Pullman Pouter: Konkol Gripes That His Neighborhood Is a Transit Desert

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Mark Konkol

It’s always a chuckle to read DNAinfo.com columnist Mark Konkol’s misguided musings on transportation issues.

When the city installed protected bike lanes on Kinzie, in front of the Sun-Times office where Konkol worked at the time, he wrote a series of articles blasting the PBLs as “bunk” that caused gridlock for drivers. “They’re a giant waste of money that probably don’t protect anybody,” he fumed. “Not bicyclists. Not drivers. Not pedestrians.”

Actually, a city traffic study found that, because the bike lanes helped to better organize car traffic, rush-hour travel times for drivers generally improved after the PBLs went in. Meanwhile, morning rush-hour bike ridership increased by 55 percent. And, while we don’t have safety stats for Chicago’s protected lanes yet, a study found that New York’s 9th Avenue PBL led to a 56 percent reduction in crashes for all road users.

More recently, Konkol blamed protected lanes, as well as a bike-share station, for the temporary closure of his favorite eatery, River West’s Silver Palm. “The addition of protected bike lanes and a Divvy bike station coupled with Milwaukee Avenue construction gobbled customer parking spots and had shooed diners away,” he wrote in a DNA piece. In fact, the Divvy station was installed on the sidewalk, so it eliminated zero car parking, while adding 12 bike parking spaces that the restaurant’s customers can use.

Since Konkol had previously claimed that Divvy stations can drive merchants out of business, it was amusing to read yesterday that he’s bummed that bike-share hasn’t come to his neighborhood yet. That complaint was included in a column arguing that many affluent Chicagoans don’t understand the challenges faced by people in low-income, high-crime areas.

That’s a worthwhile topic, but Konkol approached it in a dubious manner. First of all, he conflates the Pullman Historic District, the picturesque, safe, middle-class-and-gentrifying enclave where he lives, with the besieged communities that surround it. “If I’m honest, living there… has always been something of a struggle,” he writes.

This summer, instead of spending his vacation money on a long beachfront getaway, he subleased a $2,440 a month condo in Streeterville. Ironically, he used that experience to write a “Tale of Two Cities”-style narrative, preaching about how privileged his North Side neighbors were.

Fall facade.
The Pullman Historic District is a safe, quaint neighborhood, and it has pretty good transit access. Photo: Josh Koonce

Much of the column focuses on his own supposed hardships as a Pullman resident. “It’s the struggle for simple things that people in fancier parts of Chicago take for granted more than the threat of violence or the depression of poverty that can wear a guy down,” he stoically writes.

Konkol says that, before a Wal-Mart recently opened in the neighborhood, there was nowhere within a short drive of Pullman to buy quality groceries and produce. Actually, there was. He also laments that there’s still no place within walking distance that makes a good brunch (there is) or craft beer (that too).

Most interesting for Streetsblog readers is his claim that Pullman, located on the Far South Side, is underserved when it comes to transportation. I was pleased to read that the guy who blamed Divvy for keeping him away from the Silver Palm’s “Three Little Pigs” sandwich found bike-share to be useful when he lived in Streeterville, and now wants it in his own neighborhood.

“In a pinch, I can even rent a Divvy bike [in Streeterville] to speed up my trip to a [transit] station,” he writes. “By the looks of things, Divvy will make it to Pullman sometime in 2020, if at all.” Considering that this year’s planned expansion of the system was postponed, that may be a realistic prediction.

Konkol accurately notes that it’s a whole lot easier to catch a cab in Streeterville than Pullman, and that the historic district is three miles from the nearest ‘L’ stop. But his characterization of his neighborhood as a transit desert is a stretch.

“Don’t get me started on the Metra stations between 103rd and 115th that could double as horror movie locations,” he grouses. Sure, the Metra stations are a little scruffy, and non-rush hour service could be more frequent. But all homes in the historic district are a short walk from the train, and from there it’s a comfy half-hour ride to the Loop.

That makes the enclave a fairly convenient place for downtown workers who don’t own cars, which is a reason I once considered moving there myself. The district is also served by the CTA’s Cottage Grove and 115th buses, as well as a CTA shuttle to the shopping center that houses the Wal-Mart.

All told, the “struggles” Konkol says he faces as a Pullman resident are pretty laughable. There’s certainly much that needs to be said about economic and social inequality in Chicago. However, a guy who complains about how underserved his community is — when he’s actually got it pretty good — isn’t the one to say it.

  • jared

    Argus doesn’t actually have a tap room or sell on premises as far as I know. They give guided tours on the weekend though but that’s not the same as having a bar or liquor store within walking distance.

  • Lisa Curcio

    Really? Those train stations on the Metra Electric line qualify as good transit? You think that two train stations for a train that will only take you downtown are good transit? And have you been to the Rosebud farms on 130th Street? There is absolutely nothing else there and one would not consider it a grocery store. And does it not bother you that there is no good way to get there from Pullman other than by car? And a brewery (no matter how good) is the only close alternative to go out to get a bite? If it were not Konkol writing this, John, would you have written the same post? I just don’t think so.

  • Jim Angrabright

    “…I can even rent a Divvy bike [in Streeterville] to speed up my trip to a [transit] station”. The “I can” makes this statement purely theoretical which makes sense because I doubt he’s been on a bike in years (if ever).

