Making It Easier to Get to the Museum Campus Without a Car

Museum Campus Transportation study
Residents asked for protected bike lanes near the Museum Campus at the meeting.

It’s already a bit of a hassle to get to and around Chicago’s Museum Campus, which includes the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium, the Adler Planetarium, and Soldier Field. In light of plans to build the Lucas Museum, as well as Rahm Emanuel’s goal to increase tourism from 49 million visitors last year to 55 million in 2020, the problem could get worse.

This summer, the mayor created the Museum Campus Transportation Task Force to review how people currently get to the campus and travel between the attractions, as well as to propose transportation improvements. The Metropolitan Planning Council is heading up the task force, which also includes city agencies, the leadership of the four main campus amenities, and nearby neighborhood groups.

MPC president MarySue Barrett said Emanuel gave the task force 90 days to finish the study. The report will serve as the transportation component of the Chicago Park District’s long-term Framework Plan. Plans for the Lucas Museum were announced after the task force convened. “Access has been troublesome for a while before that,” Barrett noted.

“This is the first time there’s been planning for the museum campus since the relocation of Lake Shore Drive,” Barrett said. The northbound lanes of the highway, which formerly ran between the Field and the Shedd, were moved west of the football stadium in the late 1990s, which allowed for the creation of the campus. The budget for that project didn’t “have enough give at the time,” Barrett said, for the kind of transportation planning and improvements the task force is now considering.

Museum Campus Transportation study
MarySue Barrett (right) co-chairs the task force with Chicago Chief Operating Officer Joe Deal (left).

Barrett said that the first step in the task force’s research process is to collect public input and information from the dozen involved organizations. “There are five million visitors annually to the Shedd, Adler, and Field Museums,” she said, adding that they’re trying to get input from three types of visitors: Chicagoans, suburbanites, and visitors from outside the region. “We’re looking at the museums’ attendance surveys to see how people arrive,” she said.

To brainstorm ideas for improving access to the museum campus, MPC is hosting three public meetings, the first of which was held yesterday evening at their downtown offices. See below for details on the two remaining events. The public is also encouraged to submit ideas and concerns about campus transportation issues online.

Roughly 70 people attended last night’s session. Issues ranged from security measures during special events that block park access days after the event, to police hassling pedicabbers when they offer Bears fans rides to transit stations or bars. Attendees were invited to sketch out their ideas on maps. Some South Loop residents highlighted streets where they’d like to see protected bike lanes.

Museum Campus Transportation study
Attendees listed their gripes about Museum Campus access obstacles.

Barret said a couple of Bears season ticket holders showed up for the meeting because they heard about it via an email blast from the team. The fans said they enjoy tailgating, and they’re worried about where they’ll be able to grill brats if the Lucas Museum is built on top of an existing Soldier Field parking lot, as planned.

Allan Mellis, a Lincoln Park neighborhood organizer, offered his suggested criteria on which to base the plan. The first, he wrote, is to build upon the existing transit infrastructure offered by CTA, Metra, and Pace. He also said there should be no public funds for expansion or operating costs.

MPC displayed myriad ideas on poster boards to inspire attendees, including an aerial tram (used in Latin American cities and London to cross mountains and a river, respectively), a wearable “Magicband” — used by Disney — that would allow visitors to get inside museums and pay for transit between the campus and their hotel, as well as a streetcar running in a dedicated lane, a transportation mode that used to run all over Chicago.

One MPC poster showed off rail transit as a way to increase transportation options to Museum Campus.
One MPC poster showed off rail transit as a way to increase transportation options to Museum Campus.

John Krause, head of Chicago Streetcar Renaissance, is meeting with stakeholders, including museum leaders, to design a route for streetcars running in exclusive tramways that would link Metra’s West Loop stations with the Magnificent Mile, Navy Pier, and the Museum Campus. He’s met with the task force, the CTA, and the Chicago Department of Transportation, too, but he’s just at the outset of working with those agencies and Museum Campus institutions on the design. Krause also wants the city to link the Museum Campus portion with a route that solves the problem being tackled by the River North/Streeterville transit study. “It’s one infrastructure investment that promotes tourism, serves suburban commuters, and boosts downtown business,” he said.

