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

2:59 PM CDT on May 2, 2014

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.

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