Eyes on the Street: Sidewalks Are For Walking, Not Parking

A resident parks a car on a vaulted sidewalk across from Eckhart Park. Photo: Lindsay Bayley
A car parked on a sidewalk across from Eckhart Park. Photo: Lindsay Bayley

A springtime walk in the park, or down a sidewalk, should be simple and straightforward. Alas, there are some places around Chicago where someone out for a stroll instead has to dodge parked cars that plainly have no place within the sidewalk.

These intrusions on pedestrian space don’t just rudely place dangerous moving cars within a space that should be safe for children. They’re also illegal under city code section 9-64-110, and can structurally damage sidewalks that aren’t meant to bear the weight of multi-ton cars and trucks.

Lindsay Bayley has noticed consistent parking violations at Eckhart Park, noting that “the sidewalk feels like the last remnant of public space that we have to ourselves — and even that is often interrupted with driveways.” Although the Chicago Park District has added employee parking lots to many parks, the lot at Eckhart sits empty most of the time. There, “the park director does not use the employee parking lot, and instead parks her car so that it blocks the handicapped ramp.” When Bayley approached the park director to ask why she was parking there, the director responded, “because I work here.”

Aside from watching yet another local government flouting traffic law, it seems that these instances encourage broader irresponsibility by other drivers. Just across from Eckhart Park, Bayley also watched a driver pull up past empty curb space and onto a fragile vaulted sidewalk to unload his car, perhaps encouraged by the sight of multiple sidewalk-parked cars nearby.

A car parked in a "driveway" sticks out into both sidewalk and street in the Gold Coast. Photo: Daniel Ronan
A car parked in a driveway sticks out into both street and sidewalk in the Gold Coast. Photo: Daniel Ronan

The zoning code also bans a style of pedestrian-blocking parking common in the Gold Coast. Owners of Range Rovers and Mercedes, surely people who can afford to pay the cost of parking their car fully out of sight, instead park their cars within driveways beside their garages that are within the city’s right of way, but neither street nor sidewalk. Many of these driveways, like the one pictured above, were built purely for their owners’ convenience (garages should be accessed through alleys) and for a mere $10 permit, effectively privatizing valuable downtown curbside parking for a pittance.

Driveways might seem relatively safe due to low speeds, but in fact several hundred pedestrians die every year in America when hit by cars on driveways, parking lots, and private streets.

Chicago is a wonderful place to walk. It’s even more wonderful to walk around when pedestrians, especially blind pedestrians or those who can’t easily maneuver around obstacles, don’t have to trip over parking scofflaws. With police enforcement, political pressure on city leaders, and a broader sense of responsibility among neighbors to call out unlawful and rude parking behavior, we can all walk taller.

  • SMHoffa

    you’ve really got to tip your hat to the bold, brash behavior that public, UNIONIZED employees display. since they are union protected they can literally show up drunk for work and not get fired, so good luck trying to get them to park in their correct spot.

  • CL

    These “eyes on the street” posts are starting to feel like you find one or two drivers doing something wrong, post a picture of it, and write about how “drivers are parking on the sidewalk” like it’s an epidemic. One could easily film one cyclist running a red light and write about how cyclists are out of control.

    That said, though, curb-cut driveways are terrible and have no place in a city. They take away public parking so that one person can pull in and out of their garage. The permit should cost one million dollars.

  • what_eva

    how do you know that particular sidewalk is vaulted?

  • Adam Herstein

    So what are you doing to try and solve this problem other than simply pointing it out on a web blog?

  • Adam Herstein

    I agree completely. This is not what Jane Jacobs intended by her “eyes on the street” rhetoric.

  • Adam Herstein

    Do you have any evidence to support your claim of union employees showing up drunk for work?

  • Fibinaccignocchi

    This from the guy who’s favorite form of activism is to take cheap shots from the internet at people in the real world who are actually trying to do something. Slow-clap troll.

  • ohsweetnothing

    I don’t get the criticism. People complain about cyclists being out of control all the time. What follows is generally a discussion (of varying degrees of civility) about cyclists and traffic laws.
    Are you saying that cars parking in bikes lanes and parking on sidewalks aren’t happening enough to merit mention? Because I would disagree. The sidewalk thing happens enough in some parts of the city that rather than dealing with their residents’ anger at getting ticketed, some aldermen just legalize it in their wards!
    Do you think more photos need to be compiled before making a post on an issue? What’s the threshold?

    EDIT: Totally agree re: driveways.

  • David Altenburg

    (I just realized that my numbered structure below may come across as aggressive or angry. I don’t mean it to. I’m just not skilled enough a writer to be clear in a better format).

    1. Plenty of journalists do capture a cyclist or two running a red light and then write about how cyclists are out of control.