  • Alex_H

    I visited Pullman last month; it’s very cool and I highly recommend it to any Streetsblog readers who haven’t been there. We biked down there (and back using the lovely Major Taylor Trail which I had seen mentioned by Anne Alt). A worthwhile ride.

  • Alex_H

    I thought this was a funny and good-spirited take-down of a pretty flagrant hypocrite, but your counterpoints here are right on.

  • I didn’t argue that Pullman is a transit paradise, but it’s not a transit desert. One of the reasons the enclave is gentrifying is because, it’s easy and relaxing to take Metra downtown. You can also ride the train to Hyde Park, the south suburbs, Joliet, and many other destinations.

    Sure you can’t get everywhere by transit from Pullman. But its transportation challenges are trivial compared to the many parts of the city where getting to work, school, or a medical appointment usually requires multiple bus and/or ‘L’ transfers.

    Yes, I have been to Rosebud: http://chi.streetsblog.org/2014/07/21/altgeld-gardens-residents-campaigning-for-sidewalk-on-130th-street/ They have good produce, plenty of groceries, and a nice-looking butcher counter. You can get there by bike — It’s an 18-minute pedal, mostly via low-traffic streets, from the historic district.

    The Cal-Harbor Restaurant, a classic diner, is within a ten-minute walk of most homes in the historic district. Konkol wrote about eating a tasty brunch there in his follow-up column: http://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20140919/streeterville/tourist-my-own-town-brunching-farmers-markets-two-chicagos So I have no idea why he lamented in the first column, “I love a good brunch… and there’s exactly none of that within walking distance from my rowhouse.”

    This article is par for the course for Konkol, but it would have come off as whiny and/or ill-informed about transportation and retail coming from any writer, and I probably would have written a response.

  • Correct, which is why I wrote “makes craft beer.” The Cal-Harbor Restaurant, steps from the historic district, has a bar, although they don’t serve anything fancier than Corona or Heineken. Jonesing for a microbrew? Hop the Metra Electric to Flossmoor Station brewpub, located in the train station: http://www.activetrans.org/modeshift/04_05/commuter_ales

  • Alex_H

    John, I agree with everything you say in this comment except:

    “Sure you can’t get everywhere by transit from Pullman. But its
    transportation challenges are trivial compared to the many parts of the
    city where getting to work, school, or a medical appointment often
    requires multiple bus and/or ‘L’ transfers.”

    I think that, depending on where you work or have a medical appointment, getting there from Pullman -would- require multiple bus and/or ‘L’ transfers. You’re painting a picture that it might be nice for someone with a downtown job to live in Pullman, but that leaves out a lot of people.

  • John

    Seems about the same as most suburbs. Metra makes going downtown fairly easy, but car or bike is needed for most other trips.

  • BlueFairlane

    It’s Opposite Day! Konkol calls for better transit options. Greenfield says, “Nah, we’re good.”

  • DK

    ….just wait an 50 minutes for the train to show up… and hope it’s the right one.

    and then sit there while you’re drinking your beverage carefully so you don’t have to wait 2 hours for a train back.

  • I’ve done several bike trips to Three Floyds brewpub in Munster, Indiana, where we ended up at Flossmoor Station. FS is certainly a relaxing place to wait for a train, and catching the train home certainly beats a long, tipsy bike ride back to the Loop.

  • Anne A

    Several years back, I considered buying in Pullman, but was deterred by transit limitations, lack of a quality grocery store nearby, scarcity of dining options and – most important – lack of quality healthcare nearby, Pullman Park has improved the retail picture. Transit is about the same – good to Hyde Park and the Loop, not so great to other destinations. Cal Harbor is good for diner style food, but it’s nice to have more options than Cal Harbor and McDonald’s. Pullman is a lovely community with a lot of amazing people, but it’s a challenging location for those who wish to live car lite or car free.

  • FG

    Pullman is so tiny as it is (particularly South Pullman), I don’t think it’s badly served by transit and of course, to the east it’s bordered by vacant formerly industrial (or never developed) land and the ports, so nothing can go through that way. Thanks to MED it’s go better transit that say Mt. Greenwood to the west.

    I’ll second the “you should visit” crowd – it’s truly unique and has one of the most unique (sorry for using that word twice) urban spaces around the market hall as well as the charming, mainly well maintained rowhouses and Hotel Florence.

  • The “You Are Beautiful” artist recently installed giant wooden cursive letters in the center of Market Hall that say “Go For It.” http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/matthew-hoffman-go-for-it-you-are-beautiful-pullman-mosnart/Content?oid=14672774

  • Bob Hovanes

    The entire Konkol article is ridiculous. Comparing Pullman, which is 100+ blocks outside of the downtown core, to other city neighborhoods is laughable. How many transit options are there supposed to be? I live comparably as far from downtown, in suburban Brookfield. My options are a metra station and a pace bus with multiple transfers, and I only get downtown. I’m not wondering where Divvy is close to me because it’s silly. Neighborhoods outside the urban core are still somewhat car dependent. That’s not changing soon in many neighborhoods. Edison Park or Dunning or Ashburn aren’t getting divvy soon either and only has metra “closeby”. Many other areas are the same.

    If you want the amenities found in Streeterville, you have to live closer to downtown than Pullman or Brookfield. Otherwise, Pullman is a fairly transit rich area compared to many neighborhoods or suburbs similarly as far from downtown.

  • FG

    Last time I was down there the Market Hall was still more or less “intact” as a building – looks like it’s been partially demolished (seems to me there was a fire or something more recently than ’73, but my memory is vague now).

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