Parking Madness Elite Eight: El Cerrito vs. Chicago

We’re two weeks into our Parking Madness competition, and only a few parking craters are still standing.

Today’s Elite Eight matchup pairs a Bay Area suburb with America’s third largest city: It’s El Cerrito, California vs. Chicago.

First up is El Cerrito, which was singled out for shame by one of our readers because of this crater’s proximity to a BART station providing quick access to San Francisco.


The submitter pointed out that almost every BART station looks something like this, so in a sense the El Cerrito parking crater is standing in for the failure of an entire region to produce walkable development near transit.

Meanwhile, the Chicago crater suffers from sports venue syndrome:


We’ve seen this pretty consistently throughout the competition: In St. Louis, Grand Rapids, and Chicago, the spaces around public arenas are ghost towns inhabited only by cars.

This area, readers tell us, is especially disappointing because it has good transit access and is less than two miles away from the Loop. What a far cry from the walkability of Wrigleyville.

Tell us which crater you think deserves to reach the Final Four of Parking Madness.


Which city has the worst parking crater?

  • Chicago (69%, 201 Votes)
  • El Cerrito (42%, 123 Votes)

Total Voters: 292

37 thoughts on Parking Madness Elite Eight: El Cerrito vs. Chicago

  1. The Chicago one has a rail line on the right side that doesnt even have a station for the Arena. To be fair, why would it, since theres nothing around the arena but parking….

  2. The term “the Loop” generally refers to the downtown neighborhood of Chicago, not the L tracks. The western boundary for this area is the Chicago River, so yes, Wacker is in the Loop.

  3. Maybe it’s some sort of misguided Chicago pride, but I’ll make the following arguments in defense of the United Center picture:

    (1) the area was surrounded by the Henry Horner Homes until about twelve years ago, and that series of housing projects was literally one of the worst neighborhoods in the city of Chicago; meaning, even though the area is only 1.8 miles from the loop, and is only around .5 miles away from an L station on Ashland, very, very few people would have felt safe walking around the area until 8 years ago or so (when the last of the towers came down). Considering the economy tanked in 2008, and you’re only now starting to see development in much more desirable places where other projects were leveled (like Cabrini Green), you will see a big change here, but it has taken longer than it otherwise would have

    (2) there are already several developments in the works for that area, including a new building for Malcolm X community college, which will eliminate at least two of the parking lots in the far bottom left corner of the pic. There are also developments in the works that would replace two of the lots directly north of the stadium on Madison St.

    In other words, this is a neighborhood that is very much in flux, and five years from now that pic won’t even be recognizable.

  4. There’s a station on a rail line just out of the picture below on Congress and just out of the picture above on Lake.

  5. Theres quite a long gap between those stations and neither is all that close to the United Center. Theres another gap to the south of there in the midst of actual urban prairie….

  6. Come on, there is only one street (Franklin) between Wacker Drive and the elevated tracks.

  7. So precisely because UCenter has no station for the L trains going past, and El Cerrito merely has the station mislocated by 1000′ Chicago “wins”. Fun timing as I was there once again yesterday, arriving by BRT lite, visiting a bank, shopping for food and taking BART away. Certainly more ugly crossing the parking lot in front of the super market but the previous block length sidewalk is not very different from any other sidewalk adjacent commercial/shopping areas.
    As to the lack of TOD nearby, many lots are already built on so TOD would require bulldozing existing houses or commercial spaces.

  8. People who work at the sears tower/311 south wacker/the mercantile exchange building/etc. generally say they work in the loop. local usage > strict definitions

  9. Building a station at Madison and Paulina would certainly make sense, but as other have noted there are already two stations within half a mile (the blue line stop at Illinois Med. Ctr. and the Green/Pink Line stop at Ashland). Having two L stations less than .5 miles walk from the stadium is likely much better public transportation than most modern basketball stadiums have. And both stations would feed people back to the main Metra hubs in the loop with less than 10 to 15 minute trips.

    The problem has been that traditionally fans would not walk around the United Center area for fear of the surrounding neighborhood. And while that culture is changing now as the area gets much, much safer, it takes time to reverse those type of patterns in generations that grew up with the mentality that they would be mugged if they didn’t drive and park close.

  10. Good points. What about the Bulls’ new practice facility that is already (well) under construction? Isn’t that going up over the easternmost parking lot in the photo, between Madison and Monroe? I’m not 100% sure.

  11. The Loop neighborhood is bounded by the Chicago River on the north and west, Lake Michigan on the east, and Roosevelt on the south. It is, of course, named after the elevated tracks that form a loop in the middle of the neighborhood:

    I think the neighborhood is what’s being referenced here.

  12. The reason I will vote for El Cerrito over Chicago isn’t because I am from here. It is because I know if there was a United Center CTA station, half this parking would disappear within a few years.

  13. It is the area served by the loop. Which is why most maps show the loop business district extending to the river and to Michigan Avenue.

