Obama Library’s Jackson Park Location Will Be Easy to Visit Without Driving

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The Obama library site, located between 60st, 63rd, Stony Island, and Cornell, will be easy to access by Metra, bus, and bike. Image: Google Maps.

Today a spokesman for the Obama Foundation officially confirmed that the Obama Presidential Center will be located in Jackson Park on the South Side, and he lauded the project as the nation’s first urban presidential library. “For the first time, a presidential center will be in the heart of an urban community,” foundation chairman Martin Nesbitt, said in a statement.

It was previously announced that Washington Park, to the west of Hyde Park, where the president previously worked as a University of Chicago law professor, and Jackson Park, to the southeast, were under consideration. As opposed to a more glamorous downtown location, siting the museum in either park would have had the benefit spurring investment in struggling nearby communities, in keeping with Obama’s former role as a community organizer. Each park is also well served by transit.

While there are two Green Line stops just west of Washington Park, the Jackson Park location has an edge when it comes to sustainable transportation access. The library will be located on a narrow, 20-acre parcel between 60th and 63rd streets, Stony Island Avenue and Cornell Drive, land currently occupied by a running track, football field, and baseball diamonds.

Just west are the Metra Electric District line’s 59th Street and 63rd Street stations. Four CTA bus lines run past the parcel on Stony Island: the #2 Hyde Park Express, the #6 Jackson Park Express, the #15 Jeffery Local, and the #28 Stony Island. The location is also accessible from the lakefront via an underpass and multiuse trails through the park, so it will be possible to bicycle there from downtown without having to share the road with cars.

The Green Line offers more frequent and consistent service to Washington Park than Metra’s train service to Jackson Park. However, it’s likely that decision makers assumed out-of-town visitors would be less comfortable taking the ‘L’ through the heart of the South Side than riding commuter rail towards the Museum of Science and Industry, one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. Some local leaders hope that the addition of the library will spark the creation of a new South Side museum campus.

The Coalition for a Modern Metra Electric has been lobbying for the line to be converted to more frequent rapid transit-style service as well as fare integration with CTA and Pace, in order to increase job access for South Siders. Mayor Emanuel has shown interest in the proposal and the Obama library makes it even more likely that upgrade will happen. Moreover, it’s almost certain that the minimalist Metra stations near the library site will be overhauled in order to better accommodate crowds of visitors.

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Both Jackson Park and Washington Park are easy to access by transit. Map: CTA

Crain’s architecture critic Edward Keegan brought up the exciting possibility that the southeast leg of the Green Line, which was truncated to its current terminus at 63rd and Cottage Grove in recent decades, could be restored to its original 1893 route, which traveled to Jackson Park to serve the World’s Columbian Exposition. Adding additional Green Line stops on 63rd at Woodlawn Avenue and Stony Island would be great, and it might even be possible to create a transfer to the Electric line at Dorchester Avenue.

Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin noted that the Jackson Park location is a bit isolated from a pedestrian perspective. To the west, the Metra embankment is a barrier that prevents east-west travel between 59th and 63rd. To the east, high-speed, six-lane Cornell Drive is a dangerous street to cross on foot.

The library might be a good excuse to put Cornell on a much-needed road diet. Perhaps a lane or two could be converted to provide additional land for the library. Kamin brought up the idea of using trolley-style buses to shuttle visitors between the Metra stations, the library, and the science museum.

Today Crain’s ran a piece by Lisa Bertagnoli contrasting the Obama library, projected to cost $500 million and funded by the president’s foundation, with the $750 million, George Lucas-funded Museum of Narrative Art project, which was proposed for the site of a giant lakefront parking lot south of Soldier Field. After the museum proposal, which would have added several additional acres of green space to the site, was stalled by a lawsuit from Friends of the Parks, Lucas gave up on building it in Chicago.

