Does Montrose Beach Really Need So Much Car Parking?

Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 1.45.45 PM
Montrose Beach has hundreds of on-street parking spots, plus two parking lots covering 9.25 acres. Image: Google Maps

In the wake of a melee at Montrose Beach last Sunday — the latest in a series of violent incidents — 46th Ward Alderman James Cappleman proposed an intriguing strategy for preventing violence: reduce the number of parking spots at the beach.

On Sunday afternoon, a large group of people gathered at Montrose for an un-permitted concert called the Tamborazo Beach Party, which was promoted on social media, the Chicago Tribune reported. Around 7:30 p.m., six bike patrol officers entered the crowd to break up a fight.

As the police searched the audience for a reported “man with a gun,” attendees began throwing bottles, rocks and other objects, slightly injuring four officers and damaging a squad car. After police reinforcements arrived, ten males were criminally charged and seven men were charged with misdemeanors, the Trib reported. Two weeks before the incident, two women were shot near the beach.

In the wake of the concert melee, Cappleman told the Trib that the large amount of car parking at Montrose makes it easier for large crowds to quickly assemble there than at other beaches. “Look at Oak Street Beach,” he said. “Do you see this many parking spots there?” Oak Street has zero car parking, but is still an extremely popular destination for those who arrive on foot or by bike.

Oak Street Beach
Oak Street Beach has zero car spaces, but these Air & Water Show attendees don’t seem to mind. Photo: Jay Clark

“Look at Lincoln Park,” Cappleman added. “There just aren’t this many parking spots in such a concentrated area in other parts of the city. I want the Park District and the police department to come up with a plan to discourage that many people from driving down there and parking.”

Montrose is the city’s largest beach, and a Wikipedia entry asserts that Montrose has the most parking spaces of any Chicago beach. Streetsblog writer Steven Vance explored this issue last night on his personal blog. He calculated that, in addition to hundreds of curbside spots on roads within the parkland next to the beach, Montrose has two large parking lots totaling 9.25 acres, the equivalent of seven American football fields.

After architect Matt Nardella from moss design tweeted his support for Cappleman’s suggestion that parking at Montrose be reduced, Sun-Times education reporter Lauren FitzPatrick responded to express her dismay at the idea:

I tweeted that, while no one’s calling for removing all the parking spaces, Montrose could function just fine with fewer spots. “Do you use Montrose Beach too?” FitzPatrick responded. “It’s my local. Parking is rarely fine on summer weekend days.”

Montrose is actually my favorite Chicago beach, since it’s one of the few local playas that’s far away from the sight and sound of Lake Shore Drive. I replied that Montrose is accessible by Divvy, and it’s only a 20-minute walk from the Wilson Red Line station. During the summer, the CTA’s #78 bus stops at Montrose Avenue and Simmonds Drive, less than a block from the beach house. “Easy [car] parking makes people overlook other modes,” I noted.

“I was a beach biker before I had a very small, very pale child along,” FitzPatrick responded. “Now those options aren’t feasible.”

Of course, plenty of Chicagoans of various complexions transport their very small children on foot or by transit. 28.85 percent of local households don’t own cars, so these options are, in fact, feasible. UberX recently announced a new way to get around with kids without worrying about finding car parking: ride-share cars equipped with child seats.

The Family Bike Goes to the Beach
A family at “Diaper Beach” in Humboldt Park. Photo: Jenny Addison

And, I told FitzPatrick, while bicycling with small children may not be for everyone, I do know a dozen or two Chicago families who regularly transport their young kids by bike. Some have safely transported their infants using a Dutch-style box bike. You can learn more about cycling with children at a “Cargo Bike Roll Call” Steven is co-hosting this Saturday.

“Sure, some people may feel they need to drive [to Montrose Beach],” I tweeted. “But let’s encourage those who don’t not to.”

“There could be less [parking], is the point,” Nardella concluded. “The lakefront is for people, not cars.” Think about all the potential enhancements that could be added to the park if we converted even one of those seven football fields worth of car parking to public green space, rather than storage of private property.

  • Pete

    Corn Dog, you must not yet have noticed that this website is full of people who want to ban cars from Chicago entirely. They obviously have no interest in where people should park, as in their mind the answer is nowhere.

  • C Monroe

    How about median parallel parking? You could have the back in parking on both sides have the two lanes and in the middle have parallel parking.

  • If you need a bucket (instead of a rack), the prices I quote are the ones that apply. $500 is significantly more than we could afford to pay for an entire SEPARATE BIKE, much less as an upsell to an existing bike.

  • cjlane

    Good memory on that one Fred.

