Question answered: Why ban pickups from Lake Shore Drive? Where can they park?

How some old prejudices against commercial vehicles keep trucks off the Drive

January 1, 2013

(WBEZ/Shawn Allee)

Yours truly drives a teeny, tiny 1999 Toyota Corolla. It may not be the most stylish vehicle, but on the plus side it doesn’t attract much attention from cops or my Chicago neighbors. That’s more than can be said for some of my fellow Chicagoans’ vehicles, apparently. Take this question from from Bronzeville resident Jef Johnson:

I keep hearing that pickup trucks are not allowed on Lake Shore Drive, though I do see a number of them daily, and that there are parts of the city where pickups are not allowed to park. Is all that true and if so, why?

Intriguing, no? And it's especially so when you consider that industry sales data show the Ford F-Series pickup trucks topped automotive best-sellers lists for more than two decades. The answer means a lot to Jef, who says he’s been driving one type of truck or another since 1987. Being able to throw stuff in the back, he says, made trucks handy for his camping and other outdoorsy activities. And, he hasn’t let up; his most recent purchase — finalized just this October — was a Dodge RAM.

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Listen to the conversation on the Afternoon Shift!

“I’m also a wedding officiant,” Jef tells me, “so I’m often meeting brides in the evenings and weekends and, since I go visit them, I end up parking in all parts of the city.”

That got him wondering and worrying: Was he going to walk out of a bride’s home one of these days to a bright orange ticket on his car?

“I’m always half expecting to get pulled over on LSD,” he says.

So where, exactly, can Jef and his new Dodge go, and where might they run into trouble?

Should Jef get the jitters while on the Drive?

I put Jef’s first question — the one about Lake Shore Drive — to the city’s law department, and the spokesman there sent back an email, replete with relevant portions of the Chicago municipal code. The gist of the largest chunk gets to the idea that commercial activity doesn’t belong on city boulevards, and the assumption is that pickup trucks are commercial vehicles.

Translation: No, pickup trucks can not drive on Lake Shore Drive. It’s considered a boulevard, so vehicles with truck license plates designed to “carry freight or commercial goods” are supposed to stay off. That’s the case even when the vehicle’s not actually used for such purposes.

There are notable exceptions, however. If, for example, you drive a Ford F-150 to a Bears game, and you take I-55 to the Soldier Field parking lot, you should be okay. Another exception: If you’re a construction worker and you bring lumber to McCormick Place for a convention.

But why?

The rationale behind the rules took some digging and, frankly, is a bit elusive. My City Hall sources had a tough time accounting for how this all came to be and, it seems, they don’t get this question very often. One person even called my request “WBEZ’s latest trivial pursuit question.” Perhaps, but we’re assuming that Jef isn’t the only Chicago truck owner who’s anxious about driving the Drive.

Regardless, the best account I could get is a historical one, and it comes from the top source on Chicago maps: Dennis McClendon, who produced maps for the Encyclopedia of Chicago. And get this: He even drew the original CTA system map.

Anyway, McClendon says the truck issue likely gets down to a mentality, one which dates back to the late 1800s when Lake Shore drive was first planned.

“It was to be a pleasure drive,” McClendon explains. “It was not to be a traffic carrying arterial, it was a way to enjoy the park in your carriage or your brougham.” (A brougham being a light carriage that was drawn by a single horse.)

“I think it was Thursday afternoons were set aside for fast driving,” McClendon says. “So the young men who lived on the Gold Coast nearby would bring their fastest trotting horses and their lightweight broughams and race each other.”

By the 1930s, McClendon says, this parkway grew into the Outer Drive and Inner Drive we know today. The idea was to allow more traffic on Lake Shore Drive but this whole concept of a “pleasure drive” stuck, meaning the proscription against commercial vehicles (pickup trucks included) is really just a holdover, one that’s consistent with a bias that kept commercial or “working” life separate from upper-crust residential life.

Consider, he says, that fancy apartment buildings once had separate entrances for residents and tradesmen.

“You wouldn’t want a scruffy workman carrying his tool box through the front door, just as ‘Miss High Nose’ was coming out with her poodle,” McClendon says.

Where pickups can’t call home

Jef says he lives in Bronzeville, a South Side neighborhood. As I found out, his ward escapes proscriptions against parking pickups on residential streets. The municipal code is clear on this one, as the relevant sections list exactly which wards pickup trucks can park, so long as the owners work with their alderman to get the proper stickers and permits and their truck is registered properly with the state of Illinois.

That leaves only two North Side wards where pickups are not welcome to park on residential streets: the 38th and the 39th.

When it comes to the 39th Ward, Alderman Margaret Laurino says she does hear complaints about the policy, but they’re mostly from newcomers — not long-time residents.

“My staff often times has been instructed by me to say, ‘Well you’re just going to have to park your pickup truck in your garage or find an off site parking space,’” Laurino says, adding that this has been the case for the 17 years she’s been in office.

As for a change? Laurino says her staff check in with constituents each year about the policy, and for the most part, resident want their residential streets free of pickup trucks.