FOTP argued that building the museum on the south lot site, located east of Lake Shore Drive, would have violated the 1973 Lakefront Protection Ordinance. While the Obama library site is west of the drive, it is part of the protected lakefront, so building the library on the site violates the principal that the lakefront should be “Forever open, free and clear.” But the parks group says they don’t plan to sue over the museum since many of their members are strongly in favor of bringing it to the South Side.

To their credit, FOTP says they will push for the parkland eliminated from the library site to be replaced elsewhere. “Friends of the Parks is thrilled to have the Obama presidential library come to Chicago, but we continue to believe that it should not be located on existing park land,” executive director Juanita Irizarry said in a statement to Crain’s. “There is plenty of vacant land in the area that could accommodate the library. However, Friends of the Parks will not sue over the issue. But we will continue to push to preserve the integrity of historic Jackson Park and for the replacement of green space that is taken to accommodate the library.”

Still FOTP’s recent positions on green space and parking have been more than a little ironic:

Eliminate 20 acres of parkland to make room for the Obama Library? Oh, OK.
Tear out two acres of green space to add more parking near 31st Street Beach? Sure.
Replace a parking lot with the Lucas Museum and four acres of new green space? No!!!

  • Re-extending the Green Line to Stony Island would require a very expensive ramp, and high-level bridge over the Metra Line!

  • For more background on redirecting traffic off of Cornell Drive, see this.

  • david vartanoff

    But is totally worth ding. While my elderly aunt refused to climb the stairs to the old terminal, any new station would have elevators and escalators. It might well be that the new station should be long enough to serve both as access to the Library and CTA buses at the east end and the transfer station to MED at the west. BTW, the steel taken down when the rebuilt L was cut back is lying in the CTA 61 St yard.
    https://www.google.com/maps/@41.7801729,-87.6173264,3a,60y,343.06h,91.07t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sNz6AK3K6qpBP9O_W-7l0Fw!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

    The next L upgrade should be extending the Ashland Branch to link up with the Orange Line.

  • Yonah Freemark is proposing a timed Yellow Line type shuttle on one leg of the Green line so the other can have 10 minute headways using the $50 million Garfield Station upgrade money. Maybe make the shuttle a BRT instead of a train with a BRT station ramp up to the el platform.

    https://twitter.com/yfreemark/status/759483340936323073

  • “https://twitter.com/yfreemark/status/759483340936323073”

  • Tristan Crockett

    My proposal is to do BRT-style bus upgrades on Stony Island (a dedicated lane, for sure, and ideally prepaid boarding at the library’s stop). As you noted, there are already four bus routes that use this section of Stony Island, and speeding up these buses would speed up existing local users and increase transit access to the library from both the far south side (#28 and #15 buses) and downtown.

    Ideally, the new ridership triggered by the library, plus increased usage of buses due to the bus corridor, would make a new bus route sustainable; an express bus from downtown, similar to the #6 (local at 47th) and J14 (local at 67th), but goes local at 57th, stops at the Museum of Science and Industry, and then continues down the Stony Island BRT corridor southward. This should benefit any Woodlawn residents who work downtown as well as increase transit access to the library.

  • J. Geoff Rove

    I doubt that Little Rock had to build rail service to handle the crowds for the WJC library.

  • crosspalms

    I’m glad you mentioned Cornell. I snorted when Blair Kamin’s article referred to it as a “busy park road.” It’s a huge on/off ramp for Lake Shore Drive. And it’s an example of the ways we’ve made so many of our parks less accessible by prioritizing car movement over people.

  • david vartanoff

    As said in an earlier post the Green Line should be reconfigured and extended making Midway easier to access from the South Side. As to shuttles, indeed giving Garfield a third track would be useful. BRT? no!.

  • david vartanoff

    Far greater benefit to Woodlawn residents would be the Gray Line integration of CTA/MED fares and 15 minute headways.

  • I never understood why local businesses wanted that section of Green Line demolished.

  • Anne A

    Cornell is a ped and bike nightmare – a speedway between South Lake Shore Drive and Stony Island.

