What’s Up With Waguespack? The Alderman’s View of Parking Conversions

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32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack

32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack is a key independent voice at City Hall. Most famously, when Richard M. Daley was ramming the disastrous 2008 parking meter contract through City Council in a mere three days, Waguespack was perhaps the only alderman to actually read the thick document. He led the opposition to the deal, and was one of only five council members to vote no.

Likewise, the alderman was part of a minority of local politicians who opposed Rahm Emanuel’s recent reboot of the parking deal, which the mayor sold as a money-saver for the city, but which will likely result in even more revenue for the hated parking concessionaire. Waguespack was also one of a handful of reps who recognized that the introduction of free Sunday parking, which Emanuel said was included to sweeten the deal, would actually hurt their districts’ merchants by reducing parking turnover.

Waguespack has generally been progressive on sustainable transportation issues. When I interviewed him in 2011, he voiced support for transit-oriented development and the reduction of Chicago’s zoning requirements for parking at new buildings. The alderman is a regular bicycle commuter, and he recently told CBS News he’s been doored or otherwise struck on a bike several times.

So I was bummed when I read recent quotes from Waguespack that seemed critical of Chicago Department of Transportation initiatives that convert car-parking spaces to other uses, like Divvy bike-share stations and “People Spot” parklets, in order to create more vibrant business districts. DNAinfo Chicago reported that, at an event hosted by the Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce in late May, the alderman said he was concerned because some of the docking stations would replace car spaces. “Bike shares, People Spots … what will that do to businesses?” he asked.

Earlier this month Waguespack also told DNA he was concerned about the possibility of car parking spaces in front of Dimo’s Pizza, 1615 North Damen in Bucktown, being replaced by a People Spot seating area. The alderman added: “Loss of parking is huge. Everyone wants more. And this removes two [spaces].” These statements seemed to indicate Waguespack doesn’t grasp that it’s more important to bring customers to retail strips than cars.


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1600 block of North Damen as of June 2011 – the pizzeria building was under construction.

The owner of the pizzeria, Dimitri Syrkin-Nikolau, understands this concept perfectly. “The space is allocated to the public one way or another and will generate more people coming to Damen as a People Spot than parking spot,” he told DNA. “Parking is always going to be an issue in Chicago. There’s a limited amount of space, and the question is: What do you want to use the space for? Two people can use the space for two hours to park two cars, or 40 people can use it in two hours as a People Spot.”

Waguespack’s chief of staff, Paul Sajovec, clarified the alderman’s position on parking conversions for me this morning. “With Divvy stations, our goal in working with CDOT was to have a maximum number of stations in the ward with a minimum amount of parking spaces removed, Sajovec said. “The way CDOT originally presented it, it seemed like they were going to displace a lot of spaces.”

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Divvy station on the parkway by Metra's Clybourn stop in the 32nd Ward. Photo: John Greenfield

However, Sajovec said, the ward has successfully worked with the transportation department to find satisfactory locations for the stations. “In a few places where they wanted to replace several parking spaces we asked them to look for alternatives,” he said. “In pretty much every location they were able to place the docking station at the same intersection.” In some cases the stations were relocated to the sidewalk or to on-street locations at a corner, where car parking is already prohibited to maintain sight lines, which aren’t blocked by the stations. One station that did get the kibosh was proposed for the corner of Racine and Wellington in Lakeview. CDOT Deputy Commissioner Scott Kubly agreed to back-burner that location, since it’s in a residential section with no retail.

As for the Bucktown People Spot, Sajovec said the alderman is currently willing to support the project, as long as any metered spots removed can be replaced, in keeping with the city’s parking contract, without exporting the metered spaces to other neighborhoods. The Chicago Department of Finance had proposed replacing the spaces with ten metered spots elsewhere in the ward on Roscoe Street in the Roscoe Village community, which would have given the city extra credit with the parking concessionaire. Waguespack opposed this idea. CDOT is currently working on finding new locations for the two spaces in Bucktown, according to spokesman Pete Scales.

“It sounds to me like the [Bucktown] People Spot is going to happen,” Sajovec said. It’s worth noting that Waguespack’s ward is also home to the city’s first People Spot, which was installed last year at Heritage Bicycles, 2959 North Lincoln in Lakeview. “We don’t see any reason this can’t go in. While it may make sense to line this up for next year, it might still happen this year.”

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People Spot in front of Heritage Bicycles. Photo: John Greenfield

I asked Sajovec what he thinks of the argument that Divvy stations, People Spots and on-street bike parking corrals, more than make up for any car spaces they replace, since they can draw dozens of customers to a shopping district. “We’re talking about areas that are pedestrian retail districts,” he replied. “We don’t want to have to build parking structures. In the past in Wicker Park and Bucktown we’ve turned down multiple proposals for privately developed, publicly accessible garages near North, Damen and Milwaukee.”

“You’re never going to solve perceived parking problems by creating hundreds of parking spaces,” he added. “If we allow all those people to drive here, we’re just going to choke the area with traffic – it’s a self-defeating proposal. In our minds, the best way to handle parking is to provide the typical amount of on-street parking spots appropriate to a pedestrian retail district, so when you start taking out those spaces for things like bike-share stations and People Spots, you need to be judicious about it.”

It’s good to hear that Waguespack is currently cooperating with CDOT’s bike-share and People Spot initiatives, and his opposition to creating new off-street parking spaces is commendable. However, Sajovec’s words suggest that the alderman is still a little too hung up on preserving existing on-street parking. Hopefully, in the future Waguespack will embrace the concept that converting a few car spaces here and there to make way for creative uses like Divvy stations, parklets and bike corrals, which can attract several times as many shoppers, is more than worth it.

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