Parallel parking: Little Italy sees Oak Park as a model?

? With designs on a garage, Near West Side group turns to OP for advice.

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By HAYDN BUSH

Little Italy Realtor David Harris fondly recalls boyhood trips to Oak Park to go shopping with his mother. Now he's hoping to bring a slice of the suburban village to Taylor Street.

With the parking crunch on Taylor Street an ever-present concern, Harris and a handful of University Village Association members trekked out to the west suburb to scope out its collection of public parking lots. Harris hopes that eventually, the Taylor Street area will play host to its own large, public garage which could help reduce the street's well-documented parking woes.

With new residential and commercial projects popping up all over the Near West Side, Harris is pushing for a large parking lot to be included in the Roosevelt Square redevelopment project. Ideally, Harris said, a parking lot in the stretch of Taylor Street between Loomis and Racine could service businesses on the east and west ends of the street.

"I don't want [Taylor Street] to end up like Clybourn," Harris said, referring to the North Side business district, replete with big box chain stores. "I'm terrified to go there," he added, because of the excessive traffic and parking shortage. The growth of the Near West Side over the last five years, Harris said, suggests that abundant public parking will be desperately needed in the near future.

A public garage on Taylor Street, Harris said, would likely need to be subsidized, and could include room for storefronts and even condos above the garages to help pay for the facility. In any event, a steady in-flow of cash would be needed for any prospective garage to make a go of it, Harris said.

"We need a garage," Harris said, "but it's not going to be self-sustaining."

Enamored by OP garages

Harris said he was particularly enamored with the ways Oak Park garages cater to a handful of disparate audiences. A garage at Oak Park and River Forest High School services school employees during school hours, and is then used by nearby residents overnight. With Little Italy's collection of educational institutions and residential enclaves, a similarly designed garage might make a good fit on Taylor Street, Harris said.

"It can serve the high school during the during day, residents at night, and on the weekends, it can serve activities like the farmers' market," Adolfo Benages, Oak Park's Parking Development manager, said this week.

Benages says he took Harris and the UVA members to look at several garages the village operates in the downtown business district, giving them pointers on what they would want to consider including for their own prospective structure. He says he recommended a well-lighted, constantly monitored facility.

"We spoke about some of the requirements we have, like good lighting, painted walls and security cameras," Benages said. Other features for the UVA to consider, Benages said, include whether or not they wish to have space for bicycle parking as well, and whether the garage is well-designed for pedestrian usage.

Getting the community on board

Benages said he also gave Harris and the other UVA members some practical advice about selling the concept of a garage to the surrounding neighborhood well in advance of the actual construction.

"You need to go out into the community and make sure the business and residential community are on board," Benages said.

And while Harris and his fellow UVA members made the trip to Oak Park to scope out parking, he came back to Taylor Street with a handful of other ideas for new amenities. He says he was also impressed with downtown Oak Park's collection of oversized maps, omnipresent signage, and community bulletin boards, which he would also like to bring back to Taylor Street.

Contact: hbush@wjinc.com

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