Towing Snafu Delays Under ‘L Parking Expansion Along Blue Line In Wicker Park
Cars have parked beneath the CTA Blue Line elevated tracks along Milwaukee Avenue in the Wicker Park neighborhood without hindrance for as long as anyone can remember.
But that neighborhood tradition was abruptly stopped the last week of August when tow signs discreetly appeared hung just below the tracks, and a few fliers promoting under-L parking found their way onto vehicle windshields and many drivers got surprised when they came back to find their car had mysteriously disappeared.
Even though the property underneath CTA elevated train tracks is private property, and drivers parking beneath the tracks have always risked being towed, in this area of the city, no parking/no trespassing restrictions were never enforced–until now.
That’s because Central Parking System (CPS) planned to expand the CTA’s under ‘L parking program along this two block stretch of the Blue Line the beginning of September. Looking to find ways to generate new revenue, a few years ago the CTA contracted CPS to manage their regular parking lots and spearhead the under ‘L parking program.
Since then, 39 different under ‘L parking zones have popped up around the city including the South Loop, Lakeview, River North, Lincoln Park and now Wicker Park, the program’s 40th area. According to CPS officials, there are 20 more proposed under ‘L parking spots just waiting for aldermanic approval.
For $75 a month, drivers can legally park beneath the ‘L tracks between Wood and Damen without fear of being towed. For $2.50 per day, if you live or work in this neighborhood it’s an inexpensive alternative to having to feed the meters.
But the expansion hit a snag the first few days of September, when just a few days after limited publicity and new signs restricting parking were posted, tow trucks began preying on the many drivers who didn’t hear the news and who had habitually parked under the tracks.
But the hue and cry from tow victims, many of them business owners along that strip of Milwaukee Ave., was heard by Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Adam Burke.
“People were not happy,” says Burke. “It was ridiculous it occurred the way it did. Anyone in the area should have been informed. It’s been 100 years people have been parking under there–it’s an entrenched habit. It was a surprise to everyone.”
Even though this type of program has to be approved by the local alderman, First Ward Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno’s office was blindsided by the situation.
“We didn’t know–it was totally poor communication,” said Matt Bailey, Press Secretary for Ald. Moreno who explained the alderman had signed off on the plan months ago but their office had not heard a word about the program since then. “We were frustrated by the lack of communication. Hopefully things will be good going forward. You can’t inform people by towing their cars. We’re not cool with that.”
After getting 8-12 complaints, Burke reached out to CPS to ask for some changes and help to make the roll out of this new parking program to minimize the number of towed vehicles and angry residents and business owners.
According to Burke, CPS Portfolio Manager Ivan Matic responded very quickly and positively to the suggestions from the Chamber and the Alderman Moreno’s office.
“We wanted to work with the community so we agreed to push it back (the first day of the program and enforcement),” said Matic. “We are fliering vehicles and informing business owners and installing banners under the ‘L tracks.”
“Without any problem they agreed to postpone enforcement until October 1st, go door to door to every business along Milwaukee Ave., and inform residents with fliers,” says Burke.
Matic says there will be approximately 40 spaces available along this stretch of the Blue Line and so far, 15 people are on a waiting list to participate in the program. In fact, some of the towed drivers signed up for the parking plan after CPS agreed to refund their tow fees.
According to Matic, most areas of the city support under ‘L parking because CPS helps clean and maintain these areas under the tracks for their parking patrons.
“There are areas of the city that really enjoyed it,” said Matic. “We’re going to start cleaning it (under the Blue Line in Wicker Park) and afterwards it looks more professional.”