T.C. O’Rourke came to the meeting to learn more and share his story about how he and other pedicab operators are fighting to be able to reach Bears fans, a solid customer base. He said that barriers have been set up to prevent their vehicles from passing through  — separate from the new regulations city council passed last spring — and police officers are telling them to get off the Museum Campus sidewalks — even though, like all parks, they’re multi-use paths.

There are two upcoming meetings:

Tuesday, October 21, at 6:30 p.m.
Spertus Institute, 610 S Michigan Ave

Monday, October 27, 6 to 8 p.m.
Vice District Brewing, 1454 S Michigan Ave (with beer sampling!)

  • C Monroe

    This sounds crazy but hear me out. You have a large ridership potential and a system that handles a few thousand an hour can work. How about a Gondola system that goes from Union Station down Van Buren above the loop tracks to a station above the Library station then it keeps heading east to the Van Buren Metra/South Shore/Institute of Arts station, heads south past Buckingham fountain, east to a station between Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium, then east to a station next to the Planetarium and then south down Northerly Island crossing Burnham Bay to a station between Soldier Field and Lucas Museum and finally south to a station on top of McCormick place. You can use 6 person carriages and have them space about a few seconds apart. They can also handle bicycles.

  • **

    Interesting idea, C Monroe. A gondola system built with private funds as is under consideration in Seattle (http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2023047646_wheelgondolaxml.html) or as part of the public transit system like in Portland, Oregon (http://www.gobytram.com/)?

  • Ryan Lakes

    I would prefer to first use the surface roadways that we already have more efficiently by encouraging people to use streetcars while reducing capacity for automobiles. It should make the roadways safer to cross and improve their air quality.

  • BlueFairlane

    How would a gondola handle weather? I know they have gondolas at alpine ski resorts or mountain tourist places, but I don’t know anything about them. How stable would they be in a 20 mph wind? How would they handle a snowy day in January?

    Also, a downside of gondolas is that people afraid of heights won’t use them. I doubt I’d ever get my wife on one without a lot of cajoling.

  • PracticalVoter

    C Monroe — Not so crazy. See this article from 2012:

    http://gondolaproject.com/2012/02/08/a-cable-car-for-chicago/

  • C Monroe

    Portlands is not a gondola but a bad 3 cable tram, that would be a disaster.

  • C Monroe

    Modern Gondolas can handle winds of 50 mph easy.

  • C Monroe

  • Fred

    Chicago’s had elevated mass transit for well over a century…

  • BlueFairlane

    But do they bounce around a lot in those kinds of winds?

  • **

    Because it wouldn’t handle the wind here or ?

  • C Monroe

    It has one large car that uses three cables like an old time river ferry that uses a rope. Medellin, Columbia two lines and about a 100 small cars are a much better system. The wind is not really a problem since they can handle 50+mph winds easy.

  • cjlane

    “the Museum Campus sidewalks — even though, like all parks, they’re multi-use paths”

    So, the sidewalk adjacent to the street next to a park is *not* a “sidewalk” *everywhere* in Chicago?

    Cite, please.

    That paths *in* the park north of McFetridge are obviously “path paths” and not sidewalks, so that’s not what I am asking about.

  • I don’t understand your question.

    Look at Chapter 7.B.8.d. in the Chicago Park District Code. “Persons may operate a bicycle only on paths, trails, roadways, or other areas designated for bicycle use.”

  • Because it’s a shuttle. With one direction. A better example may be the Roosevelt Island aerial tram. But that may also be a shuttle (back and forth).

  • **

    So it’d be better to do some kind of circulating route like I’ve been trying to talk everyone into to connect up Uptown’s lakefront to all the transit options just west?

  • cjlane

    My question is that many (but not nearly all, and likely well less than half) of the “Museum Campus sidewalks”–at least as I see it–are bona fide ‘sidewalks’ along the side of a road, and thus governed by the “no one over 12 on a bike on the sidewalk’ rules, rather than the ‘multi-use path *in* a park’ rules.

    Are *all* of the “sidewalks” in the Museum Campus (that is, east of LSD, south of the north face of the Field, to whatever point you define) “multi use park paths” or are some of them regular city “sidewalks”. And, if the former, is that different from (say) the sidewalk adjacent to Humboldt Park along North or Division, and if different, why?

    PS: It’s an honest question–I dunno, but the language I quoted (from the last full sentence of the article) caused me to wonder if there is a distinction.

  • C Monroe

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