Burt, Deliver Us from Tour Buses

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The text of my letter to Alderman “Burt” today:

Alderman Burt Natarus
400 N. State Street, Fourth Floor
Chicago, IL 60610

August 2, 2005

Dear Alderman Natarus:

I am a constituent who by choice both lives and works in the 42nd Ward. I live in Marina City and I am writing to complain about a severe and growing parking-violation problem currently afflicting myself and the 899 other apartments of residents living at Marina City.

It has become a habit for tour buses for musicians playing at the House of Blues to stand and idle for hours in the no-parking zones that make up most of the State and Dearborn Street frontages of the Marina City/House of Blues complex between Kinzie Street and the Chicago River. Every night, you can find these buses variously or altogether blocking our Dearborn Street bus stop, blocking our State Street bus stop, blocking both of our crosswalks across State Street, and blocking the temporary drop-off spaces on State and Dearborn Streets. This is, of course, great news for residents who actually want access to our neighborhood services, such as transit service, or who want to exercise their constitutional rights, such as freedom to cross a street. And you can imagine how thrilled Marina City’s wheelchair residents must be.

But the problem doesn’t stop there. These buses, generally empty except for the driver, do not switch off their engines. Instead, the drivers add insult to injury by idling their buses for hours on end, fragrantly scenting the block and the balconies above with hours and hours worth of diesel exhaust and particulate matter, and adding a nice white noise rumble that does wonders for helping residents above drift off to sleep, God Bless them.

I’m even happier to report that the drivers have decided that ours is such a fine block to afflict, you can regularly find the buses now idling well into the next day. It’s frequent this summer to get up for work on a weekday and have to play human Frogger to get on a northbound 22 or 36 bus on Dearborn Street or to cross State Street at the two duly painted pedestrian crosswalks.

The greatest joy, however, has been trying to complain to House of Blues staffers who are tasked with directing foot and motor traffic on the plaza level and the surrounding street-level area. I’ve been told three times, on separate occasions and in no uncertain terms, that “you people have your own entrance” and we should “deal with it”. Of course, we have residential entrances on the plaza, too, and such responses, while furthering the breadth of poetry which can be made with the English language, don’t address the problem. More to the point, this response aptly exemplifies the attitude of House of Blues line staff when it comes to parking-scofflaw issues that impact Marina City residents.

Now, I know tour buses have to park somewhere. But I also know they shouldn’t be parking illegally in spaces that are marked “no-parking” for good reason (such as, to prevent tour buses from parking illegally there). Nor should they be doing it on a regular or widespread basis. And they certainly shouldn’t be doing it with the tacit approval of the business that they are serving. And they above all shouldn’t be doing it with their huge diesel engines idling for hours at a time so that a lone Bubba Walton can fire up hillbilly tunes on the 8-track and crank the A/C.

I live downtown and work downtown because this is the best neighborhood in Chicago (well, you and I both know, the best in the whole country between the coasts and the west coast is highly questionable on this point). The quality of life is the draw for me here. I can live, work, shop, get around, feel safe, join the bustle, and do it all at any hour. But I do it all while being a conscientious and good neighbor to the people and businesses with whom I share my neighborhood. At this point, I don’t think the House of Blues is being a good neighbor, to me, Marina City, or the thousands of 42nd Ward residents who traverse the 300 blocks of Dearborn and State Streets on foot every day.

I know your Ward office is just up the street. I invite you to come take a stroll down State or Dearborn at a few various hours to listen to the rumble, smell the fumes, and watch the pedestrians take their lives in their hands (9pm is pretty egregious, but you should check out midnight, 9am, and Noon, too). This isn’t the Ward I moved to. HOB is taking that away from me.

I don’t know whom to write, but I do know that you’re the most “on it” Alderman in the city. So as a constituent, I’m writing to ask what can be done? To whom can I complain? What are the options for residents and HOB tour buses to find a happy medium, or at least for scofflaw buses to, finally, be regularly ticketed?

I thank you and your staff for reading. Well, I thank you for reading and hopefully not tossing this letter aside into the “yeah we know but such is the price of progress” pile. I’m an urban planner by trade and I know that progress and quality of life easily go hand in hand when done thoughtfully. I hope there’s a way to make that happy marriage happen here. Because, with God as my witness, I am not moving back to Wrigleyville.

Yours very sincerely,

Chicago Carless

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