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They Didn’t F— It Up This Time: Mumford & Sons Gig Was a Car-Free Success

Mumford & Sons. Photo: Wikipedia

Quasi-Celtic, sensitive-guy drinking songs are not everyone’s cup of tea. However, I think most Uptown residents will agree that making last Friday’s massive Mumford & Sons concert at Montrose Beach Harbor a zero-car parking event was a clever strategy. Thanks to that enlightened approach, plus beefed-up sustainable transportation options, the park was able to accommodate some 35,000 attendees with minimal traffic congestion in the neighborhood.

“The car-free part worked out really well,” said Tressa Feher, chief of staff for 46th Ward Alderman James Cappleman. “We didn’t see a lot of cars coming to and from the event, and there was pretty steady traffic flow in the neighborhood and on Lake Shore Drive.” She added that her office received few complaints about car congestion afterwards.

Cappleman, various city departments, and promoter Jam Productions agreed in advance that a zero-parking concert was the way to go, according to Feher. Although there are hundreds of curbside parking spaces and two large parking lots near the beach, it was decided that Montrose, Wilson, and Lawrence avenues would be closed to drivers east of LSD. Temporary No Parking signs were also posted on some neighborhood streets.

“Since this is a dense neighborhood with a lot of transit access, and the beach is right by the Lakefront Trail, the goal was to get everyone into the area with as few cars as possible,” Feher said. “In addition to reducing traffic, that helps local businesses. People are more likely to spend money in the neighborhood because they can’t just get in their cars and drive away.”

Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 12.31.26 PM
Screenshot from the Jam website. When you click on the parking icon, you are advised not to drive to the concert.

Ticket holders were given plenty of advance warning that driving to hear the English crooners would be a fool’s errand. “THERE IS NO PARKING PROVIDED FOR THIS EVENT,” stated the Jam Productions website. “It is highly recommended to ride your bike or a Divvy to the concert site to avoid traffic. Please use all available public transportation systems as the alternative to driving.” The site provided detailed advice on how to get to the show without a car.

Jam operations manager David Carlucci underscored this message at a recent community meeting, DNAinfo reported. “Please do not drive to Montrose Beach Harbor,” he told attendees. Of course, some people missed the memo. The city towed 36 automobiles whose drivers disregarded the No Parking signs, according to DNA.

In addition to the “stick” of zero car parking, the “carrot” of enhanced sustainable transportation options encouraged fans to leave their autos at home. Since the park is only a 15-minute walk east from the Wilson ‘L’ station, the CTA added additional Red Line runs. They also increased the number of buses on the #78 Montrose, #81 Lawrence, and #146 Inner Drive/ Michigan Express routes. Metra added additional service as well.

Tents in the Wilson viaduct. Last time I passed by, tents lined the entire passage. Photo: Curtis Locke

The Wilson Avenue viaduct under LSD is normally filled with tents belonging to homeless people, and city workers cleared out this encampment before the concert. In These Times slammed this decision with the headline, “The City of Chicago Used a Mumford & Sons Concert To Displace Homeless People.” This isn’t the first time Cappleman has been accused of insensitivity to the plight of Uptown’s homeless, but in this case there may have been no alternative.

The tents occupied almost half the width of the viaduct, so it would have been difficult to squeeze the thousands of pedestrians coming from the train through the underpass without removing the encampment. “What we heard from the police department and [the Office of Emergency Management and Communications] is that they were worried about the number of people using the viaduct, and they wanted to make sure it was safe for everybody,” Feher said.

Taxi and car-share stands were set up outside the park, and special accommodations were made for Divvy bike-share users as well. At one point in the evening the Montrose Harbor docking station temporarily stopped accepting bikes due to cell interference, general manger Elliot Greenberger told me. However, Divvy staffers were on hand to corral the cycles. All told, 300 bikes arrived at the show that night, making the station the busiest in the city.

Chainlinkers at the bike valet. Yasmeen Schuller is at the far right. Photo: Amy McCrackin

For those who rode their own bicycles to the show, Jam provided a free bike valet with space for 4,000 cycles, operated by members of The Chainlink, a local social networking site for bicyclists. I stopped by to help out near the end of the concert. When I arrived, I saw plenty of bikes locked to fences and trees closer to the Lakefront Trail, but it was difficult to find the valet area, which was located far from the path on the east side of the concert area.

Several traffic management aides and concert employees I asked had no idea where the corral was located. Due to the location, plus the chilly temperatures, only about 500 Mumford fans used the corral. “We had fewer bikes than anticipated,” Chainlink owner Yasmeen Schuller told me. “But, overall, I am very pleased because people checking their bikes in had a good experience and we returned their bikes quickly.”

Although there’s a Beach Boys and Kool and the Gang concert at the harbor this Friday, it’s only expected to draw about 10,000 people, according to Feher. “The parking will be normal and there are no additional transportation plans,” she said. “We’ve had a few other concerts there with 5,000-to-10,000 people, and no one in the neighborhood even knew there was a show going on.”

A typical day at the beach at Montrose Harbor. Photo: John Greenfield

That may have been the case, but when I visited Montrose Beach last Sunday afternoon, business-as-usual meant that the park drives and nearby neighborhood streets were clogged with cars. The Mumford & Sons concert probably drew far more people than the number who were at the harbor that afternoon. However, on the night of the show, it was easier to get around than during a typical day at the beach.

It makes you wonder what Montrose Beach Harbor would be like if limited car parking – and excellent transit and bike access – was the rule, rather than the exception.

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