One recent Sunday morning at 7:30 a.m., my 11-year-old daughter and I took a bicycle ride from our home on the far southeast side, up Seventh Street north to Mid-Town to see if the old farmers market was still in business at Shumway Market. Sadly, it was not. The weather was perfect, and the traffic was light. When we reached our destination, the empty Schumway parking lot, we talked about what we see and hear during our bike rides.
On this short day trip, we encountered only one prostitute, one pimp and one disjointed, boneless crack mama on Seventh Street. Business must be pretty slow at 7:30 on a Sunday morning. They ignored us, and we ignored them. We talked about the trash, broken bottles, cans, ashtray remains, etc. that litter the street and yards. To be fair, some yards along Seventh Street were spotlessly clean, but mostly they were the ones that were fenced in.
All in all, the ride was fun for both of us. A stark contrast to riding at night. Bicycle riding on Seventh Street at night is wholly different than day. We always ride on the right side of the road with traffic at night, and we have lights on the front and back of our bikes. The most frightening thing that happens is that people in cars sometimes swerve right and dip down into the non-existent bicycle lane as if to hit you.
Theres a lot of meanness out there. People in cars are usually careful around bicycles, but when they act like they are trying to hit you, it is really scary. Pimps and prostitutes call out, Hey, come over here, and the bottles and cans both intact and broken pose a new challenge at night to bicycle tires and balance. We often see pedestrians walking and falling up and down the street with brown bags to their lips. We hear extreme profanity thump-thumping out of cars that makes our teeth rattle for a block and a half before and after they pass us. I dont have to tell you the wordsIm sure youve heard them before.
And somewhere along the way, someone has told (some) Harley jockeys that it is cool to have exhaust pipes with no baffles in them and rev their motors up real high both day and night. Proud and loud is the new Harley-Davidson 100-year anniversary credo. Seventh Street in Rockford is just one of a million streets in every city and state across the country that puts up with this off-the-meter noise nuisance.
It seems to be a well-guarded secret that there are city ordinances ordering the people who live and visit here not to shatter eardrums, keep it reasonably sober in public, keep your booze off the streets, keep language and demeanor DECENT, pick up your own trash, dont urinate on the sidewalk or doorways, and, of course, the nearly unenforceable city ordinance 19-19 (loitering) that is plastered everywhere, etc., etc., etc.
There are several agencies that work in our neighborhood to improve living conditions. A short list is the Rockford Police Department, my various aldermen, Zion Development and The Mid-Town District Office. Mid-Town is the name given to the Seventh Street, Broadway and the neighborhood area, and extending out for several blocks in any direction. Each of these entities has its own agenda, is independent of one another, and none of them holds the
magical single answer to the problems I have outlined. If they did, the problems would have been solved long ago, and I would not be writing this. I offer the following criticisms and solutions to follow.
The Rockford Police are in the neighborhood 24/7/365, and have the dirty job of preventing and solving crimes. However, they are often called in cases of nuisance. Generally, crimes have a victim; nuisances do not. How can we expect them to watch out for lawbreakers if we keep them busy with piddly problems? They do not have the manpower (manpower = even more of your tax dollars for their payroll) to babysit us. I am in the neighborhood every day and night, and I appreciate the daytime bike cops that literally work their butts off watching over our neighborhood. Many times, though, the night-time squad cars that I see driving by seem oblivious to the problems unless someone calls them, and then they are dispatched. The daytime bike cops are not surrounded by a ton and a half of metal and can see and hear everything that goes on.
Rockford lost its beat cops back in the 1980s. Nice to see that a few are back. Zion Development is a major player in the Mid- Town District. Their tactic is to purchase many buildings in the Mid-Town District and turn them into market rate housing so that low-income folks can get off the street and have a decent place to live. I have always supported Zions mission. However, I disagree with any businesss dependency on your tax dollars and grants (again your tax dollars) if it means that they would cease to exist without them. I cant really be too hard on Zion as long as local, state and federal government keep handing out money like it was their own. If you want to know why you pay so much in taxes, look no further than the way your government (ab)uses your money. Our 500-pound gorilla government would be another story.
My aldermen have tried in the past to solve the problems, too. Unfortunately, scofflaws do not pay attention to laws, codes and statutes. As well meaning as aldermen are, the codes they pass are only as good as the polices ability to enforce them. We have had very fine alderman in the Mid-Town District, and our current alderman, Jeff Holt, is not the exception. He truly cares and tries his best at all times to be supportive of our efforts. However, my dog (whom I always keep on a leash when outside) did mention that if she has to have an implanted microchip (as Alderman Holt suggests), she would like the dip to go with the chip. Shes an awfully funny dog.
We also have many social service agencies such as The Carpenters Place, a daytime center for the homeless; Promised Land Employment Service, which serves many in the homeless community; and finally, the agency known as THAT Place or The Needle Exchange, which provides free hypodermic needles to junkies and condoms to prostitutes or anyone else upon request. You may or may not be aware that the Department of Corrections recommends Rockford, Ill., as one of the best places to go after prison release. Now you know why.
Then theres the Mid-Town District Office. Another tax-devouring Seventh Street planning agency that proposes and executes large physical changes to the neighborhood. I find their upcoming plan to tear down houses to create a childrens golf course in the Seventh Street area both disturbing and entertaining.
Rick Jones is a Rockford resident.