A mountain sojourn, and thoughts on that Flossmoor truck law

Viewpoint: 

The commentary below represents the ideas, observations and opinions of the author.


 

  Bierstadt Lake at Rocky Mountain National Park,
  high above the truck zone.
(Photo by Tom 
  Houlihan/H-F Chronicle)
 

There we were, surrounded by high, snowcapped mountains and cool western glades brimming with wildlife. So why was I thinking fondly of Flossmoor’s pickup truck ordinance?
In the Colorado Rockies you quickly learn that large pickup trucks are one of the most preferred forms of transportation. And that it doesn’t take long for them to clog narrow national park roads. 

  Tom Houlihan

As crowds formed to watch herds of elk — October is mating time — the trucks made it difficult to maneuver our rented sedan on by-ways not designed for a gathering of vehicular behemoths.

And here is what I wanted to tell the truck owners:

“You know, in my hometown you would not be allowed to park that truck overnight on your driveway.”

I did not, of course, say anything to them.

Still, it was a funny feeling to suddenly miss Flossmoor’s regulation of how residential driveways can be used, and not used. I’ve always thought of that ordinance — it’s part of Flossmoor’s zoning code — as anachronistic and a little silly.

Obviously, I am talking apples and oranges here. Flossmoor’s ordinance has nothing to do with trucks on mountain roads. Besides, the village’s unique regulation is not a ban on trucks. It is designed to prevent overnight parking of pickups. You can own a pickup truck but you have to keep it stored in the garage. During the day, pickup trucks will not be ticketed on driveways and there are no prohibitions on driving them in Flossmoor.

I have heard village officials say that the pickup truck ordinance is all about aesthetics. Flossmoor is a town that takes pride in the way it looks, and the regulation was first written when pickup trucks were generally considered unsightly work vehicles. The village’s original ordinance, already in place nearly 30 years, did prohibit ownership of pickup trucks in Flossmoor. The ordinance gained national attention in 1989 when a Flossmoor resident — he was an Illinois State Police trooper — challenged the truck ban in court.

After a long court challenge, the ordinance was upheld by the Illinois Supreme Court. However, the village board amended the zoning ordinance so that trucks are allowed as long as they are parked in garages.

In a way, I consider the ordinance to be a byproduct of time gone by. Since the late 1980s we have seen enormous changes in the way Americans drive. Utility vehicles, many of them about the same size as trucks, became increasingly popular. And pickup trucks are no longer merely unattractive work vehicles. Today, they are purchased as everyday vehicles and are much loved by the people who drive them. To their owners they are beautiful examples of state-of-the-art machinery.

I am, to be honest, not a truck person and doubt that I’ll ever own one. However, I try to be open-minded about lots of things I don’t totally understand, and that includes pickup trucks. My reaction to the trucks in the Rockies was probably due to being in close quarters with so many much larger vehicles. One person’s big beautiful truck can be another person’s obstacle to get around.

All of this, though, makes me wonder if there’s more to Flossmoor’s truck ordinance than I previously believed. There may be more than aesthetics at play here. The village, by mandating overnight garage parking of trucks, is exercising a degree of control over what are likely the largest personal vehicles in town. Flossmoor is saying, essentially, that it’s OK to have vehicles that are considerably larger than, say, my 1999 Honda Accord. They are just not supposed to be visible during the overnight hours.

If those large trucks had not been so hugely visible on narrow roads in the Rockies, I might have felt more kindly toward them.

Flossmoor Police Chief Michael Pulec told me that the majority of tickets for trucks parked on driveways are written during the midnight shift. He said tickets are not generally issued during the day because, at that time, tradesmen might be parking their trucks on driveways.

“An exception to this is if we received a complaint of a violation, we will investigate and take appropriate action,” Pulec said.

If a resident is unaware of the ordinance or has a hardship story, “we work with them until they find alternative sites to store their personal or commercial vehicle,” he said. There were 114 citations issued in 2015-16, 139 in 2014-15, 100 in 2013-14 and 173 in 2012-13. The fine is $50. 

This summer, a petition was circulated on social media calling for a repeal of the overnight ban on driveway parking for trucks. In the string of comments accompanying the petition, the person behind the initiative said he wanted to get at least 1,000 names before it would be submitted to the village board.

By my count, there are 133 names on the petition. It was never submitted to the village.

So, it looks like the Flossmoor truck ordinance isn’t going away anytime soon.

I will try to remember that the next time I’m in the mountains.
 

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