    2. Perhaps it varies neighborhood by neighborhood, but, at least where I spend my time walking (south Logan Square), people parking on the sidewalk really is an epidemic. I began to notice it a lot more once I had a kid and therefore spent more time pushing a stroller, which draws attention to how much I have to veer around parked cars.

    3. I don’t think it’s a fair standard to expect journalists to conduct a broad study of how widespread a problem is before reporting on it. Using anecdotes to draw attention to a problem (or possibly a perception of one) is a common form of journalism. Certainly I would prefer some data, but gathering it is expensive.

    4. Right on about the curb cuts.

  • CL

    I guess I wrote that because I felt that these posts, taken together, are just attacking drivers generally — like it’s part of the “drivers are bad and cyclists are good” narrative. It’s very easy to spot minor lawbreaking by drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians. Cyclists run signs and lights all the time. Drivers park illegally. Pedestrians jaywalk, often right into moving traffic. But this is a series of posts about “we found another driver doing something bad.” And cyclists seem to hate those “a bike ran a light!!” articles for the same reason.

    However, maybe I’m underestimating how common parking on sidewalks really is in other parts of the city. It almost never happens where I live (south Rogers Park). And I do a fair amount of walking. I would notice and be annoyed. But if you see it all the time in your neighborhood, then maybe it is a real problem, and I just haven’t noticed because I’m not walking in those neighborhoods.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    I really wish I had been a journalist last Thursday night. That’s when I almost gave a bumper ride to a cyclist who ran the red light at Balmoral and Broadway. I had the green and so did the pedestrian. As the pedestrian cleared the crosswalk and I began my turn suddenly across my path was a biker, no light, all dark clothes. I’m talking inches from a collision. Running red lights isca serious problem. You can call the police on a sidewalk parker. How do I report a biker out of control?

  • I’m having trouble picturing this: which direction were you driving to begin with and which direction did you turn, what direction was the pedestrian walking, and which direction was the cyclist traveling?

    If you really feel that police intervention is needed in a situation like this, call 911. But I hope that you’re at least as inclined to do so every time you witness dangerous behavior by someone piloting a 3,000-pound vehicle, rather that a 30-pound one.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    I was north turning east. Pedestrian to my right walking south. Bike coming east to my left traveling fast. Last week, south bound on Broadway, bike to my right. All traffic stopped at Argyle. Bike needs to make a left turn. I’m watching bike because I had passed bike earlier. Just as light turns green bike pulls in front of my car. Fine I see him. I assume bike will continue south. Next thing you know he’s in front of the car to my left just as that car begins to accelerate on the green. Making a left turn across four lanes of traffic. There was no way the car to my left could anticipate this. John in the last two years I’ve seen more dangerous behavior by bikes than ive everseen before. I know I can hurt or kill someone accidentally. That’s my fustration. Several times a week I encounter really dangerous behavior on the part of bikers. I also believe the mounting fustration with bikers is not because they’re in the road, but because as a driver I’ve learned to anticipate other drivers behaviors because for the most part they obey most traffic laws 99.9999 percent of the time. I can’t anticipate bikers with the same certainty. And a lot more bikers as a percentage of road users engage in road behaviors that are far riskier than you think.

  • Please double check your description of the first scenario — the directions you describe don’t make sense.

    How many times a week do you encounter really dangerous behavior by motorists? Is it in fact less common then (exponentially less potentially destructive) lawbreaking by cyclists, or does it just seem that way because dangerous behavior by drivers is so widespread that we tend to take it for granted?

  • The thing is, though, that it’s NOT attacking drivers as a whole. It’s attacking the bad actors among them: the assholes who act rudely or dangerously to the others around them (whether those others are in cars, walking, or cycling).

    You’re taking it personally because you identify, somewhat, as ‘a driver’, so when someone says ‘driver’ part of your mind perks up and thinks ‘ME!’, but really, you’re not these drivers. You’re not the kind who would deliberately cut off a cyclist, or not look when turning, or would think you have the right to park directly across a sidewalk all day because it’s more convenient for you.

    At least, I hope not.

    Also, Streetsblog tries to serve all of Chicago; just because something’s not a problem in Rogers Park doesn’t mean it’s not worthy of a story here, IMHO.

  • Anne A

    The problem of drivers on the sidewalk IS an epidemic in parts of many neighborhoods,including Lincoln Park and Beverly. I’ve seen plenty of examples like the above photos, as well as cars on long driveways with lots of room where drivers choose to park over the sidewalk.

  • Anne A

    I think there are a lot fewer places where it is possible to park on or across the sidewalk in your neighborhood. In neighborhood with lots of curb cuts, it seems much more frequent.

