Next South Shore Alderman Must Expand and Protect Existing Transit

Inbound Metra Electric Train Departing From the South Shore Station on the South Chicago Branch

A Metra Electric train crosses Yates Boulevard out of the South Shore station. Photo by Jeff Zoline.

Applications are being accepted by Mayor Email until Friday, January 25 at 5 PM.

Alderman Sandi Jackson of the 7th Ward, which includes South Shore, South Chicago, Rainbow Beach, and Jeffery Manor, resigned effective Tuesday. Mayor Emanuel has 60 days from Tuesday to appoint a successor and hinted at the process in which he would vet candidates. A website will be launched today; people can submit applications to be considered for the job by a panel of four – yet unnamed – community representatives.

The Chicago Tribune reported, “The next alderman for the South Side ward must have a record of ‘community involvement and engagement,’ the mayor stated in a news release. Emanuel hopes to pick the replacement by mid-February.” On Sunday, the Chicago Tribune speculated as to who might be jockeying for the position.

I talked to four residents in the South Shore neighborhood about the transportation issues and assets to understand the needs in the community that the next alderman should address. Community members are organizing rapidly: two of the three residents I interviewed, independently, knew of each other through a brand new organization called Reclaiming South Shore for All (RSSA), led by Mia Henry. Henry was planning for an RSSA meeting when I caught her on the phone; she only had time to convey that the Jeffery Jump “was a good move for people” in the neighborhood.

Eric Rogers and Paul Fitzgerald, both members of RSSA, spoke with me at length. Fitzgerald works at Working Bikes Cooperative in Pilsen. The first issue he identified was one of poor road conditions, especially on South Shore Drive.

The city recently restriped bike lanes on South Shore, but on a road that’s super rocky. People drive really fast on South Shore Drive. They don’t slow down for potholes, they just swerve, sometimes into oncoming traffic or the bike lane.

Like many wards, the 7th ward had “stop for pedestrian” signs installed, the first, including one at South Shore Drive and 75th, in front of Powell Elementary School.

Drivers don’t stop for pedestrians in crosswalks at all. I’d say this is true for the entire ward. The first stop for pedestrian sign was installed at 75th and South Shore Drive – nobody respects it, and it’s right in front of a school.

Fitzgerald reminded me that a pedestrian was killed in the ward in December, at 95th Street and Jeffery Boulevard. In 2009, a pedestrian was killed after being struck by a Chicago Transit Authority bus at the same intersection. Also at this intersection, a 30-year-old man and a 3-year-old girl were injured in the same crash. From 2005-2011 there were 5 additional injured pedestrians and 2 injured bicyclists.

Eric Rogers swaps between taking the Chicago Transit Authority #6 and #26 buses, and the Metra Electric South Chicago line to the University of Chicago. He praised the connectivity that these routes provided to other neighborhoods, as did Fitzgerald. Rogers explained how the good transit in South Shore must be protected.

Some people consider it an eye sore, which is unfortunate. I would love it if the Metra provided a more frequent service. It’s not as infrequent as the Blue Island branch, but not as frequent as the main line. Although I don’t see full trains…if Metra was in dire straits, I wonder if this one would be cut first.

Connections dwindle at night, though. The last Metra Electric train to leave the “South Shore” station towards the Loop is at 7:29 PM. The #26 South Shore Express runs only during weekday rush hours, towards downtown in the morning, and towards South Shore in the afternoon and evening. The #71 71st/South Shore and #6 Hyde Park Express routes stop running between 12:00 and 12:30 AM each day. The #N5, though, will take residents west to the Red Line.

Transportation concerns rank low for RSSA at this time. Rogers described where it fits in.

Out of all the problems we’ve listed, transportation [transit] problems didn’t make it on there. People value it, are aware we have pretty good service, are in a good location geographically. Of all the things that we have to agitate for, we need to agitate to keep what we have.

Both residents explained to me that there are economic and crime issues, and has a definitive connection to personal perception of safety. Fitzgerald and his wife like to walk around the neighborhood; she walks to work as a teacher at a nearby school.

71st Street is the business district compared to 75th and 79th. I wish I hadn’t been there at times when someone fired a gun in the daytime. It’s a deterrent even for the people who love to walk.

I analyzed traffic crash data from the Illinois Department of Transportation and found evidence of many pedestrian and bicycle crashes along 71st Street, 75th Street, South Shore Drive, and on Jeffery Boulevard (in addition to the crash information above).

71st Street, Exchange Avenue, and Yates Boulevard

Outside former Alderman Jackson’s office, which also has an at-grade train crossing, there were 6 pedestrians and 2 bicyclists injured (reported to police, 2005-2011).

71st Street and Jeffery Boulevard

A Metra train passes here, and there is a strip mall anchored by Dominick’s on the southeast corner. There were 12 pedestrians and 2 bicyclists injured (reported to police, 2005-2011).

75th Street and South Shore Drive

In front of Powell Elementary School there were 3 pedestrians and 1 bicyclist injured from 2005-2011, as reported to police.

Traffic crashes in the South Shore neighborhood

A custom software I built explores traffic crashes, as reported by police to IDOT, on OpenStreetMap.

South Shore resident and fellow RSSA member Deborah Harrington wanted to alert the community about a dangerous situation she witness on South Shore Drive at 73rd Street, where there is a bike lane that forms the southern “extension” of the Lakefront Trail that terminates two blocks away.

I often see groups of 10 and more serious cyclists pedaling here and last summer I witnessed a horrible crash due to a gaping hole on the bike path… about 12 cyclists missed the hole, but since it was filled with water the next to last one hit the hole and flipped over. It happened so suddenly that the very last cyclist ran his bike over his fallen friend and when into a wild flip. Both downed cyclists were injured. A few days later a metal plate was placed over this huge and dangerous hole, but this protective sheet is now off this deep hole and once again it threatens to gobble up anyone who missteps.

Gaping hole in South Shore Drive bike lane

The photo she sent shows the metal plate completely away from the hole. The hole filled with water and turned to ice.

Mayor Emanuel ran on a platform of promoting sustainable transportation initiatives, including building bus rapid transit, extending the Red Line, and constructing protected bike lanes. Active Transportation Alliance has signed on 12 aldermen to officially support the mayor’s goal of building 100 miles of protected bike lanes (the goal, or the definition of what it takes to achieve that goal, has since changed). The organization’s director said in a statement that “many more aldermen are implementing strategies to make their streets safer for walking”. He hopes the new 7th ward alderman “will similarly be willing to work with constituents to improve biking, walking and transit.”

Roger’s and Fitzgerald’s statements shared this motif: they want an alderman who’s present and involved. Fitzgerald recounted running into several events hosted by 5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston. He said the “South Shore Music Festival was backed by 3 alderman, and not Sandi Jackson. Things like that promote our community. Having an alderman who understands and is involved is what I hope for.”

Reclaiming South Shore for All is hosting a rally on Monday. On Saturday, the Exchange Ideas event will be held by a different community group.

Updated 16:30 to add Harrington’s comments and photo. Updated January 21 to add link to application form.