The quarter shortage in Oak Park may be coming to an end.

The village board took a second look at parking rates around town last week, and decided to make some adjustments after getting an earful from residents. Trustees voted to bump meter rates in Downtown Oak Park and the Avenue Business District down to $1 from $1.50 per hour and to shrink meter enforcement times across the village to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. instead of 8 p.m.

“We gave it a try, and the feedback was immediate, and it was super negative,” said Mike Fox, a downtown property owner and president of Downtown Oak Park.

The village approved the higher rates and times in July. Those changes were in place by Aug. 25.

Oak Park’s intent was to push more parkers into public garages, increase turnover of high-demand spaces on the street, and increase revenues to defray the sizable parking fund deficit. It appeared the new strategy was achieving its goals, but the reaction from shoppers and business owners was fierce.

“When the rubber hit the road, and we started doing what we said we were going to do, then we started getting angry e-mails,” said Village Manager Tom Barwin.

According to the village, revenues were up in the month of August and street spaces were empty more often, village estimates showed. But the reaction forced trustees to reconsider and to scale back its rates.

“We maybe didn’t anticipate being back quite as soon as we are,” Village President David Pope said.

Village staff originally had a proposal to push back three or four lots in downtown Oak Park down to $1. But Trustees Ray Johnson and Jon Hale fought to have all $1.50 meters reduced to $1, and the majority of the board agreed.

“It’s just too high of a rate for Oak Park, I think, period,” Hale said.

Johnson agreed, saying that if Oak Park doesn’t give parkers the ability to pay with credit cards, the $1.50 rates didn’t make sense.

“You could put lipstick on a meter, but people aren’t going to pay it,” he said. “One dollar, in my mind, is the maximum rate we should go to.”

Rates in garages will stay the same, and Oak Park will still charge for parking on Saturdays. The cost for parking in “medium demand” areas like the Southtown business district (Oak Park Avenue, just north of the expressway) and the Oak Park Arts District (along Harrison Street) will drop to 75 cents an hour from $1. “Low demand” areas, which are currently priced 75 cents, will drop to 50 cents.

Several areas near downtown Oak Park-such as the Nineteenth Century Club, Grace Episcopal and Cavalry Church lots, and Marion south of the Green Line-will change to 75 cents an hour.

The transition involves new stickers and signage, and employee time which would cost about $15,000-approximately $5,000 for the stickers and signage. The various changes will be made between the end of September and Oct. 17, said Cara Pavlicek, interim parking manager for the village.

“We’ve jerked around staff, and we’ve jerked around this community,” Trustee Jan Pate said. “We made a decision, and now we’re going back on it. I can live with it, but I’m not happy with it.”

Web Extra

Click here to see a map of Oak Park’s parking demand across the village

Parking technology faces the future

Cheaper parking meters are a start, but Oak Park has a couple other ideas to make parking easier.

As a way to avoid carrying pockets full of quarters, the village is pushing meter keys. Following a $15 deposit, funds can be added for use on meters around town.

Oak Park plans to start a program where retailers around town can sell the keys. But users would still have to return to village hall to put more money on them.

“We think if we make that first sale of the key, people would see the value and they wouldn’t mind coming back here,” said Cara Pavlicek, interim parking manger.

Oak Park is also looking to try out about 40 meters that accept credit cards. The specialized meters cost $580 each, but a company is offering to let the village test them out for a month. Pavlicek wasn’t sure where they’d be tested, but said it would likely be near areas that aren’t close to a parking garage.

Oak Park will also add a “pay-by-space” machine to the parking lot on North Boulevard just west of Forest Avenue. A similar machine is installed at the lot on Marion Street just south of Lake. The machine takes cash and credit cards and has been very successful on Marion. The village wants to buy 10 more, but they cost $10,000 each and can cost another $5,000 for installation.

The village board will consider the new technology in upcoming budget talks.

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