‘Miss High Nose’ and her poodle at it again?

If McClendon’s theory about the attitude towards trucks on Lake Shore Drive is right, is it fair to say that maybe some neighborhoods just find pickups unappealing, and they’re willing to press aldermen to keep the trucks in check?

Jef doesn’t buy that argument (“A pickup can be just as easy to look at as an SUV or a hummer or some really ratty car,” he says), and the bias against trucks is getting scrutiny from other sources, too. One source is Mike Brockway, the writer behind the “The Expired Meter” blog, which helps Chicagoans solve driving, traffic or ticket problems.

Brockway says maybe it’s time for City Hall to consider upgrading the policy on truck parking. Right now, it’s mentioned in a section dealing with livery vehicles, busses and RV’s, despite the fact that, for many owners, they’re neither solely commercial nor entirely personal.

“Am I using a vehicle 51 percent of the time to get groceries for my family and bring my kids to school and bring them to violin lessons? And 49 percent of the time I’m using it for business purposes?” he asks. “I mean, how do you define that?”

Brockway calls the parking provision a “dinosaur of a piece of law” that can give you headaches. “My theory on parking and driving laws,” he says, “is they need to be simple so people can understand them.”

And where do most Chicagoans fall on this issue? Again, it’s OK to park in most wards. Residents in the 38th ward had their chance to speak out on the November ballot, and a majority said they would support a law that would allow pickups to park on residential streets.

But until the municipal code reads crystal clear, Brockway has this advice for pickup drivers, and for Jef: If you’re gonna park a pickup, triple-check with the alderman first.

Regarding Trucks on Lake Shore Drive

9-72-020  Operation of vehicles restricted.

    It shall be unlawful to operate any vehicle upon any boulevard (a) when such vehicle is used for carrying freight or other goods and merchandise for commercial purposes, (b) when such vehicle is designed primarily for carrying freight or other goods and merchandise, and (c) when such vehicle is used for carrying freight or other goods and merchandise on the outside of the vehicle; provided, however, that vehicles carrying freight or other goods from or to any building or premises abutting any boulevard where it is impossible from the location of the building or the character of the freight or other goods to be received or delivered, to receive or deliver the freight or other goods and merchandise from an alley or a side street or a street other than the boulevard, shall be permitted to enter the boulevard at the cross street nearest the building or premises to receive or deliver the freight or other goods, but shall not proceed further on the boulevard than the nearest cross street. Operators of emergency vehicles and such vehicles excepted by permits issued by the executive director are exempt from provisions of this section. Notwithstanding the foregoing provisions, it shall not be unlawful to operate any of the vehicles described in clauses (a), (b) and (c) on those portions of Interstate Route 55, and the exit and entrance ramps thereto, which lie between the King Drive Interchange and the north and southbound lanes of Lake Shore Drive and the most easterly lane of northbound Lake Shore Drive and the most westerly lane of southbound Lake Shore Drive and the exit and entrance ramps of Lake Shore Drive which lie between Interstate Route 55 and 31st Street; provided that such vehicles are traveling to or from the McCormick Place complex and its support facilities.

(Added Coun. J. 7-12-90, p. 18634; Amend Coun. J. 11-28-90, p. 26192; Amend Coun. J. 12-11-91, p. 10832; Amend Coun. J. 11-15-06, p. 93351, § 1)

Regarding parking restrictions in Chicago neighborhoods

9-64-170  Parking restrictions – Special types of vehicles.

    (a)     It shall be unlawful to park any truck, tractor, semi-trailer, trailer, recreational vehicle more than 22 feet in length, self contained motor home, bus, taxicab or livery vehicle on any residential street for a longer period than is necessary for the reasonably expeditious loading or unloading of such vehicle, except that a driver of bus may park the bus in a designated bus stand as authorized elsewhere in the traffic code; provided, however that in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd, 24th, 25th, 26th, 27th, 28th, 29th, 30th, 31st, 32nd, 33rd, 34th, 35th, 36th, 37th, 40th, 41st, 42nd, 43rd, 44th, 45th, 46th, 47th, 48th, 49th and 50th wards this prohibition shall not apply to the owner of a pickup truck or van weighing under 4,500 pounds who has no outstanding parking violations, when such vehicle is parked at the curb adjacent to the owners place of residence and the vehicle bears a valid and current city wheel tax license emblem and a special parking permit issued in accordance with this subsection.  In the 7th, 15th, 10th, 23rd, 35th, 46th and 50th wards this prohibition also shall not apply to the owner of a taxicab who has no outstanding parking violations, when such vehicle is not in service, when the vehicle is parked at the curb adjacent to the owner's place of residence and when the vehicle bears a valid and current city wheel tax license emblem and a special permit issued in accordance with this subsection. The owner shall apply for a permit for such parking from the alderman of the ward in which he or she resides.  The Alderman shall evaluate the vehicle for compliance with relevant provisions of the municipal code and shall issue a special parking permit if the vehicle is believed to be compliant.