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Naperville's Multi-mode Commuter Headache

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Naperville's Multi-mode Commuter Headache

Photo by Joe Thorn

In some Western suburbs, commuter Metra lines are increasingly popular. For example, the route between Aurora and Chicago had more than fifteen million rides last year. It turns out, new ridership has a troublesome side-effect; parking around some commuter stations is tight and getting tighter.

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Naperville’s got a parking problem … not so much along its broad neighborhood streets, but close to its two Metra stations.

There are more than thirteen hundred parking spots at Naperville’s downtown station.

When I visit, it takes fifteen minutes to find an empty one.

It took another 5 minutes to find the pay station, type in my spot number

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And fork over two bucks.

<< GEARS GRINDING BEEP BEEP >>

But for all that, I meet someone at the station who says I’m lucky.

Ree: Usually if you’re not here by 6:30 Am to get a numbered parking spot, which is a daily fee, you’re out of luck.

This Naperville resident says parking’s such a touchy issue, she wouldn’t tell me her full name … she just goes by Ree.

Anyway, her family’s tussled with parking for years.

Ree: It took us probably, and this is from 1997, four to five years before we finally got a parking permit.

And then they fought for a spot closer to the train.

Ree: Then we ended up four or five years later to the Burlington lot, which is where we currently are.

She says it was like winning the lottery … even though a permit costs two hundred and forty dollars per year.

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Stories like Ree’s have Naperville administrators trying what they can to free up spots.

They found alternative parking away from the downtown site and the Metra station near Route 59.

Naperville Transit manager Carmen Carruthers says the town wants residents to take PACE transit buses from the alternate parking to the stations.

And, she says, they’ll sweeten the pot.

Carruthers: We’re offering free rides on Tuesdays on all the feeder routes that go to and from our downtown metra station, and then free rides to our park and ride lots that go to route 59 station, Monday through Friday, on weekdays through Labor Day.

Allee: Is free enough to get people to use the service more?

Carruthers: We’re trying to provide a strong economic incentive for people to give it a try.

Back at the Metra station, I bounce the idea off Naperville resident Ree.

Allee: Is free cheap enough for people to change where they might be coming in?

Ree: I wouldn’t. just because then I don’t have to work with the schedule on the bus. To me, you gotta work with the train and then, knowing your car is here, I don’t know, that’s enough.

Dean: I think that Access by car to train stations in farther out suburban areas is always just going to be a fact of life

Bob Dean is an urban planner with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.

Dean: But I think there are things you can do to make it possible for people to get there by other means if they want to, including pedestrian bicycle facilities and also the kind of investment in bus routes that are being pursued by Naperville and other communities.

Dean says there is another way to deal with tight parking.

It’s to have suburbs build homes close to the station, so people don’t have to drive at all.

Dean: We call it transit-oriented development and we’ve been encouraging communities across the region to plan for that for some time.

But there are problems with that, too.

Another transit worries if towns build homes near stations, the homes could take up parking lots.

And if there’s not enough parking, people from outside town won’t have spaces.

They might skip the train altogether.

That makes commuter rail parking a balancing act, but at least Naperville’s thinking hard about it.

I’m Shawn Allee.

Chicago Public Radio.

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