Public Watchdog.org

Parking Study A Good Start, But…

06.26.17

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.

To read or post comments, click on title.

21 comments so far

Is Gewalt Hamilton the same consultant hired by the early 2000s City Council to evaluate the traffic and parking impact of the entire Uptown redevelopment project? If so, should the Council direct “staff” to go back, read the previous report (circa 2004) and see if there are any lessons learned we can now apply? At minimum we could learn how useful and predictive GH’s work really is.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We recall a 2004-05 traffic study done by Gewalt Hamilton, although we don’t know where it can be found online. Also, there was a July 15, 1996 “Comprehensive Plan” by Teska Associates.

I have never had any problem parking, and that is without ever using any valet service.

I do think that a deck would be helpful. They should build it on the city property at Summit and Euclid, although I do not know how to pay for it.

I dislike the term “perception is reality” but that doesn’t mean perception, however unrealistic it may be, does not drive human behavior.

A 120-car deck on the city lot at Summit and Euclid should solve the problem for the foreseeable future, because it would be a central location convenient to the train and to Uptown businesses.

That is the solution that should be looked at, not the old Bailey’s lot 3-4-5 blocks from most Uptown businesses.

Just to add some detail to the discussion, the rates that are charged to commuters to park on Union Pacific property, along Summit and the Triangle Lot, are controlled and approved by UP. They try to keep things comparable up and down the line. Park Ridge can not simply decided to raise the rates.

Additionally, although the commuters do not add revenue to the city while they are off at work, having them parked in our business district certainly adds to the morning/evening rush at our local restaurants, coffee shops and other establishments (dry cleaners, shoe repair, jewelry/watches, etc.) This value is hard to compute, but it’s certainly not $0.

EDITOR’S NOTE: That does not jibe with METRA’s FAQs, one of which states that “Metra does not administer parking at most of these stations. Generally, the municipality in which the station is located oversees the parking; each has different parking rules and regulations. Some stations are overseen by Metra’s parking contractor, Central Parking.” Does Central Parking manage the Summit lot; and, if so, why is the City taking responsibility for paving/maintaining that lot and collecting the pay-box fees?

Also, why would the pay-box spaces along Summit be $1.50/day while the meters immediately west of the pay-box went from 5-hour spots @ 25 cents per hour to 12-hour spots @ 50 cents per hour?

We would agree that incidental/indirect rush-hour revenue generated by all-day commuter parkers is not zero. BUT valuing it at anything more than zero is rank speculation that becomes even more meaningless when you consider it in the context of equally speculative incidental/indirect lost revenue from shoppers/diners foreclosed from those commuter spots.

I was resisting reacting to this subject but what the heck. I cannot imagine why there is so much weight put on this study. For years upon years GH has submitted studies to the city, at board and comission meetings and before city council when a new development is proposed, or new business needs a variance, ALL of which has come back, NO Problem. For them to suggest now, that there might be the hint of a problem, could put them in the hot seat. I have taken many opportunities at the board level when GH is present to point out that they have NEVER offered a report that said anything other than no problem.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We don’t disagree. But just because GHA always says “no problem” doesn’t automatically mean there IS a problem.

I was in no way suggesting that it “automatically” meant that there is a problem. I was simply pointing out that a whole lot of discussion and or debate arises from something that may not be worth the paper it’s written on. It’s a whole lot of years with improvements and developement throught the city and never once have they come to different conclusion What are the odds of that? There has been questions raised in the past regarding actual time spent and what days of the week they were reviewing and what times of the day as well. There should be no harm in pointing this out, so when discussion breaks out, there is some additional info to be considered.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks for the clarification – you are absolutely right about the relevance of GHA’s track record.

Ald. Moran, your argument is about as squishy as they come. Ask any restaurateur what he would prefer: The guy who occupies a restaurant table for 3 hours nursing one cup of coffee (with free refills), or 2-3 table turns during that same period of time.

The commuter parker is worse, because he’s there 8 or 10 or 12 hours, not just 3.

For Uptown to continue to grow we need sound thinking on this problem, not data-less anecdotes.

I’m curious how much the meters on Prairie are generating now. When AT&T refused to renew the lease to the commuter lot on Prairie (a lot which to this day looks like it’s unused by them) most of the people who formerly used the lot started parking at those meters. At the time it was a slight increase in cost but not unreasonable at a quarter per hour.

When they doubled the rate it became way too expensive, to say nothing of having to feed 24 quarters into the finicky meters which on several occasions for me wouldn’t register coins added or would completely error out and reset the time to either 00:00 or 88:88 (worse if you were at one of the ancient meters that necessitated turning the dial between coins). I actually had a parking ticket rescinded when I showed the parking enforcement officer how the display errors out by adding more change in front of them. I had paid my full amount that morning, but the last coin caused the error.

