Keep Chicago Moving (and Every City too)

Editor’s Note: The Keep the US Moving blog is a collaboration between the National Motorists Association and the Keep the US Moving (KUSM).

Chicago certainly has had its share of problems before the pandemic. Like many cities around the world during the pandemic, Chicago has also banned cars from specific areas, which in the short run might facilitate social distancing and outdoor dining. In the long run, what do closing streets to vehicles really accomplish when a city’s residents cannot move freely?

No doubt, city DOT Commissioners have a difficult job balancing the needs of the many with the demands of Big Bike and other anti-car folks. The doublespeak dance these commissioners have to do is none more evident in this post featuring Chicago Commissioner Gia Biagi.

In reality, Chicago has already started cutting transit services due to the COVID-19 crisis economic fallout. Transit riders have been staying away from buses, light rail, and the subway due to telecommuting or driving. Now, more than ever, people want and need to drive vehicles to go to work and to take on other daily essential activities.

A backlash has also already begun in the banning of vehicles from streets. More prosperous areas of Chicago have opened up streets for outdoor dining, but predominantly Black- and Latino-owned restaurant strips have not wanted to participate in the open streets experience. In some areas of the city, restaurant owners have not wanted the car ban because it would discourage customers from driving by and picking up food, which is more lucrative than outside dining. Taylor Street restaurant owners even questioned the efficacy of weekend street closures. Chicago Residents pushed back on the decision to dismantle Dickens, but the Slow Street is already gone.

One of the NMA Chicago members has been keeping tabs and here are his observations about banning vehicles from streets:

  • A misguided car ban reinforces bad behaviors of jaywalking and reckless cycling and scootering. To keep streets safe for everyone, all users of the street should follow the same rules of the road.
  • Car owners have difficulty driving on their neighborhood streets for essential activities. Not everyone is capable of walking or riding a bike. Disabled residents would be prisoners in their homes, with no vehicle access to their residences. Taxis and rideshare vehicles are unable to pick up/drop off passengers who need front door service.
  • USPS, FedEx, UPS, Amazon, and other mail/package delivery services are unable to access homes and businesses readily. Time is money, and the added time will cost more for customers. Grocery, food, and pharmacy drivers are also unable to readily maintain the lifeline for those unable to leave their homes.
  • Businesses on the street cannot readily use the streets for deliveries or shipments products, raw materials, and general supplies. Many businesses rely on vehicular traffic for customers, and walk or biking for customers or supplies is not prudent. Many businesses, already hurt due to the pandemic, can no longer continue due to even less business.
  • Emergency vehicles have difficulty accessing these streets when every second counts for a fire or medical issue.
  • Contractors are unable to access homes or businesses to make necessary repairs readily.
  • The city of Chicago will have to pay millions, under the terms of the parking lease agreement, for meters no longer accessible to drivers.
  • Holders of residential parking permits would be cheated out of their money, as their permits become worthless (teeing up the next multi-million dollar class-action suit against the city).
  • Most importantly, a car ban would outlaw the safest means of transport in a dense, pandemic-infected city.
  • Open streets might attract and encourage unwanted and unsafe congregation during the time of a pandemic.

If you have an idea about why it is a bad idea to ban vehicles from city streets now and post-pandemic, let us know in the comments section below.

If you have any questions or need help in advocating against a road diet or traffic-calmed street or intersection, please contact the National Motorists Association at [email protected] or Keep the US Moving at [email protected].

For additional reading, check out these links:

Keep the US Moving and National Motorists Association Resources:

If you are fighting a road diet or traffic calming in your community, contact us:

Emails: [email protected] or [email protected]

Websites: National Motorists Association and Keep the US Moving

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