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Reilly wants to ban valet parking in tow zones to ease traffic

Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times

Chicago’s valet parking services would be forbidden from stashing cars in tow zones, under a crackdown proposed Tuesday to ease downtown congestion made worse by underground utility work that’s a prelude to a bus rapid transit system.

Five years after re-writing the rules governing valet parking and three months after throwing the book at the industry’s “worst actors,” downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) wants to tighten the noose on valet parking once again.

This time, Reilly’s target is a liberal city code that allows valet parking services to park cars in tow zones.

“Some companies have taken advantage of this open area in the law to establish these in all the wrong places. In certain areas downtown, it’s created a real mess — especially during evening rush,” Reilly said.

“By reforming this piece of the code, valet loading will occur where it’s supposed to: in loading zones — not tow zones. That should go a long way to helping solve some our traffic issues. You’ve got to respect tow zones. They’re meant to help traffic flow. They’re not meant for extra storage.”

Reilly said tow zones were intended to “restrict any curbside activity whatsoever,” including standing and loading.

“So, why on earth would we be establishing valet loading zones where they hog that all day long,” the alderman said.

“In some cases, you’ve got valet operations taking up four vehicle spaces in a tow zone. That has a major impact on traffic during rush hour. Clearing that kind of stuff out, you’re gonna see improved traffic flow on arterials to get folks to the feeder ramps faster.”

The effort to free up street space comes at a time when lanes throughout the downtown area have been closed to make way for underground utility work that must be completed before construction can begin on the raised platforms that will serve as bus-rapid transit stations.

Valet parking abuses have been a steady target during Reilly’s eight-year tenure as alderman.

Five years ago, he proposed an off-street parking requirement of 25 percent, then softened it under pressure from Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) and his colleagues in the Illinois Restaurant Association.

At the time, there were rampant complaints about valet parking companies that damage vehicles, monopolize metered spaces and park cars illegally, saddling unsuspecting motorists with tickets.

The 2009 crackdown further required valet companies to obtain $1 million worth of insurance for both liability and property damage. Fines for allowing employees to park cars without a valid license were increased dramatically — from a $100 minimum and $500 ceiling to at least $500 and as much as $1,000.

Last year, Reilly was back on the warpath against valet parking companies that damage cars, park illegally, gobble up on-street spaces and tie up downtown traffic.

“I have a special place in my heart for crappy valet parking companies,” the alderman said then.

In September, Reilly threw the book at rogue companies that engage in valet parking without any city license, either to avoid the fee or because they don’t have the off-street parking to get a license.

Under that ordinance, unlicensed valet parkers face a fine of at least $3,000, as much as $5,000 and/or up to six months in jail.