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Parking meter deal may become bigger white elephant in future

Experimental driverless cars have made such significant advances that people are beginning to imagine how they may reshape cities. If the cars get smart enough to drive themselves to remote parking areas, urban land that is now set aside for street parking could be put to better uses.

Except, perhaps, in Chicago, where we have seven decades remaining on a controversial long-term parking meter lease.

On Thursday, city Chief Financial Officer Lois Scott told the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board that the parking meter concessionaire, Chicago Parking Meters, would eat the loss of revenue if people stopped using metered spaces and directed their cars to drive themselves to cheaper spots elsewhere. But, she said, the city would have to pay up if it wanted to reuse the land for something else.

“[Chicago Parking Meters accepts] the risk of the changes in behaviors unless we force it,” Scott said. “If we take an action that says you must do the following, that is when we accept the liability.”

In the Silicon Valley, experimental Google cars already are driving themselves down highways and parking themselves on streets. If the technology progresses, cities might not need on-street parking spaces. Planners envision narrower streets, with more land turned over to homes and offices. It also could create space for more bike paths.

Scott said Chicago already is looking at how it uses its land.

“I think we have been pretty ambitious in how we are looking at public space,” she said. “A lot of governments are looking at how we are doing things in many different areas throughout our city.”

But reusing land now devoted to parking spots?

“We have gone through the reform of the parking meter transaction,” she said “We are not going to do that again.”

Still, somewhere down the road that might have to change.

Scott said that if the city removes parking spaces from the system, “We are obligated to pay them the remaining value.”

But what would that remaining value be if very few people were paying the marking meters anymore?

Read June 1 Chicago Sun-Times editorial about the parking meter deal here.

Read a July 29 USA Today story about driverless cars here.

Read a June 2 Chicago Tribune editorial about the parking meter deal here.

Read a July 7 New York Times story about technological advances in driverless cars here.

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