Park District should end holiday surge pricing for lakefront parkingCST Editorial Boardon July 11, 2021 at 3:44 pm

As Chicagoans gathered at the lakefront to celebrate the Fourth of July, the Park District sent up a firecracker of its own: a holiday hike in lakefront parking fees to a whopping $30 a day for the whole three-day weekend.

The flat rate was about five times higher than what a lakefront visitor normally would pay to park at the beach for, say, four hours.

A holiday hike in parking rates, especially a hike of that size, places an unfair burden on Chicagoans — especially families — who live in neighborhoods so far from the lakefront that a car is their most reasonable way of getting there.

We urge the Chicago Park District to rethink this holiday pricing policy.

Park District ‘holiday rate’

Now here’s the spot in the editorial where we might normally shake our fists again at the city’s infamous 2008 parking meter agreement, that 75-year curse that raises rates, enriches the deal’s private investors and contributes nothing to the municipal coffers beyond the initial $1.15 billion the city received and spent more than a decade ago.

But the price hike on the lakefront is a reminder that the Park District has had its own parking deal since 2018 with Standard Parking Corporation, a deal that is separate from the One We All Hate.

The Park District’s arrangement with Standard is far less onerous than the city’s contract with Chicago Parking Meters LLC. The majority of the money collected goes to the district, rather than into the pockets of investors. And, best of all, the Park District, unlike the city, has control over key components of the deal — such as any price spikes.

This is what a Park District spokesperson told the Sun-Times’ Mitchell Armentrout in an email: “Similar to other parking lots across the city, the Chicago Park District imposes a holiday rate along the lakefront over the Fourth of July weekend. The $30 flat parking rate is consistent at all lakefront locations.”

Which just means the Park District can also scale back those price hikes or not impose them at all.

At the very least, the Park District might want to add some rhyme or reason to its holiday pricing. The district charged the $30 parking rate at Big Marsh Park on the Far Southeast Side. But Big Marsh, at 115th Street and Stony Island Avenue, has no lake of its own and is five miles away from the nearest beach.

No more free parking, but…

We understand the days of free lakefront parking are a thing of the past. The district needs an income stream to maintain 32 lakefront parking lots that serve beaches and boat launch areas.

But the lakefront is Chicago’s treasure. Charging exorbitantly higher prices on busy holiday weekends threatens equal and equitable access for all.

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