  • For what it’s worth, any time i’ve gone sailing on my friends boat, i’ve always ridden my bike. If you own a boat, you probably are not riding a bike to dock but if you’re going to be a passenger on someone else’s boat, a bike is the best way to get there.

  • Drake

    It is important to note that this is a popular dog beach as well. I live in Avondale and cannot take my dog on public transportation, and therefore have to drive. Parking is a nightmare as it is, why make is worse? I would pay for it (at a reasonable rate similar to the neighborhood’s price) but there needs to be ample parking for those that need it.

  • Angel Cunningham

    What about those that are unable to utilize bicycles or walk due to a disability? What would you suggest we do? So, because I can’t walk, I shouldn’t visit the Montrose Beach/lakefront? I agree that the previous event got completely out of control and never should have happened without any supervision or guidance, but to punish the rest of us who have lived in this neighborhood for years and have enjoyed the lakefront is ludicrous! The actions of a few always ruin the enjoyment of the masses, and it’s getting really old! The parking situation around the area is already extremely strained, so restricting more parking is not going to change anything.

  • Noel P

    If parking weren’t free, fewer people would drive there. Parking spaces could then be eliminated without making it harder to find a parking spot than it currently is. The number that could be removed due to reduced demand would of course depend on the parking rates imposed.

  • Fandroid

    I would rather teach the bicyclists basic traffic laws than teach drivers how to back into angled or perpendicular parking spaces.

    But if you had used the phrase “pull-in” instead, I probably would be complimenting you for a solid idea.

  • Maria Guerrero

    The majority of the people who drive into the Montrose Beach/Harbor area are peaceful families, couples , dog owners, soccer players, singles, etc, looking for a nice place to park by the lake and enjoy a little free R & R. The incident with the large crowd could have been prevented if the police had intervened hours before – the Drive was already backed up at 6 pm ( I know, I drove by it) and should have aroused suspicion and intervention before things finally erupted at 7:30pm.

    Many of the comments here are very elitist in nature. Would a family with 4 kids haul their stuff for a day on the beach if there wasn’t parking nearby ? Would older people bring their dogs to the dog area if they had to park far ? The fact is ALL homeowners in Chicago pay taxes which support the parks and Montrose beach, and it is not the sole property of the people who live nearby or its alderman. It belongs to all of us , and this alderman and his ward do not have the right to make these heavy-handed decisions.

    Montrose Beach should continue to be the haven that it mostly is for easy parking to enjoy the lake, the fantastic views of the city, etc. There is already plenty of ‘green space’ at this site, there is no need to take away the one commodity that makes Montrose so popular …. parking .

  • There’s nothing elitist about suggesting that we preserve almost all of the parking for those who may need to drive, such as the people you describe, and encourage those who don’t to take advantage of one of the many other travel options.

  • Vitaliy Vladimirov

    There is an excess of parking, not a shortage. No one is suggesting cutting disabled folks off from the beach, but putting just SOME of the acres of parking to better use.

  • rohmen

    This is exactly what almost all of the crew did (including the captain whenever he could) when I crewed on a good friend’s boat, and is something that is true of several boats that race on Wednesday nights and the weekend–especially in the T-10 class.

  • cjlane

    This is the key. Charge appropriate rates (I would advocate for *variable* rates–cheap in the winter, moderate weekdays in the summer, higher on summer weekends, *expensive* for Air & Water Show), and you’ll have available space at all but peak, peak times, and reduce the number of people driving, while providing additional, use-based, funding for the Park District. Win-win-win-win.

    And then, after implementing that, there would be empirical evidence of the amount of parking that is “needed”, and the number of remaining spots could be customized to fit the ‘need’.

  • Veronica Howard

    The beaches and parks have been pilfered for profit little by little over the years. Isn’t it enough that from 31st street to beyond Belmont people are being raped to take their families on an outing in this city! Montrose is one of the few places left that I can load up the family (and their friends) and spend a day at the lakefront without spending a ton of money. I spend enough on EVERYTHING ELSE IN THIS CITY! WE pay taxes through the nose! (city/state is about a third right?!?!) Leave our beaches & parks alone! I’m tired of the rich getting richer! If you have to put in meters (which I think SUCKS!)the UPTOWN community should receive the funds then…. not some Parking Mogul!!!!!!!! Matt Nardella needs to go back to Cali!

  • Cindy Lagoon

    Yes, Montrose Beach needs all the parking spaces it can get! Montrose has several functions: a beach, a park, a nature preserve, a harbor, etc. Oak St. Beach is just a beach. We need the parking for birthday parties, barbecues, kite flying, sledding, soccer games, softball games, etc., etc. People who own boats in Montrose Harbor need the parking spaces. Fishermen need the spaces, people buying bait need the spaces, naturalists need the spaces. People who want to go for a bike ride but have to drive to the lake need the parking spaces.