  • CL

    I think cyclists break traffic laws much more frequently — they run lights and stop signs far more often than cars do, not to mention riding the wrong way or on the sidewalk. But drivers as a whole engage in more dangerous behavior — including behavior that is legal but reckless due to the situation.

  • CL

    I have as many complaints about drivers as anybody — this just seemed like a ridiculous attack to me because I never see this. But a bunch of people have confirmed that it’s very common in some parts of the city, so clearly I was wrong that it’s rare.

  • ohsweetnothing

    Yeah that’s probably fair. I would argue that it’s a product of being a legal part of a system that clearly wasn’t designed for you.
    Like I said earlier, people point out cyclists breaking the law all the time (just look at the discussion above, hah) and a discussion almost always follows. I don’t see anything wrong with doing the same for automobile behavior, especially the illegal and dangerous behavior drivers seem to take for granted.

  • Alex_H

    I think drivers speed more often than cyclists run stop signs.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Simple. I am driving northbound with the green light. I slow tommake a right turn. I see a pedestrian. I come nearly to a stop before entering the intersect ion. Pedestrian walking south clears the intersection. I still have green light and begin to make my turn. Biker runs red light and rides across my path from my left. Going fast. No light. Dark clothes. My focus was the pedestrian in the crosswalk. Not a biker who guns across an intersection on a red light. My most dangerous encounters with bikes are at intersections. And generally it involves bikers unable to wait their turn. So when streetsblog decides to take a leadership role with bikers in regard to obeying simple traffic laws, you will win the hearts and minds of drivers.

  • lindsaybanks

    I can show you a minimum of 4 cars parked on sidewalks any day of the week (M-F) on my walk to work. I’m thinking I need to make a Flickr set and start capturing all of them. I’m sure there are repeat offenders who have never been ticketed and so do it everyday.

    I’ve never seen a ticket on these cars, so my complaint is the lack of enforcement.

  • David Altenburg

    “So when streetsblog decides to take a leadership role with bikers in regard to obeying simple traffic laws, you will win the hearts and minds of drivers.”

    That’s rich. I’ve never seen Streetsblog encourage anything but safe behavior from bikers. But that doesn’t matter as far as winning the hearts and minds of drivers, because people don’t dislike bikers due to bikers disregard of the law; they complain about bikers breaking the law to rationalize their dislike of bikers.

    How do I know this? First, drivers break the law all the time. When I drive, I try hard to obey the law, and, not only is it difficult to stay within the speed limit, stop for pedestrians at crosswalks, come to complete stops at stop signs, etc; doing so actually angers other drivers! Either I’m so unlucky as to nearly always have the worst drivers directly behind me or most drivers don’t actually care about others obeying the law and would prefer that other break the law rather than inconvenience them. Which do you think it is?

    Do you obey the speed limit, at all times? Do you refuse to look at your phone when you get a text message while you’re behind the wheel?

    I get annoyed at cyclists who run red lights (and engage in other reckless behavior). I actually get more annoyed at them when I’m riding my bike than when I’m driving. That shouldn’t be surprising because they are putting other cyclists at more risk than drivers. But that annoyance doesn’t blind me to the real cause of danger and congestion on our streets.

    I’m sorry that last week some cyclist broke the law in your presence and made you nervous. That shouldn’t happen. I wish it didn’t. But if you don’t think drivers have put you at far greater risk in that time period, it’s because you’re blind to the real problems on the road.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    I still have a flip phone, I dont text, twitter, or email on it. Its my emergency phone. Congestion in the past 30 years I’ve lived and driven in Chicago is still about the same, busy at rush hour, the rest of time not so bad. I plan ahead and am seldom late. Ive never had a moving violation or a fender bender in 40 years of driving. I observe and avoid.

  • lindsaybanks

    Ok, I did it. I made a Flickr set of my mediocre cell phone photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lindsayfotos/sets/72157644131900638/

    And you can see that it’s often the same cars (since I have photos from various days). I counted 8 cars parked on sidewalks this morning…and I didn’t walk past Eckhart Park.

  • lindsaybanks

    The problem isn’t exactly an issue of badly behaving drivers. If I had written the article, I would have framed it differently. My overall frustration with the very common occurrence of cars blocking sidewalks is the complete lack of comprehensive parking management in most neighborhoods. In areas where the parking is all free and there is high demand, these situations happen a lot. In neighborhoods without a real parking problem, you won’t see it.

    There is a need for priced parking to curb demand and open up spaces on every block so that drivers have a place to park and don’t have to park in a manner that impedes pedestrians. Granted, the employee or owner of the Marathon gas station isn’t going to be moving his or her car off the sidewalk because a metered space opened up. He or she parks there everyday, even when there is a curbside space available: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lindsayfotos/13905262577/in/set-72157644131900638

  • BabalooMandel

    You are a wanker.

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