It’s ON! Parking Madness 2014 Kicks Off With Chicago vs. Denver


Are you ready for Parking Madness 2014, our second annual search for parking craters that have obliterated cities? You better be.

Last year, Tulsa took home the Golden Crater. In this year’s tournament, we broadened the field to accept entries from outside the United States. Perhaps not surprisingly, American parking craters still dominated the reader submissions, but one international contestant will be facing off this year: Calgary, Alberta. Canada’s first entrant is up against some truly gruesome competition.

Our first matchup is Chicago vs. Denver. It’s your job to decide which parking crater is the most awful, life-sapping blight on its city.

Here’s the evidence, beginning with Chicago:


Nice job creating a “fun” atmosphere around your basketball and hockey arena, Chicago! Notice how in this Google Maps view, about 95 percent of the spaces are empty, which is surely the case every day there is not an event.

Bruce G., who submitted this photo, says if you understand the context, it’s even worse than it looks. “The United Center is fewer than two miles from Chicago’s Loop, which puts this land within easy biking or walking distance from scores of downtown train stations, offices, and shopping destinations.” Fail!

Okay. Now let’s compare to Denver, a city we acknowledged last year for healing some of its worst downtown parking scars. Apparently, there’s more work to do:

Denver crater

Aren’t lonely little buildings surrounded by parking the saddest thing you’ve ever seen? And what a beautiful house too! Imagine what the neighborhood used to be like.

This area of Denver is called Court Place, and the submitter, Leighton Walter, called this block “tragic,” although he acknowledged the good work the city has done to repair a lot of similar places.

Which city should advance to the next round? It’s on you to decide. Vote below!

Which city has the worst parking crater?

  • Chicago (74%, 283 Votes)
  • Denver (27%, 103 Votes)

Total Voters: 383

50 thoughts on It’s ON! Parking Madness 2014 Kicks Off With Chicago vs. Denver

  1. At the east side of the United Center aerial, you can see the CTA Pink Line but, bizarrely, there’s no stop here. On the plus side, the planned Ashland Avenue BRT line will run just east of the stadium.

  2. no one walks because all the events are in the winter and its cold here in case you forgot.

    Property values around the United Center are still low otherwise they’d be converted by know.

  3. Denver has been doing better. You go to Union Station, mixed use development is going in and being constructed.

  4. There’s at least progress in the works for the Chicago entry. Isn’t that where the new practice center and entertainment complex is going to be built. Let’s hope they don’t build on a few of these lots and then replace the lost lots with new additional lots!

  5. I don’t know that the location of United Center’s parking lot so close to the Loop makes it worse than any other of your parking craters, as the land was never in the city’s long history well-utilized. It’s surrounded (an occupies former parcels of) some of the city’s roughest housing projects, which were themselves built on land once occupied by crumbling warehouses. It’s possible you could get reinvestment here the way we saw with the development of Cabrini-Green (with all the attendant complaints about the impact of gentrification), but nobody’s hit on it yet.

    On the other hand, I don’t see enough concept with the Denver pic to get any sense of where it is or what’s around it.

  6. Also the new berto center will be on the east side. But at least the powers that be (reinsdorf and wirtz) seem to slowly be recognizing how bad being surrounded in parking can be. I seem to remember a proposal for an entertainment district to take place one of the main lots. I’ll see if i can track it down.

    Edit: Here you go:

    As BF states above, i think these lots are really more a byproduct of this area’s history. As the west loop continues to expand and mature, i bet more of the private lots in the area get developed.

  7. And the parking lot generates tax money which was little or nothing when the lots were filled with rotted buildings or horrible public housing. Check out the parking pass next time you enter a lot at the UC. That money could fill a lot of pot holes, open bike lanes, etc. Take air rights into account and the Wirtz family (who owns the lots) could develop quite an entertainment district, which would mean the lots are filled more often, an El station gets built and more money comes into the area.. Is it possible to argue that the lot could bring growth or should we go along with the contest?

  8. Streetsblog – It would be helpful if there were gmap links to the sites so that voters could explore the areas themselves a little

  9. except that the traffic induced by the parking lots has been used as a justification for opposition to Bus Rapid Transit on nearby thoroughfares by neighbors scared of the horrendous traffic these lots create becoming a more regular occurrance.

  10. replace them with higher revenue generating land uses surrounding a new CTA Pink Line station. Decreased congestion, increased tax rolls, increased transit ridership, increased entertainment options around the stadium. It’s not that hard to understand, and it is already happening, just very piecemeal & very slow, despite high demand for housing on this side of town.

