Hundreds of drivers lined up for almost a half-mile to get free gas.
GARFIELD PARK — Thursday at a station in Garfield Park, with cars piling up for three blocks in three directions around the station.
The lines were just as long at nine other stations where Willie Wilson also gave o’ut free gas Thursday, organizers said.
Wilson, a former mayoral candidate who’s made millions selling medical supplies, said he’d provide $200,000 worth of free gas at the stations, with drivers able to get up to $50 worth of gas each.
That led to people flooding the streets Thursday morning, eager to fill up their tanks after weeks of wallet-breaking prices at the pump. Russia in’vading Ukra’ine has sent prices to record highs, leaving some without a way of affordably traveling for work, school and other needs.
Halsted street “free gas” line. I stopped recording around 111th street but it ran from the gas station at 99th all the way to 117th. 😳😒 pic.twitter.com/jJMQIbwZx5
— Shermann Dilla Thomas (@6figga_dilla) March 17, 2022
Some drivers said they were thankful to Wilson for organizing the giveaway and saving them money.
But the event quickly turned controversial: Drivers backed up streets for blocks around the stations, some residents couldn’t travel and long lines trapped commuters. Some said the giveaway was disorganized, while others questioned the environmental impact of having people idling their cars for hours.
FREE GAS LINE for the Gulf Station at 99th/Halsted runs NB on Halsted from 114th to 99th (about 2 miles) pic.twitter.com/uPOCqKFI2C
— Sarah Jindra (@SarahJindra) March 17, 2022
Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) said the giveaway at a station in her ward “caused a traffic disaster,” with people unable to leave for work, emergency vehicles unable to get through the streets, the local fire station “compromised,” police spread thin and students “enda’ngered.”
“This was irresponsible and reckless of Dr. Wilson and the gas station owners,” Hadden wrote on Twitter.
Expect heavy traffic near these stations today:
Amstar 368 E Garfield
Citgo 9155 S Stony
Marathon 1839 E 95th
Citgo 1345 N Pulaski
Gulf 9901 S Halsted
Mobil 2800 S Kedzie
Amoco 7201 N Clark
BP 4359 N Pulaski
Marathon 340 S Sacramento
Falcon 43 N Homanhttps://t.co/zwHY2aIVyV
— Sarah Jindra (@SarahJindra) March 17, 2022
In Rogers Park, the giveaway had drivers lined up on residential streets for blocks around the station, 7201 N. Clark St., with some blocking intersections. Police closed off nearby alleys and Paulina Street near Touhy Avenue while officers directed drivers.
People who had lined up at 7 a.m. were just making it to the gas pumps about 9:30 a.m. There were some testy exchanges along the way, and some drivers were upset they couldn’t get premium gas, said Mirza Baig, whose family owns the gas station that partnered with Wilson.
Free gas day in Chicago. Dr Willie Wilson donated up to 200k worth of gas. 1 of the locations was packed from every block. Clark & Touhy. @ABC7Chicago @nbcchicago @BlockClubCHI @chicagotribune @foxchicago5 @WGNNews pic.twitter.com/BrPpDIlklk
— TroopTrilly (@TroopTrilly) March 17, 2022
“Things have been pretty smooth,” Baig said. “Some people have been lashing out a little bit.”
Despite the chaos, Wilson said he’ll do the event again. Standing amid a throng of reporters at a Garfield Park gas giveaway, he checked his phone’s calendar and vowed to hold another giveaway 7 a.m. March 31.
“And we’re going to come with much more than $200,000,” Wilson said. “There’s a need.”
Wilson said the giveaway will expand to include 25 stations, including some in the suburbs. He dismissed concerns about the traffic jams caused by the giveaway, saying the money saved for people would help them buy groceries and support their families.Alderpeople and other officials should put up money and pass policies to help residents, Wilson said.
“People don’t say nothing when you got gridlock and traffic when they’re going to the Bulls game or the Sox game,” Wilson said. “You good, they’re going to talk about you; you do bad, they’re going to talk about you. Let me do good, and let them talk about it.”Richard Boykin, a former Cook County Board commissioner who was with Wilson for the giveaways, said he’ll work with city officials on the March 31 giveaway to ensure traffic is smooth that day.
At the Garfield Park giveaway, Rodolfo Alamo pulled up at the end of the line just before 7 a.m. Despite seeing the length, he said he was “down to wait.”Alamo, of suburban Berwyn, said he’d been awake since 3 a.m. to wait for the giveaway.
“Out of nowhere, gas just raised $2. It’s horrible,” Alamo said. “I need the f—ing gas. … Everyone is in need. People are really broke. We need gas. We got kids.”
Honks filled the air around the station as drivers in line for gas blocked those who were simply trying to travel.
Kewon Parker was stuck in the gas line — but he said he’d just gone out because he needed to get breakfast.
“I don’t know nothing about this,” Parker said. “I feel like this is a bunch of bull. They need something that says, ‘This side for gas. This side for traffic.’ Not just shut down the whole lane.”