Wait, we sold that off too?

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As if there weren’t enough unanswered questions about the implications of the parking meter deal, a new report raises still more, such as: How can the city manage parking and traffic policy if it’s handed off control of the meter system for the next 75 years?

The report [PDF] by the Active Transportation Alliance (formerly known as the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation) notes that the parking meter system isn’t just a source of revenue—it’s a tool for regulating the flow of traffic. While no one wants to pay more for anything, including parking, the truth is that parking pricing can be used effectively to encourage visitors or fight congestion. At one point aldermen and city officials even talked about adopting London’s “congestion charge” policy to cut traffic and boost public transit in the Loop.

The meter deal made the possibility of doing anything like that all but impossible, alliance policy director Arline Welty writes in a column for Progress Illinois. “In order to maximize profits, the city not only gave up control of future meter revenues but just as importantly, gave up all control of the public right-of-way on any streets with parking meters.

“As a result, every potential project on a street featuring meters—including expanded bicycle lanes, sidewalk expansion, streetscaping, pedestrian bulb-outs, loading zones, rush hour parking control, mid-block crossing, and temporary open spaces—are dictated, controlled, and limited by the lease agreement. These restrictions severely limit innovative planning for bicyclists, pedestrian, and transit users.”

In convincing the City Council to sign off on the deal, Daley administration officials stressed that aldermen and the city retained the rights to determine where meters go and what hours they can operate. But they glossed over what the costs would be.

As we reported a few weeks back, 32nd Ward alderman Scott Waguespack was blown away when city officials told him that the city would have to pay Chicago Parking Meters, the private company that’s leasing the meters, more than $600,000 to scale back the hours on just 250 meters in his ward for the next three years.

Budget department spokesman Pete Scales told us that the figure was based on how much each of those spaces had been used in 2007 and how much cash they were expected to generate under a new fee schedule. “Using these revenue values, the city performed an estimated revenue impact analysis of how the Alderman’s proposed 3-year changes would impact those meter values,” he wrote in an e-mail. “The analysis indicated the changes proposed by the Alderman would decrease the meter values and result in a payment to the concessionaire. This is the type of analysis the city will use each time an Alderman proposes a change to the system.”

Waguespack was forced to drop his plans to change the meter hours because he couldn’t come up with a ready way to replace the money. But Scales denied that the city ceded control of the meter system.

“The agreement preserves Aldermanic rights to change meter locations, rates, and hours of operation,” he added. “However, any changes to the schedule may have an impact on revenues, and the city retains responsibility for that impact.”

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