Rob Burgess

In past 90 days I have parked on the streets of three cities: Champaign/Urbana, Illinois; Bloomington, Indiana; and, of course, Kokomo, Indiana. Two had meters. I received a ticket in one. The following is a case study of the downtown parking policies of each.

Champaign/Urbana, Illinois

It was April and I had just returned from lunch after an Ebertfest panel discussion at the Pine Lounge at Illini Hall at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I saw I still had a few minutes left on my meter, unlike a car a few spaces down. A flyer advised the owner they had been given a one-time, per rolling 365 days, fine amnesty per license plate. (Subsequent violations would increase from $10 to $15 to $20 to $25 and $35 from there; and increase by $5 if not paid within seven days, and another $10 after 30 days.)

Shirl Johnson, parking operations supervisor for the city of Champaign, said the policy had begun Jan. 1.

“We have a lot of visitors and since we’re so transient, there are people who come just for the day,” she said. “For the people who are here often, it’s to [help] find parking that meets their needs.”

Even though I didn’t need it, the spirit of hospitality expressed in the one-per-year amnesty left a good taste in my mouth.

Kokomo, Indiana

I have worked in Kokomo for over three years. I park both in lots and on the street five days a week. I have never once received a ticket, or paid 1 cent in meter fees. David Tharp, development specialist for the city of Kokomo, said until about 2009 there were around 500 aging parking meters, which were then removed.

“We have experienced dramatic growth downtown,” he said. “Part of that is because it’s easier to get around.”

With a two-hour downtown street parking policy, the city fines violators $15, which goes up another $15 if not paid in 30 days. Tharp said 413 tickets were written last year, and a total of 33,337 tires were chalked. This year, though, 576 tickets have been written through May, with 10,737 tires chalked.

“When we dug into [the numbers] there was a lot disruption in the construction of the parking garage,” he said. “Parking is a little scarcer.”

Still, I find the city’s welcoming posture a smart move, especially for one with such a budding downtown.

Bloomington, Indiana

Earlier this month, I was in town for the Limestone Comedy Festival. I saw it from half a block away through my back windshield, the unmistakable shadow of an enveloped ticket. As I walked the length of Kirkwood Avenue to in front of Kilroy’s where I was parked, I let fly a few choice words when I found that the $20 ticket had been issued mere minutes after my meter (which I had been feeding all day) ran out. This fine would double to $40 if not paid after seven days, and be sent to a collection agency after 60 days.

I lived in Bloomington for five years and I can’t remember getting a single ticket downtown. There were no meters. Bloomington Police Capt. Joe Qualters told me meter enforcement began in August 2013.

“There has been an influx of [Indiana University] student housing in the downtown area over the last several years that contributed to existing parking issues,” he said.

Qualters confirmed the reaction was mixed.

“Some appreciate the availability of spaces near businesses they want to frequent and are willing to pay for parking to have that opportunity,” he said. “Others are unwilling to change their belief that parking downtown should continue to be free.”

Qualters said he didn’t see much changing anytime soon “except for minor tweaks.” And when he answered my final question, I saw why.

“Fines from violations in 2014 amounted to $789,468, and meter revenue for 2014 was $2,157,473,” he said.

Qualters and the 14-strong parking enforcement division are only implementing the policy of the Bloomington mayor’s office and the members of the city council. These tidy figures show where the priorities of those politicians lie. According to them, it’s more profitable to tax visitors like this than to encourage local businesses.

Rob Burgess, Tribune night editor, may be reached by calling 765-454-8577, via email at rob.burgess@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at twitter.com/robaburg.

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