  11. They’re also turning one of the current lots visible in that picture into a new building for Malcolm X Community College–though the lot already belonged to the community college, so the existing building may just be torn down and turned into a new lot.

  12. Is El Cerrito, CA in the running against Portland? Proud and, at the same time, embarrassed that there’s a contender from the SF Bay Area.

  13. And 18,000 people will file into the Pink Line, Ashland BRT all at once. That does not sound like a destination area. Why can’t you have both the parking lots and the transit options?

  14. Chicago’s United Center is not exactly in the center of the city – its way out along an expressway in the outer limits of Chicago.

    Denver’s example is practically downtown.

    That is why Denver wins my vote.

  15. Because the parking lots take up the land that is necessary for more housing, retail, entertainment, and office space. With the development revenue funding the construction of limited underground or structured garages to meet the needs of those who truly have no option but to drive. 18,000 could easily be handled on the existingexisting east west buses, New Pink Line station and BRT, because a good percentage already take public transit to games, and parking options still need to be provided, just not in underutilized surface parking lots which kill street life on non gamedays. So really only 10,000 people would need to be served by BRT & L, well within both their passenger per hour capacities, especially if there are establishments which faster to before or after game dining or drinking. Heck, Wrigley does it with twice as large of a stadium.

  16. You have never taken the EL after a Cubs game! I agree with the use of the land, I think air rights would be perfect here.

  17. That’s true, because I usually walk to Guthrie’s or another nearby bar or restaurant to hang out before going home. Which is what United Center needs, not parking lots.

  18. Not necessarily:
    1. Parking minimums or other deals may require that the land be used for parking, no matter how valuable it is. This is the case with New York’s Yankee Stadium, for example.
    2. Property tax rules may mean that it is more profitable to leave the land as parking, even if from a revenue perspective it would be better put to other uses.

  19. Don’t fall back to an apples oranges neighborhood comparison. And don’t take a 4 square blocks world view. Not everyone can walks to guthries and then to the game. I used to ride my bike and lock it in front of Murphy’s. But I have moved and either take the train or drive then walk to Wrigley. You better leave early or way after a game to avoid a mass of bodies lining up for the El. The parking lot at the UC serves a purpose, it is not an eyesore, it is functional. Show me a lot sitting in a city, unused all the time and I think we would both agree it is a waste. Let the Wirtz family develop the property, and with John Mcdonagh on board, I bet you will see some action in this area. Just don’t write this lot off as some godforsaken land.

  20. If it has no use other than game day, then it isn’t generating much revenue and serving little purpose. There already is movement, Reinsdorf is developing one lot into an apartment building, another into Berto Center, and yet another is proposed for an entertainment complex. But all of these eliminate the suboptimal land use of a parking lot that exists to serve a singular and limited purpose. Arguing that a parking lot is better than nothing is true, but it should never have been nothing in the first place.

  21. You and I actually agree. Growth will replace parking lots. But are you saying we should not have parking lots? That municipalities refuse or turn down revenue potential while neighborhoods catch up,with growth?

    And ther was something there before the parking lots. The neighborhood was burned, gutted and destroyed in the 60s. Sat unused for decades, unpaved, filled with weeds and debris. The Wirtz family bought the lots. They pay taxes, and clean it. I see the lot as a transition of real estate and you see it as a cancer.

  22. Um, you just put a heck of a lot of words in my mouth. Parking as the sole use around a stadium is a waste considering how much spending power is brought to these locations day in and day out. It is good that the lots are maintained, but this neighborhood would catch up much quicker if it was defined by a transit station rather than a sea of parking lots.

  23. You are missing a big chunk of Chicago history. Look at the history of the area and you’ll see that for generations is was a point of entry neighborhood that was devastated after the MLK riots in 1968. It was never a neighborhood of destination. It was zeroed out, leveled. If you went to a game at the stadium in the 70’s into the 90’s, many of these lots were not paved, not really lots except for the guy taking money at the street. You parked on broken bricks, glass and mud. It sucked and perpetuated the urban blight reputation.

  24. I am very familiar with this period of history, but the lack of a transit station coupled with the investment in permanent parking lots has made it difficult for the neighborhood to transition in the ways that other areas in equal proximity to downtown have. The parking lot is not why development will occur, it is in fact a hindrance. It brings in more revenue, but that same investment makes it difficult to replace the lots with more productive uses that are in demand.

  25. Missed my chance to submit the horrific Columbus, Ohio, I guess. Maybe for 2015…

    Also, none of these compare to Houston, which I believe was the runner up from 2014. Houston oh my god Houston.

