I just paid $75 to have coffee with my friends. Because there were no street spots on Dempster near Curt’s Café South, where I usually park, I turned onto a side street. What luck. There was one spot left on the block so I took it. Because I was running late, I didn’t walk up to read the parking sign for monthly street cleaning. I stupidly assumed if it was forbidden that day, there would not be cars parked all the way down the block. Wrong.
When I came out to retrieve my car, there was the ticket. In fact, the city really cleaned up as I’m guessing a dozen cars received citations. Yep, you get a ticket and you get a ticket and you get a ticket. That was a nice haul for the city. I paid online (an added $1 service fee) and received an email thanking me for successfully paying my citation. It was my error, but I think a $75 charge was rather excessive.
In general, parking in Evanston has become a nightmare. Being a 45-year resident of the suburb, I have accepted the fact that metered parking exists on busy streets and that, unlike other suburbs, I have to pay to park. Lately, however, things have gotten out of control. Parking meters have been replaced by boxes in which you have to enter your license plate number and a credit card. Coins work, but only for folks who have at least eight quarters on them. And it costs Chicago-like rates for up to two hours of parking. In the winter, climbing over mounds of snow to reach the box and remove my gloves in below-zero temps to insert my credit card (usually more than once) was a challenge, but no worries. There is a parking app. For a surcharge of 35 cents, I can enter the zone and space number from the comfort of my car.
This new system does not permit meter feeding. If you stay, you pay. I guess that’s fair enough, but once your time is up, you must move your car to a spot not too close to your previous spot. Otherwise, through some technological wizardry, your car will show up as illegally parked and you will receive a ticket.
About that two-hour limit. That’s not enough time to dine at a nice restaurant or visit several stores in the same block. It’s also not enough time for some doctor or dentist appointments. Recently, I had extensive dental work that took more than two-hour meter limit. To avoid being ticketed, I was forced to use one of the parking garages, which I hate. To my dismay, the first several floors had two-hour limits or were reserved for Target. After winding around to reach a floor that allowed me to stay for three hours, for which I paid $5, I was ready to fight the biting winds and cold temperatures to trek to my dentist’s office.
For many people, a $75 ticket for a street cleaning violation or $25 for an expired meter is beyond what their budget can afford. Or they forget to pay their tickets. Once they have three unpaid tickets, they may find their car barnacled. The Barnacle is a bright yellow piece of equipment that nearly covers a front windshield, and, like the name implies, grips it so tightly is impossible to remove. To get rid of the Barnacle, the driver has to pay a $125 fine, the amount of the unpaid parking tickets, including penalties, and a $200 deposit by calling the phone number on the Barnacle and giving the person on the other line a valid credit card number. If the driver has an emergency or has kids who need to get somewhere or no cell phone or insufficient funds to cover these charges or finds the Barnacle after the city offices are closed – tough luck. You need to be able to reach someone to give you a code to unlock the devise (once you have paid) and then return it to the police department. That seems rather draconian to me.
There are ways to collect parking ticket fines fairly, but they don’t happen. For example, residential streets close to El stops should all have parking restrictions that prevent commuters from using parking all day that is needed by folks who actually live on the block. Some days, particularly when there are alternate street parking restrictions in place, there is no place to park on my daughter’s block for the people who live there and their visitors. Ticketing commuters by restricting parking hours to prevent them from using these streets as free parking would bring in funds. But please, $75 is too much no matter what the offense.
I love to shop local and support the small businesses that still exist in Evanston, but the first consideration is always parking. The same is true for restaurants. If it is too much of a hassle to park, I can drive ten more minutes to Old Orchard where there are tons of places to shop and eat and tons of free parking. Evanston, you need to help the business community and your residents by rethinking how you handle parking rules and violations.