Alderman Tunney: A People Spot Is More Valuable Than Parking Spots

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Tom Tunney, right, at the ribbon cutting for the Southport People Spot. Photo: John Greenfield

32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack, usually a progressive on transportation issues, recently made some backward comments about city initiatives that convert car parking spaces into facilities like Divvy stations, bike parking corrals and People Spot seating areas. Waguespack fretted about the impact these conversions would have on local businesses, but it’s clear that these innovative uses can be more effective ways to draw visitors to retail strips than simply warehousing cars on the public way. Even after I staked out a bike-share station in his ward and found that 12 customers used it during a two-hour period, while there was zero turnover at two adjacent car spaces, the alderman still wasn’t convinced.

44th Ward Alderman Tom Tunney seems to have a much better understanding that it’s much more important to bring people to business districts than to accommodate cars. Tunney did honor a request from Manuel Tenorio, owner of the two Johnny Sprockets bicycles stores, to put the kibosh on a proposed Divvy station near his shop at Broadway and Wellington in Lakeview. However when I recently interviewed the alderman at the ribbon cutting for a station at Wrigley Field, shortly before another ribbon cutting down the street for the a People Spot at Southport and Addison, he explained his reasoning for that decision and expressed support for swapping car spots for more productive uses.

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Perhaps this Divvy user would have stopped to shop for a helmet if there was a docking station here. Photo: John Greenfield

JG: I heard there were a few situations in your ward where merchants weren’t happy about Divvy stations being located by their businesses. For example, Johnny Sprockets requested that a station not be installed there. How have things been going with that lately?

TT: We’re cognizant of trying to find the best locations for the users. I think we’re doing over 40 installs in a very small [in area] ward. So you’ll always have conflicts with that. We’re looking at those four corners over there [at Broadway and Wellington]. Like at this intersection [by the stadium, at Clark and Waveland], we looked at which corner would work for everybody. So it’s always a balance.

And as far as Johnny Sprockets is concerned, they’re such an asset in the community. They’ve got their bike racks already there. They’ve got their storage on the Wellington side, so at any given time there’s like 40 different bikes that they use for retailing and merchandising and stuff like that.

Like I said, we’re going to work with everybody and try to find as many locations that Divvy would like us to do. And in other cases where there’s a parking meter conflict. [The city’s parking meter contract requires any metered spaces removed to be replaced with new spaces elsewhere.] There are all kinds of conflicts when you’re trying to roll out something of this scale in a very short period of time.

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Tunney rode a bike to the ribbon cutting for the Wrigley Field Divvy station. Photo: John Greenfield

JG: So is a station getting installed at the intersection where Johnny Sprockets is?

TT: My staff is working on that. [There’s a Divvy station] at Clark and Wellington, which is basically just a half block from that intersection, and there’s also one at Wellington and Lake Shore Drive. Broadway is actually one of the more narrow commercial streets. Across the street there’s a 15-minute loading zone for Bobtail ice cream. But we’ll figure it out. I’m pretty happy with the Divvy program and the installations. You know, there’s always going to be some wrinkles in a rollout like this.

JG: What’s your perspective on the issue of swapping on-street parking spaces for Divvy stations, on-street bike parking corrals and People Spots? Is that something that you’re generally willing to do?

TT: Sure. Obviously this is an initiative that I think resonates well with our residents. I think there’s room for it all. The one thing is that we’re going to have to give up a few metered spaces, with the meter contract, if you take some out, you gotta be able to see if you can put in more metered spaces [elsewhere].

The thing about the 44th Ward is it’s almost 100 percent metered on every arterial street, and even the wraparounds [segments of residential streets near arterial intersections]. So we’re going to have make sure that we act to make this a priority but also make sure that it doesn’t have a financial consequence that’s detrimental to the taxpayer.

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The Southport People Spot. Photo: John Greenfield

JG: But you’re generally OK with doing one-for-one swaps, removing metered spots in one location and then creating new ones in another?

