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Chicago Establishes the Downtown Loading Zone Reform Pilot Program
The City of Chicago will launch a Downtown Loading Zone Reform pilot program in 2017 to convert business-paid commercial loading zones to user-paid loading zones in the central business district, including the Loop.  Commercial vehicles using the loading zones will pay $14 hourly. It is anticipated that $13 million to $18 million would be generated annually if this program were implemented citywide.  Similar programs have been implemented in other cities, such as New York and Washington D.C.
 
GO TO 2040 encourages municipalities like the City of Chicago to implement parking pricing strategies that help balance parking supply and demand, improve traffic flow, and increase availability of parking.  GO TO 2040 assumes that municipalities will gradually implement such strategies to balance supply and demand, which would also generate additional local revenues to spend on transportation improvements.  
 
In addition to raising revenues, the proposed pilot program may help reduce parking congestion by addressing several of its causes. First, the existing system can cause confusion about what a loading zone is, causing non-commercial vehicles to use them and reduce necessary loading areas for commercial vehicles. Second, business owners pay for a loading zone, while use of the space is not limited to their business needs. And third, misuse of loading zones creates unsafe road conditions, leading to double-parking and traffic congestion when commercial vehicles cannot find a space. These conditions also increase delivery times and negatively affect movement of goods through the region.
 

The Wicker Park-Bucktown Parking Management Study


Several of these congestion-causing conditions were common in many of the Wicker Park-Bucktown (WPB) loading zones observed as part of the CMAP 2013 WPB Parking Management Study.  The study made several recommendations, including a pricing policy similar to the one being implemented by the City's pilot program.  Acknowledging that the WPB Special Service Area (SSA) has no authority over the regulation of loading zones, the study recommended:  

  • WPB SSA should encourage the City of Chicago to enforce loading zone regulations by having businesses call 311 on offenders, document abuse, and work with local aldermen to gain support for enforcement.
  • As a longer term solution, aldermen should devise and phase in a program to consolidate loading zones and establish shared, mid-block loading zone spaces.
  • The City of Chicago should consider charging loading zones as metered spaces in addition to requiring that actual loading take place while a vehicle is parked.

Reducing improper usage


The Downtown Loading Zone Reform pilot will create greater turnover and help to improve enforcement of usage rules in loading zones by removing one type of free loading zone. The three basic types of loading zones are commercial loading zones, standing zones, and valet loading zones. This variation causes some confusion for passenger vehicles. Commercial loading zones are only for commercial vehicles or those with a Non-Commercial Loading Zone Permit engaged in the process of loading or unloading goods. Many people think that if they are loading or unloading something, they can use a general loading zone. This creates problems when commercial loading vehicles cannot find a parking space.
 
Enforcement of loading zones is difficult.  Meter enforcement officers do not ticket loading zone violations, and limited police are available to enforce commercial loading zone requirements. These combined factors lead to limited enforcement and increased violations of loading zone rules. For example, in data collected for several weeks during the WPB study, CMAP staff saw loading zone infractions on a daily basis, but no citations.  The City believes that the new meter system will provide enhanced enforcement and increase turnover of trucks in downtown loading zones. 
 

Implementing a user-fee system

 
The pilot program will shift the cost of loading zones to the users of the parking, rather than a single business receiving goods.  Under the current system, businesses pay for installation of a loading zone. Since 2012, the annual fee for 20 feet of linear curb space has been $110 outside of the Central Business District (CBD) and $500 within the CBD, plus $50 per each additional linear foot. Once installed, the loading zone may be used by any appropriately licensed commercial vehicle making or receiving deliveries.
 
Problems with the current system make it hard for delivery companies to find legal parking, so they consider parking citations a cost of doing business. The user-paid system should improve the ability of delivery vehicles to find legal parking and reduce the number of citations received. Reducing the number of citations issued could lower overall City revenue, but the most important goal of parking pricing is to improve parking management by balancing supply and demand. Increased revenue is often an added bonus to properly managed parking.
 

Improving traffic conditions

 
Unsafe traffic conditions and double-parking associated with misused and congested loading zones can cause traffic jams or block bike lanes, forcing vulnerable road users to veer into traffic. This pilot program directly addresses the problems associated with the existing loading zone system by charging for commercial loading spaces. If properly used, these pilot loading zone areas should improve traffic conditions and reduce the number of commercial vehicles blocking bike lanes.
 

Looking Ahead

 
While the Downtown Loading Zone Reform pilot may not be appropriate for all parts of the city or region at a $14 hourly rate, similar programs have been successful in other cities around the country. This type of policy may assist many of the region's communities that face issues with traffic congestion and freight deliveries, such as suburban downtowns and commercial corridors. In addition, local efforts to appropriately price parking are broadly supported by GO TO 2040 and have the potential to generate new revenue for local improvements, supporting a well-functioning transportation system. ON TO 2050 will continue to emphasize the parking strategies and recommendations in GO TO 2040.