Several games exist in today’s toy market that promise to help children grow cognitive thinking skills through the solving of traffic puzzles. Though the brand names differ, the premise is the same: children free up grid-locked parking lots by moving the tiny plastic cars into the right spot in order to free up others, with the ultimate goal of having an organized lot with cars parked in an orderly and accessible fashion.

The Oak Park village board played a higher-stakes version of the game Feb. 14, first seeking to make sense of the village’s notoriously byzantine parking system and then move toward uncomplicating it. However, unlike the game, there were no set solutions.

“We have been hearing for decades that our parking is complicated,” said President Vicki Scaman.

In the old and cramped community of Oak Park, access to parking is fraught at best and inequitable at worst. Unraveling the red-tape-tangled parking situation is an endeavor that the current village board inherited from the previous board. Back in 2019, the village board approved a pilot program testing specific changes to simplify Oak Park parking rules, but implementation was delayed due to the pandemic.

“It’s a lot of information,” cautioned Sean Keane, parking and mobility services manager for the village of Oak Park, before launching into the history of the program.          

Staff presented three recommendations based on that pilot program to the sitting village board during the three-hour study session Monday night: extending the time allotted for pay-by-plate parking from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and implementing a dynamic fee structure; simplifying and standardizing daytime restrictions, including a three-hour parking time limit on weekdays; and improving access to night permit parking by allowing nighttime parking in pay-by-plate spaces and on all streets in overnight parking zones.

“It’s important to note that parking meters and enforcing parking meters is not meant to be a revenue generator, but rather a parking management tool,” said Keane. 

The pilot tested standardized daytime parking limits, vehicle license exemptions from daytime limits, dynamic and graduated pay-by-plate parking, expanded night parking and introduced license plate recognition technology. The boundaries of the parking pilot program extended from Harlem Avenue to Oak Park Avenue and South Boulevard to Harrison Street.

“This area was chosen by the village board because it contains virtually every parking challenge you may come across in Oak Park,” said Keane.

Coinciding with the program, the village surveyed 878 total residents between Sept. 27 to Nov. 15 of last year. The survey found that 52 percent of respondents lived in the pilot area, while 58 percent of respondents lived in single-family homes and 42 percent in multi-family homes. Further findings include 66 percent of respondents utilize private parking.

Village trustees were all in favor of the first two recommendations, but the response to the third was mixed as trustees questioned how allowing nighttime permit parking on all streets in overnight parking zones would affect snow and leaf removal. The board directed staff to get in the input of the public works department.

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