Now I just park for free and walk. I would use the Metra lot, but the distance from the station is hardly any shorter than from the neighborhood, plus it’s North of the tracks while I live South of them so there isn’t much benefit to the paid parking spots.

If those Prairie meters are being utilized, then good for the city and businesses. If not, why not issue parking permits to allow commuters to park at them for similar rates as the old Prairie lot or even the Triangle lot? Also, out of curiosity, has AT&T been contacted recently about the old Prairie lot? I haven’t seen it in use ever since the lease was ended and the lot replaced. I would think the company could benefit from at least some revenue generation rather than just sitting on an empty lot.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Why is $5 for 10 hours of parking “way too expensive” – just because it’s more than the $2/day in the pay-box lot?

But it sounds like you’ve solved the problem by walking to the train. Good for you!

The idea of more permit parking is a good one, however, and hopefully the City will look at that option. The same goes for contacting AT&T about its vacancies.

BNON, it’s not an argument, I’m just pointing out the fact that the value add of commuter parking is not $0. As the editor points out, we really don’t know how much of an impact commuter parking has on restaurants in a positive or negative way… both are speculation.

The only data we have is the survey that says there is not a problem with the number of spots available, just how they are utilized and promoted. This will be a much better “first step” towards addressing the issue, at very little cost to taxpayers.

This study was my request and represents the sound thinking you are calling for. Better to look at these cost effective solutions before we rush towards putting up a parking garage that might sit empty (Des Plaines).

Mr. Editor, my comment mentioned the parking along Summit, not the Summit lot you mention in your response. We can do whatever we want in the lot we own, but not along the tracks.

As for the Metra data… during our rate adjustments under City Manager Hamilton, he kept referring to Union Pacific, not Metra, as the entity we had to gain approval from. It is my understanding that the Triangle lot and area along Summit are their property, not Metra’s.

EDITOR’S NOTE: So you were referring to the Summit/Euclid lot, not the trackside Summit “lot” – got it.

But if Union Pacific rather than METRA owns the trackside right-of-way, why would the UP care what the City charges for parking, given that the UP isn’t making money off the commuter service? And why wasn’t that fact highlighted in the GHA report?

Apologies in advance for the off-topic question, Mr. Trizna, especially if you’re planning to address it in a future post, but do you know if the Council advisory board’s recommendations for Library Board membership are binding, or can the mayor put you up for reappointment next month regardless?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Recommendations are not binding on the mayor, but the mayor obviously can count.

Union Pacific owns the tracks, right of way, and parking spaces along Summit. Metra owns the rolling stock and contracts with Union Pacific to operate the NW line (conductors and engineers wear Metra uniforms but are employees of UP). Municipalities administer the spaces. The problem with $5 parking is that its a 233% increase over current rates and no one is parking by St. Paul to go to a restaurant south of the tracks or Starbucks or really the Pickwick for that matter.

More premium permit parking is a good idea.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The problem is that “no one is parking by St. Paul” to patronize Uptown businesses – which is why those remote spaces should go to commuters…other than where commuters wish to pay a significant premium to park closer. Like the $6 for 12-hour meters on Summit west of the pay box.

In reply to your comment on my post:

Rather than get into some deep philosophical discussion on what the optimal price is and whether one penny more is too much or what have you, let’s just look at the numbers. Before the price increase meters were $3.00 for 12 hours. That price was higher than both the Metra pay lot, which is cheap, and the permit lots, which provides guaranteed parking spots. Each meter could potentially generate $15 per week amounting to up to $780 per year. Doubling the cost of the meters meant that it now cost $6 per day to park, more than double the Metra lot and still significantly more than the permit lots. Total per week is now $30 and total per year is $1,560 to park. Now, I’m no economist, but as a general rule when prices dramatically increase people search for alternatives, as I clearly did. My parking rate is now $0 per year.

Additionally, once you increase the price to $6 per day, you come up against competition from other providers. The Cumberland Blue Line station has parking the exact same price per day. It’s even cheaper if you get a monthly pass. The parking is in a covered garage, offering cover from rain or snow, an obvious benefit. You also get receipts for parking there which can be beneficial for income tax purposes, unlike when feeding quarters into a parking meter.

To answer the question of “is the cost too high,” a careful reading of my comment would have shown that I was pondering that exact issue. It’s too high for me, yes, but I don’t know if it is from the city’s perspective. That’s why I asked, in my very first sentence “I’m curious how much the meters on Prairie are generating now.”

If the total generated before the price increase was $X and the total generated after the increase was less than $X dollars, then it would be an indicator that the market has decided that “the cost is too high.” I simply don’t have access to that information, which is why I made the comment.

