Or, Exploring Transportation Options in Hyde Park
One of an occasional series at Hyde Park Progress exploring things from an undergraduate (or recently graduated) perspective.
While it now occurred a long time ago (February-March 2008), the controversy over 4 private parking spots being weighed against a key bus stop got me thinking: perhaps we should look over the transportation issue that undergraduates face. The first time I visited the University was also the first time that I knew transportation was going to be an issue.
Having trouble navigating through a narrow pass into the neighborhood that could be defended by 300 Spartans (thanks for vocalizing the frustration with the 57th and Stony "Do Not Enter", Elizabeth), the impossible task of finding parking, the late nights waiting for the 55 at the Garfield Red Line station, the impossible task of finding not only the commercial zones to furnish my dorm room and, later, apartment ... for all these reasons my parents won't visit me anymore. It's mainly because of transportation (and, alas, the choice of ... hotels ).
First, an overview of the options:
2) Private Car
6) I-Go or Zip Car
While walking and biking are the most ideal, we all agree that Hyde Park is lacking in commercial density (where would you bike or walk to?) and warmth in the winter months (you're joking if you think biking downtown during a blustery winter's day is an option) that makes it that viable an option.
Also, let's quickly dissect #2. Ideally, one wouldn't need a car in the city, and realistically speaking, undergrads don't have cars. Parking anywhere - downtown or Hyde Park - is frustratingly unfun or prohibitively expensive (to put it in mildest terms). If anything, the simple fact that undergrads don't have cars is a real problem, and I don't mean a personal one at that.
I'm speaking of the Co-Op. Many Hyde Park residents did exactly what one would expect when the only local option is terrible: vote with your feet.
But because there wasn't a decent alternative within walking distance, it was vote with your wheels, which is fine for everyone who has a car (a bit of a hassle, but we've already determined it was a better option than the Co-Op), but an impossible action for us carless students. One reason the Co-Op was probably able to stay longer than it should was its relative monopoly on non-produce groceries for all the students living in the student ghetto.
Another option then should be CTA. It offers a wide range, it's a bit slow and it is cheap. But you aren't going to be buying perishables or bulky items when you're taking public transit...it's just a silly idea. It's also really the only option for late-night sojourns, given its hours of operation and breadth of service.
Metra, CTA's better run cousin, is a faster option that is comparable in cost, but what it makes up for in speed, it lacks in frequency of runs and the (predictably) linear nature of its lines. Granted, weekend passes are probably the best buy out there ($5 for a free pass on Saturday and Sunday).
These can be shored up by Cabs, but even sharing costs, it's an expensive proposition. While of course there will never be a replacement for a wide variety of transportation options servicing the neighborhood (or for commercial development so more amenities are more available), I must say that the two great options I've found - getting far more appealing as gas prices go up and fewer want to own and operate SUVs - are Car Sharing programs and motorscooters.
My own experience with Zip Car was amazing. Blocking out 1 hour of car time cost a surprisingly small amount and my girlfriend and I were able to pick up a used piece of furniture and drop it off at her place with plenty of time to spare. For those in love with hybrids or luxury cars, one might be in luck and even score a Prius (which I've seen around) or a BMW (which one of my friends was lucky enough to borrow along the east-coast recently). At a relatively great and affordable rate, all you have to do now is find a buyer for that SUV you no longer want or need.
For smaller trips, I've fallen in love with my motorscooter. I'd be the first to admit that I'm verging on a full-blown crush on Europe, but damned if they don't have city living down to an art. You could easily fit 6 motor scooters into a parking space for a single car, gas mileage is amazing (around 90 mpg). For small trips to the grocery store, or picking up a few small things that would fit in seat-storage and a backpack, it is ideal during the 9 months of the year that it is not winter.
At only $2,000 purchase price from Craigslist, I honestly doubt that I could have made a better purchase for city living mobility.
The best part of both is the ever present parking issue. Recently, street cleaning occured on 4 consecutive weekdays (with each sign signaling which streets would be cleaned delightfully put up the day *after* I had already moved the car I was babysitting for a friend while she was out of town). Receiving kindly calls from a neighbor or two telling me I was about to get ticketed, I had to hop in still wearing pajamas and frantically search for a parking space, which during the day...Surprise! There are none.
Mind you, this is the middle of the summer, when all of the privileged young folk with mal-informed notions of car ownership in the city have a vehicle to park. More people carless = More parking for people to come into Hyde Park = Outsiders to catalyze economic development? A distinct possibility (if more pipe-dream than anything).
Granted neither car sharing or motorscooters are an option for actually going into the city to do something, which still leaves us with cabs, Metra and CTA (and the necessity of developing Hyde Park). But for anything else, let it be known that there *are* options, and more and more people are taking them. There are quite a few shared cars on campus and more and more frequently, I see motorscooters taking up their tiny amount of curb space.
[Jason Finke's previous posts on HPP: Where Fun Comes to Die; and Hooked on Hookahs]