One of the greatest accomplishments of Chicago's planners and politicians was the preservation of the city's lakefront for parkland. Mayor Richard J. Daley once declared that "the lakefront is for the people." This remains true today, as parks and recreation centers line Lake Michigan from South Shore to Rogers Park.
This summer, however, the cost of enjoying oneself along the lake goes up. The Park District has raised rental fees on baseball diamonds and volleyball courts. And the Park District board voted last year to install vandal-proof meters at 11 lakefront locations--from the planetarium lot at 1300 S. Lake Shore Drive to Loyola Park, 7200 N. Sheridan. Meter fees would increase from 25 cents for two hours to 50 cents an hour, and most meters would need to be fed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The changes will take effect later this month, according to a Park District spokesperson.
The hike in parking meter fees especially incensed Rogers Park residents who have been parking at the Loyola Park lot for years. Many of these residents, who would now have to feed the meters from 9 AM to 9 PM instead of from 10 AM to 6 PM, said they had nowhere else to put their vehicles. Rogers Park is a high-density neighborhood where parking is at a premium.
Neighborhood resident Maynard Krasne, executive secretary of the Lunt-Lake Apartments Co-op, lives in a building next to the Loyola Park lot. "Twenty-five to 30 years ago," he said, "meters were installed on the lakefront at Bryn Mawr, Foster, Montrose, Lawrence, Wilson, Irving Park, and Addison"--in addition to Loyola Park. Within a year, he remembers, the Park District changed its mind and the meters were removed--except the ones at Lunt Avenue.
"The Loyola field house is the only one in the city of Chicago with meters. Residents park there after work," Krasne said. "You go out on Saturday morning and look at that lot at 8, 9, 10, or 11 AM and it is full--but the park and beach is empty. It is a community parking lot.
"They [the Park District] have no idea what goes on here. They don't understand the lakefront operation. None of the other parks where they were pulled out are going to get meters. At our park, it will cost $7 for a family to picnic--that's just stupidity. It is a bogus claim that they want people to use the park for recreational purposes. They want to charge us all year long."
Krasne went on, "This is a residential community. And [Loyola Park] is the only facility the Park District owns that immediately abuts residential property. The buildings were there first.
"At 11:30 PM the lot is full. Everyone is home sleeping. This is a working-class neighborhood. The building at 1122-1140 W. Lunt is 50 percent elderly. They have cars to go shopping because the Jewel has closed." He was referring to a Jewel store that was located on Morse Avenue, a few blocks from the Lunt condominiums.
Residents of the Lunt-Lake condominiums wrote letters to the Park District and attended public meetings in 1993 and '94 where parking was discussed. Their last-ditch effort was to travel to the February 1995 Park District board meeting. The meter fee hike was on the agenda, but their presence did not sway the vote.
They also turned to 49th Ward alderman Joe Moore, who met individually with park board members hoping to convince them to roll back the fee hike to 25 cents an hour and permit more free parking. He was partly successful. In a letter last month from Bridget Reidy, director of lakefront services for the Park District, the district agreed to permit free parking after 7 PM--rather than 9 PM--at 40 meters located on the beach side of the park by Lunt Street. However the other 65 meters in the Loyola Beach lot, 36 meters on Greenleaf east of Sheridan, and 61 meters at Touhy and Sheridan would still have to be fed from 9 AM to 9 PM. The new 50-cents-an-hour rate stayed where it was.
Parking is a general problem in Rogers Park, Moore said. "There are too many cars and not enough places to put them. The whole area was developed before people had cars--during the 1920s--when people took the streetcar to work."
Moore said his office is trying to make more parking spaces available in the neighborhood by removing unnecessary no-parking signs, towing abandoned cars more promptly, and increasing off-street parking. Zoned permit parking was introduced a year ago around Loyola University at the south end of Rogers Park. A traffic study had found that 95 percent of the cars on Loyola Avenue were owned by nonresidents--most presumably students--a spokesman at Moore's office said.
