As I read about the Oak Park Village Board’s consideration of changing the parking rates in the coming new year, as well as the opposition from local business owners, I urge you to consider the following:
1. No one who lives in Oak Park lives more than 5 miles from downtown; a recent study suggested that eliminating car trips under five miles round-trip in the urban areas of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin would result in almost $5 billion in health benefits associated with improved air quality. This same study estimated that replacing half of these car trips with bike trips could save almost $4 billion in avoided deaths and reduced health care costs by increasing physical activity (https://www.epa.gov/greenvehicles/what-if-we-kept-our-cars-parked-trips-less-one-mile).
2. Bicycle (and walking) infrastructure benefits business more than car parking accommodations. “Communities that support bicycling as a means of transportation and recreation have outsized economic benefits by attracting residents and tourists alike.” (https://bikeleague.org/content/bicycling-benefits-business)
A recent article in Bloomberg news, “Free Parking is Killing Cities,” points out that America’s 250 million cars have an estimated 2 billion parking spots and spend 95% of their time parked. To make cities more equitable, affordable, and environmentally conscious, three simple reforms are suggested:
- Stop requiring off-street parking for new developments.
- Price street parking according to market value, based on the desirability of the space, the time of day, and the number of open spots.
- Spend that revenue on initiatives to better the surrounding neighborhoods.
I agree and encourage the board to make bold decisions to support our whole community. I support not just increasing parking fees in Oak Park, but also encouraging people to get downtown and shop by foot, bike, and transit and helping to create infrastructure to make this a safe and practical option. In the end, parking touches on equity, climate, safety, and economic issues — things most everyone in our village cares about.
We’re just blinded by the promise of free, abundant car parking and the assumption that everyone wants to or needs to or should drive everywhere always. This is not sustainable, nor does it make for a vibrant, livable community.