The 5th Ward’s Leslie Hairston: Chicago’s Most Auto-centric Alderman?


It was no surprise to read that 5th Ward alderman Leslie Hairston is opposed to the Obama Foundation’s proposal to pedestrianize streets in Jackson Park near the future presidential library site. After all, she’s shown time and time again that she prioritizes easy driving above all other transportation modes.

More on that in a minute. As reported by DNAinfo, Hairston, whose district includes all of the Frederick Law Olmsted-designed green space, said the proposal to pedestrianize Cornell Drive between 60th and 67th, as well as possibly Marquette Road between Lake Shore and Cornell, “seems like a bad idea.”

Opening up these streets to car-free walking, running, skating, and biking, would also make the park safer and connect the currently fragmented sections of the green space to create a South Side museum campus. It would also unify the two portions of the Jackson Park Golf course, facilitating plans to upgrade it to a tournament quality course.

Hairston told DNA she couldn’t understand how drivers, who currently like to use the park as a shortcut from Lake Shore Drive’s 57th Street exit to the intersection of 67th and Stony Island Avenue, and possibly continue on to the Chicago Skyway, would be able get there without using Cornell.

There's no need for drivers to use Cornell or Marquette (southernmost east-west street in Jackson Park) to continue south on Stony Island. The Obama Library will be located on the patch of land currently occupied by a running track and baseball diamonds. Image: Google Maps
There’s no need for drivers to use Cornell or Marquette (southernmost east-west street in Jackson Park) to continue south on Stony Island. The Obama Library will be located on the patch of land currently occupied by a running track and baseball diamonds. Image: Google Maps

It’s not that complicated. If we pedestrianize Cornell, a mostly six-lane, highway-like road slicing through one of Chicago’s treasured natural areas, drivers on LSD could instead get off at 57th and go west to Stony Island, or else take the drive all the way to its southern terminus near 67th, and then take that street to Stony.

Hairston argues that the proposal doesn’t account for additional visitors coming to the Obama library and the upgraded golf course. Of course, if decision makers assume that most of those people are going to drive, that could be a self-fulfilling prophesy.

On the other hand, if we follow through with proposals to create rapid transit service on the Metra Electric Line, which has stops a short distance from the library site and golf course, as well as beefing up local bus service, it’s likely that many folks will choose to take transit to the park. Making it safer and more convenient to walk and bike through the park by pedestrianizing Cornell and Marquette would reduce the number of car trips as well.

Again, this is far from the first time the alderman has shown a lack of imagination when it comes to alternatives to driving.

In 2009, after the Chicago Park District implemented $1 an hour metered parking at 63rd Street Beach, Hairston opted to use the ward’s discretionary menu money to pay the park district to keep parking free during the summer. In effect, she used public money to feed the meters for people who choose to take their cars to the beach, rather than spending that funding on projects that could benefit all her constituents, including those who don’t own cars.

Hairston made a similar decision in 2013, during the 5th Ward’s participatory budgeting election. Residents proposed spending menu money on pedestrian safety upgrades, new bus shelters and concrete bus pads, and improving the Lakefront Trail and multi-use paths in Jackson Park. However, the alderman decided that these projects should be designated as “service requests” that should be paid for by the Chicago Department of Transportation, the CTA and the Chicago Park District and declared them ineligible for the election. Meanwhile, car-oriented projects stayed on the ballot.

And last year Hairston voiced opposition to the Chicago Department of Transportation’s proposal to convert two lanes of generally eight-lane-wide Stony Island, which has too much capacity for the number of cars it carries, which encourages speeding, to protected bike lanes. “If you take away travel lanes, it will cause congestion,” Hairston told me. In addition, Hairston claimed, residents feel that Stony south of 67th is too dangerous for biking. “The traffic speed on most of Stony Island does not lend itself to sharing the road with bikes,” she said.

“The idea that the street is too dangerous for bike lanes is something of a cop-out,” responded Shawn Conley, chair of the Major Taylor Cycling Club of Chicago, a mostly African-American group. “It’s too dangerous to ride on right now,” Conley said. “But if they put safe, barrier-protected bike lanes on it, people would bike on it all the time.”

