace the Summit 125-space Summit lot – would generate $63,000 per year of revenue even with full occupancy. At that rate, paying off a $2 million parking structure would take 32 years without even factoring in any debt service or maintenance!

Maybe that’s why we haven’t heard about any private developer who is chomping at the bit to build a parking deck.

Instead of a parking deck, GHA suggests that the City “repurpose” 20 spaces in the Library lot and treat them the same as the triangle lot parking, with 6-month permits.

Because the Library closes at 5:00 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, its 151 spaces now become available for patrons of the Pickwick Theater and the other Uptown businesses on what would appear to be their 3 busiest evenings.

The Summit lot spaces, serving primarily commuters Monday through Friday, also tend to become available by 5:00 p.m. most week nights.

Although we tend to agree with GHA’s findings that there is not a true “shortage” of parking in the Uptown area, their study seems to equate a $1.50/day parking space down by St. Paul of the Cross with a $1.50/day space at Euclid. That might be the case for an all-day commuter, but we doubt that somebody looking to buy a box of Fannie May or a Hallmark birthday card would agree. And providing 8-10 hour parking for employees of Uptown businesses is a problem the GHA report appears to have given short shrift.

At the end of the day, however, it looks like the City Council and Uptown businesses will need to find more innovative ways of balancing commuter and customer parking if Uptown is going to continue to thrive and grow as a shopping and entertainment destination for locals and visitors alike.

The GHA parking study is a good start, but it’s nowhere close to the final word.

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