In order to create space for four parking spots, Chicago Fifth Ward alderman Leslie Hairston asked the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) last Friday to remove the #171 bus stop at East 57th Street and South University Avenue. Though CTA officials, University administration, and University students oppose the stop’s elimination, Hairston has the last word on the use of street parking in her ward.
“As you are well aware, [there is a] lack of parking in Hyde Park and a balance must be kept between bus service and parking for residents,” Hairston said on Friday in an e-mail to Ronald Weslow, a member of the CTA’s traffic and engineering crew.
According to Director of Campus Transportation and Parking Services Brian Shaw, over 550 people use the endangered stop on an average day, making it the second-busiest bus stop on campus. In light of Hairston’s decision, Shaw issued three possible alternatives to the current bus route on Friday for the Transportation Student Advisory Board (TSAB) and other administrators to consider.
The first alternative would reroute the #171 to Woodlawn Avenue, making use of existing stops at 58th, 57th, and 55th Streets. This option would also eliminate the South University Avenue and East 55th Street stop often used by students in off-campus dorms to access Pierce Dining Hall. The administration and CTA will back this first option if Hairston requires the stop’s immediate elimination, Shaw said.
“Maintaining the route timing, proximity to the original stop, and where we already have bus stops in place are the three factors we keep in mind when reworking these types of things,” Shaw said. “So that’s why the Woodlawn detour is our best option.”
The second option would reroute the #171 northbound onto South Ellis Avenue and eastbound onto East 57th Street, making use of the existing bus stop at the intersection of the two. First-year College Council representative and TSAB member Julian Quintanilla said that of the 40 students who e-mailed him over the weekend, the majority favored this alternative.
“At the same time, if we do that, we would have the #171 and the #172 going either way on Ellis, and it’s going to be a mess trying to get those two buses to pass each other,” Quintanilla said of the second option.
The third option Shaw outlined would be to pursue the creation of another stop at East 58th Street and South University Avenue. But in light of the alderman’s concerns about parking, Shaw and Quintanilla both expressed doubts about her likelihood to approve a new stop.
Since her initial e-mail on Friday, Hairston has issued no further communication on the matter to either CTA personnel or University administration. Due to a city holiday on Monday, Hairston could not be reached for comment. Shaw said she may make her decision official later this month, or as early as today.
CTA has requested that Hairston hold off on her final decision until March 23, the date of their next quarterly driver reassignment. During reassignment, drivers pick the routes they wish to work based on seniority and are trained to handle new routes.
“It would be much better to wait—from CTA’s and, of course, our perspective—to do this in a couple of weeks when the drivers are all going to get retrained on all the routes anyway,” Shaw said. “Whether the alderman agrees to that is entirely up to her.”
Hairston’s plan has raised other questions as well. Her e-mail, for example, does not specify whether residents’ complaints or other reasons spurred her decision.
“There are no residential properties until you get north of the church on University Avenue,” Shaw said. “It’s curious as to why she’s concerned about residential parking at a location where there really are no residents in proximity.”
“It might be an attempt to increase parking in general,” Quintanilla said of Hairston’s decision. “But because all the property around the stop is affiliated with the University, inconveniencing the hordes of people who use the #171 at that stop is ridiculous and unwarranted.”
Quintanilla believes students can influence Hairston’s decision, even though the vast majority of them are not her constituents. In addition to contacting their Student Government and Inter-House Council representatives, students have also formed a Facebook group, whose membership has grown to over 300 members, with the intent to circulate an online petition to prevent the stop’s elimination.
“There are about a thousand people in Shoreland, Broadview, and B-J combined, so I don’t see how she can ignore that,” he said.
Shaw, however, is much less optimistic. He said he has been trying to get a bus stop for the #174 El shuttle between Cottage Grove and Ellis Avenues since the route was introduced a year-and-a-half ago, but the alderman’s concerns about parking halted his efforts.
“We’ve had arguably as justifiable reasons for other bus stops, and they weren’t done,” Shaw said. “The difference between the two situations is that the stop near the Reynolds Club has a large existing user base.”
“Whether the energy from the students would be effective in this area would be the x-factor,” he said.