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New perpendicular parking crams in more cars at Montrose Beach, raises safety concerns

10:40 PM CDT on June 8, 2022

The new perpendicular parking layout on Simonds Drive. Photo: Amy Lardner

Update June 15, 2022: The Streetsblog reader who flagged this issue recently clarified that 46th ward alderperson James Cappleman requested changes to the parking configuration. The article has been updated to reflect this new information.

A Streetsblog reader alerted us to a new car parking layout at Montrose Beach intended to squeeze as many metal boxes on the lakefront as possible – and associated traffic safety concerns.

The Chicago Department of Transportation recently repaved Simonds Drive, which parallels the shoreline between Foster and Montrose avenues, and parts of Montrose near the lake. This work was completed at the request of 46th Ward alderperson James Cappleman, according to another ward constituent. The biggest change was the parking configuration. Previously drivers parked parallel to the curbs along Simonds between Wilson and Montrose, but now parking stalls have been repainted for perpendicular parking in order to pack in more cars on the same length of road. Cappleman made these changes at the request of constituents who were upset about parking meters being installed at Montrose Harbor last year.

Traffic jam on Wilson Avenue at Montrose Harbor last Saturday afternoon, and a more pleasant way to get there. Photo: John Greenfield
Traffic jam on Wilson Avenue at Montrose Harbor in June 2021, and a more pleasant way to get there. Photo: John Greenfield
Traffic jam on Wilson Avenue at Montrose Harbor last Saturday afternoon, and a more pleasant way to get there. Photo: John Greenfield

This is at a beach which was already so mobbed by drivers in previous years that it's common for police officers to shut gates on the entry roads to prevent people from driving into the park. Sometimes things get so bad that officers actually close the Montrose offramp of DuSable Lake Shore Drive to keep motorists away.

The new perpendicular parking stall layout means the travel lanes on the roads are narrowed, so that when a driver is backing out of a space, road users on that side of the street must stop and wait for them. It's also trickier for drivers to see oncoming traffic when backing out of a spot.

Simonds Drive before and after the parking reconfiguration. Images: Google Maps, Amy Lardner
Simonds Drive before and after the parking reconfiguration. Images: Google Maps, a Streetsblog reader
Simonds Drive before and after the parking reconfiguration. Images: Google Maps, Amy Lardner

Sure, narrowing travel lanes is usually a good thing since it discourages speeding. And bike riders and pedestrians can avoid Montrose and Simonds in the park by taking car-free multi-use paths that parallel the avenues, although some people still choose to bike on these streets.

But when I recently went to check out the changes, it didn’t take long to see concerning driver behavior. As one motorist was backing out of a perpendicular spot, another driver who was traveling on the side of the road where the first motorist was backing out impatiently sped up and drove into the oncoming traffic lane to go around them. Given that this occurred along a slight hill with sub-optimal sight lines, this could have ended in a head-on collision if another driver had been approaching in the opposite direction. 

A motorist drives on the wrong side of the road on Simonds. Photo: Courtney Cobbs
A motorist drives on the wrong side of the road on Simonds. Photo: Courtney Cobbs
A motorist drives on the wrong side of the road on Simonds. Photo: Courtney Cobbs

Again, hopefully the change will slow down drivers. But before the reconfiguration, I was curious whether there’s anything that prevents the park district from installing speed humps on these roads. It’s possible that some drivers would get around the humps by driving within empty parking spaces on less busy days. But on days when the park is full of cars, speed humps could help improve pedestrian and cyclist safety.

On one of the days I went out to observe conditions, a speeding driver steered into the oncoming traffic lane to pass two people who were biking in the street. Since I was cycling in the other direction, the motorist encroached on my lane. But ironically, he seemed annoyed that I didn’t completely move out of his way. It was a sad reminder that car dominance and aggressive driving is common in in a space intended for leisurely recreation.

One positive change to Simonds is new curb extensions where paths cross streets to narrow the crossing distance. I noticed a completed bump-out at the three-way junction of Montrose, Simonds, and Montrose Harbor Drive, the road to the end of the fish hook-shaped peninsula that wraps around the marina. The concrete islands also prevent people from parking in no-parking zones, which helps maintain safe sight lines.

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The curb extension at Montrose/Simonds/Montrose Harbor Drive, looking north, where a multi-use path crosses Montrose Harbor Drive. Photo: Courtney Cobbs
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Road markings at another path crossing at the intersection of Simonds and Lawrence Avenue suggest that a bump-out is coming to that location as well. 

It looks like another bump-out is coming to this spot near Lawrence and Simonds. Photo: Courtney Cobbs
It looks like another bump-out is coming to this spot near Lawrence and Simonds. Photo: Courtney Cobbs
It looks like another bump-out is coming to this spot near Lawrence and Simonds. Photo: Courtney Cobbs

Traffic safety could be improved by adding stop signs where Simonds and Wilson Avenue intersect. Currently there are stop signs for Wilson but not Simonds.

If you have any thoughts on the parking changes, or have experienced a close call as a pedestrian or bike rider as a result of these changes, reach out to 46th Ward alderperson James Cappleman at Ward46 (at) cityofchicago.org

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