An ad hoc group looking at ways to alleviate a parking shortage along Madison Street expects to introduce a pilot program next month that will ask business owners and their employees to park off the commercial strip, thereby freeing up space for customers.
The idea was rolled out by Mayor Anthony Calderone during a monthly networking luncheon with members of the Chamber of Commerce, and a presentation to the council is expected at the June 25 meeting. Calderone said the program is the result of several brain storming sessions held in recent months.
“It’s critical that we get the business community to buy into this because we can’t force anybody to park somewhere,” Calderone said.
The Parking Improvement Committee, made up of eight residents and five business owners, is projecting 100 to 130 spaces could be freed by asking employees to walk a few blocks after parking their cars. The committee was formed in response to a public outcry over an earlier proposal to construct additional parking lots. That plan would have required demolishing several homes.
A 2006 study of the area’s parking needs revealed a shortage of 158 spaces.
Susan O’Brien works at Heimburger House Publishing Company at 7236 Madison St., and said on a regular basis she parks directly in front of the office. Rarely, she said, is the two-hour limit that applies to street parking on Madison Street enforced. O’Brien said the pilot program sounds like a good idea and she would be willing to participate.
“I would go along with that,” O’Brien said.
Under the program, workers who normally park along Madison Street or in nearby municipally owned lots would be asked to park at least one or two blocks away. A permit exempting them from certain parking restrictions in those neighborhoods would be issued by the village. At least for the duration of the pilot program, those permits will be free of charge.
Technically, the entire village is blanketed by a two-hour restriction on street parking, and the permit would alert traffic enforcement officers not to ticket those cars. According to Calderone, that two-hour limit isn’t “fully enforced” on residential streets because it creates a hardship for residents who rely on street parking.
Participants in the program will be asked to park along the south side of Adams Street, or on Jackson Boulevard. Both of those roadways are south of Madison Street.
Jamie Stauder, the principal of Garfield Elementary located at the corner of Hannah and Jackson streets, said an influx of new cars likely wouldn’t have an impact on student arrivals or dismissals. The majority of students, she said, take the bus or walk. Those children that are dropped off or picked up by parents usually do so on Hannah Avenue, and school staff typically parks south of Jackson Boulevard to alleviate congestion.
For those employees that do park along Jackson Boulevard though, Stauder said there could be a little more competition for those spots.
“I guess it just depends on who gets there first as to who gets those spots,” Stauder said.
For Wanda Rodriguez, a health care worker at Partners in Women’s Health located at 7339 Madison St., the idea of walking several blocks to the office is not appealing. Most of the clinic’s employees park in the metered municipal lot on the corner of Madison and Circle streets, next door to the health center. Rodriguez already spent the money for a parking permit that allows her to ignore the meters and, she said, cold winter mornings make for an unpleasant jaunt.
A co-worker of Rodriguez’s, Gabriel Druc, said if he’s late for work it can be something of a chore to find parking nearby. Given the proposed guarantee that he won’t be ticketed for parking on a residential street, Druc said the program could work for him.
“Depending on how far it is, yeah,” Druc said.
Executive Director of the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce Laurie Kokenes said it makes sense for business owners to get on board because more parking will likely result in more customers. Kokenes estimated that at least 25 entrepreneurs along Madison Street have said they will do all they can to make sure their employees participate in the program.
“They’re not happy with workers parking on the street and not leaving spaces open,” Kokenes said.
In addition to the council presentation next week, members of the Parking Improvement Committee will also be at St. Peter’s Church at 500 Hannah Ave. on June 28, beginning at 7 p.m. to discuss the program. That event is sponsored by a local activist group, Citizens United in Forest Park.