3 Stars For New Parking Meter Report
The piling on is getting brutal.
For a multitude of reasons, the parking meter lease deal is the story that will not die.
Initially, a relentless flurry of negative press from the local and then national media, including a few hard hitting, in-depth investigative pieces from the Chicago Reader in three parts, FAIL, FAIL Part 2, and FAIL Part 3.
Then, a few weeks ago, the Inspector General issued a damning report on the lease.
Tuesday, the Active Transportation Alliance, released a report condemning Chicago’s parking meter lease deal for most of the same, but also for issues that have not been raised thus far.
Of course, the city officials have issues with the report and in some cases, understandably some very contrary views. To me, it’s like an episode of the X-Files. The truth is out there. Somewhere.
Brian Steele, spokesperson for the Chicago Department of Transportation felt there are some problems with Active Trans’ conclusions.
“No,” Steele said tersely when asked if he agreed with the report. “The report has a myriad of innaccuries, assumptions and facutal errors.”
Understand, the mission of Active Transportation Alliance, (or Active Trans) is to promote bicycling, walking and public transportation to such a degree that “50% of all regional trips are made by bicycling, walking or transit…” The organization used to call itself the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation. So, Active Trans’ position is not anti-automobile, but it would not be unfair to say it would like to see a drastic reduction in automobile travel in Chicago.
The report lays down a foundational theory that “underpriced curb parking is a hidden source of traffic congestion and stimulates the most inefficient form of urban transportation.” In other words, motorists don’t usually pay what they should pay for metered parking.
The report summarizes the deal and the bloody details on how the deal went down, demonstrating that lease was pushed through, in the opinion of the writers, only for the financial upside to the city, with no regard for the consequences to the future of transportation and urban planning for Chicago.
Active Trans’ report believes that by selling off the meters, Chicago now loses the ability to use meter revenue, which they believe should to improve transportation infrastructure initially concludes “As a result (of selling off the meters), planners and neighborhoods have lost control over one of their most powerful urban planning and revenue generating tools.”
In reality, at least according to a written response from the City of Chicago, ”net revenue from the parking meter system historically did not fund these specifict items, but rather was part of the general corporate fund revenue stream.”
The report claims:
So while the city technically retains control over these spaces, any move to remove or adjust parking will financially penalize the City. This means that every potential project on a street with meters, including bus rapid transit, bicycle lanes, sidewalk expansion, streetscaping, pedestrian bulb-outs, loading zones, rush hour parking control, mid block crossing, and temporary open spaces are dictated, controlled and limited by parking meters.
These restrictions severely limit innovative planning for bicyclists, pedestrian and transit users.
“This is absolutely untrue,” says Steele. “The city always has, and always will have control of the public way.”
Active Trans’ conclusion does seem a bit hyperbolic on this point, however the new parking meter lease will have some sort of effect on all the scenarios listed above. The thing is, in most cases because this deal is so fresh, know one knows exactly how all these situations will play out. The truth is most likely somewhere between Active Trans’ conclusions and the City’s view on the issue.
Active Trans is also a big supporter of rush hour bus lanes. So it’s not a surprise that the report’s writers feel this alleged loss of control of the public way is going to impact the future of policies that promote rush hour bus lanes.
“The loss of the potential for bus rapid transit on most streets over the next 75 years is one of the most disappointing losses from the term of the lease…the cost of removing parking or placing rush hour parking controls over the length of a potential route such as Western Avenue would be staggering.”
The city weakly disputes this point by saying the “The costs, if staggering, would have been equally staggering prior to the transaction.”
Once again, both flirt with opposite extremes of the the truth. But the difference now is that pre-lease agreement, the city would only be giving up potential revenue. But now, post-lease agreement, if rush hour bus lanes were installed along portions of Western Ave., most likely the city would have to come out of pocket and reimburse Chicago Parking Meters, LLC, cold, hard cash at inflated rates, per the new lease agreement.
The report’s writers also come to the conclusion:
“This agreement makes it impossible for the City to test any new hourly meter rates for price elasticity of demand, a measure of how consumers react to a change in price. That is limiting because the right price for parking is intricate: the ideal hourly rate for parking (where spots are 85% full, and drivers can alwaysfind a parking spot), might vary depending on exact location, residential/commercial mix, time of day
and nearby events.”
The city, again in their printed retort, says this is false, stating, “The city has retained full control over rate setting. Further, the transaction has actually enabled the City to test new hourly meter rates because the new meter technology provides real time utilization information.”
Again, the truth is somewhere in between the two views. The municipal code allows for adjustments of meter pricing via alderman within their wards and ultimately by approval within the City Council.
But if the city’s claim is true in regards to price elasticity and new meter technology, why haven’t price changes been initiated on the hundreds of metered blocks in the city where motorists have virtually stopped parking?
Despite its’ problems with the lease deal, the Active Trans report does offer some suggestions including implementing market rate curb pricing, use curb revenue to reinvest in transportation choices in suburban areas and invest in bicylcling, walking and transit.
Overall the Geek gives Active Trans’ report 3 stars.
Here’s the report, read it yourself: Unrealized Assets: How leasing control of parking meters limits the future of active transport and innovative urban planning.