New Chinatown parking plan to support neighborhood growth and safety

A new parking management plan for Chicago’s Chinatown offers recommendations to reduce parking congestion and support the growth of local businesses. The plan also aims to make it easier for residents and visitors to safely move about the neighborhood, while prioritizing the cultural integrity of the area. 

The Chinatown Parking Management Plan addresses a longstanding challenge. For years, community members have expressed concerns about the difficulty in finding parking, especially as the neighborhood grows and changes.  

With its many destinations — including Ping Tom Park, Chinatown Square, and an abundance of restaurants and shops — Chinatown’s most convenient parking fills up quickly and stays full, particularly during lunch and on weekends. Meanwhile, there are underused parking spots during off-peak hours. 

Parking lot in Chinatown

“Chinatown is an important destination for many, and so there’s a huge demand for parking,” said Lindsay Bayley, a senior planner at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP). “People will drive to Chinatown from other cities and states to buy goods they can’t get elsewhere. And many people who grew up here, and later moved away, want to return on weekends to maintain that connection.” 

In 2015, the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community (CBCAC) worked with CMAP to produce the Chinatown Community Vision Plan. The plan called for a comprehensive study to help improve parking management in the neighborhood.   

To follow through on that recommendation, CBCAC once again partnered with CMAP’s Local Technical Assistance program to assess parking and provide recommendations. 

The result is the Chinatown Parking Management Plan, released in May 2021. The plan provides an overview of current conditions in the neighborhood, key recommendations for improving parking, and an implementation plan.  

The 16 recommendations fall within six strategies:  

1. Make it easier to find parking 

2. Address safety concerns to improve walkability 

3. Enhance transportation options 

4. Manage transportation for special events 

5. Outline the long-term vision for parking management  

6. Provide additional public parking as needed   

The plan also recommends strategies for retaining parking revenue locally, which was important to stakeholders.  

The project included a robust public engagement process, including interviewing people on the street, a visioning workshop with live translations to both Mandarin and Cantonese, and presentations with bilingual handouts during citizenship and English as a second language classes at the Pui Tak Center. 

Chinatown residents participate in engagement workshop for parking plan

During the final stages of plan development, COVID-19 hit. The pandemic dramatically affected the neighborhood, and with reduced visitors and business activity, the demand for parking dropped significantly. Still, as the region opens back up, drivers — and parking problems — will return. Implementing the plan’s recommendations, particularly around safe pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, will be critical to helping the neighborhood prepare for a post-COVID future. 

“Chinatown is expanding,” Bayley said. “By making it easier and safer for people who live nearby to walk, bike, or take transit, we’ll make it easier for people who need to drive to find parking. And more people will be able to enjoy all that Chinatown has to offer — without having to spend so much time looking for parking.”  

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New Chinatown parking plan to support neighborhood growth and safety

A new parking management plan for Chicago’s Chinatown offers recommendations to reduce parking congestion and support the growth of local businesses. The plan also aims to make it easier for residents and visitors to safely move about the neighborhood, while prioritizing the cultural integrity of the area. 

The Chinatown Parking Management Plan addresses a longstanding challenge. For years, community members have expressed concerns about the difficulty in finding parking, especially as the neighborhood grows and changes.  

With its many destinations — including Ping Tom Park, Chinatown Square, and an abundance of restaurants and shops — Chinatown’s most convenient parking fills up quickly and stays full, particularly during lunch and on weekends. Meanwhile, there are underused parking spots during off-peak hours. 

Parking lot in Chinatown

“Chinatown is an important destination for many, and so there’s a huge demand for parking,” said Lindsay Bayley, a senior planner at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP). “People will drive to Chinatown from other cities and states to buy goods they can’t get elsewhere. And many people who grew up here, and later moved away, want to return on weekends to maintain that connection.” 

In 2015, the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community (CBCAC) worked with CMAP to produce the Chinatown Community Vision Plan. The plan called for a comprehensive study to help improve parking management in the neighborhood.   

To follow through on that recommendation, CBCAC once again partnered with CMAP’s Local Technical Assistance program to assess parking and provide recommendations. 

The result is the Chinatown Parking Management Plan, released in May 2021. The plan provides an overview of current conditions in the neighborhood, key recommendations for improving parking, and an implementation plan.  

The 16 recommendations fall within six strategies:  

1. Make it easier to find parking 

2. Address safety concerns to improve walkability 

3. Enhance transportation options 

4. Manage transportation for special events 

5. Outline the long-term vision for parking management  

6. Provide additional public parking as needed   

The plan also recommends strategies for retaining parking revenue locally, which was important to stakeholders.  

The project included a robust public engagement process, including interviewing people on the street, a visioning workshop with live translations to both Mandarin and Cantonese, and presentations with bilingual handouts during citizenship and English as a second language classes at the Pui Tak Center. 

Chinatown residents participate in engagement workshop for parking plan

During the final stages of plan development, COVID-19 hit. The pandemic dramatically affected the neighborhood, and with reduced visitors and business activity, the demand for parking dropped significantly. Still, as the region opens back up, drivers — and parking problems — will return. Implementing the plan’s recommendations, particularly around safe pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, will be critical to helping the neighborhood prepare for a post-COVID future. 

“Chinatown is expanding,” Bayley said. “By making it easier and safer for people who live nearby to walk, bike, or take transit, we’ll make it easier for people who need to drive to find parking. And more people will be able to enjoy all that Chinatown has to offer — without having to spend so much time looking for parking.”  

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Aerial view of parking lot in Chinatown