The Melee that is Montrose Beach Parking Lots


Moss::: jumped into the twitter tumult earlier this week with our opinion about the popular … and now controversial … Montrose Beach.

For those not up on the news, an illegal concert there last weekend melted down into crowd conflict and antagonism towards the police when it was shut down.  A comment by Alderman James Cappleman that part of the problem was the over abundance of parking which allowed an illegal flash concert to pop up too easily has sparked continued internet infighting over the concept through the rest of the week. Here’s Matt’s take:

As someone who spent their formative college years in Southern California, I’m awfully attached to sandy beached waterfronts. In the days that everyone seems to be short on sand, lets us enjoy these next few decades of pristine, soft sand under our feet at the shoreline. The biggest impediment to beach enjoyment according to Alderman Cappleman and me are the huge swaths of asphalt parking lots smack dab in the middle of prime parkland. With a bus line, CTA RedLine station, divvy station, bike racks and boat marina there are all sorts of ways to access the beach that won’t result in unpermitted concerts, bottle throwing yocals and cloak stealing night rogues.

Streetsblog took the opportunity to jump on the Alderman’s comment and in their post, Streetsblog writer, Steven Vance, calc’ed the paved parking lot area (NOT counting street parking) at 9.25 acres (or seven football fields)!

On Tuesday, Streetsblog followed up on the Alderman’s comment and in their post, asking Does Montrose Beach Really Need so Much Car Parking?

In the internet comments (which are extensive and for the most part very well reasoned and politely expressed) there were arguments made both for and against protecting the parking at Montrose Beach.

But really, is parking the most important thing that space has to offer?

Our open spaces being at such a premium, the City’s parks must be multi-functional and serve multiple purposes. Apart from recreation for humans our open spaces, especially when on the shore, maintain habitat for all living things. The well-being of animals and birds are directly related to our well-being as humans. Due to an accident of beach maintence, the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary has taken over the public beach and giving rise to the area known as ‘The Magic Hedge’. Similar to the work at Northerly Island the shoreline should act not just as a barrier to storm surges, but create habitat for birds. This area could also be a new launch point for lake-going kayakers.

Thinking about these points got our whole office buzzing and we decided to brainstorm an update for entire park area – one which both maintains the already extensive multi-user quality of the park … and enhances it!

Here’s what we propose!  Replace this …

montrose beach

With this!

Montrose Beach Site Plan

In order to build on the site’s already strong multi-user group aspect we propose expanding diversity of potential users and the of the park.  Replacing (SOME) of the parking with additional green space, and reconfiguring other areas of the park, particularly its hard surfaces can allow us to :

  • CREATE A CYCLOCROSS TRACK  out of some of the (many) looping paved driving areas.  This would make a space for bikes to speed to their hearts desire without conflicting with walkers strolling elsewhere along the Lake Shore Path.
  • ADD BIKE PARKING trading out a few car parking spaces for many bike access points,
  • CREATE A BOARDWALK SPACE adjacent to the beach which can allow both for a promenade connection to the dunes and for temporary food service from Chicago local food trucks which can support the high traffic on the weekends without adding infrastructure to the site.
  • GROW THE BIRD HABITAT AND NATURAL AREAS beyond their current space.  Some of this is happening naturally already.  Due to a choice by the city’s beach groomers (operating Zamboni type sand-smoothing devices) to stop flattening the area at the east end of the beach, sand dunes have begun to form, increasing the scope and type of the adjacent bird sanctuary area.  This could be further expanded along the peninsula which protects the marina and also northwest along the beach into areas that arent’ currently used for playing fields or sledding hill.
  • ADAPT MARINA BOAT STORAGE from paved parking lot space to a more multi functional permeable paving surface which can help prevent storm water runoff
  • SOFTEN THE SHORE LINE much as Studio Gang has proposed for Northerly Island adjacent to the Museum Campus downtown.  Their comprehensive and beautiful framework plan document wryly points out the contrast between 20th and 21st century approaches to waterlines this way.

“Late 20th Century Coastal Engineering battles the forces of nature with hard armored edges.” While, 21th Century Coastal Engineering encourages diverse habitat through the introduction of a constructed reef that also shields shoreline ecosystems.”

  studio gang shoreline approach

  • CREATE METERED PARALLEL PARKING on Montrose, Simonds and Lawrence.
  • ADD DIVVY STATIONS at several locations around the park.  The current dock only has 15 slots – hardly enough to support heavy weekend access to the park via Divvy!

