Plenty has been written about Chicago’s disastrous parking meter deal, so I need not go into how the asking price was almost criminally low, how the aldermen were railroaded into endorsing the deal without even knowing its terms, how our new parking overlords are raking in more than a million dollars a week.
Instead, I have something to share that I noticed a few weeks ago. To me, it illustrates in microcosmic form the parking meter deal as a whole: its purpose is poorly conceived, its ramifications are unclear, and ultimately it screws the citizens of Chicago.
It is an example of some typical signage, from the 2100 block of West Division Street.
The problem with these two signs lies with their arrows.
On the bottom sign, denoting the edge of a daytime loading zone, the arrow tells us in which direction the zone extends from this point. This is the purpose with which motorists are familiar, having seen it many times at the edges of no parking zones and the like.
The arrow on the recently added top sign, however, tells us in which direction the nearest pay box may be found.
Because the two arrows appear on the same signpost, it is not unreasonable to infer that they have similar meanings. Indeed, the arrows are not merely similar in appearance, they are identical. The “pay box, thataway” arrow is the same size and shape as the “zone starts here, goes thataway” arrow. Therefore these signs, in combination, could easily lead motorists to believe that the pay zone extends to the left, and that once the loading zone expires at 6PM the free-but-very-short-term parking spots to the right become free-and-stay-as-long-as-you-want. (Or, at least until 8AM the next morning.)
I’m not being overly sensitive about this, or over-thinking it. I noticed this signage in the first place when I overheard a group of women, having just parked their car in the loading zone after 6PM, debating this exact question. They had come to the erroneous conclusion, and were about to walk off and get their evening underway. Fortunately, before some random stranger (that is, I) could accost them and politely set them straight, one of the women noticed other, marginally less-obfuscating, signs on the block and convinced them to return and pay the fee.
The women seemed new to the neighbourhood, unfamiliar with their environs. They probably were there for their first time to try out one of the trendy Division Street restaurants they’d read about in Chicago magazine or some such. Lucky for them, one of their party was paying enough attention that they didn’t finish their Big City meal to find that it cost them upwards of $75 more than they had expected.
By the way, the icing on this cupcake is the fact that the pay box sign is pointing the wrong way. The next available pay box in that direction—if in fact there is one—is at least two and a half blocks away, past the windswept open wasteland of St. Mary’s Hospital and Roberto Clemente High School, and across busy, seven-lane-wide Western Avenue.