By DOROTHY TUCKER, CAROL THOMPSON
CHICAGO (WBBM) — Joseph Walawski opened a mattress shop in the 5700 block of busy West Fullerton Avenue three years ago.
“I enjoy selling mattresses,” he said.
But it’s been a struggle. Walawski has had to juggle other jobs with trying to get this new business off the ground.
In 2021, during the pandemic, he spent more time at his mattress shop.
“I’m trying to get to that point to make it there,” he said.
Also difficult is trying to find parking in the area.
“I can’t park on the side streets, because I’ll get ticketed,” Walawski said
So Walawski chose to park on Fullerton, right outside his business.
“I got nowhere else to park,” he said.
Right where he parked at 5717 W. Fullerton Ave. in the Belmont Cragin neighborhood, something else is permanently parked. It’s a street cleaning sign, which reads: “Street cleaning. No parking, 7 a.m. – 9 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, April 1 through Oct. 31. Tow Zone.”
But that’s not what the sign across the street reads, nor the one down the block. They each say no parking is allowed from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. on those days and dates, not 9 p.m.
“So, there’s a misprint on the sign,” Walawski said about the sign in front of his shop. “That’s not right. That’s not fair.”
Walawski fears that mistake is driving away potential customers.
“Sometimes I see people pull up, they look on their phones, they look at the sign, and then they take off. Very frustrating,” he said.
So how long has this sign been wrong? The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) didn’t have an answer for that question. CDOT is responsible for printing, installing, and maintaining the signs.
But a quick online search using Google Maps Street View, shows the wrong sign has been anchored in place for years, all the way back to at least August 2014.
We brought the wrong sign and how long it’s been there to the attention of Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th). He told us he has driven past this sign multiple times and never noticed the error.
And he wanted to know. “What’s going on here?”
Villegas checked the city ordinance and confirmed in commercial corridors these permanent street cleaning signs are supposed to read: No parking 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. two days a week.
“We then went over there and had someone canvass the area to see if it was just that one sign or was it multiple signs,” Villegas said.
It turns out it was just that one sign — at least in his ward.
“The city made a mistake,” Villegas said.
The mistake is not only costing Walawski customers. He got ticketed parking near the sign.
“The one ticket was from 7/27 of 2021. And then the other ticket I got which was 7/13 of 2021,” he said.
That made the CBS 2 Investigators wonder how many other drivers have received parking tickets they didn’t deserve along this same stretch of Fullerton Avenue.
We analyzed ProPublica data, searching from August 2014 – the earliest Google Maps clearly shows 9 p.m. on the sign — to early May 2018. That’s the date the ProPublica data ends. We requested newer parking ticket information from the Department of Finance, but have not yet received a complete response.
So, between August 2014 and May 2018, the CBS 2 Investigators found 55 tickets issued. Drivers paid $3,545 in fines and fees.
If this all sounds familiar, it is. Last year. the CBS 2 Investigators discovered a similar misprint on two speed camera warning signs. That mistake led to nearly $2 million in tossed tickets and refunds for drivers.
“The city has repeatedly blundered in posting the proper times on their signs,” said Jacie Zolna, Walawski’s attorney in another case.
Back in Belmont Cragin, Ald. Villegas is urging people to fight any tickets they received in error because of this sign.
He also raised the possibility of refunds.
“We’re talking to the Finance Department to make sure that someone didn’t get any wrong tickets and if they did, we want to make sure we’re correcting that.”
The Department of Finance (DOF) said they looked into the wrong sign we discovered. City ordinance allows for parking tickets to be dismissed if “appropriate signage was not posted at the time the vehicle was parked.” But, DOF told us, in a statement, they will not send refunds out for tickets issued because of the wrong sign. The statement reads: “It [the ordinance] does not apply in these 55 cases and additional cases since May 2018. Although the sign at 5717 W. Fullerton had an incorrect end time posted (No parking between 7a-9p), the 55 cases were issued inside of the correct enforcement time (7a-9a) and, therefore, valid.”
One thing we did get fixed that could help Walawski’s business – is that wrong sign.
“As soon as you had notified us, we called up the sign department, said ‘Hey, we need to get this sign corrected,’ and it’s been corrected,” said Villegas.
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