Millennium Parking Not

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(Photo: Good money thrown after bad in Millennium Park’s Lurie Garden. Credit: Looper).

Today’s Chicago Tribune reports that receipts at the Millennium Park Garage continue to dwindle far below the maintenance costs of Chicago’s showpiece lakefront park, which the monies were supposed to cover. Helping to fund the renewal of a vibrant, transit-friendly, walkable downtown by attracting more vehicle congestion into it. Am I missing something here?

Other cities, notably European ones such as Lisbon and Paris, build underground car parks to manage the automobile congestion already present in their centers. But in Chicago, the idea seems never to have been to satiate existing parking needs. Indeed, with the heart of Chicago’s business district now squarely installed on the western side of the Loop, there wasn’t much need to begin with.

The Tribune article notes that the City expected parking revenues to come from new trips into the East Loop that Millennium Park and its beneficial economic effect would attract. The fact that the East Loop has the second-largest concentration of public transit in the United States–including a major Metra and South Shore commuter rail terminal located immediately beneath Millennium Park–seems all but ignored in the decision to bet the farm, er, park, on parking receipts.

While it’s true that gas prices have been a big disincentive to drive downtown of late, it seems injudicious if not downright fiscally irresponsible to ignore the usefulness of a public-transit infrastructure that represents a monetary investment over the years in the hundreds of millions. Just what did we build the L and commuter rail for, anyway?

So now, with CTA ridership at its highest levels in 13 years and the economic fortunes of the East Loop indeed rising from the economic multiplier effect from Millennium Park, why anyone should be surprised that people are actually usung that transit system to get down here instead of driving is a surprise only to those who have willfully not been paying attention.

The kicker, though, comes at the end of the article when the Trib notes that the City expects some relief to come from the 10,000 new East Loop residents expected to settle into downtown in the next few years. The last time I checked, all the smart new buildings going up downtown had their own smart new garages being built right in. If these, my new neighbors, even choose to keep a car downtown and drive–instead of walking or taking transit as most of us downtowners do–they sure won’t be parking at Millennium Park.

At least not at those prices (can’t make this stuff up, folks).

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