    Why do officials go immediately to eliminating access to the park, planning to install parking meters and Divvy bikes?!! It doesn’t help that there is a bar on the beach. Why not just put up signs that say “No poor people, No one under 21, No unemployed, and no Mexican concert goers are allowed in the park.”

  • cjlane

    “city/state [taxes] is about a third”

    How do you figure? And a third of what?

    “If you have to put in meters …. not some Parking Mogul”

    The Park District meters/lots (in general) were not part of the meter deal, so any revenue from meters at Montrose would flow to the Park District.

    “from 31st street to beyond Belmont people are being raped”

    That is most unfortunate phrasing.

  • Joe

    This war on cars has got to stop! People drive places and need places to park. The beaches aren’t just for the people who can walk or bike there – they are for all Chicagoans. Getting rid of parking is NOT the answer.

  • Veronica Howard

    The Park District will keep money generated from its meters as part of a three-year deal approved Wednesday. Officials said the fees generated could increase to $1.5 million a year after start-up costs are covered. In return for overseeing nearly 5,700 spots, Standard Parking will get a maximum of about $86,000 a year, plus the cost of operating expenses and installing credit card payment boxes.
    (Source: Chicago Tribune online retrieved 7.28.14)

    All of the revenue does not go to the Park District. That is a lie…you forgot to read the fine print. A percentage is paid to Standard Parking (that is the parking mogul I referred to) to manage and maintain those meters annually.

    My phrasing may be unfortunate but was truly deliberate. I believe it clearly states how families barely making a living wage in this city feel when attempting to take their kids into areas that are considered “Chicago prime real estate” for a family outing. I am thankful that there are still places that take this into consideration specifically our museums (some free at least one day a week), Lincoln Park Zoo and other neighborhood parks managed by the CPD. But the parking meter costs are outrageous in those areas too (regardless of who manages them). I have watched this city push the boundaries of its affluence to alienate the middle & lower classes further and further West, North and South over the last 40 years from the Downtown epicenter. It’s sad. Heartbreaking even. So excuse me if anyone is offended by my choice of phrasing. I am offended by the constant assault on the people who can barely afford to live here anymore.
    Take a look at the maps in the article above you tell me what it looks like. SMH

  • cjlane

    “Take a look at the maps in the article above”

    Whatever else it looks like, it doesn’t look like sexual violence.

    “So excuse me if anyone is offended by my choice of phrasing.”

    The sort of non-apology perfected by the types of politicians that you seem to loathe. Using their phrasing normalize how they speak, and allows them to point to *your* use as a defense.

    And, so the Park District pays Standard Parking the cost of exactly *one* full time employee to manage the meters on PD land–helluva lot less expensive than the PD doing it themselves, really. Parks get $1.5m, the provider gets $86,000. If only the *big* meter deal had been as favorable to the City.

  • I don’t follow you. In my article about ‘L’ access to the United Center, I said walking more than ten minutes is a deal breaker for most people. Here I said walking 20 minutes is no big deal for those of us who enjoy walking. Seems pretty consistent to me.

  • Fred

    Streetsblog guide for walking limits:
    Most People: 10 Minutes
    Walking Enthusiasts: 20+ minutes

    Which group are you in?

    “The difference between a 12-minute walk from a station and a 7-minute or 4-minute walk would be enough to influence my decision on whether to take the CTA to an event, and I love to walk.”

    “20 minutes is no big deal for those of us who enjoy walking.”

  • One difference is that a trip to the United Center has a time deadline, whereas a trip to the beach generally doesn’t, so I’d view the 20-minute walk as part of the relaxed recreational experience. Although I suppose this does contradict the Beach Boys’ statement in their hit song “Kokomo” — “We’ll get there fast and then we’ll take it slow.”

  • cjlane

    Another difference is that a trip to the UC rarely involves carrying anything, while a trip to the beach usually does.

    Yes, certainly if one is walking to the beach to go for a walk on the beach (with or without a Pina Colada), then a 20 minute walk there is no biggie. But your ‘typical’ beach (as opposed to park, more generally) goer isn’t going to just walk on the beach.


Today’s Headlines

New Retail Complex at CTA Garage Site Will Include 366 Car Spots, 50 Bike Spaces (DNA) Man Fatally Struck While Walking on Section of Golf Road With No Sidewalks (Tribune) Off-Duty Waukegan Police Officer Killed in Single-Car Crash (Tribune) 4 Kids Hurt When SUV Driver Hits Horse-Drawn Carriage; No Charges Filed (Tribune) After Montrose Beach […]