  • Alicia

    Another difference (not related to parking) between the two projects is that Chicago is Obama’s adopted city, while Lucas is a lifelong CA resident. Perhaps that is a factor in why they are more favorable to his proposal.

  • Anne A

    One potential complication – the current sad state of drainage and persistent impassable condition of the ped/bike underpass at Lake Shore Drive and Marquette. It’s been like this for much of the summer. (photo by Karen Roothaan)

    The word I’ve gotten is that it’s related to Lake Michigan’s high water level and that coming up with an effective solution may take a while.

  • crosspalms

    Maybe the city’s new plan to reduce congestion on the lakefront path is to breed mosquitoes nearby.

  • Bruce

    Such HUBRIS on the part of Obama and the Foundation. Such absolute disdain for the people of the southside, of which Obama really is not a member. You write ” land currently occupied by a running track, football field, and baseball diamonds” as if it were chocolate cake. That is a high-tech and VERY MUCH USED astroturf field and a running track that you circled. To the south is what the CPD call a “comfort station” and there is a big playground and an area of trees and parkland used by many families for weekend get-togethers and big family reunions. Further south is more football fields and baseball diamond, used by people from the neighborhood as well as the high school across the street. How is having the library going to be better for the HS and for the neighborhood than having these park amenities. Obama and the Foundation could have chosen from ACRES upon ACRES of vacant land on the southside of chicago if they really wanted to help revitalize. That’s all a cover up. They don’t give 2cents for people here.

  • southsidecyclist

    Absolutely! One of the travesties of the current system is it is easier for south siders to take rapid transit to O’hare than Midway. A link from Ashland to the Orange Line (nee Midway) would accomplish that. Of course one would need to have an actual RT2RT transfer point at the Red Line.

  • what_eva

    That’s an exaggeration. Red and Green have transfers with Orange at Roosevelt. Much closer than any transfer to the Blue and it’s much quicker to Midway than O’Hare

  • what_eva

    The basis of the FotP suit against Lucas was *not* the Lakefront Protection Ordinance (which could have been changed pretty easily). It was the fact that the land is public trust land (former lake bottom, ie landfill). This site is not public trust land.

    You’re incorrect to bring up “Forever open, free and clear.” as that *only* applies to Grant Park, *not* the lakefront as a whole.

  • Cameron Puetz

    Little Rock did build a streetcar line to connect the Clinton Library to downtown.

  • southsidecyclist

    Agreed. Growing up in Roseland had their been a Gray line that would have been the go to option to get to Hyde Park because of the greater speed. I rode the #28 bus often because of the price (lower) and frequency (higher). A Gray line might make all that BRT stuff unneccesary.

  • I’m just thinking of costs. Sure an elevated shuttle like the yellow line to Stony Island, or where ever, would be fantastic. But not a streetcar without a dedicated right of way.

    So if the BRT drove right up to the platform, had a dedicated lane on the street, then why not if that is all that can be afforded?

  • rohmen

    You’re right on the public trust issues and the lakefront ordinance distinction, but I thought I recalled a debate around some of the Obama library sites qualifying as infilled lake bed. Maybe this spot clearly isn’t, but it was enough of an issue that the legislature passed the same sort of law they tried with the Lucas site to cut off a challenge.

  • what_eva

    I’m having trouble finding a historical shoreline map for that area (much easier to find old ones for the loop area including the “forever open, clear and free” 1836 plat) to know where the line would be for public trust land. I found some stuff describing Jackson Park as sandy prior to the Columbian Exposition and doesn’t talk about landfill, so I suspect this site at the western edge of the park isn’t infill. It appears to have been the site of the Horticulture Building.

    The state law isn’t really relevant and that’s why it didn’t work for Lucas. Public Trust is covered by a US Supreme Court that involved our very own infill, Illinois Central Railroad Co v Illinois.

  • Dennis McClendon

    Historic shoreline maps here. But I’ve already researched the question for FotP. Jackson Park is not public trust land.

