The high cost of downtown parking – in 1970

August 13, 2012

Downtown garages are getting expensive – and we know what's happened to our parking meters. Yet this is nothing new. On this August 13th in 1970, Chicagoans were complaining about the high cost of parking.

“Drive to the Loop to save money? Forget it!” the Tribune said. And it did seem like the CTA offered a cheaper alternative. The basic bus or "L" fare was 45 cents. Even if a 10-cent transfer were added both ways, that worked out to $1.10 for a daily round trip.

That cost compared to a minimum of $1.50 for all-day parking at the least expensive Loop garages. Luckily for the car-driving public, gas prices were holding steady at 40 cents a gallon.

The problem was supply-and-demand. There were about 53,000 parking spaces in the central part of the city. But new construction on the edge of downtown was taking over land occupied by parking lots. At the same time, that new construction was bringing more auto commuters into the area.

Parking rates varied by geography. Garages near State and Madison were most expensive – the typical charge was $4 for eight hours, with some places edging up to $6. As you moved outward, prices dropped. North and west of the river, you could expect to pay $1 or $2 for the same eight hours.

Like any wise shopper, you could save money by doing comparison shopping. One Lake Street garage charged $1.50 for the first hour, and $3.50 for an eight-hour stay. A half-block down the street, the prices were $1.15 for the first hour, and a flat $3 for anything up to 24 hours.

The best rates were offered by the Grant Park Garage. Since it was owned and operated by the city, the garage functioned as a public convenience. More than 3,500 cars could be stored in the underground lot, with the maximum eight-hour price set at $1.70.

So now you are in the year 2012, and you read this story, and you see the cheap parking prices of four decades ago. You feel a little envy. But remember, all things are relative. Back in 1970, the newspaper that reported the story cost only 10 cents.

Sorry, got to go now. I've got to buy another parking receipt to slap on my dashboard.

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