There are two great public misconceptions or “myths” that can radically and negatively affect communites while seemingly being good things to do: “Dense development will lower my property taxes” and “If they lifted the parking ban I will be able to park in front of my apartment/condo and everything will be better.”
After six years of dense development, one look at the second installment of this year’s tax bill debunks the first myth; each year since the new development began, real estate taxes for all of us have gone up radically.
One look at the communities that surround Oak Park that do not have a parking ban will debunk the latter. The overnight parking ban is one of the single most important ordinances that quality suburbs share as a foundation for protecting the rights of all of its citizens.
Having served on the Parking and Traffic Commission for 3 1/2 years, I had the opportunity to attend most of the public testimony hearings the last time the village proposed a partial lifting of the ban. What I learned through these hearings, through talking to officials in other communities and visiting Chicago and other suburbs, was enough to prove the ban’s importance to me and previous village boards.
The ban accomplishes the following:
Treats all citizens fairly and makes each person responsible for solving his/her own parking needs.
Keeps streets clear of inoperable vehicles and prevents abandoned cars.
Prevents homes and garages from being turned into businesses or business storage areas (in my neighborhood alone there are garages used as attics, garages used as woodshops, and one garage that just has a pile of dirt in it because the owners park illegally in the alley, blocking the way for emergency vehicles).
Helps citizens maintain police enforcement in their neighborhood. On a daily basis, you see police in squad cars dashing down streets looking for criminals running after commiting a crime. Car-free streets assist the police in finding these criminals.
Keeps crime rate low by assisting police in overnight patrols.
Allows for street cleaning.
Finally, and most importantly, assists the village in enforcing housing codes.
Time after time in visiting other towns where citizens had been relieved of personal responsibility for parking, neighborhoods showed serious problems. One village had lifted the ban and discovered that overcrowding was taking place in single-family apartments. With no parking ban, many unrelated adults were crowding into homes and apartments meant for two people. When going to court to enforce the housing codes, the town found that judges were supporting the rental homeowners and apartment tenants and not the housing codes. Lack of housing code enforcement led to a deterioration of the housing stock, overcrowding in schools, and gang and drug problems.
However in Oak Park, in a building next to one of mine, it was the constant on-street, overnight parking by a tenant that alerted the village to a two-flat illegally turned into a three-flat. Subsequently, the building was found to be structurally unsafe because of alterations made in the illegal conversion. This discovery would not have been possible without the ban because the village does not inspect rental homes, two- and three-flats or rental condominiums.
Time after time in the public hearings, women would come forward giving testimony that they felt unsafe having to walk to their apartments. The number-one complaint in the communites that have lifted the parking ban is still from women who feel unsafe walking to their apartments. In those communities that lifted the ban, there was so much on-street parking that women were being forced to park even further away from their buildings.
One can sympathize with those with parking problems. However, with over 14 years’ experience as a landlord, I know these problems can be solved by individuals addressing their own needs. Condos and rental units are priced according to their amenities. If you need parking for your car, then you need to find an apartment or a condo that accommodates your needs. They are out there, and they are available. If you require more parking and are unable to pay Oak Park rates, there are many other surrounding communities that provide on-street parking; Cicero, Berwyn, Austin, and Maywood to name a few.
One concept that gets continually floated is the idea of turning east-west streets into parking lots. This is also equally bad. What it means is that four homeowners on every block are negatively affected. It affects safety for cross traffic sight lines, street cleanliness and prevents those homeowners from helping maintain their neighborhood. It also may negatively affect their home values.
The overnight parking ban is one of our most important ordinances. By everyone working together to solve their own parking needs, the streets are safer, our town is cleaner and those who would try to usurp our housing laws and building codes are kept honest.