In a Win for Wrigleyville Residents, Cubs Won’t Build Parking Garage

clark and addison - day
Clark Street and Addison Avenue, as seen from the top of Wrigley Field. Note the pedestrians streaming across Addison. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/9452880@N05/2321707331/##systymf/Flickr##

Today Mayor Rahm Emanuel, 44th Ward Alderman Tom Tunney, and the Chicago Cubs announced that they’ve reached a deal for modifications to Wrigley Field and the surrounding neighborhood. Thanks in part to a petition signed by over 230 people and other organizing efforts, a proposed 500-space parking garage near the ballpark won’t be part of the bargain, sparing the neighborhood a traffic generator and that would have made existing problems worse. However, the final agreement also includes the removal of sidewalks on two streets next to Wrigley, so the stadium can be expanded.

As part of the deal, for the next three years the Cubs will subsidize a remote parking lot for fans, located about two miles west of the stadium at Addison and Rockwell on DeVrey University’s campus. Remote parking is already a bargain at only $6 per car, plus a free shuttle bus ride to the ballpark for everyone in it; eliminating the fee should encourage more people to drive to the remote lot, located near the Kennedy Expressway, instead of the neighborhood streets near Wrigleyville.

The Cubs will also be doubling remote parking capacity from 500 to 1,000 spaces; it’s not clear yet where the additional spaces will be located. After three years, the fee may be reinstated if the annual expense for the Cubs exceeds $100,000. Alternately, the free parking may be bankrolled by other local sources.

One of the distinct setbacks in the deal is that it will allow the Cubs to eliminate sidewalks from one side of Waveland and Sheffield to make room for expanding the stadium – at no charge. The city will also permit the Cubs to build an overhead pedestrian walkway – Minneapolis-style – between the new hotel and the stadium, again without charge.

In another effort to alleviate game-day traffic headaches, the Cubs will be paying for three new traffic lights on Clark Street (including one at Waveland) where there are currently all-way stop signs. Since the traffic lights will be synchronized, the thinking is that this will help car traffic flow faster through these intersections. However, replacing all-way stop signs with lights creates new delays for pedestrians and cyclists since, unlike cars, they currently don’t need to queue up at stop signs.

In a nod to the fact that the best way to alleviate game-day congestion is to shift trips from driving to other modes, the Mayor’s Office promised in a press release [PDF] that “the Cubs, Alderman’s office and the Chicago Department of Transportation will jointly develop a marketing and awareness campaign designed to educate fans to use remote parking or other transportation alternatives, such as bikes and the CTA.” It’s not clear who will be paying for this outreach effort. While the CTA and Pace have been running bus-to-the-ballpark ad campaigns for years, spreading the message to a wider audience than existing riders may increase transit use.

The marketing effort won’t include enticements like free transit passes, however. The major new financial incentive at work is just the free remote parking.

Additionally, the proposed hotel on Clark across the street from the stadium will include 75 car parking spaces, far fewer than the 400 spaces that were initially planned for that site, the Sun-Times reports. The reduced number of parking spaces is one of many proposals in the “framework” agreement between the Emanuel administration, Tunney, and the Cubs that are subject to approval from the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, the zoning administrator, and City Council.

Overall, the deal seems like a mixed bag for Wrigleyville residents and the rest of the city. Preventing the construction of the garage is certainly a win, as is the lower number of parking spaces for the hotel, since building more parking would only have encouraged more driving and made congestion worse.

The loss of sidewalks, meanwhile, is undeniably a loss. Most of the time, pedestrians on Sheffield and Waveland will now be crowded onto a single sidewalk on each street. The exceptions are game days, when those blocks are open to pedestrians and closed to traffic, and weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day, when the agreement calls for holding street festivals on those blocks.

The Rink at Wrigley
In winter, the triangular lot between Clark and the stadium has been used for a temporary skating rink. It will soon be a public plaza. Photo: Erin Nekervis

The press release from the mayor’s office also mentioned that the Cubs will make “contributions to the School Street Play Lot funding effort and make annual contributions each of the next ten years for public projects benefiting the community agreed upon by both Alderman Tunney and the Cubs.” The “agreed upon” projects will be funded to the tune of $3.75 million over ten years.

In January, the North Center-Roscoe Village Patch reported that funding was “95 percent there” for the playlot and that the Cubs were possibly using the deal with Tunney and the city about their economic expansion plans “as a bargaining chip,” withholding $750,000. The Cubs will now contribute $1 million for the $2.5 million playlot.

In one more piece of good news, the triangular lot between Clark Street and the stadium, which is currently used for everything from parking to an ice rink, depending on the time of year, will be converted to a permanent public plaza, with “Movies in the Plaza” for neighbors and possibly a farmers market.

Wrigley Field 1935 World Series
A view of the transportation mix at Clark and Addison in 1935.

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