TT: Sure, I’m all for removing metered spots, but there is a financial consequence. And so when you put in an ordinance to remove meters, when you go in front of the [city’s Finance Committee] they’re going to say, “What are we doing to not impact the entire agreement?” We just went through that just two months ago in regards to true-ups and so we want to make sure… I think we can do it all.

JG: But if you’re able to find two metered spots to replace the two spots you’re taking out, then you’re OK with that?

TT: Yeah.

JG: A People Spot usually takes up two parking spaces and/or a loading zone. Do you think that’s a worthwhile swap? Would you say a People Spot is more valuable than two parking spaces?

TT: Yes, because it allows the street to be more engaging. It is pedestrian friendly, it helps with traffic calming, and it makes our streets and our city more vibrant. [The city of Chicago] introduced sidewalk cafes years ago, and this is something else that’s part of the same concept of making our streets more vibrant, more livable, more pedestrian-friendly, and just more relaxing.

JG: How do you feel People Spots help with traffic calming?

TT: They slow down traffic. And what we’ve been trying to do as a city is make sure that the roads and the sidewalks are safe for bicyclists and pedestrians, and we gotta do more to increase safety.

  • I think Tunney should work something out with Addison Park on Clark developers. He should oppose the 500-space parking garage they want to build there (http://j.mp/13MyY48) unless they accommodate some LAZ meter spaces, if possible. That way they can free up some metered spaces on streets for improvements like people spots and Divvy stations, new bike lanes, expanded sidewalks, etc. while storing all the cars away in a single spot.

  • Lynn Stevens

    Wasn’t Waguespack’s issue with the replacement parking?

    Also of note, Tunney voted to remove the pedestrian street designation on the 2600 block of Milwaukee Avenue to accommodate a decidedly unfriendly drive-thru that contributes to traffic friction. In addition to the drive-thru, removal of the designation then allowed the building to present a blank wall and only a secondary entrance to the street, which is not particularly engaging.

  • Sample quote from Waguespack: “Bike shares, People Spots … what will that do to businesses?” Answer: it will make them flourish. Here’s a more thorough discussion of Waguespacks comments: http://chi.streetsblog.org/2013/08/05/proof-that-bike-share-generates-more-foot-traffic-than-free-parking/

    The 2600 block of North Milwaukee is in 32nd Ward Alderman Rey Colon’s district, so that was his decision. Aldermen generally go along with whatever other aldermen want to do within their own wards.

  • Anonymous

    I love the spot outside Heritage Bikes, something about it just draws you to it. Would love to see more of them.

    What are doing with these things in the winter?

  • Lee Crandell

    Way to go Ald. Tunney! Really appreciate these initiatives in my neighborhood.

  • Lynn Stevens

    Yes, I’ve read your coverage here. The issue still seems to be about replacement parking. I appreciate that Waguespack is fiscally responsible. And I’m a fan of people spots and bike share stations (in limited numbers/concentration because parked cars are still a better protection for pedestrians against moving cars).

    I know the aldermanic prerogative practice as well. In this article though you seem to suggest Waguespack bad, Tunney good. But Tunney may be not so good. As other readers have pointed out, it’s not that simple. Tunney, for example, voted for the parking meter deal that requires a parking trade-off or financial payment when a people spot or bike share station takes the place of a metered spot.

  • Anonymous

    Exactly. John, this story sounds like you got charmed by Tunney, who is as old school machine as it gets.

  • What, do you think my transcribing was too flattering?

  • Anonymous

    oh please, John. You play hardball with Waguespack, who is actually a reformer on the council, then you play softball with Tunney, who’s part of the machine. Your first two paragraphs (Waguespack BAD! Tunney GOOD!) are just plain cheesy

    Try asking Tunney why he wants to add massive amounts of parking to his ward, which is among the best in transit. He tried to make the Cubs do it until there was too much outcry and he had to back off. The Addison Park on Clark adding a bunch of parking in the most recent revision has his fingerprints all over it.

    Try asking Tunney why he spent his entire political capital in the Cubs negotiations on the rooftop owners and not on improvements that will help the residents of his ward. His behavior in that was atrocious.

    You’re letting a minor beef with Waguespack blind you to the larger picture.