This drawing blows up the proposed bike training loop and diagrams a host of different users current and new ranging from parallel street parking to skate park to native plantings!

activity diagram

The Montrose Beach Already Supports

  • The BEACH GOERS: Montrose beach is ALREADY well used by a large and diverse swath of the Chicago population.  Access to sun and sand is and can continue to be provided by the public beach.  But the space is already much more than a party beach.
  • The ORGANIZED PLAYING FIELDS provide access for soccer and softball players and a sledding hill serves as a focal point for the whole area.
  • The MARINA serves sail boats and has a protected cove which guards against the worst of the windy city’s wave action.
  • The CYCLOCROSS BIKE CHALLENGES take place both on some of the less important access roads for interval training and nearly all the rest of the terrain for challenging fall rides.

This photo from the Johnny Sprockets facebook page shows former moss::: team member John and his wife Cady schlepping across the dunes.  Chris is pretty sure he’s not in this picture but also regularly meets with the other bike aficionados there in the fall.  

bikes at montrose

Note: this is a pretty poor placement of a bike rack, city of Chicago.  Better design and placement can absolutely improve on this!

Montrose Beach, a history of improvement

The Montrose Beach park was created (literally from lake) when Lincoln Park was expanded north to Montrose in 1932 and the beach and most of the park were created with landfill dumped into constructed borders.  The image below shows the construction in progress.  Surely an area the city went to so much effort to create can be adapted even further to keep current with all the needs and excitement of its many visitors.

montrose beach 1932 construction montrose beach_after

  • John

    I concur with the majority of what you’re proposing, especially a dramatic reduction in parking, along with an even greater reduction in inpermeable surfaces. Living just a bit to the north and west in Peterson Woods I ride and recreate at both Foster and Montrose beach often. The diversity on display in these parks is perhaps unmatched in the city. A suggestion I would make is to incorporate, through landscaping and plan things, a number of “picnic Groves” as well as a number of actual picnic shelters. While I recognize that picnic groves and shelters were state of the art park planning in 1953, if you spend some time observing how the park is actually utilized you’ll quickly recognize the intensity of this type of use. Lastly, a cycle cross course is not dependent upon, nor particularly complimentary to, a lakefront park. Granted, the lakefront path makes access via bicycle convieient, but much of the city is becoming easily access able via bicycle. The city is starting to rediscover the boulevards and grand parks associated with them. I’d suggest that either Humboldt Park or Washington Park would be better locations. Thus is a great and thought provoking plan. Perhaps the events of last weekend will lead to a valuable updating of this great public amenity.

  • Lethe

    As a non-car-owner living in the city and using my 1) feet, 2) bike, and 3) public transport to get around, I’m all for reducing motorized vehicle traffic. I am also for (mostly, with the predominant exception of those heartbreakingly wasteful hanging baskets of plants all through downtown and the near north) any and all efforts to maximize the ‘urbs in horto’ thing. AND naturalizing the landscape to the highest extent possible.

    I am sure the hue and cry will be that reducing or barring car transport and parking along the lakefront will deny access to many. My response to this would be that while it may deny IMMEDIATE (as in I want it, and I want it now, and I don’t give a damn about anyone or anything else) access, there are myriad other means of getting there – the previously mentioned feet, bike, public transport – that will still allow people to access the lakefront AND will preserve and improve it as well.

    That said, if already existing adjacent parking is reduced, there should be some effort to replace it with remote parking sites and a shuttle, as is done for Cubs games. Other than that, after one or two attempts to drive a POV in result in endless circling through the area and not finding parking, people WILL finally make use of the other means available to them. And human nature being what it is, they will gloat about it to their still-circling friends.

  • Bruce Thompson

    Where would you park the school buses, or will children now have to bike to school?

    Where would all those charity walkathons go?

    Where would you get the money to replace the lost revenue if you eliminate the winter boat storage? Where would you get the revenue to replace that lost if the boaters, who pay 2.5 times what they cost the park district, decided to go to Racine to save money?

    Is the city going to start taxing bicycle riders enough to pay for what they want? How much do birders put into the city’s coffers?

    How will the soccer players get to the park? Ride bikes through the neighborhoods? Little APSO kids riding on bikes for miles rather than riding in their soccer moms’ cars to the available parking?

    If you want a bike track and more bird sanctuary, build another point out into the lake. Don’t screw up what has evolved through actual usage by real citizens.