Downtown Plan – Transportation and Parking

After the lengthy Central Street Plan process, a few of the Neighbors became interested in the development of the Downtown Plan, which is purported to be an update to the 1989 plan. The latest version of the Downtown Plan, dated Nov.10, 2008, was presented to the Planning & Development (P&D) Committee on the tenth. Future meetings on the subject will be held on Nov. 24 and Dec. 4, 2008 with the Dec. 4 meeting a special session that will hear public comments. It is not clear whether the Nov. 24 meeting will take public comments, but it surely will include P & D discussion.

Many Neighbors shop, dine, recreate, and work in our vibrant downtown and care about its future because it is an important element of living in Evanston. The continued long-term success of Downtown is important because 20 % of our sales tax revenues are generated there. As a transportation engineer, I focused my energy on draft Section 5 – Transportation of the plan, and the balance of this posting will address these transportation issues. I invite you to visit the City’s web site to check out what the plan proposes relative to parking, traffic, and access, as well as the land use sections.

I have investigated the plan’s transportation findings and recommendations and have found the plan to be rather lofty and costly, to say the least. It seems that the text is a sound bite for all things trendy…transit-oriented, reduced building parking, less surface parking, greener, walkable, etc. Not that these aren’t important considerations that warrant attention, but strong, direct links and applications to downtown Evanston conditions are not made within the plan in these subject areas.

Repeated statements abound in the plan regarding the “clear” need to reduce the residential building parking ratios, yet there is very limited evidence to support that recommendation, and no information regarding the potential for too few spaces. For example, the survey work in six residential garages was a mere snapshot of cars parked on one mid-summer night, with the results yielding many empty parking stalls. Refer to Table 5A of the plan. However, the survey did not consider the following factors that affected the counts: (1) one-night survey is only a snapshot, and no basis for policy making; (2) residents on vacation; (3) student owners or occupants who are on summer break; (4) vehicles in use, away from the premises on the survey night; (5) vacancies within buildings ; (6) residents of Sherman Plaza, who choose to park outside the cordoned off residents-only section and were not counted (I counted 68 vehicles that could be in this category alone, on one night at 1:00 am); (7) residents who choose to park somewhere other than their own buildings (on-street, in other buildings, or in municipal garages or lots, most likely because it is less expensive to do so); (8) handicapped access stalls, stalls for authorized building personnel or visitors or contractors; (9) does not address seasonal or peak occupancy; and (10) cannot account for stalls empty one night, then different stalls empty the next survey night. With all the above concerns, counts might be understating demand significantly. It is not reasonable, in this case, to make policy on the basis of data that is inadequate, but I leave that up to you to decide.

The plan recommends consideration of returning the one-way street pairs (Davis and Church, Sherman and Orrington) to two-ways, closure of one-block segments of Orrington and Clark, and the elimination of surface lot parking near the Women’s Club and at the YMCA. The primary gain is the inclusion of pockets of additional green space at these locations as well as at Fountain Square. No traffic, on-street parking, access, or congestion concerns were considered, but rather these are left for others to study later. The streets have been one-ways since the late 1950s or early 1960s to enhance access and reduce congestion back then. The single greatest park resource in Evanston, the lakefront, is ignored in the plan, even though it is ¼ to ½ mile walk from downtown and is in dire need of rehabilitation. What will patrons of the Y do to reach the facility?

The discussion is lively and the views of the Neighbors are encouraged, as always. Is it a good plan for transportation?



Thank you for your thoughtful comments on certain aspects of the revised Downtown Plan.

Particularly ill-conceived, in my view, is the downtown consultants' idea to convert the parking lot behind the main library--which is often full--into a "pocket park."Ditto for the odd suggestion to replace the parking lot across the street from the YMCA with "green space." Where do consultants envision YMCA members parking?

Having attended most of the hearings on the Downtown Plan, it appears to me that consultants do not grasp the fact that most citizens feel there is a major parking problem in Evanston. Whenever the issue is raised, consultants say there are plenty of parking spaces in the three public garages.

What the consultants appear unable or unwilling to grasp is that many Evanstonians simply will not park in these multilevel garages. It's one thing to take the theoretical position that people "should" park in these garages, but the fact is that many Evanstonians do not and will not. If these potential shoppers and diners cannot get street parking or parking in a surface lot--such as those consultants recommend removing--many Evanstonians will simply drive to Old Orchard or Edens Plaza . . . or return home.

A crucial aspect of the revised Plan is that no agreement has been reached with respect to the Fountain Square block, potential home of the reviled tower at 708 Church Street. As soon as the Downtown Plan is approved by Council, the Tower proposal will come off the "table"--where it has languished for months--and come up for a vote.

I therefore urge everyone to comment on the revised Downtown Plan at the public comment session before P&D.
P&D meetings on the revised downtown plan will occur on Monday, Nov. 24 and Thursday, Dec. 4. Please put these dates on your calendar.

Barb Rakley