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

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.”

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.”

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.

  • BlueFairlane

    The question is why Wauguespack wants to preserve spaces. Is it because he thinks the loss of parking is detrimental, or because of how he views the constraints of the meter deal. One suggests a philosophical tilt toward backward thinking (which honestly, based on his other positions, I’d forgive anyway), while the other suggests an urge to make sure the city isn’t further screwed by an already bad deal.

  • Joseph Musco

    CDOT acts as if shifting parking spots is a formality with zero costs. What happens 5 years from now when all the easy shifts have been done? CDOT pretends these parking shifts are one big happy game of musical chairs. Move a spot, no big deal. Well, it’s not so happy out in the wards. Each time a paid parking spot gets shifted or a free parking spot gets consumed it drives up the value of the remaining spots in the musical chairs game. Until the costs get so high that making a shift or swap becomes so high you can’t make a simple change.

    What happens in the future when a senior center or daycare wants 2 paid spots removed for a loading zone and CDOT tells the alderman “No, you used up your shifts for a People Spot”? Or gets told “Yes, but you have to pay a $2 million buyout to Chicago Parking Meters/Morgan Stanley”? DIVVY, BRT, and People Spots are all good ideas but this isn’t DC or San Francisco. You have to pay a private party to use the streets here. That’s the deal signed by Daley and expanded by Emanuel. There are short term and long term costs involved with using parking spaces that are not sexy but need to be considered. Due diligence doesn’t make for a hot news story but I think Waguespack is just doing his job here and looking out for long term interests of his ward.

  • CL

    I think aldermen are under tremendous pressure to preserve and expand parking from car-owners in the ward because when parking is tight, it can be a huge hassle every day — and for people who get home late on a regular basis, lack of parking can be a constant source of stress, so they consider this a top priority. Car owners are also more likely to be the types of people who contact their aldermen (relatively affluent voters). Business owners are also going to carry a bit more weight when they argue (rightly or wrongly) that removing spots will hurt their sales. It’s also just natural that people who view something as a problem are going to be more vocal and more persistent than people who are advocating something that doesn’t exist yet (like a People Spot) that they think they would enjoy. So it makes sense that even alderman who take a progressive view on transit are going to be reluctant to do anything that is perceived as reducing available parking.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for following up on the somewhat disturbing DNAinfo article – I was really put off by what I had read, and I’m glad you delved deeper and clarified.

  • Sure thing, that’s what we’re here for!

  • Kurtis Pozsgay

    I second that! DNAinfo articles have been very poorly written lately and seem to always take a negative approach to anything new/transit related. Love this post. Seems like Ald. Waguespack is tip-toeing the delicate balance of pleasing everyone in his ward.

  • Adam Herstein

    Complaining about parking loss for bike racks or Divvy stations makes no sense. You’re effectively replacing two potential customers with twelve. Even if the cars were totally full (which is unlikely since the majority of trips are made single-occupancy) it’s still a net increase. Enough people bike in that neighborhood and there are enough walkable commercial streets, that removing parking will only help the community. If this was the far south side, he may have a point, but this is in Bucktown, Walk Score 87. We need less cars in these neighborhoods, not more.

  • Scott Sanderson

    I am a 32nd ward resident, and have tried to express my opinion to him on parking whenever I hear him make these statements. I do not understand why he opposed adding the metered spots to Roscoe. I live on that street, and I know those spots are often occupied all day by a single car. Roscoe Street has a thriving local business scene, and I am a big supporter of those businesses, but I do not see how free parking with low turnover helps them. As a resident, the last thing I want the street to be known for is a good place to bring your car.

  • Scott Sanderson

    Why don’t these car owners use their own garages? Why do they need to use public space to store their private vehicles?

  • CL

    I have a garage?? Someone needs to tell me where it is immediately, because as much as I like taking up public space, circling for half an hour when I get home late is starting to feel like an inconvenience.

  • I disagree – DNA has been doing some good reporting, as evidenced by the two pieces cited in my post. Since they have many reporters focusing on particular neighborhoods, they often are the first ones to report in community news.

    However, some of their articles do err on the side of car-centricism, and yesterday’s article on Divvy inexplicably gave airtime to a couple that ignored the posted Divvy rules, kept a bike all day and then whined about “hidden fees”: http://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20130716/downtown/divvy-bike-usage-rises-but-growing-pains-emerge

  • Kurtis Pozsgay

    First on the scene doesn’t mean it’s good reporting. You are correct that they shine a light on things the big papers/media don’t, but I think most err on the side of car-centrism. From the BRT on Ashland to the new protected lanes on Milwaukee. I’ve attended some of those meetings and often have a very different view than they end up writing.