  • the hamburglar

    Funny thing about Johnny Sprockets not wanting a Divvy station nearby…

    I live in North Center, and we just got our first Divvy stations in the last couple of days. Yesterday was my first opportunity to use the system. My own bike was due for a tune-up, so I rode it to the On The Route shop at 3144 N Lincoln. I then walked down Lincoln to Southport and picked up a Divvy bike to ride two miles to the brand new station at Sulzer Library (Lincoln & Leavitt), which is just a block or so from my home. It was the perfect complement to a full-service bike shop – sometimes customers are leaving without their bikes.

  • CL

    I think people will eventually get used to Divvy stations like they got used to bus stops. There are downsides to having a bus stop right in front of your building (I have one very close to my building) — people standing around waiting, lots of extra litter, fewer parking spaces, the noise of it starting and stopping, plus the “route blah blah blah…” voice, which I hear approximately every 10 minutes. I like being able to run outside when the tracker says “2 minutes” but there are definite downsides. However, you rarely hear people freaking out about a bus stop, because they are used to it, and they accept bus stops as something that we need. People don’t sue to have bus stops removed. Once the Divvy stations have been in place for a few years, people will accept them.

  • This post is about the very specific topic of parking space conversions. It doesn’t address off-street parking issues, which Waguespack has a good record on. If you look at some of my earlier posts about Scott, you’ll see that I noted this and expended plenty of digitial ink talking about the many of the good things he’s done as an alderman:
    http://chi.streetsblog.org/2013/07/16/whats-up-with-waguespack-the-aldermans-view-of-parking-conversions/
    http://chi.streetsblog.org/2013/08/05/proof-that-bike-share-generates-more-foot-traffic-than-free-parking/

  • See my comment above.

  • They’re taken out during the winter. See bedhead1, you and I are capable of a civil exchange of comments. ; )

  • Adam Herstein

    The Johnny Sprockets thing is obnoxious, but there is now a station at Clark/Wellington and Lake Shore/Wellington, so it’s not so much of an issue. As long as they move the station within a block, it’s fine. I still think having a Divvy station next to a bike shop is useful because when I drop off my bike for service, I can have a ride home.

  • Anonymous

    Waguespack is so determined to be Rahm’s antithesis he has lost focus of what is important. He is also anti benchmarking.

  • XZ

    All for bikes and people, but has anyone considered that the 75 year parking meter lease deal means that the city owes the parking lease owner the present value of all future lost revenues for each parking spot they take off the street? Each parking spot that is taken off the street takes the next 70 (?) years of revenues away from the parking lease owner, and the city thus owes them that money. How much per spot? Don’t know, but the answer could win an aggressive reporter a Pulitzer! ; )

  • Anna Schibrowsky

    They’re not taking parking spots off the street. They’re replacing them with new parking spots somewhere else. And they’re replacing the revenue from the original parking spots, even if that means more new parking spots somewhere else. As evidenced in this quote from Waguespack:

    “Since the spaces will become metered, the city’s Finance Department, in their new improved meter deal, say we have to replace with 10 spots on another block, i.e. a whole block [of parking]. I’m not going to do
    that. So they’re looking for alternatives,” Waguespack said.

    From this DNAinfo article: http://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20130708/lakeview/people-spots-before-parking-spots-public-spaces-snag-parking-hoods

  • That Waguespack quote is deceptive, but he keeps saying the same thing over and over. He makes it sound like it’s the standard that for every two metered space you remove you have to create ten new ones elsewhere. In reality, when the Dimo’s Pizza People Spot was proposed at 1615 North Damen, the Department of Finance suggested replacing the two metered spots with ten spots on Roscoe in Roscoe Village. This was A) because you can’t just put two metered spots in the middle of an unmetered strip B) to bank extra credit with the parking concessionaire. Waguespack rejected this, so CDOT is currently looking for somewhere in Bucktown to create new metered spaces, probably only two of them. In general, you only have to create one new metered spot for every spot removed.

  • Anna Schibrowsky

    Ohhh, that’s interesting.

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