- Public Transit for All
Everyone in Chicago wants access to the Lakefront. Parts of Bronzeville are fortunate to be within walking distance of the Great Michigan but most of us in Chicago’s south side community of Bronzeville are not so lucky. The rest of the City doesn’t have it easy and they want to get there too. There are several communities or neighborhoods that are fighting, coaxing, cajoling or just plain intimidating the Chicago Transit Authority to ante up with $1,067,659 to match the $1,067,659 already promised by the Feds back in 2008.
The funding is projected for a crosstown bus route down 31stStreet from Cicero to the Lakefront and up north to the museum campus. The proposed route would cross a lot of territory inhabited by distinctly different ethnic groups, starting with Cicero.
Historically Cicero has not been very friendly toward integration. Contrary to popular myth, Martin Luther King Jr. did not march through Cicero though a fair housing march did occur there. Today Cicero is integrated but by Hispanics. In fact, as of the 2000 census 77% of Cicero was Hispanic. There are very few blacks (about 1.1%).
Cicero is commonly associated with Al Capone in the 1920’s, past town president fraud issues with a woman named Betty, a mostly Caucasian voting population, and claims to have oodles of transportation options. At least that was what I read on the web-site City Data dot Com. The Green line, Pink line, Blue line and the Orange line all cross Cicero. The number 54 Cicero bus route is from Montrose to 24th Place. By the way it crosses the Metra, the Green Line, the Blue Line and the Pink all of which make it to the Loop. To all appearance, there are oodles of transportation options.
The next neighborhood going east from Cicero is Pilsen /Little Village. It’s hard to separate the two when you talk about the history of the communities. Pilsen started out primarily as a home for Czech immigrants in the early 1900’s. Slovaks, Slovenes, Croats, and Austrians, as well as immigrants of Polish and Lithuanian descent added to the cultural mix established there. Since the 1970’s however, Pilsen has welcomed a large Hispanic population. Its neighbor, Little Village is dubbed by its residents as the “Mexico of the Midwest, a name well-earned considering that over the past 35 years Pilsen/ Little Village has become the entry point for immigrants to Chicago from Mexico.
The Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LEVJO) has been lobbying hard for public transit changes. In the 1990’s LVEJO in participation with coalition efforts, defended the Cermak Blue Line Service and successfully won a $479 million rehab of the 54/Cermak El branch and the restoration of weekend train service. Now they have thrown their considerable efforts into the 31st Street bus battle.
According to Howard Ehrman of LVEJO, Pilsen/Little Village needs a bus line from 31st and Cicero to the Lake Front. In a conversation with Howard last week he pointed to a number of reasons for the necessity. Firstly, there is no direct access to the Lake Front from the south western side of the city. Secondly, and I quote from communiqué received from Dr. Ehrman, “The only place in the city where there is more than a 1 mile gap where there is no east-west bus service is between Cermak Rd and 47th st. There is a 35th st bus, but it only runs to Kedzie. “ That certainly is true but there are the trains. One of which, the Blue Line, LVEJO was instrumental in securing. Dr. Ehrman informed me that the CTA only wants to reinstate the 31st Street bus as far east as King Drive. The proposed route would provide east west transit for a long distance including the Bridgeport community, the next community to the east.
As early as the mid 1800’s Bridgeport was the destination of Irish immigration to Chicago. Irish immigrants were involved in the building of the Erie Canal and later signed on to construct the Illinois and Michigan Canal. When the state of Illinois ran out of funding the workers were offered “land scrip” in lieu of hard cash. Some of those Irish workers bought canal owned land at the northern end of the canal at the junction with the Chicago River. That was the birth of Bridgeport which was originally called “Hardscrabble”.
Every Chicagoan is familiar with Bridgeport. We could actually call it “Daleyville”. In 1902 Bridgeport spawned Richard J. Daley,the 21 year mayor of the city of Chicago. In 1942 the Daleys” of Bridgeport introduced the next future mayor Daley,Richard Michael Daley. His tenure as mayor outlasted his father’s.
Bridgeport was also infamous. In 1997 the New York Times followed up on aChicago story, the beating of a 13 year old black boy, Leonard Clark by several white boys. Clark remained in a coma for a long time before being moved to a rehabilitation institute. Other occurrences of racial incidents are part of Bridgeport history. This might partially explain the 2000 census data. Bridgeport is 41% white, 30.2% Hispanic, 1.1% black and 26% Asian. The proximity of Bridgeport to Chicago’s Chinatown may account for the fairly large number of Asians in the community. Chinatown is next on the proposed 31st bus trip east from Cicero.
The Chinese began to arrive in Chicago after the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad. Originally they settled north of the current Chinatown just west of the Dan Ryan Expressway and Cermak Road. By 1912 the community was flourishing but due to racial discrimination against the Chinese, leases had to be negotiated through non-Chinese representatives. Fortunately the character and vibrancy of Chinatown was not damped. Today it is well marked as a Chinese community with shops, restaurants, grocers, gift shops and tourists attractions. Getting there and back by public transportation doesn’t seem to be a problem.
