To Park or Not to Park – that is the question

By JOANN FASTOFF BLACKMAN
Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce

BF:“I forgot where we parked the car.”
BFF: “We didn’t drive; we took Lyft because the last time we couldn’t find a parking space.”

In July 2014, a Hyde Park Parking and Transportation Study (The Study) was commissioned by then Fourth Ward Alderman Will Burns in partnership with the South East Chicago Commission, University of Chicago, 15 members of the Community Steering Committee, IDOT and CDOT regarding local traffic volumes. Why? Because there is a perception among Hyde Parkers that there is insufficient parking availability for residents.

The Study found this belief to be more perception than reality and that there is actually a large surplus of off – street parking. Of course no one I know believes this to be true, so it took some research to bring this debate to a plausible conclusion. The Study paints that there may be a surplus of parking but it doesn’t seem so. Also, let’s not forget that this study was done in July of 2014 after school was out for the summer, during vacations, and before City Hyde Park, Vue 53, Solstice on the Park and the Sophy
Hotel buildings were added to the Hyde Park landscape. Is it time to revisit The Study?

According to The Study, “Hyde Park is a city within (a) city that is an economic engine for the South Side. The community has almost as many jobs as population. The population density in Hyde Park is 1.5 times higher than the south lakefront area and 1.6 times higher than the overall city of Chicago.”
The Study also states “More than 30 percent of the parking inventory is provided through free on-street parking”. This type of parking has the highest usage level as expected, since it’s free. Off-street parking has lower usage rates.

Ever notice when you see the sign that says “Parking lot is full”, you immediately believe that parking in the area is also full? This we’ve been told is part of the perception because The Study says the busiest corridor – 53rd Street – has a very high percentage of people moving through the corridor by walking (which means they might have taken transit and no need for a car…which could mean there are available parking spaces.) And Hyde Park has parking in all forms: free on-street parking, pay on-street parking, customers-only retail parking, University of Chicago parking, resident-only parking, church and soon to be hotel parking…but all seem to be always taken.

As an employment center, there are a large number of trips to and from the Hyde Park – Kenwood neighborhood. While the car is the primary form of transportation there are a significant number of trips taken by CTA and Metra. In terms of work related trips, 77 percent of the residents use their car and 23 percent use public transit to get to work.

Have you ever tried to park your car east of Lake Park from May to October? It ain’t possible. The parking does not exist because the tourists use up the parking (even though they also spend money). If you own a parking space in East Hyde Park, it is a privilege. So what does the average Joe or Jo say when asked about finding parking in Hyde Park?
Jane Moy, former owner and operator of Far East Kitchen for almost 40 years on 53rd Street does not believe Hyde Park has enough parking spaces. “People trying to come to our restaurant” she says, “would sometimes drive around many times looking for a parking space…meter or no meter. Eventually they would give up.” She adds, “If a person was coming to Hyde Park, say, to visit their doctor, and couldn’t find a free parking space, they would pay for parking. But if they had found a free legal parking space they might have stayed for lunch or dinner after their appointment.”
Her daughter Carol agrees. “Hyde Park needs more reasonably priced public parking, and maybe retailers could validate customer parking like Target does”. She also notes “The Treasure Island parking lot could delegate at least a half or even a third of its parking lot at night for special events. It could serve as a revenue generator.”

With the latest additions to Hyde Park’s skyline, measures are being taken to reduce vehicle traffic and free up more parking. Some efforts include underground parking, valet services provided by the bars and restaurants, Divvy Bike System and car share systems (Uber, Lyft, etc.). One way or the other while “The Study” may have identified sufficient Hyde Park parking, the geographic distribution of spots often seems insufficient to address community needs. And, this discussion hasn’t even addressed special event parking. Again, the question: Is it time to revisit The Study?

JoAnn Fastoff Blackman is a long-time HydeParker and an award-winning author of both fiction and non-fiction books. Her various blogs have focused on environmental issues in and around Chicago. HPChamber Speak will appear weekly addressing issues impacting Hyde Park’s business community.