  14. United Center does have better transit access than many NBA or NHL stadiums, but the parking lots that stand between the stations and the stadium make the walk seem further than it is. A station amidst the parking lots would make the lots more valuable as development then serving a temporary need for stadium only parking.

  15. While the term no doubt originally refers to the L tracks, it has also been the official name for the Central Business District of Chicago as one of the city’s official community areas since the 1920s. And yes, it has formal boundaries, including the river on its westside. I would guarantee you that 9 out of 10 Chicagoans would see the term Loop referenced to the entire neighborhood and not just the area bounded by the tracks.

  16. Strictly speaking, “the Loop” has had formal boundaries for almost 100 years; they are the river to the north and west, Roosevelt Road to the south, and Lake Michigan to the east. This is not simply a colloquialism, that area has been known as the Loop for a century.

  17. Yeah, they’ve building it right now on the corner of Madison and Wood. I always pass the UC on Damen, and the stadium itself blocks a view of the new building, but they broke ground on it last summer so I’m sure it’s likely well on its way to completion.

  18. Yes, the second story structural support is visible; I just couldn’t remember its exact location.

  19. One good thing about the El Cerrito parking lots at the BART station–the cars sitting there aren’t clogging the streets of San Francisco.

  20. The infrastructure is essentially there, along an already slow stretch of Pink Line that dips south from Lake between the Polk and Ashland stops – which as it so happens goes immediately over the east end of some of these lots. Taking the pink line Loop-bound towards other transit lines, OR walking to Ashland’s BRT, OR even taking the Pink line back out towards Cicero for those that live in the western ‘burbs all seem like good reasons for a station to be there – even if it is only utilized specifically around game and event times.

  21. That rail line has only been in revenue service since 2006 with the creation of the Pink Line. Prior to that it had been nonrevenue since the 50’s (it was the sole connection between the Blue Line and the rest of the network for maintenance, etc). With the arena and Malcolm X College (one block south of the shot), a stop there makes sense and hopefully we’ll see one in the not too distant future.

  22. I didnt find either El Cerrito or Portland that terrible in the last round. United Center definitely stands out this round.

  23. Sure, and that is one definition of Loop. There are others, and you (or any of the others) can’t falsify my statement.

  24. Also, the BART tracks are directly above an excellent, long bike/ped greenway. I’ve biked to that shopping center several times. El Cerrito’s “parking crater” could certainly be improved, but on the whole it’s much better than most US communities.

  25. El Cerrito Plaza made it through the last round? I don’t want to beat a dead horse here, but it shouldn’t even be in contention. Despite its appearance in the aerial, El Cerrito (and even the El Cerrito Plaza area) is actually a very walkable and bikeable community. The street grid in El Cerrito is very good, the BART station depicted manages to be within a short walk of downtown and area homes, the cars parked in the station lot would otherwise be driving around San Francisco city streets, and even the poorly designed 60s-style shopping center has a large network of sidewalks and decent connections to the surrounding street grid. Maybe this would be a real competition if Streetsblog had the foresight to use Walnut Creek or Fremont instead, but it didn’t.

  26. As someone who has the misfortune to need to walk and bike in El Cerrito regularly, I’m honestly shocked anyone could consider it walkable or bikeable. Especially in context with comparable cities like Albany, Richmond, and Berkeley

    Edit: Those of you who think the North Berkeley parking lot crater is bad, I invite you to look at it at the same scale as this one.

  27. The area around the Tokyo Dome doesn’t suck… :]

    [It’s sandwiched between a famous garden and an amusement park of sorts, and if there’s any parking, it’s not obvious. The surrounding business area is pretty cool as well, incredibly walkable anyway.]

  28. The bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in El Cerrito is very good and getting better ( ). If you think it is bad, you must not get out of town much. Albany and Oakland pale in comparison, although the latter’s is improving. Yes, Berkeley’s infrastructure is better, but that is the exception and not the rule.

  29. Both Oakland and Albany are far more walkable and bikeable than El Cerrito, because the land use and signalization is much better. Literally every time I cross the border from El Cerrito into Albany, I breathe a huge sigh of relief. One bike path with stop signs at every street crossing block does nothing to fix an utterly broken land use problem.
    And San Pablo, which is a reasonably good bike cruising street in Berkeley and Albany, suddenly becomes nightmarish with skew intersections and double-stacked left turn lanes at every signal.

    Again, the whole point of this parking madness exercise is that you need good land use to take advantage of transportation infrastructure. El Cerrito has acres and acres of strip malls with enormous surface parking lots. Something that other cities were smart enough to avoid. No matter how many sidewalks it might have, it still stands out as being by far the most auto-centric town in the inner East Bay.

  30. You are welcome to feel that way about El Cerrito, but it doesn’t sound like you’ve been to San Leandro, Hayward, Union City, Fremont, Richmond, Hercules, Pinole, or El Sobrante. And since we are splitting hairs here, (1) the only double left-turn lane I can think of on San Pablo is northbound at Cutting and (2) there is almost no difference in the biking environment on San Pablo between Albany and El Cerrito. Good luck even guessing where the city limit is if you aren’t already familiar with the area.

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