"More than enough parking is available in the evening at the Lunt-Greenleaf and Touhy Avenue lots for both local residents and park users," Moore said. If--that is--they could afford it. He called the increase to 50 cents an hour "unreasonable."
When asked why the park board passed the increase in spite of opposition from the community and his office, Moore said, "They are not as accountable to people. The board is appointed by the mayor--they are not an arm of city government."
Lunt-Lake resident Maynard Krasne added, "They don't want to be fair. They want revenue. They want to charge lakefront users to compete [for parking spaces] with the community."
Erma Tranter, executive director of Friends of the Parks, said the Park District entered 1995 with a budget shortfall of $1.2 million, despite cutting a thousand jobs during the last year.
"They are looking for increased revenues so they increased fees for baseball diamonds and volleyball courts," Tranter said. The Park District's search for new revenue "was not done in a thoughtful, complete way. They didn't involve the community and they didn't raise fees for football or rugby. All the fees should have been considered during the budget process--fees for sports, including parking.
"Why didn't they consider golf? We have the lowest fees [$7.50 to $10.50 a round] anywhere in Chicago. We get $200,000 a year for golf. The city of Minneapolis raises $1 million for golf each year."
Bridget Reidy, who attended community meetings in Rogers Park, defended the park board's decision to raise parking fees. Some residents "wanted permit parking in the lot at Loyola Park," Reidy said. "We did a survey, and permitted parking would not work financially." She said that to cover administrative, monitoring, and towing costs the city would have to charge $65 to $100 a month per space, a "prohibitive" amount, and that permits would aggravate rather than solve "the number one issue"--access to the park.
Fees for the parking meters had not been raised since 1967, Reidy said.
The specific Park District sites marked for increases are Lincoln Park north, 1800 N. Stockton (41 spaces); Lincoln Park south, 1700 N. Stockton (119); Diversey driving range (153); North Avenue beach (105); Belmont Harbor south (143); Touhy Avenue at Sheridan Road (61); Loyola field house, Sheridan at Greenleaf (36); Loyola beach, east of Sheridan Road (105); Solidarity Drive, 1300 S. Lake Shore Drive (310); the Cannon lot, Fullerton at Cannon (89); northbound Lake Shore Drive at Ohio Street (39).
The Park District board decided to install new meters "to increase enforcement of the meters and increase police presence" in the Loyola Park lot, Reidy said. "It also keeps people from leaving cars there.
"We are not trying to exclude people [who live nearby] but we want people to come to the parks. Loyola Park is the most used park in the system," Reidy said. "There is a very real parking problem, but our first and primary goal is for people to use parks and [participate in] programs."
Reidy added that the Park District "will be working with the alderman to adjust hours of operation on some of the meters. We are flexible on that. But the parking is there for people going to the parks."
But the fee hike "will not only affect people on Lunt and Greenleaf but it affects people who use the park," argued Ken Brierre, president of the Loyola Park Advisory Council. "A Hispanic family that lives on Clark Street that is just making it can't afford it. . . . It's a difficult situation."
Keith Lord, head of the Loyola Beach Neighborhood Association, said, "There is no perfect solution, no perfect setup. If local residents had the opportunity at an inexpensive rate to buy permits, it would help the local residents. One-third of the money from the permits could be put back into the park.
"My loyalty is to the neighborhood--not the city. Loyola Park is the only park on the lakefront where residents abut it. It's special, and should have special consideration," Lord said. "If you have permits, it stops someone from Winnetka or Bolingbrook" from taking up spaces in the lot, he said. High-priced meters "are a terrible thing. . . . It's the worst for the community and the worst for the co-op association.
"The Park District ran a huge deficit until Forrest Claypool came in two years ago. They are looking to raise money everywhere they can--including boat storage, harbor fees, and parking."
Chicagoans who intend to enjoy their lakefront this summer better bring a pocketful of change and get ready for a hike--of one kind or another.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Alexander Newberry.