April 11, 2008

Embattled #171 bus stop will stay intact

[img id="80473" align="alignleft"] After month-long negotiations, Facebook protests, and squabbles over parking shortages, the future of the #171 bus stop is safe for now.

Fifth-ward Alderman Leslie Hairston announced her decision to keep the stop to an audience of about 40 University and community members in a meeting in Hutchinson Commons on Wednesday. Students, staff, and neighborhood residents attended the community meeting to determine the fate of the disputed #171 bus stop at South University Avenue and East 57th Street.

“Since all the comments have been to keep the bus stop, we’re going to keep the bus stop,” Hairston said. There was unanimous agreement among the meeting’s attendees that the community process was beneficial and that the stop should remain at its current location at the expense of the four parking spaces it takes up.

“The alderman’s insistence that the decisions that impact the community should be discussed like this is critical for the long term benefit of the community,” Hyde Park resident Roger Huff said.

“We don’t elect the University to speak for us on municipal matters, we don’t elect the CTA, we elect her,” one of Hairston’s constituents said. “That said, Alderman, I was really disappointed in hearing that the concerns of four automobile riders were being weighed against hundreds of bus riders’.”

The alderman emphasized the importance of community meetings in striking a balance between the interests of students and those of her constituents.

“Even if the decision is made to keep the bus stop there, [constituents] still like to get the notice,” Hairston said, early on in the meeting. “They like to get in on the process, and they like to speak on its impact to them.”

When she introduced the alderman at the start of the meeting, Associate Vice President of Community and Government Affairs Susan Campbell acknowledged that “the University did not follow due process” when it relocated the bus stop from the north side of the intersection last summer without notifying the alderman’s office.

Hairston’s decision was met with approval, if not surprise, by most attendees. “I heard a rumor that if the process was followed and people were okay with it, then we might have a happy conclusion, so I’m really glad that’s the way it went down,” fourth-year Student Government president Scott Duncombe said. “We didn’t see a horde of angry community members or the four people who live in the Quad Club.”

Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Government and Community Relations official Darud Akbar was also in attendance at the meeting. “I didn’t know what to expect—I was just texting my boss to say that for the most part the meeting went well,” Akbar said in an interview after the meeting. “I was just attending to hear what the University and community concerns were.”

The University and community members who commented on the bus stop issue also offered solutions for balancing parking spaces and bus stops in the future. Some suggested installing parking meters to keep drivers from hogging spots, or converting bus stops into street parking during the night hours. The alderman said she did not favor the former solution but said she will ask her staff to look into the latter one.

Director of Campus Transportation and Parking Services Brian Shaw said that the alderman’s insistence on community process in the bus stop issue will be important to remember when the University makes infrastructural decisions in the future.

“With the building of the new dorm and the shifting of the University’s center to South Campus, we’re going to have to keep this type of process in mind,” Shaw said.

Duncombe, however, noted that parking may not have been at the heart of the month-long debate.

"Unfortunately, as it often is with Chicago politics, it’s very rarely about the bus stop,” said Duncombe. “It’s about what’s going on to decide where the bus stop ends up.”