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BRT vs. Street Parking: a fight to the death.


I've lived all over the country and world, my background is in International Affairs, Political Science, and Economics, and I'm a Chicago boy born and bred.

Besides the fact that street parking spots are making it difficult to create a bike lane system in Chicago (see last week's post), they are also making it difficult to create a viable BRT system. Recently, Ted noted the importance of starting the discussion on BRT in Chicago; I want to add to his post today.

One major roadblock to implementing a BRT system in Chicago is that thousands of cars are parked along the sides of every street.  A potential plan for BRT is to make a bus lane.
Based on our infrastructure, most likely these bus lanes would be along the right side of the road where there are currently thousands of cars parked.  If the city still controlled the land used for street parking, BRT would be an easier system to incorporate.  However, because the street parking land is leased to a private company whose goal is to make a profit, and doesn't strengthen Chicago's public transportation, a bus lane might be a hard sell.


To make matters worse, the deal made by the city to lease out the street parking land was quite messy.  As we're all well aware, it's common for Chicago to barricade off its streets for different events.  These barricaded streets often have street parking.  In other words, when streets are blocked off the private company makes no profit on street parkers.  This is where it gets really messy.  If the city has to close a block with street parking for a street festival, or even for construction, the private company is still entitled to those parking spots.  Therefore, if these spots aren't making money, Chicago has to create another area around the city as a pay-to-park area, to counteract the private company's loss in profit.  There are some loopholes, but for the most park taking away parking spots causes a lot of havoc.  If the city wants a bus lane, or to build more infrastructure to accommodate for new BRT technology, it's eventually going to need to buy back the street parking land.

It's understandable that the private company doesn't care whether it's easier to get around the city without a car.  Truthfully, they feel the opposite.  They want people to drive more, park more, and create an even greater demand for parking, so they make more money.  From a business standpoint, I don't blame them.  However, from a Chicagoan's standpoint, I do. Though I partially blame Chicago for leasing this land to begin with, this company is an easy scapegoat.  As a city we need to think about the future and our greater good.  I'm sure we will see from the 2010 Census that Chicago is getting bigger every year.  If we can figure out a way to incorporate a BRT system sooner than later, people won't need to drive as often.  It's vital to make present-day Chicago, home to about 3 million residents (10 million in the greater Chicagoland area) a "livable" city.  More importantly though, the Chicago of the future will be much more populous, an thus the time is now to ensure that our grandchildren's Chicago will be a "livable" city too.



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