Tuesday, December 14, 2004

We, Edgewater Citizens, Are Due Reparations!

Why do we, Edgewater, more specifically north Edgewater, have to suffer expressway volumes of traffic, daily, through the heart and lungs of our community? I contend that there is neither any reasonable nor legitimate answer to that question.

Some fifty years ago the "larger community" forced on Edgewater, a quiet neighborhood lakeside community, the butt end of Lake Shore Drive's eight lanes of automobile traffic. They commandeered the quiet residential streets of Ridge and Sheridan. They stripped all parking at all times from those streets. They forced those streets to submit to unnatural acts of lane alternation: three lanes with the rush hour and one against.

Now that history is but a repressed memory. Yet the reality of reverse commuting subjects us to comparable horrors. Every morning and evening we are trapped between constant multi-lane traffic. We venture out only if we must.

But even after the twice-daily onslaughts have receded, its effects poison our community. Exposed streets naked of parking and exhausted of traffic give reign to speeders and weavers.

Fifty years of such abusive servitude have wearied and ruined the face and vitality of the community.

Stately lakefront mansions have been cast aside to be replaced by downtown-style high-rises because no well-to-do cultured person who could afford to live otherwise would live in such noise and clamor. A vibrant urban university has been torn from its supporting community, isolated and split asunder by four lanes of pedestrian-intimidating cars. Beautiful six-flats and courtly apartment blocks have been turned over first to slumlords who milk them, then care less of them, until they have become hovels and worse, then have torn them down to be replaced by plain at best and ugly at worst, automobile friendly four-plus-ones. All manner of businesses deprived of their life-blood of pedestrian customers have moved out to be replaced by gas stations, auto dealers, auto repair, muffler repair and body shops glad to locate in the middle of a virtual, de-facto automobile expressway.

By struggling mightily against those anti-urban forces we have been able over the last twenty-five years to regain some of our lost dignity. Organizations like the Edgewater Chamber of Commerce and the Edgewater Community Council have fought to keep storefronts occupied and slumlords in court. Our representatives in the Chicago City Council, Volini, Osterman, and Smith likewise have fought often lonely rear-guard battles against the ravages of our expressway reality.

But! But, as long as we ourselves continue to believe in the supremacy of the automobile, as long as we internalize the mores of the car mythology, as long as we think that because we ourselves own and use cars we must give up any right to oppose their domination of our lives; for as long as we hold those ideas, we shall never be able to confront and defeat the automobile's subjugation of our community.

The "modern" myths we must fight include:

  1. It is a community's duty, just as it is a person's duty, to yield its own self-interest to the larger community's greater interest.
  2. Streets, especially arterial streets, must be designed to handle rush hour traffic.
  3. The goal is to move as much traffic as fast as practical.
  4. The city must adapt to the "modern" reality of the automobile.
  5. Driving our car is a right.

Driving a car is, of course, a privilege licensed by the larger community. We have a right to walk in the right-of-way but must earn the privilege of driving on the right-of-way.

The automobile must adapt to the traditional reality of the city. The traditional reality of the city is walking, busing and "el"ing. The traditional reality of the city is that it takes time to get across-town.

The sub-urban goal is more and faster but the urban goal is closer and denser. Closer and denser befit slower.

We have the el and the commuter railroads built especially for rush hour. Perverting our streets for rush hour perverts our community. There is no rush hour right.

If the larger community deems that an expressway must go here then they have an obligation to build one. I have no doubt that fifty years ago we were told that we were being subjected to a temporary situation; before long Lake Shore Drive would go all the way to Evanston.

OK. We have done our duty. We have waited long enough. It's time to "take back our streets."


Mark M said...

Jeffrey... you have a comment! I saw one of your dailykos comments, and the name of my neighborhood caught my eye.

I moved to Edgewater Beach (southern end) 2-1/2 years ago, and from what I've seen, in terms of business activity, income levels, etc., the neighborhood seems to be improving somewhat over time. But I realize that this improvement is uneven, and some blocks have gotten worse. As for the traffic, I'll admit to contributing to the problem: I reverse commute to Buffalo Grove, and for me there is no viable alternative to driving to work.

I have gotten off the 'L' at the Berwyn, Bryn Mawr, Thorndale, Granville, and Loyola stops and walked around Broadway and have seen how the heavy traffic has stifled commerce along Broadway. Most of the road is not an urban environment with a lot of vitality.

I have mixed feelings about organizations like ECC. At times it seems that they are so pro-developer that they will promote any development, regardless of whether it is appropriate for the location. In my opinion, most of the new condos going up these days are too tall and too ugly. Yes, the condos bring money into the community, but why must they be so ugly???

If you are in the Edgewater Beach area (I think east of Broadway between Foster and ???Elmdale???), you might want to try going to an EBNA meeting (Edgewater Beach Neighbors Association). Meetings are held on the 4th Tuesday of every month at 7:30 at the Edgewater Presbyterian Church on Bryn Mawr. They have a blog at ebnaedge.blogspot.com that is not updated much. (I've been trying to enlighten their blogger as to the tao of blogs, but to no avail.)

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