NEAR WEST SIDE — The lights on top of the signs were supposed to help residents by alerting them when a street sweeper was in the area so they wouldn't park their cars in its way.
But the lights quickly stopped working, the pilot program apparently ended, and the signs remain.
Now residents in this small section of homes on the Near West Side just south of Roosevelt Road and east of Western Avenue — who live on streets including Claremont, Heath and Oakley avenues — are confused about when it's OK to park.
While the signs ban parking the first Monday of the month, they clearly state that if there is a green light — or no light at all — it's OK to park.
But cars continue to be ticketed for street cleaning violations even when the lights are off, residents say. And sure enough, city parking enforcement officers were out writing tickets after 9 a.m. Monday before street sweepers came through. They likely will be out Tuesday, too, as the ban moves to the other side of the street.
"Everybody gets tickets, even the people in the neighborhood," resident Juan Hernandez said. "Sometimes it's the whole block of cars getting tickets. It's definitely unfair."
City Finance Department spokeswoman Kelley Quinn said the signs with lights were part of a pilot program started five years ago.
The lights on the top of the signs would flash red on days street cleaning was scheduled. When sweeping was completed on the street, the lights were supposed to be switched to green or switched off, allowing residents to re-park sooner than the normal 3 p.m. end time for the parking ban.
But resident Elia Castro said the lights on the signs worked just one time before vandals removed them and the copper wiring inside.
"I hate them," Castro said.
New mom Cris Pope-Nelson, who's lived in the neighborhood for about 10 years, got a ticket last month while caring for her newborn.
"According to the sign it's legal to park here. Last month, I forgot and got a ticket," Pope-Nelson said. She called the lights "a waste of money. They put up these fancy signs that have never been used. They should light them up or change the signs."
Hernandez said people who work nearby often park their cars in the area to take advantage of the parking meter-free spots and then are surprised when they come back to their cars and find a ticket.
Hernandez said he received a letter from the city about a year ago claiming the signs would be removed and replaced with standard, permanent signs for street cleaning. Streets in other sections of the 25th Ward also had the signs with the lights, but they were removed within the last year, he said.
Hernandez said he wishes the city would just use the temporary, paper warning signs that are used in most areas of the city.
Residents say they have complained using the city's 311 non-emergency telephone number and directly to Ald. Danny Solis (25th), but the signs haven't been repaired or taken down.
Officials with the city's Transportation Department, which oversaw the pilot program, did not respond to requests for comment. Solis also could not be reached for comment.
Quinn said the city was investigating, and drivers should fight the tickets.
"We're looking into it, and anyone who has been ticketed should contest," she said. "We plan on fixing the situation so it's clarified for the people. But [from] here on out, they should err on the side of caution."
Street sweeping runs April 1 through Nov. 30 citywide.