  • It’s true that in their writeups of meetings on sustainable transportation initiatives, DNA reporters do have a tendency to give too much airtime to the NIMBYs.

  • Anonymous

    Or worse yet, a good place to store your car

  • “…provide the typical amount of on-street parking spots appropriate to a pedestrian retail district…”

    There is no typical amount. There is only the amount that is physically and politically supported while still reaching the goals of having the right balance of mobility and access across all transportation modes in the neighborhood. Currently, the extreme volume of people driving to and through 32nd Ward neighborhoods creates an imbalance, making transit slow and putting bicyclists at risk of being struck or doored.

    This amount, as Sajovec seems to recognize, though, is often going to be in flux. That’s fine, but the business community (excluding the one on Roscoe Street) has spoken about its goals via the Wicker Park-Bucktown SSA Master Plan that pushes for better pedestrian and bicycle and transit infrastructure.

  • Anonymous

    I know people love to eat at sidewalk cafes in this city and I do it occasionally. But there is no way I’m sitting in one of those People Spots right next to traffic and exhaust fumes.

  • To each his or her own, but the dozens of folks you’ll see enjoying the Andersonville, Lakeview and Bronzeville People Spots on nice days would beg to differ.

  • Anonymous

    You’re right, I just hope they don’t get slammed into one day by some clown texting and/or talking on their phones while driving. BTW, do you have an answer as to why the Ashland BRT line was proposed and by whom? And what is the reason stated for its need? Haven’t heard anything more specific about it. I heard that 30,000 rides occur each day on the #9 bus but I’d like to know the average length of those rides as various train lines roughly intersect Ashland between 63rd Street and Irving Park.

  • Brian

    Right….those spots will really bring in people when there is two feet of snow on the ground in January.

  • Anna Schibrowsky

    Here’s a composite photo showing midday weekday traffic in front of Dimo’s Pizza. It doesn’t look like parking is nearly as tight as in, say, Lakeview.

  • Brian

    This is Chicago. Of course they are out to get you. The whole point of the program is to make money off of people by charging hidden fees. If they didn’t want to “catch” people and charge huge overrages, they would clearly post signs at each station stating the terms of the contract. Gabe Klein has to grease palms somehow.

    I was biking along the lakefront Sunday, or at least trying to dodge the people who walk three abreast along the lakefront trail, and saw quite a few divy bikes locked up at north avenue beach. I’m sure alot of people picked those bikes up and thought they had them for the day, not 30 minutes.

  • BRT was proposed in Emanuel’s 2011 transition plan: “Bus rapid transit is a cost – effective strategy used around the world to expand transit service without having to build expensive rail lines.” http://www.cityofchicago.org/dam/city/depts/mayor/supp_info/chicago_2011_transition_report.pdf

  • The spots are removed during the winter.

  • Nice.

  • Kind of silly to use the “This is Chicago” argument when the system works exactly the same way in other cities. Are you sure those Divvy bikes you saw at the beach were locked? The system doesn’t provide locks, so you’re really only supposed to park them at Divvy stations. Sounds like those people didn’t bother reading any of the rules clearly posted on the kiosk.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Perhaps you could do a related story some time on the abuse of garage curb cuts. I’m not sure when the trend of using one’s garage entrance as a de facto parking spot began, but it’s out of hand.

    IMO it is a safety issue as the garages that receive curb cuts tend to be the ones adjacent to alleys, so having cars parked in that space (and usually encroaching on the sidewalk) seriously impacts one’s ability to see traffic approaching. In most other cities I’ve visited they ticket cars for this practice, I imagine at least if the car is extending into the sidewalk it is illegal, but this is just not enforced here.

  • BrownBrown

    It’s even better to hear this type of curbside space analysis coming from a business owner! Nice interview / article!

  • Yes, and I hear Dimo was also giving out free pizza slices the other day – what a mensch! Thanks.

  • BrownBrown

    So cool, and so smart! I wonder if more businesses would be on board for more changes / experimentation with their curbside space if they were only seasonal changes. E.g. maybe the space would work better for them as a car parking space during the winter, but much better for them as people space during the spring, summer, and fall. I think that a lot of the curbside people space is only seasonal, but maybe a lot of people don’t know about or understand these provisions.

  • Anonymous

    I think this will be a nightmare for everyone else on Ashland. Trucks, the #9 buses and cars will all be using one lane. Not a good idea. They should do this on a boulevard or some street that isn’t so reliant for truck traffic. It’s just what we need, more vehicles idling in traffic creating more concentrated levels of pollution as it takes them longer to get to their destinations. Just like the protected lanes on Elston…the cars are backed up for two, three and sometimes close to four blocks waiting for 6-10 light cycles at North Ave. What happened to “share the road?”