Sunday, February 3, 2008

NIMBY's Corner: Anonymous NIMBY Protests METRA Landscaping

posted by richard gill

Reacting to Metra's tree-cutting on the railroad right-of-way between 57th and 59th Streets (not in anyone's back yard), some Not-In-Our-Back-Yards residents of Harper Avenue whose back yards face the tracks, became angry because the railroad was clearing trees that were Not In The Residents' Back Yards.

As reported in the Jan. 30, 2008 Hyde Park Herald, one Harper Avenue resident anonymously said, "Looking at this makes me want to scream, cry, get sick or something." Well, Anonymous Person, have you ever seen a train wreck, with dead and injured people? There's something that will really make you scream, cry, get sick or something. The objective of tree and brush clearance is to prevent this.

Metra's Joseph E. Riley told the Herald that the trees, which were on Metra property, posed a potential hazard to trains and the thousands of commuters who ride them. Trees too close to the tracks can foul the contact arms and overhead wires that provide power for the trains, obstruct the engineers' view of track and signals, break windows, and get caught in the trains' running gear. Root systems can distort the track alignment. Autumn leaves under the wheels can cause trains to literally slide past station platforms.

Heavy weeds and brush also pose hazards; good railroads--and I count Metra among them--spend great amounts of money to control vegetation. (The alert commuter will note signs along the tracks instructing maintenance crews not to use weed spray too close to homes, uh, back yards.)

So, once again, some residents of Hyde Park have exhibited their total inability, or refusal, to see beyond their own eyeballs. "What's that," they seem to say, "You mean our personal sensibilities should take a back seat to public safety?"

This sorry episode is not the first of its kind. Recall a few years back, when Hyde Parkers helped to delay the construction of a median barrier on Lake Shore Drive, south of 57th Street. A number of head-on crossover collisions prompted the City to propose the barrier. People went ballistic, because it meant widening the roadway a couple of feet. The project was delayed. It got done after people kept dying on Lake Shore Drive.

And don't forget all the objections to the Lake Shore Drive curb cut at 53rd Street, that allows turning cars to decelerate for the exit without having to merge back into a high-speed lane. It's a good thing that finally got built, too.

Getting back to the tree thing, I want to thank Sue Purrington of Alderman Hairston's office, and Joseph E. Riley of Metra for their sensible and helpful response in the Herald article. Two suggestions they made were that Harper residents consider planting trees on their own property, and get together and talk things out instead of wailing that the sky is falling. Anonymous Person et al, you might take heed. But if you feel you must scream, cry, get sick or something, try not to do it in someone else's back yard.


Rosemary said...

Excellent reporting, Richard.

LPB said...


Thank you for the safety perspective. As someone who rides the Metra train five days a week, I'd hate to think that if anything happened to me due to a vegetation-related train event that it was for the purposes of preserving some anonymous NIMBY's view of her backyard.


Stephen said...

Hello Hyde Park Progress,

You are brilliant and I enjoy your blog daily. Please keep up the amazing, humorous and brutally honest writing. I’m sure many readers would agree, but you probably don’t hear it often enough!


Frogger said...

Awesome! Thanks for being a reasonable voice in hyde park

IHeartLenoxLohr said...

I wasn't sure where to post this comment... I regularly read (and admittedly vascillate between fury and laughter) the Herald's Letters to the Editor. Maybe you've addressed this elsewhere on the blog, but I can't comprehend this issue's letter--and many like it--complaining about the new Unger Solstice. I couldn't attend the community meeting back in November but my understanding is that there was overwhelming support. Why do the NIMBYs love to grouse, protest, or offer financial support at the last minute only AFTER they were given the opportunity to make a difference and passed it up (Co-Op, HPNC, landscaping, etc)?

chicago pop said...

I can't comprehend this issue's letter--and many like it--complaining about the new Unger Solstice.

You posted your comment in the right place, iheartlenoxlohr, because that letter was indeed classic NIMBY-ism. It just lost out to the METRA issue this week -- sometimes there's more material than we can handle here at HPP.

Maryal Stone Dale's letter, "Solstice Not In Keeping With Urban Renewal Values," sums up a lot of what goes on in Hyde Park, both in terms of being just plain hilarious because it's so out of touch, and because it's so sad for being so out of touch.

Here you have someone who for some reason still thinks that the guidelines of Urban Renewal (why she calls them "values" I have no idea) carry any credibility with anybody, as if nearly 50 years of criticism and dismissal of Urban Renewal by historians, planners, architects, and politicians, had never happened.

Nobody these days would advocate tearing down residential housing to give more air, light, and space to a school or anything else, but that is exactly the antiquated formula that Maryal Stone Dale dredges up from back before LBJ got us into Vietnam.

Sort of like the people who think the Co-Op was still buying in bulk and selling at a discount, or that Harper Court has viable retail spaces that artists really want.

They say that humans and dinosaurs never existed at the same time. This letter makes me think I'm not so sure -- or maybe they do coexist, but only in Hyde Park.

Peter Rossi said...

richard's excellent post reminds us of the shameful LSD barrier business. thank you for this prime example of NIMBY behavior.

I do want to remind people that the reason NIMBYs didn't want the barrier was because it would cause a reduction in "green space." What these incredibly self-centered people were saying was literally --
my personal consumption of green space is more important than the lives of my fellow citizens.


IHeartLenoxLohr said...

Oh, Chicago Pop, your comment of "sometimes there's more [Herald] material than we can handle here at HPP" is simply too true when it comes to the bountiful harvest that the Letters section proffers each week. Not to mention the misleading headlines and topic selection!

But seriously, I fail to grasp what I have to hope is the "not-prevailing-just-excess-time-to-write-to-Herald-mindset." I love Hyde Park/Woodlawn and deliberately settled here ten years ago (I never worked for nor attended U of C!). Frustrated yet determined, I am driven by the hope is that in some small way I can be a part of responsible change through the neighborhood boards I serve on. And, should you guys ever be looking for contributions toward your sightful blog, I happily toss my hat in the ring!

Aranya said...

Hello... I am a journalism graduate student at Northwestern and I am writing an article about this clearing. I would love to include your perspective - if anyone is willing to speak to me about this, please contact me at Thank You!