WEST LOOP — West Loop residents have watched many towering buildings rise up around them in recent years. But despite the spiking rents and increasingly crowded streets, a secret neighborhood perk remained: Free parking.
Starting Jan. 1, the free spots peppering the neighborhood will become metered — and prices will go up from $2 to $4.50 per hour from 8 a.m. to midnight at existing meters.
And some neighbors aren’t happy.
“This is a catastrophe that will alter our neighborhood. This a neighborhood-killing venture,” said Greg Shapps, who has lived in a Fulton Market artist loft for more than 15 years and run his photography business from the space.
He said higher metered parking fees will scare off customers that keep small business owners in the area in business.
During the first few months of the year, the city will also install new meter boxes throughout a majority of streets from Carroll Avenue to Madison Street and Ogden Avenue and Halsted Street, the West Central Association announced Friday.
The new parking plan will help address some of the parking issues that plague the neighborhood, West Central Association President Armando Chacon said — issues that went unresolved for more than a decade and have worsened in recent years as development boomed.
“I think the ordinance and the policy is a sensible one based on the… and evolving nature of the neighborhood,” Chacon said.
To protect residents, the city will restrict parking rules, requiring motorists to have a residential parking permit in order to park on the street between 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. daily along some streets in the neighborhood.
The changes come two years after the chamber and Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) aimed to stop people from leaving their cars parked in the neighborhood while they commuted and worked in the Loop by adding residential permit zones and meter parking.
The new morning parking ban comes after neighborhood groups pushed to end a midday parking ban in the West Loop in 2014.
From July-December 2013, drivers were prohibited from parking along select neighborhood streets from 1:30-3:30 p.m. weekdays. Chacon said the restrictions were “not received well.” At the time, he told DNAinfo the parking ban made “the parking situation even worse.”
Now, Chacon, who agreed on the metered parking of commercial corridors but did not advocate for fee hikes, said the new parking restrictions are an “opportunity for the city to leverage a booming area for additional revenue for the city.”
Since the idea was initially proposed at a July 2017 meeting, he said merchants and some residents have asked when the the plan for permits and metered parking would be rolled out.
But no formal community meeting was held since their first meeting on this plan more than two years ago, he said.
Asked about the new plan, Burnett said he “didn’t have any details” and referred all questions to the city’s Department of Transportation.
The Chicago Department of Transportation did not return a request for comment.
The idea of installing metered parking in the West Loop was resurfaced in October by the Mayor’s office to help close the city’s budget gap as well as address parking concerns, according to a letter posted on the West Loop Community Organization’s website in October.
Department of Finance spokeswoman Kristen Cabanban said the city moved to add metered parking, in part, to address concerns from merchants in the neighborhood who said some visitors in the neighborhood were taking up parking spaces in front of commercial corridors throughout the day.
The metered spots are meant to create a turnover, “keep the traffic flow moving” to help businesses “viability,” Cabanban said.
The plan also aims to encourage people to take public transportation, she said.
‘This is a catastrophe’
While some business owners support the new plan, others say it will make parking worse for residents.
Shapps said the newly installed metered areas would attract even more Uber and Lyft rides to the neighborhood, adding to traffic congestion in the already crowded area.
Roger Romanelli, executive director of the Fulton Market Association, said the city needed to take a “thoughtful, deliberate process” before making drastic changes to parking in the neighborhood.
“We don’t believe our community should be tasked with paying $4.50 per hour to balance the city’s budget,” Romanelli said. “We don’t have meters now. We want a thoughtful process to bring meters into the community.”
Rather than a quick change to the mostly free parking in the neighborhood, Romanelli said the Fulton Market Association proposed the city conduct a two-month pilot project in the Fulton Market to study the impact of parking meters would have on residents and longtime businesses in the area.
As part of the proposal, the group called for the pilot to be adopted between Morgan and Racine with prices at $4.50 per hour on Randolph Street and $2 per hour on smaller, ancillary streets from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and free parking on the weekends.
He would also like to see developers arrange off-street parking for their construction workers, he added.
Fulton Market is one of Chicago’s most “vibrant neighborhoods” because of today’s parking dynamic, which sees a mix of employees of longtime businesses, customers, residents and valet services using the parking for free, Romanelli said.
“To add the meters overnight… will truly lessen the greatness of Fulton Market. It will dampen our business sales, that will hurt our companies, that will hurt the Fulton Market dynamic,” Romanelli said. “…If we are going to change this, the city has to take a breath…We have to do it the right way.”
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