I’d also like to point out that it isn’t unreasonable to want convenient commuter parking, seeing as how most of us (and I assume the vast majority of permit parkers) are Park Ridge residents. I personally very rarely see many cars at the 12 hour meters, particularly the ones on Prairie. If that’s the case, then why not create a permit for those spots? They are further from the businesses in Uptown so it seems commuters would be the prime market for them.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The only way to determine whether the demand for Uptown-area parking is elastic or inelastic is to raise the prices on the most desirable/convenient spots and see whether the demand drops.

But the meters on Prairie aren’t necessarily a benchmark because a lot of people never park south of the tracks, just like people such as yourself don’t want to park on the north side of the tracks.

The railroad has a direct interest in the cost of commuter parking though it has nothing to do with gaining the revenue from the spots.

Higher parking fees would discourage people from parking at those lots. People not parking at those lots may choose alternate transportation, such as the CTA or driving to work directly. People choosing alternative transportation directly affects the railroad’s bottom line as they may lose customers.

So yes, the railroad has a interest in the cost of parking since it indirectly affects how many tickets they’ll sell.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We could find nothing to suggest that Union Pacific’s revenue is related to the number of riders on METRA trains. If you have any data that shows otherwise, provide it.

Otherwise, we are treating this as fiction.

Matthew-you are a freeloader. There should be no free all day parking for commuters going downtown. The people who live on Courtland or Prospect or any of the streets just South of town should not have to put up with people like you parking in front if their home for the entire day. You bought a house in PR knowing you had to somehow get to the train to get to work. it is not the responsibility of the other taxpayers of PR to subsidize your all day parking or anyone else’s.

Also find it interesting that the four corner houses whose side yards are on Stewart between Prospect and Courtland were able to get permit only parking in that block. Who ate they and what influence do they have at city hall.

To ANON ON 07.02.17 9:11 AM:

Yes, I bought a house in Park Ridge and knew that I needed to get to the Metra station. I saw on the city’s website that they had a lot at Prairie and I bought a permit as soon as I was able. Unknown to me was that the Prairie lot wasn’t owned by the city, but rather leased from AT&T. Though, I don’t think that it’s entirely unreasonable to not know that.

No matter, once that lot was closed, I parked on the street. The price was reasonable and spots were available, so it worked. Then the city doubled the rates. Yet again, I was pushed out without any real alternative.

So yes, park in the neighborhoods. Why not? I’m a freeloader because I park my car in an area designated as free parking? And what are the residents “putting up with” exactly? It’s a public road. How is being parked actually affecting anything? I have cars parked by me all the time. I don’t cry about it nor do I feel like I’m “putting up with” anything.

To the Editor in reply to my comments:

The Prairie spots may not be desirable for Uptown as a whole, but they were certainly desirable for commuters who were the regular users. If those spots are as vacant as I’ve informally noticed, then why keep it that way? Seems like a wasted resource.

As for Metra’s revenue, I can’t fathom how a decrease in ridership would not affect their revenue. If you have X people paying $Y per ticket, when the number of riders dips below X, they’ll have less money. As someone who has used CTA and Metra, I have frequently received customer surveys about the service. One question is always about what alternatives you can choose. Seems pretty clear to me that fare revenue is important.

But let’s look at this from the Metra FAQ:

How is Metra funded?
Metra uses fare revenues to pay for 55 percent of its operating costs and public subsidies, primarily a regional transportation sales tax, for most of the rest. For its capital costs, including major infrastucture and rolling stock expenses, Metra relies overwhelmingly on local, state and federal assistance.

So while Metra receives quite a bit of subsidy, more than half of their funding comes from fares. Decreasing ridership decreases fare revenue. I understand that Union Pacific is the operator of the Metra line in question, but I’m not sure why we’re discussing them directly since they operate under the Metra name and it’s Metra that would be concerned with ticket revenue.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Can you and Ald. Moran get your stories coordinated?

He thinks – without any documentation – that Union Pacific somehow restricts what parking rates the City can charge for the Summit trackside (and other?) parking, while you now claim, also without documentation, that METRA might be the culprit.

We still cannot fathom how the UP would care about parking rates UNLESS its deal with METRA is somehow based on revenue sharing, of which we have seen no evidence. And while METRA certainly wants more revenue via ridership, again we have seen no evidence that METRA has any legal right to control what Park Ridge charges for parking.

Accordingly, we must concur with ANON ON 07.02.17 9:11 AM that you seem to be a freeloader, at least when it comes to commuter parking.

Matthew-typical response from a selfish freeloader. So what if you park in front of someone else’s house all day as long as you got what you wanted who cares about anyone else.

The side streets of Park Ridge were not intended to be used by free loaders like you to park all day while you go downtown for work. What if the person whose house you park in front of wants to park there for a few hours ? Has company over? Needs the service of emergency personnel? Where are the emergency vehicles supposed to park? But you and the others who fill up Courtland and Prospect and other side streets don’t care about inconveniencing other people or their safety as long as you get what you want-and for free!

