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A Complex Problem

Cars outvote everybody at the statehouse

Illinois Times

July 5, 1979

Apart from the new state library, the most monumental building erected in decades in the capitol complex is a parking garage south of the Stratton Building. Uunderground garages are  costly to build, however, so the state for the most part makes do with poorly paved and ill-landscaped asphalt parking lots. As a result, the complex looks like a very poorly managed shopping mall. The apparent priority to put everyone's car by the door is baffling; perhaps it's written into public employee union contracts.


Note: Originally, the piece was titled “Parking at the statehouse: A complex problem.”


I went to a parking lot opening last week. The invitation—a press release really—from the state's Capital Development Board promised there would be a ribbon-cutting at 11:30 a.m. to "celebrate" (the CDB's word) the opening of what the release said was "Springfield's first constituent parking lot."


The lot sits immediately to the south of the Stratton Building in the state's Capitol Complex in downtown Springfield. It is reserved for visitors to the complex, which a pleasant young woman from the CDB explained is why it's called a constituent parking lot. Her remarks left me momentarily nonplussed. The county building. for example, has parking for the public, so the Stratton Building project is not Springfield's first constituent parking lot, even if you don't count the hitching posts that used to stand around the Old Capitol square before the state moved into the present statehouse. Besides, I thought, constituents and taxpayers mean pretty much the same thing, and that means that all the parking lots in the complex are constituent parking lots. Doesn't it?


I quickly jumped off that bumpy train of thought; I was at the parking lot to have fun. The CDB had set up a row of chairs near the College Street entrance to the lot and equipped them with a lectern and a PA system. An eminently cuttable red, white and blue ribbon dangled from stanchions. The Illinois National Guard Ceremonial Militia—the entertainment on the bill—was unfurling its flags and looking uncomfortable in its dark blue Civil War tunics, since the temperature already was well into the eighties. Nearby, CDB staffers were busy ladling out lemonade to thirsty reporters and the dignitaries in attendance, including Springfield's Mayor Mike Houston, CDB director Don Glickman and a gaggle of legislators.


Being a journalist by temperament as well as profession, I pondered the significance of the occasion while we all stood around waiting for the show to start. Originally the space wasn't intended to be used for parking at all. Architects envisioned a mall that would connect the Stratton Building with a second office building that eventually will be built to the south. When that idea was announced, it prompted remarks from many veteran observers of state government having to do with ice cubes and hell, and there was no surprise when it was later announced that these 60,000 square feet at the side door of the state's largest office building would become not a park but a parking lot.


The final product cost $430,000, provides space for 150 vehicles, including thirteen motorcycles and eight spaces for what the CDB calls "handicapped parking." At first the Legislative Space Needs Commission was going to let the public use only some of the spaces (one account said ninety, another seventy), with the rest to be given away to the usual bunch. The LSNC changed its mind, probably when it was reminded that hell hath no fury like a parker scorned, especially if that parker is a voter.


And voters have been getting pretty miffed about parking lately. Until last week there was not a single parking space reserved for use by the gawkers, gripers, special pleaders, and license plate buyers who daily descend on the complex. They must fend for themselves, which in the cutthroat world of statehouse parking is like sending little boys into battle.


Parking has been a problem in the complex since the state foolishly began paying its people enough that they could afford to buy cars. Surveys commissioned over the last couple of years by the CDB reveal that some 90 percent of complex employees get to work by car and that this habit results in some 4,000 cars being driven into the complex every working day, with cars of tourists, visitors, and others adding to the crush. In spite of this the state had only 1,500 parking spaces on hand as recently as 1977, and it had that number only because it had consented to the devastation of dozens of lovely houses to the north of the complex for parking lots which have been a blight on the city and the reputation of the state ever since.


State workers unlucky enough not to have a reserved space in a state lot must either park on city streets (taking spaces from the people who live in the neighborhoods near the complex) or they buy space in one of the dozens of private lots (generally unpaved and unscreened) that have sprung up around the complex.

I recalled that it was ease this pressure for parking space that the General Assembly okayed spending $7.8 million to build the 790-car underground garage beneath the new constituent parking lot. The cost for the underground garage came to something like $10,000 per space. But the real problem isn't a shortage of parking spaces but an excess of cars. CDB surveys suggest that 70 percent of state workers commute alone. A couple of years ago the CDB reportedly toyed with the idea of a van pooling plan by which commuters would be given free use of state-supplied vans in return for carting a certain number of fellow commuters to work, but the plan apparently went nowhere. A year ago the CDB's Glickman suggested that drivers who insisted on making solitary commutes be slapped with punitive $40-a-month parking fees, but that idea got the bird from faithful servants of the state who evidently think they see quite enough of each other at the office and thus regard any suggestion that they fraternize while driving to and from as being above and beyond the call.


The folks over at the Institute of Natural Resources may be on to something, however. They're circulating forms on which interested employees of the forty-odd agencies in the governor's satrapy are to list their names and when and by what routes they travel to work. These little secrets are to be fed into a Department of Transportation computer, which will repay the favor by matching them up with potential car poolers. The assumption behind the program, you see, is that there are hundreds of people who are closet car poolers who only need to meet someone else of similar bent to turn into pooling fools—sort of like swap clubs.

Even if the program trims solitary commuting by only ten percent it will mean 500 cars a day that won't have to be crammed into the complex, which is like building three new constituent parking lots. If it works (and they'll know by the middle of next month how many will have signed up) the next step is to get other state agencies involved and maybe even other governments and private businesses located downtown. As Donovan used to say, it could be the very next craze. I was beginning to compose a letter to the editor on the subject when I noticed a knot of people gathered at the lot entrance. By the time I walked over to where they were, they had broken up. It was over! The legislators bustled back toward the statehouse and the Ceremonial Militia rolled up its flags and headed home without having marched a step.

