WICKER PARK — Businesses along parts of Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park are applauding an overnight parking ban in the area, saying it’s quickly reduced rowdiness.
The city has restricted parking 10 p.m.-5 a.m. Friday-Sunday on both sides of Milwaukee Avenue between Division Street and North Avenue. The restrictions started in late June and will last until Sept. 6.
“We love it,” said Lulu Hernandez, assistant manager of DSTRKT Bar & Grill, 1540 N. Milwaukee Ave. “Before, people were up and down the street, causing a lot of chaos.”
The effort to prevent nighttime rowdiness was spearheaded by the Police Department and the Wicker Park Chamber of Commerce. They came together with local businesses and the office of Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st).
Owners of several bars in the neighborhood have welcomed the parking restrictions. Milwaukee Avenue was getting too rowdy for some at night, they said.
“It was really driven by a lot of late-night instability that was being witnessed, instances that were leading to criminal activity but also a lot of disorder,” La Spata said. There was “a lot of potential for worse behavior that we wanted to find reasonable ways to curtail, which is why [police] proposed this late-night parking prohibition.”
Though most of the problems seemed to be in the 1500 block of Milwaukee Avenue, the restrictions included a bigger swath of the street because the area gets an influx of people late at night, said Sgt. Michael Edens, of the Shakespeare (14th) District.
“We had a lot of rowdiness, you know, 200-300 people hanging out in the street on Milwaukee Avenue, partying, and a lot of them weren’t actually patronizing the bars,” Edens said. “They were just kinda hanging out for the ambiance and just drinking out there. Selling things out of their trunks — selling alcohol out of their trunks.”
Jeremy McDevitt, general manager of Nick’s Beer Garden, 1516 N. Milwaukee Ave., said the situation seemed to come to a head in mid- to late June.
“Cops had to basically shut down the whole block — people were drinking in their cars, causing a lot of problems,” McDevitt said.
Many of the bars in the area open in the late afternoon and close about 2 a.m. Since only a few places are open until 4 a.m, people looking to extend their evening tend to hang around Milwaukee Avenue once most of the bars have closed, people said.
“Employees felt unsafe going to their cars — we get off at 3 a.m., and it was getting really bad,” Hernandez said.
McDevitt said the area has long been known to be a “free for all” when it comes to alcohol; however, it worsened at some point during the pandemic. The problems soon escalated, with guns and instances of live animals — including a goat — being brought to the street.
“This had become a destination for people who had no intention of supporting businesses on Milwaukee,” McDevitt said.
La Spata thinks the pandemic limiting social contact had something to do with the chaos.
“I was about eight months into my work when we went into pandemic mode,” he said. “So, I think a lot of bar owners talk about a lot of pent-up energy, both economic and social. I think we’re witnessing a lot of that. It’s not that it’s not good to have a good time, but we need people to do so in a way that is reasonable and responsible. “
Edens helped organize a meeting to discuss a potential solution. Officials and bar owners in the area met and came up with the idea of banning overnight parking.
There was a precedent for parking bans: Neighborhood rowdiness in Logan Square in 2019 led to parking restrictions.
Business owners also were motivated to find a solution because they worried first responders and emergency vehicles would have a tough time entering the area when it was chaotic.
Not everyone is happy. Some find the parking restrictions inconvenient for people who work nearby.
Drivers parked in the restricted areas can be ticketed and have their cars towed. There has been no discussion yet about the parking restrictions becoming permanent, La Spata said.
“I think folks are looking for reasonable and non-carceral means of promoting public safety in the community, including our business owners,” La Spata said. “Because they definitely want their patrons coming out in the late evenings. But they also want to feel safe when they’re leaving.”
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