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Free parking comes to downtown Aurora

The city Aurordid not replace parking meters when it completed reconstructiDowner Place bridges late last year. And now parking meters

The city of Aurora did not replace the parking meters when it completed the reconstruction of the Downer Place bridges late last year. And now, parking meters will be removed from the entire downtown area. | Steven Buyansky~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 15, 2013 1:02PM

AURORA — The meters are officially on their way out, and free parking is coming to downtown Aurora.

The Aurora City Council voted 9-0 this week to approve a new parking plan that will remove meters from the whole of downtown Aurora.

Instead, the meters will be replaced with a color-coded system that will allow for free parking but limit premium street parking to 90 minutes and include parking lots throughout downtown with time limits of between two and 10 hours.

“Until now there’s been no free parking in the downtown,” said Rick Guzman, assistant chief of staff for the city. “Now, if you basically follow the signs, it’s free parking throughout the downtown, including all day if you’re on the peripheral lots, where there’s nine- and 10-hour spots.”

Several residents and downtown business owners spoke in favor of the new plan, which eliminates the need for dimes and nickels, and which they hope will attract more shoppers to downtown.

“City staff did this in a really inclusive way, very collaboratively,” said Jeff Noblitt, spokesman for Waubonsee Community College and chairman of Aurora Downtown. “Aurora Downtown strongly supports this.”

At Tuesday night’s meeting, a few downtown business owners did request longer time zones for street parking in front of their professional offices.

“Two-hour parking for us is very important,” said Dr. Kishore Belani, a dentist. “Patients have to get up from the chair and move their car. It really is very inconvenient.”

But even those downtown professionals lauded the overall plan.

Further, staff said the downtown parking plan was designed to be constantly monitored and evaluated so that changes could be made when necessary to accommodate businesses and other downtown traffic.

Platinum and gold

The new color-coded parking zones will range from 90-minute Platinum parking on streets to 2-hour Gold spaces, 3-hour off-street and 2-hour on-street Silver spaces, 6-hour off-street and 2-hour on-street Bronze spaces, and 10-hour off-street and 3-hour on-street Mercury spaces.

Those who are in downtown Aurora often could purchase a pass to park in time-limited lots all day. For $35 a month, a driver could purchase a pass allowing them to park all day in any Gold lot, for instance. Currently, drivers can only purchase permits for just one lot.

Time limits would be enforced on the streets Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Off-street parking time limits would only be enforced from Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Parking in decks would continue to be free for the first hour, but otherwise would cost $1 an hour, with a maximum of $5 a day.

Automated enforcement

The City Council also approved the purchase of a new license plate-scanning system that would allow traffic enforcement officers to monitor the spaces and issue tickets to those exceeding time limits.

The purchase of the new license plate recognition system, for about $133,000, was approved 8-1, with Alderman Rick Lawrence casting the lone dissenting vote.

Lawrence called the removal of the meters a “step in the right direction,” but argued against enforcing the time limits.

“I just think it’s kind of a Big Brother-type thing here,” Lawrence said.

Alderman Bob O’Connor countered that enforcing the time limits was simply a way to keep convenient spots open to those visiting businesses.

“Nobody likes to get a ticket,” O’Connor said. “But once it’s all rolled out, people will be very appreciative of the ability to find a spot.”

Under the new parking plan, repeat offenders of time limits would see the costs of those tickets increase significantly. Tickets for first-time offenders would increase from just a warning to $5, but the most egregious offenders — those with 20 or more tickets accrued — would pay $100 per offense.

Rollout of the new downtown parking program should be completed sometime this spring, city staff said.

‘Restaurant Row’ delay

In other action, the council delayed a decision on a proposed new development effort along “Restaurant Row” on New York Street downtown. Officials said there was a hold-up in some language for the agreement, and the council tabled the matter for two weeks

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