Several forms of public transportation are available in Chinatown. The Chicago Transit Authority operates both an elevated train and four bus routes that service the area. The north–south-running Red Line, the CTA’s busiest transit route, stops regularly at the Cermak–Chinatown station located in the heart of Chinatown near the corner of Cermak Road and Wentworth Avenue. Running north–south, the #24 bus route runs on Wentworth Avenue on the eastside of Chinatown, while the #44 route runs on Canal Street on the west side. The #21 runs east–west on Cermak Road, and the #62 runs diagonally southwest–northeast on Archer Avenue. There is a taxicab stand on Wentworth Avenue, and a water taxi service also runs along the Chicago River from Michigan Avenue to Ping Tom Memorial Park in Chinatown during the summer months.
Now on to Bronzeville and the 31st bus route, the proposed bus route by CTA does go into Bronzeville at Martin Luther King Jr.Drive. What the LVEJO group and their supporters are pushing is different. Here is the route proposed; from Cicero Avenue, down 31st street to Western, connect with the Orange Line, then go east to just before the Dan Ryan go south to connect to the 35th street Red Line and Sox Park, then connect to the Green Line, new Metra Station and then go down 31st to the beach, north on the service drive east of Lake Shore Drive to McCormick Place, Soldier Field and go all the way through the museum campus to the 12th street beach/Planetarium before it turns around to head west. I have to admit this route hits almost all the lakefront attractions. The only route to come close to this starts on the northside from much more affluent communities and then heads just south enough to get to the “good stuff”.
When I interviewed Patricia Abrams of the Renaissance Collaborative, a prominent Bronzeville organization, she pointed out how little of Bronzeville would benefit from the proposed route. In fact Bronzeville has quite a deficit in public transportation options as is and the proposed bus route doesn’t address them at all. In April of this year the Chicago Department of Transportation was noted in a Tribune article as launching a study aimed at improving public transportation for residents of 13 South Side communities: Douglas, Grand Boulevard, Oakland, Kenwood, Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore, South Chicago, Washington Park, Avalon Park, Calumet Heights,Greater Grand Crossing and Burnside. Of note, Douglas, Grand Boulevard and Oakland constitute significant parts of Bronzeville.
In February 2011, the Regional Transportation Authority, and the Chicago Department of Transportation began the South Lakefront Corridor Transit Study, a major study to identify and evaluate transit alternatives for improving travel in a Study Area between State Street and Lake Michigan, extending South from the Central Area to 95th Street.
Mike Payne authored the “CTA Gray Line ‘L’ Route”Project. His proposal advocates converting the in-city Metra Electric District Lines to operate as a new Regional South Lakefront Corridor CTA ‘L’ service. According to his plan the CTA Gray Line Project is cost effective in comparison to the proposed Red Line extension to 130th Street; estimated to cost 1.4 billion dollars. The Gray Line comes in at a mere 200 million dollars. The line would certainly bring service along the lakefront up a few notches. After all, the south east lakefront corridor is the only quadrant of the City without a rapid transit system (excluding Metra). It would serve Bronzeville (east with bus connections from the west at 55th, 51st and possibly 47th street), Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore, South Chicago, Chatham, Chicago State University, Pullman, Roseland, Blue Island and Hegewisch. It might cost more than the proposed 31st street bus would but it would also serve a much larger area and a host of populations, including large Hispanic communities, Hegewisch (51%), Blue Island 40.72%. Granted the Asian population is scarce along the proposed Gray Line. Face it the entire Asian population in Chicago as of the 2000 census was only 18.0% even though Chicago has the third largest South Asian population in the country.
What do all these 1,769 words (so far) have to do with green? Obviously rapid transit and additional buses do address more sustainable living. I think the proposed bus line has more to do with making it easier for communities along the route to take advantage of Museum Campus, Millennium Park and last but not least the new 31stStreet Harbor, located just south of the existing 31st Street Beach. The scope includes the construction of a 2,700 ft. long breakwater; approximately 1000 new boat slips, green roof parking garage and other parking improvements; reconfigured entrance to improve access; the creation of approximately 4 acres of new park space including a playground, promenade, open lawn areas, terraced steps; a harbor facility including a restaurant and community space. There is nothing wrong with this. Like I said at the beginning of this blog, everyone wants to access the Lake Front, for entertainment and for potential employment at the venues along the lake.
The new community facility slated for 31st harbor will offer various programs and a wide range of uses for its multipurpose rooms. Projected traffic demands for the community building were estimated. The 31st Street Harbor traffic analysis report issued by the Building Commission of Chicago even admitted that considering the usage of the facility, transportation was lacking. A 100% automobile usage was assumed and that’s not green, i.e. sustainable.
Launching the Gray Line would provide a brand new CTA Rapid Transit (‘L’) service (on EXISTING facilities) to Grant Park, the Museum Campus, the newly renovated Soldier Field, and McCormick Place (with a connected station under the McCormick Place South Bldg.) and the new harbor. Least I forget, there are the jobs on the line to the south at the Ford Explorer plant at 130th and Torrence for which there is no public transit.
I have no idea if this is a situation of just one project is doable but it appears to me that providing the most bang for the buck for as many people as possible ought to be the best option. I live in Bronzeville and am totally excited about the 31st Street Harbor. I would much rather the city finds a “greener” option for people to get there. I also cannot overlook the fact that transportation in the portions of Bronzeville west of Cottage Grove is not great. The simple fact is that a line at 31st Street as pointed out by Pat Abrams and echoed by others, will not contribute greatly to the people of Bronzeville. Where oh where is King Solomon when you need him?