There were no speeches, no nothing. I left Mayor Houston and director Glickman standing and chatting almost forlornly in the middle of an empty 150-car parking lot with lemonade in their hands. That's the last time I'll go to any party the Capital Development Board invites me to.  ●




John Hallwas

Essential for anyone interested in Illinois history and literature. Hallwas deservedly won the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Illinois State Historical Society.

Lee Sandlin Author

One of Illinois’s best, and least-known, writers of his generation. Take note in particular of The Distancers and Road to Nowhere.

Chicago Architecture Center

See Home Page/Learn/

Resources for a marvelous building database, architecture dictionary, even a city planning graphic novel. Handsome, useful—every Illinois culture website should be so good.

The Encyclopedia of Chicago


The online version of The Encyclopedia of Chicago. Crammed with thousands of topic entries, biographical sketches, maps and images, it is a reference work unmatched in Illinois.

Illinois Great Places

The Illinois chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 2018 selected 200 Great Places in Illinois that illustrate our  shared architectural culture across the entire period of human settlement in Illinois.

McLean County Museum

of History

A nationally accredited, award-winning project of the McLean County Historical Society whose holdings include more than 20,000 objects, more than 15,000 books on local history and genealogy, and boxes and boxes of historical papers and images.

Mr. Lincoln, Route 66, and Other Highlights of Lincoln, Illinois


Every Illinois town ought to have a chronicler like D. Leigh Henson, Ph.D. Not only Lincoln and the Mother road—the author’s curiosity ranges from cattle baron John Dean Gillett to novelist William Maxwell. An Illinois State Historical Society "Best Web Site of the Year."

Illinois Digital Archives


Created in 2000, the IDA is a repository for the digital collections of the Illinois State Library and other Illinois libraries and cultural institutions. The holdings include photographs, slides, and glass negatives, oral histories, newspapers, maps, and documents from manuscripts and letters to postcards,  posters, and videos.

The Illinois State Museum


The people's museum is a treasure house of science and the arts. A research institution of national reputation, the museum maintains four facilities across the state. Their collections in anthropology, fine and decorative arts, botany, zoology, geology, and  history are described here. A few museum publications can be obtained here.

Chronicling Illinois

“Chronicling Illinois” showcases some of the collections—mostly some 6,000 photographs—from the Illinois history holdings of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.


I will leave it to the authors of this interesting site to describe it. "Chicagology is a study of Chicago history with a focus on the period prior to the Second World War. The purpose of the site is to document common and not so common stories about the City of Chicago as they are discovered." 

Illinois Labor History Society

The Illinois Labor History Society seeks to encourage the preservation and study of labor history materials of the Illinois region, and to arouse public interest in the profound significance of the past to the present. Offers books reviews, podcasts, research guides, and the like. 

Illinois Migration History 1850-2017

The University of Washington’s America’s Great Migrations Project has compiled migration histories  (mostly from the published and unpublished work by UW Professor of History James Gregory) for several states, including Illinois. The site also includes maps and charts and essays about the Great Migration of African Americans to the north, in which Illinois figured importantly. 

History on the Fox

An interesting resource about the history of one of Illinois’s more interesting places, the Fox Valley of Kendall County. History on the Fox is the work of Roger Matile, an amateur historian of the best sort. Matile’s site is a couple of cuts above the typical buff’s blog. (An entry on the French attempt to cash in on the trade in bison pelts runs more than

2,000 words.)




Southern Illinois University Press 2017

A work of solid history, entertainingly told.

Michael Burlingame,

author of Abraham 

Lincoln: A Life 

One of the ten best books on Illinois history I have read in a decade.

Superior Achievement Award citation, ISHS Awards, 2018

A lively and engaging study . . .  an enthralling narrative.

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The Annals of Iowa

A book that merits the attention of all Illinois historians

as well as local historians generally.

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Journal of Illinois HIstory

A model for the kind of detailed and honest history other states and regions could use.

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Midwestern Microhistory

A fine example of a resurgence of Midwest historical scholarship.

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SIU Press is one of the four major university publishing houses in Illinois. Its catalog offers much of local interest, including biographies of Illinois political figures, the history (human and natural) and folklore of southern Illinois, the Civil War and Lincoln, and quality reprints in the Shawnee Classics series.

University of

Illinois Press

The U of I Press was founded in 1918. A search of the online catalog  (Books/Browse by subject/Illinois) will reveal more than 150 Illinois titles, books on history mostly but also butteflies, nature , painting, poetry and fiction, and more.  Of particular note are its Prairie State Books,  quality new paperback editions of worthy titles about all parts of Illinois, augmented with scholarly introductions.

University of

Chicago Press

The U of C publishing operation is the oldest (1891) and largest university press in Illinois. Its reach is international, but it has not neglected its own neighborhood. Any good Illinois library will include dozens of titles about Chicago and Illinois from Fort Dearborn to

Vivian Maier.

Northern Illinois University Press

The newest (1965) and the smallest of the university presses with an interest in Illinois, Northern Illinois University Press gave us important titles such as the standard one-volume history of the state (Biles' Illinois:
A History of the Land and Its People) and contributions to the history of Chicago, Illinois transportation, and the Civil War. Now an imprint of Cornell University Press.


Reviews and significant mentions by James Krohe Jr. of more than 50 Illinois books, arranged in alphabetical order

by book title. 


Illinois Center for the Book

Run by the Illinois State Library, The Center promotes reading, writing and author programs meant to honor the state's rich literary heritage. An affiliate of the Library of Congress’s Center for the Book, the site offers award competitions, a directory of Illinois authors, literary landmarks, and reading programs.

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