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Next year, downtown Chicago parking meters will be most expensive in U.S.

A parking meter 3100 block N. Broadway Ave. Chicago Ill. Wednesday December 26 2012. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

A parking meter on the 3100 block of N. Broadway Ave. in Chicago, Ill., on Wednesday, December 26, 2012. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 28, 2013 3:53PM



Chicago soon will be No. 1. But it’s not something to brag about.

Beginning Tuesday, Chicago drivers will be shelling out more for downtown parking meters than drivers in any other city in the United States — or anywhere in North America for that matter.

The cost to park at a metered spot in the Loop will rise to $6.50 an hour from the current $5.75. That’s more than double what people paid to park at meters in the Loop in 2008.

In the Central Business District, rates will go up 50 cents from $3.50 to $4. And in most neighborhoods, rates will rise 25 cents an hour.

The rates will be raised downtown first before the increases spread to the rest of Chicago by February.

The increase isn’t a big surprise. Part of the $1.15 billion deal with Chicago Parking Meters LLC included five years of initial pay hikes. And beginning in 2014, meter increases citywide will be tied to the rate of inflation.

According to an annual report from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, Chicago will take the top spot in January, behind only San Francisco at $5.50 an hour, New York and Los Angeles at $5 and Seattle at $4. Vancouver checks in at $6 an hour.

But there’s a key difference between Chicago and the City by the Bay: In San Francisco, SFpark uses “demand pricing” in a federally-funded program that adjusts meter and garage pricing to match demand.

The city has installed parking sensors and new meters at about 25 percent of its more than 26,000 spots to see which areas are in high-demand. The program guarantees there is at least one space available on each block. And in areas where there is plenty of parking, rates go down until some of those empty spaces fill.

In pilot areas, meter pricing can range from between 25 cents an hour to a maximum of $6 an hour, depending on demand. And in the city-owned garages, hourly rates have decreased in garages where there are often many empty spaces.

Chicago has the wireless technology to do something similar, but hasn’t.

In 2010, the city rejected a $158 million federal grant to begin congestion pricing, which included demand pricing.

Steve Schlickman, director of the Urban Transportation Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said the idea could work in Chicago, but with a caveat.

“If you’re going to use congestion pricing through parking meters, and make it more expensive for a person to reach a certain community by car, you better have good transit options for them to get there,” he said. “The whole purpose of congestion pricing is to get people out of cars and into alternate modes of transportation, primarily transit.”

He said it would “make sense” to have the highest prices in the Loop, since the area has easy access to both the CTA and Metra.

And despite the unpopularity of increasing parking rates, Schlickman says the new $6.50 an hour rate isn’t such a bad idea because more people just might decide to take a train instead.

“I think if you have transit as a priority — and I believe the Emanuel administration does have transit as a policy — and you want people to use transit regularly, I personally have no problem with the higher parking price in the Loop,” Schlickman said. “I think it makes a whole lot of sense.”



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