EDISON PARK — Shoppers and diners who visit downtown Edison Park can — legally — beat the meters, with a little help from the Edison Park Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber spent $174,000 to buy a 26-space parking lot on the northeast corner of Northwest Highway and Oshkosh Avenue from the Chicago Public Schools to make sure there will be free spots near Edison Park shops and stores, executive director Melissa Panizzi said.
"We wanted to make sure there was another option for off-street parking," Panizzi said.
Heather Cherone discusses Edison Park officials' efforts to buy a parking lot for shoppers:
The neighborhood's parking meters drew the ire of local business leaders and Ald. Mary O'Connor (41st) after enforcement workers began patrolling the district from morning until night during January and February, writing tickets left and right.
O'Connor, who owns two businesses in Edison Park, said she complained vehemently to the company that operated the meters under a much maligned privatization deal.
"They had gone too far in how they targeted our customers and the way they treated our residents," O'Connor said.
It "took a long time" but O'Connor said the company heard her concerns and recently met with her and several chambers of commerce from her ward to discuss issues with the meters.
"I'm hoping the issue has been resolved," O'Connor said.
Scott Burnham, a spokesman for Chicago Parking Meters LLC, said meter enforcement agents were not withdrawn from Edison Park at O'Connor's request.
Teams are routinely dispatched to specific areas or neighborhoods within the city for certain periods of time, Burnham said.
Tickets are only issued to drivers who have failed to pay for parking, Burnham said.
Meter enforcement agents patrolled the business district from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and did not hesitate to write a ticket even for the smallest infraction, Panizzi said.
"It greatly affected our businesses," Panizzi said.
Now, meter enforcement agents "occasionally" patrol the area, Panizzi said.
"It is much more livable," Panizzi said.
Edison Park is fortunate to have two free lots near its commercial district, including a 16-space lot at 6718 N. Oliphant Ave., O'Connor said. That lot is leased for valet service at night, Panizzi said.
In addition, it costs $2 to park in the lot at the Metra station, and that money is used to maintain the train station and the area around it, Panizzi said.
"Parking is the main issue in our business district," Panizzi said. "That's a good problem to have. It means our businesses are doing well."
The Edison Park chamber began leasing the lot near Oshkosh Avenue from CPS in 1997, and took out a five-year loan to buy the property, Panizzi said. It will be paid off with the proceeds from the annual Edison Park Fest.
Parking in the Oshkosh Avenue lot is limited to two hours until 6 p.m., when there is no time limit on parking. Overnight parking is prohibited in the lot, which is patrolled by a towing service.
O'Connor and Panizzi said they were looking forward to Chicago Parking Meters bringing its new ParkChicago mobile payment system to Edison Park.
"That will relieve a lot of problems," O'Connor said.
The app eliminates the need to pay for parking at a pay box and to place a receipt on the dashboard. Drivers can pay for parking or extend parking time from anywhere using a smartphone, iPad or similar tablet computer.
A built-in timer will remind drivers 10 minutes before their time expires to allow them to add more time or get back to their car.
"That will be so much better than having to walk a half-block to the pay box and back again," Panizzi said.
The app should be available at all metered parking spaces throughout the city by the end of the summer, Burnham said.
A pay-by-phone pilot program in the West Loop proved to be popular with drivers, according to a statement from the mayor's office.
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