Downtown Champaign parking regulations cause some lost business, but solutions unclear

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Champaign city building on 102 N Neil St. Screenshot from Google Street View.

Champaign’s population of about 89,114 only has 1,871 parking meter spaces provided to the public, an average of one parking spot for every 47 Champaign residents and that figure doesn’t account for visitors and Urbana residents.

Pour Bros. Craft Taproom co-owner Jason Fowler said issues stemming back to 2021 from people throwing street parties in parking lots led to increased regulation in the downtown area.

“You’d find cars would park late at night,” Fowler said. “They were drinking out of their trunks, they were playing loud music and it became just a big hangout on the street, all of which is illegal.”

This led to tighter parking restrictions in the downtown Champaign area.

“We started to see parking bans,” Fowler said. ”After 10:00 PM, there were certain sections of downtown that would limit parking.”

Pour Bros. Craft Taproom at 40 E University Ave. in Champaign. Screenshot from Google Street View captured Aug. 2023.

These regulations, Fowler said, were driving out some business at Pour Bros. and cutting some customers’ nights early.

“If they’re hanging out past 10:00 p.m., we’re telling them to move their car if they’ve parked there,” Fowler said. “Chances are they’re not gonna repark it somewhere else. They’re just gonna move on.”

The total amount earned from parking citations has increased each year from 2021 to 2023 as of Nov. 30, 2023. The numbers were provided by the city’s Public Works Department.

The city earned more revenue each year from citations since fiscal year 2021, which began July 1, 2020 and ended June 30, 2021, when it had an income of $355,000. In fiscal year 2022, the department brought in over 42% more with $507,000.

The city earned $550,000 in the last fiscal year, which ended June 30 last year.

Residents, workers point out lack of parking availability

Amy Myers, a server and bartender who works in downtown Champaign, expressed her frustrations with the lack of parking.

“It just kind of sucks because there’s no place for people to park,” Myers said. “So how are people supposed to support businesses that are having a hard time?”

University of Illinois senior Kiley Simpson expressed her troubles with weekly traveling to and parking in downtown Champaign.

“It’s hard to find street parking,” Simpson said. “So I usually park in the parking lots.”

Additionally, Fowler said the street parking typically isn’t accommodating to those with physical issues.

“One of the biggest things is people with accessibility issues,” Fowler said. “If you look at all these downtown spots, I don’t know of any that are handicap accessible, other than maybe in the main lots.”

While parking lots seem to be a feasible option to some, street parking is difficult to come by in the downtown area.

“It is inconvenient considering I have to walk a farther distance,” Simpson said. “The reason I drove is to not have to walk to go get food or study.”

Kris Koester, administrative services manager for Champaign’s Public Works Department, said the downtown area is one of the hotspots for parking citations.

“There is a larger number [of citations] issued, but it’s not just on campus, it’s also downtown,” Koester said.

Data obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request shows that, between July 2021 and Oct. 2023, there have been 71,212 parking violations on record in Champaign. With 1,871 parking meter spaces provided to the public in Champaign, that’s an average of over 38 parking violations per spot in just over two years.

Of those 71,212 violations, 54,092 tickets — over 75% — are listed as “time expired accumulating fines” which stem from the Mobile Meter app, parking meters and parking garages.

Myers said parking has been an issue for servers like herself and other employees downtown specifically. 

“For me to park, I have to pay $80 a month to park my car otherwise I risk getting tickets,” Myers said. “So that’s almost a thousand dollars a year for me to park my car to make money.”

Myers also recalled worrying about her own safety in the area. She expressed frustration in having to pay for her own safety.

“Sometimes I’ll risk parking in front and then move my car when my coworker gets here, but the meter maids are very aggressive,” Myers said. “You’ll get $35 tickets every time just for your safety.”

Champaign discussed a second parking garage years ago

Koester said the city had discussed potentially adding a second parking garage to the downtown area.

“By 2017, we were already having discussions of the potential of needing to build a second parking facility close to downtown,” Koester said. “Probably south of downtown.”

Despite the possibility of another parking garage, Myers knows that people will still have to walk a distance. She believes that this will especially cause issues at night.

“If you want to go out to a bar and go to a nightclub do you want to walk 20 blocks at midnight or two in the morning when you’re leaving to get to your car? Is it safe?” Myers said. “It’s dark at that time, I know people who have been mugged.”

On the other hand, Simpson said she would welcome an additional parking garage to downtown. She said this is not only because of more availability, but the quality of the area to park your vehicle in as well.

“I think it would help because people definitely prefer a parking garage because you’re guaranteed a spot more than just a parking lot,” Simpson said. “And it’s covered indoors, so it’s definitely a nicer option.”

Outside of a new structure, however, Pour Bros. Craft Taproom’s Fowler said he believes Champaign may not have many options.

“As far as actual parking, there’s no place to add spots really,” Fowler said. “So the only suggestion would be ‘could you buy property?’”

Champaign’s parking map is broken down into five different enforcement zones. The downtown part of the city is one of the main areas.

Fowler explained that getting multiple tickets has just become a norm of the downtown area.

“I’ve probably had four or five tickets over time,” Fowler said. “And yeah they’re annoying, but it’s just kind of part of the downtown area.”

As for a possible solution to this issue, there isn’t a clear answer despite the public works department’s best efforts.

“There are definitely convenience issues,” Fowler said. “I don’t know how to fix that.”

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