As teams of LAZ Parking's employees slowly, but quite surely, canvas the city changing the parking meters to their new, much higher rates, another movement seems to be blossoming in reaction to these changes.
At first, it seemed just random when a broken meter was spotted. There's no big surprise in finding a broken meter in Chicago--they're everywhere.
But the number of broken meters seemed to be increasing and e-mails and comments began pouring into this website with tips, along with bits and pieces of information. Websites with very strident points of view have popped up over the past few weeks advocating everything from a simple boycott to using pennies or nickels to fill up the meters to capacity and render them temporarily inoperable.
Nearly 20 parking meters, spanning an entire block of W. Irving Park in the Albany Park neighborhood, were spotted with the front and back of their heads spray painted black. Once spray painted, these meters are unreadable by Parking Enforcement Aides, meaning vehicles can't be ticketed as it's impossible to see if the meters were fed or not.
LAZ Parking's new decals have been removed in a concerted effort along Lincoln Ave. and other streets in the Lakeview neighborhood, leaving long stretches of meters without any instructions on how and when they should be fed. This leaves the meter without the proper information required by law to be an operational parking meter. A motorist could easily contest any expired meter ticket on these meters because they don't exhibit the proper information.
One tipster named Bryan says, "In some cases, these decals just peel right off the front of the meter with little or no effort. When these stickers were originally applied, the weather was very cold and it seems the adhesive didn't adhere correctly. These stickers just come right off."
In Boystown, along Halsted and Broadway just north and south of Addison, a multitude of meters have their coin slots jammed with coins and what seems to be Super Glue or some other high strength adhesive. By our count, 40-50 meters had been vandalized in this way just in that area, with reports of this also occurring at spots along Clybourn, Irving Park, Lincoln Ave. and elsewhere.
One individual under the name "Illinois Patriot" is calling for direct vandalism attacks to disable parking meters.
"WE, the people, need to start fighting back! Here are some ideas to fight back:," states Illinois Patriot in a communique to The Expired Meter. "A good shot of expanding foam should feed the meter's coin slot nicely. Don't get caught... Epoxy putties and VHB sided foam tapes show additional promise for field expedient mayhem and merriment."
Meters Removed or Damaged
Someone actually removed one parking meter in Lakeview, again along Lincoln Ave., after it was loosened during a traffic accident.
"It was there on Saturday afternoon, but missing Monday morning," said a local business owner who asked to remain anonymous.
Another meter we found in Boystown had the entire coin box removed.
Overfeeding Meters With Pennies
One local blogger has championed feeding meters with pennies and nickels instead of quarters. While the other change does not register, once the meter's coin reservoirs are filled, the meter will read FAIL and is inoperable, cannot be fed and is essentially a free parking spot.
"I've done it a couple of times," says John, the Angry Chicagoan about his Penny Revolution. "I keep thinking one of these days I need to buy a few roll of pennies just to screw with them. A penny, nickel and dime are all legal tender. Consider it a gift to LAZ Parking. No jury in the world will convict you for giving someone money."
And in fact, there seems to be no municipal law restricting the use of coins in denominations other than quarters to feed parking meters.
"We are finding a lot of pennies and nickels in coin slots," confirmed an LAZ Parking employee who repairs meters that we confronted on the street. He wouldn't give us his name. "We see a lot of that going on."
LAZ Parking employees are working hard to keep up with fixing the inoperable meters.
"We see quite a few of them (broken meters)," said Reggie Johnson, a LAZ parking worker employed through a temporary labor company who's helping with the meter rate changes. "We log them (the broken meters) in and later on a repair crew comes out. Last week a crew I was working with fixed 200 meters in a (eight-hour) shift."
Some individuals are taking softer, more traditional community organizing approaches to exhibiting their anger.
One campaign at group action portal The Point lists its primary objective as "To force Chicago Parking Meter LLC to freeze the parking meter rates until Jan 1, 2011." It's an objective they plan to meet by asking drivers to boycott city meters.
At ChicagoParkingMeters.com, a single-page website promises that beginning in April, "This site will be a web 2.0 portal for community organization focused on supporting our rights as residents of the city of Chicago."
Others are simply making the decision not to park in normally congested areas like Lincoln Park, Wicker Park and Lakeview. Parking is now plentiful on busy streets where it was once impossible to find. It seems people are deciding just not to park in metered areas.
It's just a simple economic reaction to the higher rates.
One reader named Mike explains by saying, "The new Sunday meter regulations are set to ruin the city. The streets in front of our west loop condo used to be packed with cars Saturday nights and Sundays; no more. The spontaneity of going out to eat, shopping and visiting friends is already affected. Thank you Mayor Daley."
Others plan to exit the city permanently.
"After more than 20 years here I'm done, just done," says Chicago Tom. "Our condo is for sale and when it does, we're outta here. In one last act of defiance, my wife is going to drive our car and intentionally get a red light ticket with photo/video - we'll have the plates disguised. When the video/photo is viewed, they'll see my bare ass pressed against the back window accompanied a couple middle fingers. We'll then drive out of town for the last time."
Check out The Expired Meter for even more information and advice about parking, fighting parking tickets and red light tickets in Chicago.