Ravenswood neighbors recognize that parking is not a right

November 18, 2012 at 11:18 am

A recent post on EveryBlock Chicago has gained some traction: it seems that an area commuter who uses the Ravenswood Metra station is upset that the new development that will be adjacent to the Ravenswood Metra station is removing 100 spaces of commuter parking and is petitioning “Metra and Mariano’s to provide no less than 100 spaces that will be eliminated”. He adds:

The 47th Ward alderman made it clear during the public meeting on Thursday night that he doesn’t care one bit about how people commute to work each day. It was all about the money the city is going to make. Typical Chicago politician. They are reducing the traffic capacity on Lawrence by 50% and eliminating all parking. Nice plan!

While I was not at the meeting, I’m fairly certain this is not the case; Ameya Pawar (47th Ward Alderman) appears to be very in touch with his ward and certainly with transportation issues. The City also does not make any money from the commuter parking that currently exists. And indeed, reducing traffic capacity on Lawrence is the plan, and it is a nice one – see below for a photo of Lawrence Ave as it is currently. It is an informal high-speed automobile corridor with little regard for pedestrian/bike safety.

The overwhelming response from others on EveryBlock seems to be that the original poster (OP) should take public transportation for the whole leg of the journey. While it’s difficult to make the assumption that the OP lives in an area with decent transportation coverage or one that has a direct route to the Ravenswood Metra station, if he lives in the 47th Ward, there is a very good chance that there is enough transportation coverage to get to the station). Unfortunately, there isn’t a chance that the City’s new bike share program will initially have bike share stations in this area – the initial northern boundary for service is Montrose, which is just south of the Ravenswood Metra station. If lack of alternative ways to get to this station is really an issue, bike share could solve the problem in the future.

Other responses from neighbors include that the City should not have to subsidize parking for commuters; even though the parking was not free ($1 per day), Sears, who previously administered the commuter parking next to the station, is no longer interested because the insurance and expenses cost more than the revenue from the parking fees. Others remark that it is not the duty of Mariano’s/LA Fitness to provide parking for commuters.

Mariano’s Fresh Market rendering; the Metra/UP-N tracks are to the right. Credit: Lincoln Square Patch/Antunovich Associates.

What I view as the problem here is that some have gotten used to the parking lot, largely for commuters, adjacent to the Metra station even though this lot has been proposed for development by several developers over the last few decades. Now that one of the proposals has gone further toward fruition than the previous ones, those used to the “old way of things” are speaking up. This is understandable, but it’s necessary to think of the bigger picture and what is good for the entire neighborhood instead of 100 commuter parking spaces. While the OP of the EveryBlock post made the point that “green space doesn’t cause economic development,” neither do 100 parking spaces that serve people going outside the neighborhood.

While I fear that eliminating parking for commuters may make drivers go all the way to their destination by car instead of taking the train, I assume that the majority of people taking this Metra train are going downtown, where parking is prohibitively expensive. Unless taking transportation to the train station instead of driving is so inconvenient it makes driving and parking downtown worth it, people will find other ways of getting around.

I’m glad to see that the overwhelming response to the issue raised by the EveryBlock post is that the Lawrence Ave streetscape project and the new development adjacent to the Metra station will be good for the neighborhood and that this particular area of the neighborhood is dangerously auto-centric given the rest of the neighborhood context. The Damen Ave corridor between Lawrence and Wilson and Lincoln Square neighborhood are walkable, complete neighborhoods. But anyone who has tried to cross Lawrence Ave at an unsignalized intersection knows how dangerous it is:

Lawrence Ave at Paulina. Credit: Google Maps.

Wide streets, no nearby signals, and to-date, and no signs at the middle of the crosswalk to remind drivers that stopping for all pedestrians is state law (but would it really stop anyone anyway?).

It is not the City’s nor a private developer’s duty to provide parking for Metra commuters even when previously provided. While the lack of a dedicated lot will mean more drivers parking on residential streets, those living on these streets must also remind themselves that the parking on their street is free and not guaranteed because of a windshield permit parking sticker. Because the parking on these residential streets is free and not priced according to demand, the first to find open spaces get them. Whether this is residents or commuters is up to chance. I’m glad that neighborhood residents recognize that there are options for drivers to get around the city in other ways, particularly in this neighborhood (Brown Line and Metra) and that parking is not a right, especially when envisioning a more pedestrian-, bike-, and transit-friendly neighborhood.