  26. What about the 19/20 bus? The short walk to Ashland or Med District El? Transit has existed for decades and predates the great migration. Transit did not cause or inhibit growth. Most of the new construction has occurred in the last 15 years. People are moving in as prices increase east of here. Oh and the lots were paved and cleaned up in 1995 when the UC opened so you could say a cleaner lot made the neighborhood more approachable and less urban blighted. Please do focus on the area to the east. West of greektown was a massive parking lot until the late 80’s early 90’s. It is one hot neighborhood now and the area around the UC will benefit. Relax, the lots are not cancer, just buildings you can’t see yet.

  27. Parking lots continue to be revenue generators for landowners, which disincentivizes the redevelopment of these underutilized parcels until prices become high enough to justify their removal and loss of revenue. This means that those lots remain far beyond when the market would otherwise have replaced an empty lot with a market rate apt building that wasn’t in the luxury price range.

    You cannot make investmentsinvestments based on bus routes because they are not fixed in place. Rapid transit is an investment that signals the transit agency has committed to serving the community, and shown that commitment. Stations are only removed due to low ridership, something a United Center station would not be in risk of.

    My point is that when the pink line was instituted, a United Center station should have been built. This would have created an incentive to counter the opportunity costs associated with the redevelopment of a revenue generating parking lot. This could have facilitated the development we are seeing now happening a decade prior in tandem with the Westhaven Park development.

    Transit does impact development, whether it is an investment made in lots or stations. So don’t paint a sea of parking as a boon for anyone other than the Bulls & Hawks.

  28. Right. They should have built that station when they made the pink line.TIF financing would help too.

  29. What’s sad about the United Center is there are several bars just down the road that run shuttles. There is definitely a demand to develop the area.

  30. I think it is still the plan. I wasn’t sure when I posted, but I read up after, and the plan as stated is to still turn the old building into the new school for the arts. Makes sense, as a Mies-style building that can’t be all that old.

  31. “bizarrely”? It’s not like they can just have the train stop there, at no added cost.

    Yes, it *probably* should be a capital priority (esp if the Hawks/Bulls could be talked into *some* contribution), but not adding a station at a cost of (perhaps–based on Morgan) $40m, to primarily (for now) serve the well-heeled patrons of the United Center is hardly a “bizarre” allocation of limited capital resources.

    Frankly, a better cost/benefit equation would be had by extending the Loop BRT all the way west to the UC, and running a ‘special’ route during pre-event periods. Probably cost less than the single station, and have better knock-on effects for existing bus routes.

  32. Rather timely–I visited Chicago last year, and one of my “goals” was to ride the Pink Line, which was established after my previous visit. It was hard to miss the barren zone around the United Center. And a sight I remember from a visit in 1985 was the “ghost stations” on one of the west-side lines; stations that were out of service because the nearby area was so desolate that it didn’t pay to have a station attendant or ticket machines.

  33. Or the damn Pepsi Center. Which, as compared to the United Center, is:

    1. Closer to the center of downtown (it’s basically a 1 mile walk v. 2+ to the UC).
    2. Has a much closer (ie, directly adjacent) rail stop.
    3. Is surrounded by *more* parking.
    4. Is adjacent to the Auraria Campus with *still more* insane amounts of surface parking.

    Flip it around, and use the Pepsi Center for Denver, and a single block of surface parking in Chicago (say SW of Madison & Des Plaines; or the hole north or south of the NBC Tower), and it would be an apples/oranges comparison unfair to Denver.

  34. “I am very familiar with this period of history”

    I think Jacob just called you old, Mcass.

  35. “a sight I remember from a visit in 1985 was the “ghost stations” on one of the west-side lines; stations that were out of service because the nearby area was so desolate that it didn’t pay to have a station attendant or ticket machines.”

    And to have an armed security guard to protect the station attendant. ’85 had the 2d lowest homicide total of the 80s–the 2d lowest from 69-98–and it *still* was 30% more homicides than the year of the ‘murder crisis’ 2012.

  36. That Denver photo may be ugly and depressing. It surely highlights what was lost. However, one could see it as a successful act of resistance. That building did survive. It’s a living (sort of) nail house (with plenty of parking and no worries of bothering the neighbors!). The Chicago thing – despite any of the mitigating circumstances, historical causes, or potential for recovery – because of it’s sheer acreage, takes the breath away. What a Crater!

  37. The Pepsi Center was carefully designed to block southward rail service from Denver Union Station, too. Just for kicks!

  38. Los Angeles didn’t make the Sweet 16? We been robbed… twice, first by the Parking Craters and now by you guys.

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