Ald. King’s meeting spurs debate – bike lanes vs parking on Drexel

Ald. Sophia King talks with constituents after her Oct. 16 meeting. (Photo by Aaron Gettinger)

Staff writer

City crews are scheduled to paint the markings on Drexel Boulevard once repaving is completed in a few weeks, and Ald. Sophia King (4th) is proposing three ways to do it:

  • Keep the status quo, with an exterior vehicle parking lane, two lanes for motorists and a protected bike lane next to the median — an arrangement enacted last year, before which cyclists went along the parking lane
  • Install a second parking lane next to the median, with an unprotected bike lane to its right and two less-wide vehicular traffic lanes
  • Allow motorists to park in the existing median-side bike lane over evenings

King said the proposed changes came at the behest of Kenwood residents and parishioners at the many churches along the boulevard, whom she said have complained to her about the lack of parking on Drexel.

“Just to put this in context, there’s a lot of people who live along the boulevard who are concerned about congestion,” King said. She called an Oct. 16 meeting on the issue at the Sutherland Apartment, 4659 S. Drexel Blvd., an opportunity to find “a win-win for everybody.”

All but one of the attendees who spoke, however, opposed any changes to the median-side bike lanes, one of three north-south corridors — along with the Lakefront Trail and the bike lanes along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive — between Hyde Park-Kenwood and the Loop.

“The lake, as we all know, is very dark at night,” said John Mitchell, who commutes by bike to the Loop. “Washington Park arguably is worse — also very dark, and the bike lanes are really not well-marked. The only safe route, and it really is the only gold standard, is Drexel, and it’s the one I’ve taken.”

“I think it’s unquestionably the safest way for bikers and drivers who can see the bikers to safely share that space,” he said, lauding the lanes for being well-lit and -marked.

Chris Willard, who owns Small Shop Cycles & Service, 4250 S. Cottage Grove Ave., said the organized bike rides over Bronzeville Summer Nights always roll on Drexel for a reason.

“It’s beautiful; it’s safe; and I want people to know about it, because it’s one of those streets that inspires people to get out and ride,” he said. “It is really important, not only to me as a community member: I use it every day to get to work. As a businessman, I definitely appreciate it, because it is a major corridor for people to get to my business.”

Willard also expressed concern about the safety of allowing motorists to park in the bike lane at night, something with which attendee Steven Quispe also took issue.

“Why are [motorists] more important than myself?” he asked. “How am I going to commute home late at night when it’s dark safely, and it doesn’t require me being in and out of cars?”

“There’s a big disparity in infrastructure when I see biking north of where I live as opposed to when I’m biking south of where I live,” Quispe continued. He urged King to keep the status quo and to add concrete barriers for bikers’ additional protection.

Shari Runner spoke later, opposing any cyclist protection barriers but endorsing the status quo.

“I gather that you want to bike, and you want to have a safe place to bike, but I have an investment that I have to protect,” she said, recalling her home of 20 years. “I don’t know that having concrete barriers where there are bike lanes and having parking on the interior side of Drexel, either during the day or at night, adds to my property value.”

“The boulevards are a historic part of Chicago. They are very important to the way this city was built and the way this community was built, and I am very much opposed to changing it from where it is right now,” Runner concluded. “It allows for people to bike, and it allows for people to park.”

King called herself an advocate for cyclists but reminded attendees of her additional responsibility for the safety of motorists and pedestrians: “We are talking about a community here. We’re talking about people who enjoy all modes of transportation.”

Nevertheless, King said residents along Drexel have told her they only see a cyclist or two a day; she herself said she never recalled seeing one along the boulevard.

Attendee Cameron Parks responded that he has unobstructed cameras on his house looking out onto Drexel and that he sees frequent and increasing numbers of cyclists along the boulevard. King conceded that their numbers are increasing but reiterated that she was only repeating what Drexel residents had told her about their need for parking and number of cyclists.

King urged accommodation for churchgoers who regularly park in the Drexel bike lanes on Sundays. “They’re mainly elderly; they’re driving,” she said. “It can’t be us and them. It’s got to be all of us as a community. We all have to live in this space and respect that.”

She also said she would not consider permit parking along Drexel: “It won’t solve the problem, because if there’s not enough spaces, you’re just paying not to be able to park.”

Before the discussion of bike lanes and parking, King invited the developers of St. James Methodist Church, 4611 S. Ellis Ave., which is due to be converted to 21 apartments and a co-working space, to update the community on plans for its parking lot at 46th Street and Ellis.

While the developers had originally planned to put in 41 spaces, the planned parking lot has been revised up to 61.

“By providing more parking, we’re encouraging more car use,” Quispe said, recalling the myriad transit options in the area, from CTA buses to Metra, and urging more transit-oriented development.

King responded that the community’s demand was for parking. Quispe asked if it was sustainable, and she said it was, “For the near future.”

“Interesting, considering climate change,” Quispe responded.

“I can only go based on my constituents, what my major concerns are, what I hear from them — but parking is probably the biggest issue that I get around here,” King responded in turn.