Hairston’s ward has good transit access and includes a large chunk of the Lakefront Trail, and it’s an ethnically, economically diverse district where many households don’t own cars. So it’s a shame that, when it comes to transportation access, she often refuses to think outside the metal box.

  • planetshwoop

    Much of menu money is paid for by issuing debt. That is dumb as it is, but to pay for free parking for one summer with 30 year liabilities is awful.

  • FlamingoFresh

    I mean converting every car lane to bike lane isn’t always ideal, especially on high speed roadways with cars whizzing by you. I think converting lanes to transit only lanes should be the first priority. If successful, the buses should be a quicker mode of transportation than a personal vehicle. Once having a viable alternative to driving you can then take more lanes to make these bike lanes and force the drivers to sit in their own vehicles in traffic in constrained traffic lanes or either bike or ride the bus.

    Without the specifics and details it’s easy to paint a picture to your liking.

  • Jeremy has results back through 2007. Here are Leslie Hairston’s results in the most recent 5th ward elections:

    2007 74.6%
    2011 61.7%
    2015 52.5%

  • ohsweetnothing

    and possibly illegal.

  • ohsweetnothing

    She’s also one of the electeds most likely to use the “real Chicagoans drive, rich white people bike” type of argument in a public forum.

  • How did she get away with using menu funds on something like parking fees? Menu funds are specifically for what was stated in this article…infrastructure and maintenence.
    Its in black and white menu funds are not to be used for programming, events, etc. This falls squarely under programming.
    The city violates its own laws and rules ALL the time. The lawsuit in regards to the Open Meetings violation last May is a good case in point.
    That violation is being challenged…who is challenging Ald. Hairston? My guess is nobody since it looks like she got away with it.
    No challenge…no foul.

  • Yes it is.

  • Anne A

    Now that’s going in the right direction! Maybe a strong progressive candidate in the next election can push her out. That’s an effort worth supporting.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Looking into this issue…

  • Jeremy

    I kind of disagree. If menu money is used to improve infrastructure, it might be smart to borrow when interest rates are low in the hopes that the improved infrastructure increases people living in the city (increasing property and sales tax revenue in future years). I agree that the city borrowing money to compensate for the money it is giving away is foolish.

  • Mike

    One small addition: Hairston also voted down a plan to build a Segway rental station at 55th & South Shore Drive, citing community opposition. Numerous others then presented an alternative plan which would reuse the currently-unoccupied Iowa Pavillion at 56th & Everett for the rental station; that idea has not been acknowledged in any way by her office.

  • planetshwoop

    Prudent fiscal policy would say you match the life of the asset with the liability you have to pay. So borrowing money over 10+ years for a fix that lasts 1-2 (e.g. potholes) is dumb. So almost *all* menu money should be paid out of current revenues, not borrowings–the stuff built doesn’t really last long.

    Actual infrastructure, yes, by all means, borrow. New schools, libraries, sewers, etc. don’t need to be paid out of current funds; better to pay via borrowings.

    Very very little menu money goes to long-living infrastructure; the majority goes to road repairs as I recall.

    And yes, interest rates are low, but not for the City of Chicago really.

  • Be careful of that word. Hairston has branded herself as the most ‘progressive’ candidate out there, which in this case means standing out against Rahm rather than working towards meaningful improvements.

  • carfreecommuter

    Look at Ogden Park. Throop street has been pedestrianized there a long time ago.

  • Anne A

    We need a *real* progressive candidate – one who wants to work for meaningful improvements rather than fight to maintain the status quo in areas that need change.

  • The few times I engaged about using menu funds for public art was that it has to be durable for at least 2 years or its a “temporary installation” and therefore programming.

    Parking seems like a temporary thing by definition, a “temporary installation” of your car, A permanently parked car could just be a smart-alecky way of saying its abandoned.

    Anyhow its quite a creative stretch of the rules, I guess that could be what is really going on…this expenditure of menu funds is just an avant garde yet bureaucratic work performance art with an edgy Chicago political vibe…with public funds…therefore public art…..and now qualifies as infrastructure…viola!

