Chicago has its good things and its bad things – just like any major city, one would think. But let’s face it, when it comes to the bad things that the city doesn’t want you to know about until you unsuspectingly find out, it can really be mind-bogglingly bad. No jokes here about how bad it is that the Cubs haven't won a World Series in over a century – just the bad things that haven’t helped Chicago and its citizenry move forward in the recent past.
What's been bad in Chicago? Where – oh where – does one begin?
Let’s start with gas prices. Gas prices have been too high everywhere, but in Chicago they have been the highest you’ll find anywhere in the United States for much – if not most - of the past year. With Chicago’s city taxes, Cook County taxes, and Illinois’ state taxes, Chicago’s gas prices were – and still are - at the high end of the nation’s price scale. Even when gas prices tend to ease up a bit, Chicago leads the way with the highest prices, nationally.
Closed roads that seem to cause detours that don’t reopen for too long a period of time. Blame who you want on this one, but the fact is that Chicago has lots of traffic and it is greatly inconvenienced for motorists when a road closes and doesn’t reopen for months on end. Roads in disrepair that ought to be briefly shut down and worked on are also a problem for motorists and their vehicles in Chicago.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s realized-dream of turning Chicago into a bicyclists’ haven is pretty much a mindboggling event to many who are confused by the new street formations throughout the city. Drivers are now coming across city streets that have cars parked several feet away from the curve – and into the street - because the bicyclists now have their lane along the curve. Cars must actually park well into the street. In many locations throughout the city where new bike lanes have redesigned traffic flow and parking availabilities, bike riders are few and far between – even when weather permits. For the most part, many of these bike lanes have done nothing but turned former good streets into narrow two-lane streets with parking taken away from one side of the street.
Also bicycle-related, there are unsuspected eyesores of full racks of light-blue colored bikes that are supposed to be shared by the locals. For the most part, it appears that the bike racks are sitting full. Of course, all of this was done to the city when five-sevenths of the year – November through March - is the city’s extended winter when bikers are few and far between anyway. Yet, well into December 2013, it appears that the bike racks and bike lanes will be taking precedence 12 months out of the year.
Parking and no parking areas of Chicago are a huge inconvenience and financial burden to Chicago locals and its visitors. If you haven’t heard about the parking situation in Chicago, you’ll learn about it once you get here. Hopefully you won’t find out the hard way with a ticket. Read the street signs everywhere. If you think you’ve lucked out and found a place to park for free – look harder. There’s probably a sign somewhere that tells you not to park there or a sign that tells you to pay to park there. You may be parking in a neighborhood in which you need a sticker to show you’re a resident of the area to park there. You may be parking where there is a box to pay – in the middle of the block and not where you actually parked – confused by antiquated parking meters still standing in some parking spots but not all. You may be parked where you can’t be parked because it’s Dec. 1 through Apr. 1, and the city will tow your vehicle and fine you for parking along a snow route – quite incredibly, even when there isn’t any snow on the ground!
Also related to vehicular travel, the city has many red light cameras which are primed to flash 24-7 to fine people who are cheating at stop lights. While this may be a good thing in some locations to avoid accidents, there are also tickets now being issued by speed cameras. The downside is that the speed cams are catching people at unsuspected times and locations throughout the city because they issue tickets even when schools are not in session and at times when people are not present in the parks. The city’s red light cameras – and now the city’s speed cameras – are among the most unpopular moves, if not the most unpopular move, made by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his City Council. While the city needs to crack down on drivers who truly speed, they could also help the situation by ticketing jay-walkers who have come to believe that they own the streets. There needs to be an effort to educate pedestrians in Chicago to cross streets at corners – as there was in the old days before something like a speed camera would have even been considered. Yes, many drivers are bad, but many pedestrians – especially the ones walking and talking or walking and reading – who are bad, too.
Gangs and their gang members are a part of Chicago. Many cause havoc and are a nuisance to the locals as well as to visitors. Try not to be intimidated, and call the police to report activity. Try it, even though it may seem frustratingly-futile when a motorist passes a corner with gang bangers shouting and casting gang signs while walking through traffic - and then, two blocks down the road one sees a police officer pulling a driver over for not having a headlight working. Of course, setting priorities for the police is Chicago Police Superintendent Gary McCarthy’s responsibility – even though it’s a potential problem for everyone.
Another aggravating police-related event in 2013 has been the repeated ‘patting of one’s self on the back’ because the crime rate and murder rate in the city are improved. All that can be said about that is that sometimes things get so bad, there is no place to go but up.
Street panhandlers as well as panhandlers at store entrances abound in Chicago. The huge number of street panhandlers is dangerous for the monetary change-seekers and challenging for drivers. At the entrance to stores, the panhandlers not only block foot-traffic entering and exiting the stores, but discourage people from even doing business where the panhandlers are allowed to gather. Yes, it’s difficult to say 'no' to many of the panhandlers – and many of us don’t – but it still doesn’t make it a good situation due to the large – and apparently increasing - number of Chicago panhandlers the city now has. Some panhandlers admit to being perched 5-to-7 days a week at their locations where police pass by hour after hour.
Homeless people’s gatherings on the streets and in alleys have caused concern in Chicago. While some people simply prefer to live on the street than to find a place to live, there are those who say they would go to public or private facilities such as a mission or a shelter if the rules weren’t so stringent at the facilities. Having to be “home” by 9:00 p.m. and not being allowed even one can of beer have kept some on the streets. The shelters that are in the form of an Alcoholics Anonymous or other types of anti-drug facilities have their downsides, as well. Former and current inhabitants complain about hours-long meetings that they are required to attend and participate in. According to one member of such a facility on the southwest side, “residents” are even required to turn over their LINK cards to the administrators who buy cigarettes and snack foods with their cards – only to resell the cigarettes, singularly, and snack foods back to the “residents” at an elevated price.
Protests in Chicago are often duds, for lack of a better term. While the city is issuing permits for protests and rallies often, the city – according to organizers - really hasn’t truly shown that it has embraced diverse public political opinions. Rallies get little publicity, very little public support - and little ever seems to change in the city that allegedly used to work. Perhaps most of Chicago’s locals are to blame for that.
Politically, citizens need to realize that every vote counts – even in a city where it is humorously alleged that dead people vote - and even win elections. Yet, people need to look at the issues, the political candidates and what they stand for before casting votes. As far as we know, no Chicagoan has ever gone to hell for not voting for the ever-present Democratic Party which currently rules Chicago and the state of Illinois. Voting blindly for any political party – without looking at the issues and the individual candidates - is not helping Chicago or Illinois.