Chicago traffic taming
Three weeks ago, the Chicago Reader ran a fascinating article on its front page. Fascinating not only because it must be one of the shortest ever published by the infamously long-winded paper. But it also illustrates the pernicious race & class issues lurking just beneath the surface of bike advocacy.
The lead begins, Church parking—some of it blatantly illegal—complicates a plan to free up Chicago’s boulevards for cyclists. It then goes on to describe the continuing efforts of the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation to launch a Sunday Parkways program on the west side. From a health standpoint, from business, from community building, from reducing pollution, it’s an incredibly dynamic model, says the CBF’s executive director, Rob Sadowsky.
Last summer, the CBF tried to launch Sunday Parkways, a car-free program based on the Via Recreativa and the 70-mile Ciclovia in Bogota, Colombia, which is 20 years old and in some weeks draws two million people. The CBF proposed closing off seven and a half miles of west-side boulevards connecting Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Little Village, Garfield Park, and North Lawndale every Sunday from May to October.For those unfamiliar with the City of Big Shoulders, the west side is predominantly Latino and economically disadvantaged. And biking isn't as popular there as it is in the more well-off, predominantly white neighborhoods.
...But the CBF had neglected some crucial allies: the churches.
One is Armitage Baptist Church, on Kedzie Boulevard two blocks south of the Logan Square monument at the intersection of Kedzie, Milwaukee, and Logan Boulevard. It draws some 2,000 people on Sunday mornings, for five masses in three languages. A lot of those people drive to church, and a lot of them park their cars on Logan and Kedzie boulevards. Not just along the narrow service lanes, either, but on the boulevards, right where the CBF envisioned thousands of cyclists meandering freely.Over the years, CBF has attempted to get residents rolling though with mixed results. That's why I found this article rather surprising. Why shut down streets in neighborhoods where fewer folks roll than let's say, Lakeview or Lincoln Park, two of the city's most upscale and white neighborhoods where a most of the Lycra crowd lives?
“It was like cold water in our face, because they were planning this without telling us anything,” says Antonio Gomez, pastor of the church’s Spanish-speaking congregation. Sadowsky acknowledges a failure of outreach. “There are a lot of churches along the route, and it took a long time to communicate what was going on to all of them,” he says.Here you have a local neighborhood institution that has worked out an effective, if unofficial, traffic calming compromise with the Chicago Police Department. Imagine the traffic if church goers were to trawl around for legal parking before services.
The thing is, signs make it clear that no parking is allowed at any time in the fast inside lanes of the boulevards—not for churchgoers or anybody else. But on Sunday those signs are blatantly ignored and the righthand lanes are clogged with parked cars. “Basically, they’re parking illegally,” says Alderman [Ray] Colon. “I call it the pray-and-park policy. It’s a courtesy that is provided to the churches, sort of informally. I’ve been here since ’67 and it’s always been in place, and I’m not gonna be the one to break the cycle.”
Antonio Gomez knows his parishioners aren’t parking legally on the boulevards, but he doesn’t see anything wrong with it. “Sometimes we get ticketed and we go to the police station and we explain we’re from the church, and they say, ‘It’s OK, just give us the tickets back,’” he said. “I don’t know if you can call it fair or not fair. We as a church are very involved in the community. It’s just an agreement that we have.”Also, imagine if the CBF tried to shut down the busy streets of Lakeview or Lincoln Park.