  • Gersh Mayer

    Is it really immoral to advocate for any vehicular traffic enhancements that aren’t bikes? The best way to improve access to the Skyway would be to extend the ramp access to 69th St. & Stony. 67th Street isn’t really set up to accommodate the kind of traffic increase which would result from closing off Cornell Drive.
    More bike lanes, O.K. But we’re not quite at the point where we can just eliminate cars. Sorry John. It’ll be a while before LSD is bike only. Things could change if present trends in car ownership continue but we’re not there yet. .

  • johnaustingreenfield

    “Is it really immoral to advocate for any vehicular traffic enhancements that aren’t bikes?” No, what’s wrong is obsess over trying to make driving easy, at the expense of all other modes, as well as safety, quality of life, etc., which is pretty much what Hairston has been doing.

    “It’ll be a while before LSD is bike only.” Not the case.

  • Gersh Mayer

    Great photo but LSD was actually built to accommodate automobiles. I’ll grant that it was envisioned as sort of an automobile promenade but until public transport in Chicago is vastly better than it is now, bikes just can’t supplant the jalopy.

  • FG

    You mean like the one percenter who has been running against her?

  • FG

    Cornell could possibly be reduced to two lanes in each direction through the park, but not more than that. Jeffrey, 67th and Stony (which is now one lane in each direction) would be gridlock at rush hour – making two 90 degree turns will just force traffic elsewhere and spill over into chaos.

    Stony already a parking lot in the morning is due to lab school parents and Bret Harte parents dropping off their kids – yeah, even white folk drive more on the south side. You know what the biggest complain in Hyde Park is? Not enough parking….

  • Bonnie Washington

    Leslie Hairston must go vote her out of the alderman office …This alderman is the worst ever it is past time she is voted out of office. Our communities are suffering because of her lack of interested in upgrading. 67th & S. South Shore Dr., is secretly being dismantle. 71st Jeffery has been without a grocery store for over 5 years while Walgreens has been in standing excellent community environmental standards. This alderman is not trying clean up any of this area and bring in productions she is allowing our communities to go to the slums for others to come in and buy out our communities. Her credential’s reads well on paper and the picture of her make her appear to be a leader. She is selling our communities out and voting the way Emanuel Rahm instructs her. She is a phony and careless about our people in this community. 67th & Stony Island is beautiful but it is not being structurally kept up you walk down the streets and you have beautiful pine trees healthy strong with pine cones that are rich in nature, but all this is going to waste because it is unkept. She only acts when someone brings out her deficiencies and uncaring in areas she has lack to make progress happen for those people that live in the area. The secret plans for our communities and the lakefront areas has already been mapped out for wealthy developers to come in and buy out our communities. This is one of the reason we do not have name brand grocery stores other than Jewels located on 75th and Stony Island. This alderman has allowed the streets to be riddle with young men and women to loiter and sell drugs on the street along 71st S. South Shore Drive through 71st Jeffery through 71st Stony Island. To make it appear to be a black slum area. This alderman needs to be voted out of office and people should not be waiting for the last minutes to start working on protesting her poorly since she has been in office job. People in these communities’ show want someone that care about them and their communities not bedding with the Mayor. We deserve more and should expect more someone who will fight for us and our rights and our communities. Hairston is a show blazer who performs for her Mayor and sell her constituent and their communities out. Do you know that CTA but services is cut off at 12:00 a.m. on 67th between Oglesby & S. South Shore Dr. you must walk from 67th South Shore Dr up to 67th & Jeffery to catch a CTA bus. If you do not have a car and you have an emergency you have no way to get to the hospital unless you walk up to Jeffery. We had for over 26 years a CTA depot service restroom for the CTA drivers and CTA let it rot for over almost 3 years then CTA demolished it. This alderman is doing nothing for our communities. We need someone that really care about all the people and their neighborhoods and communities. Some one that is educated and knowledgeable about the history of these communities and its people someone that is willing to work for the people and bring business into the communities get jobs for the people in the communities not for people outside of the communities. Some one that cares about growth and progress.


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There's no need for drivers to use Cornell or Marquette (southernmost east-west street in Jackson Park) to continue south on Stony Island. The Obama Library will be located on the patch of land currently occupied by a running track and baseball diamonds. Image: Google Maps

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