CHICAGO — For the first time in more than four years, Chicago drivers will be able to park for free at most city parking meters on Sundays beginning this weekend.
Before 2009, except for a few small areas of the city, Chicago drivers never had to feed a parking meter on Sundays. But that perk vanished with all other parking meter holidays when the city, under former Mayor Richard M. Daley, leased the city's metered parking spaces for 75 years and $1.16 billion dollars in December of 2008.
But free Sundays are officially back at neighborhood parking meters starting this weekend under a revised agreement with Chicago Parking Meters, LLC — the company which now controls the city's parking meter system.
Bringing back free Sundays was a major part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's pitch to Chicago drivers and aldermen to sell them on the revised parking meter deal his team renegotiated with CPM over the past several months.
“As one resident told me, ‘you shouldn’t have to pay to go to church’,” Emanuel said at a press conference announcing the proposed changes back in April. “Whether you go to church or not, everyone deserves a break from feeding parking meters in our neighborhoods on Sunday.”
However, in return for this day of rest, drivers now have to feed the meters Monday through Saturday for an extra hour. Most meters will now run until 10 p.m. instead of 9 p.m., and the River North neighborhood meters will now run until midnight.
The renegotiated deal was passed by the City Council in early June, and Emanuel's office claims the changes will save the city millions of dollars for the remaining years of the contract.
Not all neighborhoods are in the clear on Sundays, however. Meters in the Central Business District, which is bordered by Roosevelt, Halsted, Divison and Lake Michigan must still be fed on Sundays.
While residents in many areas of the city are happy for a little relief from paying to park, some aldermen with highly congested retail shopping hubs wanted to keep drivers feeding the meter on Sundays. Business groups in these areas said the Sunday meter payments promote turnover of parking spots to maximize the number of shoppers.
Alderman Tom Tunney (44th), who's ward includes the Wrigleyville neighborhood, first pioneered paid Sunday parking in his ward back in 2004 due to the parking and traffic congestion in his ward.
"Our local businesses and chamber of commerce have supported this," said Erin Duffy, a spokeswoman for Tunney's office. "Sundays are one of our busiest days. Free parking could cause parking issues on our commercial streets. I think a lot of people understand that."
Tunney, along with Aldermen Scott Waguespack (32nd), Michele Smith (43rd) and John Arena (45th) are among a handful of aldermen who want paid Sunday parking. The four had unsuccessfully tried to stop the switchover in their wards.
"It makes zero business sense to change them all over and then change them back again," said Waguespack, who is still working to restore paid parking in his ward. "I think it's going to be total confusion."