Wilmette, News

Wilmette digs into downtown-parking dilemma

Wilmette trustees got the wheels turning to solve for one of the quintessential challenges that local communities grapple with as they grow.

The findings and recommendations from an extensive study of parking in downtown Wilmette were presented during a Village Board meeting on Tuesday, May 14. Trustees identified a downtown parking study as a high priority last summer during a committee of the whole session. 

According to a memo from Brigitte Berger-Raish, Wilmette’s director of engineering and Public Works, the increased popularity of downtown Wilmette has resulted in “parking challenges.”  

“This is really a good news story, because our downtown is so popular and so vibrant and people want to be here,” Berger-Raish told the board. “But what I’ve learned going through this process is that parking management is not a passive activity. This is not a study that is going to be presented tonight and put on a shelf.” 

Berger-Raish said the information from the study will be used “as a stepping stone” to future board actions. “There may be some ordinance amendments coming your way for approval in the future,” she added. 

Jon Forster, a representative of Fishbeck, the firm that conducted the study, highlighted the study’s key takeaways for trustees during the meeting. 

More than 800 parking spaces are available in downtown Wilmette east of Green Bay Road.

Forster opened his presentation by noting that Wilmette has 1,033 spaces across its downtown area, which for the purposes of the study, included both east and west of the Metra tracks. 

The village has 840 public parking spaces available east of the tracks. Of those, nearly 350 are located in the Metra lots, 243 are in either village lots or the Burmeister deck, and 251 are on-street spots.

Fishbeck documented occupancy and usage patterns from 7 a.m.-9 p.m. during a Thursday-Saturday stretch in mid-October to collect its findings. 

Two of the initial, high-level points presented to trustees were that the core of the downtown area is busy throughout the day and “slightly more intense” in the evening. 

The Metra lots in Wilmette are well utilized during the day, often reaching capacity, but are relatively vacant in the evenings and weekends, the study found. 

Related to parking demand and occupancy, the study also found that there are approximately 125 available parking spaces during periods that are considered peak times. 

Forster said during his presentation that the upcoming opening of Small Cheval later this year, as well as the recent additions of EvaDean’s (a restaurant and bakery) and Yellow Bird (a stationery and gift shop), could notably swing parking demands in the downtown area. 

“I’ve heard it from a number of people. There’s some concern about what Small Cheval is going to do to downtown,”  Forster said, later noting that the restaurant’s operational model could create some added stress on the town’s parking. 

The points highlighted during the meeting were recommendations, and there was no board action requested. But trustees did hear plans for next steps from village staff while also pondering the viability of the suggestions presented during the session. 

One opportunity to increase parking supply, according to Forster, was to consider purchasing Scott Funeral Home and utilize the spaces included in its lot. 

Other options offered included encouraging private parking owners to open up spaces for their neighbors and requiring developers to include some amount of public parking in their site plans when new projects emerge. 

Potential longer-term solutions that would offer more sizable parking solutions included building a parking structure. One possibility that was identified by the study was a mixed-use facility with either Metra and/or Chase. 

Fishbeck’s also recommended creating reasonable employee parking options and changing enforcement times and limits. 

Following Forster’s summary, Berger-Raish outlined staff’s upcoming work on parking that will begin in the very near future. 

Berger-Raish said that a business liaison will visit with local restaurant businesses in the downtown area to discuss their DoorDash pickup procedures as well as identify where 15-minute time limit spaces are located and ensure they are in the ideal spot. 

Village staff will also work on long-term and 24-hour permits for its Burmeister parking lot and will begin developing better signage and better advertising for parking available in the Metra lot. 

“From this day forward, the ongoing monitoring, evaluation and modification to our parking system will be essential so that we can continue to provide the amazing positive experience our residents and guests expect when they come to Wilmette,” Berger-Raish said

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martin carlino
Martin Carlino

Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.

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