So keep up with the lame attempts at justifying your selfish actions. They don’t work. You simply want something for nothing or nearly nothing.

When did I say anything about legal authority? Unless Metra owns the property, they can’t make any decisions. What I said they have an interest in parking rates being low so as to not drive away ridership. It can lobby for that in whatever way it desires, such as by contacting the city and expressing their concerns.

As for being a freeloader, I have a city sticker on the windshield so I am literally paying for it, but whatever. More simple is to say street parking that far from the station is designated as free, meaning anyone can use it. No rules are being broken, no harm is being done.

This wouldn’t even be an issue except that the Prairie lot disappeared. Those commuters had to go somewhere, so initially most went to the 12 hour meters. Then the price was doubled. It wasn’t a reasonable cost so people moved on. Those meters seem to be unused now, along with the AT&T’s Prairie lot. Heck, there were meters that the city actually removed at the end of Garden and on Third according to old parking maps. Reduction in the parking supply and an increase in price means people are going to seek out alternatives be it CTA, driving to work, or parking in different locations. The city could have turned all the unused meters, including the removed meters, into commuter permit parking as an alternative to the Prairie lot, but they didn’t. The city and AT&T don’t seem to be using their resources effectively. If they were I would be parking there instead. I would prefer to not have to walk so far, but for the current $6 price those spots can remain vacant.

Call me whatever name you want I guess if it makes you feel better about yourself. I am willing to pay for the parking as were most of the other people. I won’t be a sucker that pays double after being kicked out of a permit lot. That’s just nonsense and the vacant spots seem to be proof of that. Figure out an equitable solution to the commuter issue or accept that they will find alternatives.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If the City Council were to conform its behavior and policies to the wishes of the yahoos who run METRA, we’d be doomed. But if METRA or the UP can’t dictate parking rates to the City – and we’ve seen no evidence they can – then the City can do whatever it wants to balance the interests of commuters and business parkers.

You claim to have found your “alternative” by parking for free and walking, so why are you still whining about commuter parking?

Let’s cut to the chase: Were the City to follow your plan of turning that “unused meter” space into “commuter permit parking,” what it the maximum amount you would be willing to pay on a daily basis for your permit?

http://www.parkridge.us/assets/1/Events/Ordinance%20Amending%2013-13-1%20&%2013-16-5%20for%20Parking%20Fees.pdf

Coin box increase required Metra approval.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks for the info, Alderman, but just because the former City Mgr. might think the City needs METRA approval doesn’t make it so. We’d like to know what legal authority gives METRA control over Park Ridge parking – especially parking on City-leased private property like the Prairie lot a couple of blocks from the station and tracks – when METRA itself seems to suggest otherwise.

The METRA website has the following FAQ on its website (https://metrarail.com/riding-metra/riding-metra-faqs ):

Is there parking at Metra stations?

Monthly permit and/or daily fee parking is available at most stations. However, Metra does not administer parking at most of these stations. Generally, the municipality in which the station is located oversees the parking; each has different parking rules and regulations. Some stations are overseen by Metra’s parking contractor, Central Parking. There is a contact phone number for parking information on each station page.

Nothing on the Park Ridge “station page” https://metrarail.com/maps-schedules/train-lines/UP-NW/stations/PARKRIDGE ) indicates that METRA controls commuter parking. To the contrary, it lists the “Parking Phone” as “City of Park Ridge 847-318-5200.”

I can’t believe METRA has any legal right to tell the City what it can charge for parking at “City” lots, especially one like the Prairie Ave. lot that the City rents from from a private owner. But if the former City mgr. never asks the question but just blindly says we need METRA’s approval, and the elected officials just as blindly say okay, I’m sure METRA is happy to tell the City what it wants.

I would pay something in line with the Triangle lot permit which is currently $350 per six months so $700 per year. That seems reasonable. The old Prairie lot was less than that.

And I say “unused spaces” simply because I’ve seen with my own eyes that the spots are vacant, at least when I’m on the train platform in the morning and coming back in the evening. If they are being used in the interim I wouldn’t have any way to know. I would be interested in finding out if those spots are used at all during the day, which is why the very first line of my first comment on 6/29/17 said exactly that.

One of the proposals from the parking study that just came out is to remove 20 spots from the library to turn into commuter parking. There are 26 spots on Prairie that are vacant. Why are we suggesting removing useful parking spots when there are available spots already?

As for whining, I don’t see how discussing an issue can be seen as such. I’m not obligated to be quiet just because I found myself a solution. If you hope to shut me down by insulting me, it won’t work.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If we wanted to shut you down we just wouldn’t publish your comments.



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