Alderman alters bus stop rationale

By Supriya Sinhababu

Fifth-ward Alderman Leslie Hairston said in an interview Tuesday that she chose to eliminate the popular #171 bus stop on the southeast corner of South University Avenue and East 57th Street primarily because she objects to how the University handled the stop’s relocation. The stop was moved to its current spot from the intersection’s northeast corner, in front of the University Church, last summer.

“I was at an event and noticed that several parking spots had been taken out and that there was a shiny new bus stop there,” she said. “And generally the domain of the public streets and signage are the city of Chicago’s responsibility, which is mine.”

Hairston said that the University did not notify her about the stop’s relocation beforehand.

“Historically the University has had the attitude that they can do what they want, when they want, without any regard to the rules,” she said. “This is my responsibility as the alderman: to look at all of the interests. In this situation, only the University’s perspective was taken into consideration. That’s what this is about.”

Hairston’s stated position modifies the reason she outlined in an e-mail she sent to CTA representatives last week in which she cited parking concerns as the primary impetus for her decision.

“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 wrote in that e-mail. The e-mail made no mention of her concerns over the lack of procedure she claims characterized the University’s decision.

Hairston said that if the University had approached her about moving the stop prior to its relocation, she would not have banned the stop outright.

“I would have had a public meeting,” she said. “Everybody would have had their say. And my guess is it probably would have been approved.”

Neither the CTA nor the Director of Campus Transportation and Parking Services Brian Shaw could confirm that the alderman had been notified about the stop’s relocation, which was implemented at the behest of students and officials of the University Church. According to Shaw, however, the move could not have been legally carried out without her office’s approval at the time.

Approving the new stop with the alderman’s office was the CTA’s domain, Shaw said. He added he doubts that the CTA would have overlooked this step.

“There was some concern expressed from her office [earlier last year] about why it was moved, and I thought, ‘Well, don’t you know?…. [Y]ou had to have approved it to get it moved in the first place.’” Shaw said. “They had to have gotten some level of knowledge about this at some point in time and perhaps they weren’t clear as to what it truly meant. I just don’t know.”

According to the CTA, the stop’s current status is still uncertain.

“Regarding the bus stop, the issue is still under discussion,” said CTA spokesperson Noelle Gaffney. “The final decision on what’s happening and when has not been made yet.”

Shaw added that the CTA goes through a set of legal processes whenever it makes changes to routes.

“[The] CTA won’t just move a bus stop until they have all their i’s dotted and their t’s crossed,” he said. “If all they had to do was move the signs, then that [would] just takes a couple of hours.”

In reference to the alderman’s initially stated concerns over parking, Gaffney and Shaw could not say with certainty how many spaces the old stop occupied in comparison to the new one. Shaw said it is difficult to determine exactly how many spaces a particular stop takes because parking spaces are not marked on the street as they are in parking lots. However, he assumed the decision to relocate the stop would have no net effect on parking.

“It was a zero, because all the spaces that were needed for the new stop were put back by the old stop,” Shaw said. “We figured the alderman wouldn’t have an issue with it because parking-wise it was a location issue and not a number issue.”

Despite the alderman’s newly stated position, Hairston maintains that parking is a crucial issue in Hyde Park.

“My office gets complaints every day about parking,” she said.

To provide a forum for discussion on the bus stop and other transportation issues, first-year College Council representative Julian Quintanilla organized a meeting to take place today at 4 p.m. in Kent 107. Shaw, Associate Dean Bill Michel, and other University administrators will address questions from students and community members. Quintanilla has extended an invitation to Hairston as well.

“From the discussion and from what we’ve talked about internally in S.G. [Student Government] already, we will reveal a plan of attack by Friday at the end of the meeting,” Quintanilla said. “So people will be given their assignments, so to speak.”