  • southsidecyclist

    Sorry Bruce, I don’t see any on lining up to bring anything to the southside except grief and neglect. All the lovely amenities for Hyde Park HS can be and will be moved. Rahmy has already said that he would take out Cornell to replace the 20 acres.

  • Bruce

    I would love to see Cornell taken out. That street is very dangerous. Drivers regularly travel well over the speed limit and refuse to stop for pedestrians crossing unless there is a red light. There are several mid-block crosswalks there which are nothing more than an open invitation to injury. I’ve nearly been run over, more than once, by drivers speeding around the corner at Cornell and Midway Plaisance and swerving around cars stopped either to allow me to pass or because the light at Stony is red.

    Yes, Cornell should be removed and traffic rerouted to Stony Island Avenue and LSD. Stony also needs a more severe road diet between 56th and 71st to get people to slow down. People drive way too fast and cause danger to pedestrians, particularly between 56th and 67th. They try to drive as if there were 2 or 3 lanes of traffic in each direction when really there is only 1 lane. People also face danger when crossing the street by the high school.

  • Bruce

    I’ve complained about that more than once and received no response.

  • Bruce

    We should tweet that picture to the #stopZika campaign and mention CDOT and Chicago Park District.

  • david vartanoff

    The point is to add possible routes. Of course one can take a bus from the South Side to the Red Line, then go to Roosevelt, then transfer to the Orange. But, it would be faster if the Ashland branch were extended to Midway. Such trips are not only for airline travel, but for ground service workers.
    And, on my optimistic days, I would add a link from the Orange up Ashland using the Pink Line and restoring the Paulina Cponnector to link to the Blue Line, both providing an airport to airport link skipping the Loop, and opening upfaster transit on the West Side.

  • Anne A

    http://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks/jackson-park/

    It was suggested to me to complain to the park supervisor. Info at the link above.

  • what_eva

    I’m not arguing that at all, I’m saying it’s ridiculous to say that the South Side is quicker to ORD via transit than MDW.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Not 100% applicable to this site specifically, but I can’t recommend this enough – reading this will make anyone smarter:

    Private Rights in Public Lands: The Chicago Lakefront, Montgomery Ward, and the Public Dedication Doctrine

    http://scholarship.law.marquette.edu/facpub/563/

  • C Monroe

    Lucas wife is a Chicagoan.

  • Alicia

    I see, thanks.

  • Went to my high school, actually.

    (Hail, Ignatius!)

  • Carter O’Brien

    Hey, which class? I’m ’89.

  • 93. :-> Just missed you. Also known as “there was still horrid striped wallpaper in the “new wing” of classrooms, but I was there for the science fair flood that dropped all the plaster off so they had to remodel”.

    I bonded with a 70s-era graduate about how when he was there they hadn’t built the Link, so he had to walk to gym and lunch in the rain and snow.

    (Uphill. Both ways.)

  • Carter O’Brien

    Ha ha ha! The Link was completed during my senior year, and the 70s graduate wasn’t kidding – they made us shower (ick) after gym class, so I have less-than-fond memories of having to wait outside in the winter to get back in the main building, and having icicles in my hair.

    I wonder what inflation has done to the price of an elevator pass…

  • The expensive finishes inside have gotten insanely out of control.

    The upstairs science labs look like A MUSEUM, the auditorium looks like it belongs downtown in a historic building, and none of the classroom halls look in any way like a high school.

    I was already intimidated by the luxury as an economically-struggling kid in the 90s, I can’t imagine what it’s like now. Also digusting seeing all the marble and handpainted murals when I remember how many of the good teachers had to quit and go work at CPS because they weren’t getting a living wage.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Yeah, the Link felt like an omen of things to come – there was some minor uproar involving money spent on fancy digs to court donors for that project. I remember a very different Ignatius for sure, including getting hauled down to the Principal’s office as my mom was behind on tuition. Still no idea what they thought that would accomplish. All that said, it was a first class education, and I wouldn’t trade the exposure and connections I made with kids from every corner of Chicago for anything.

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There's no need for drivers to use Cornell or Marquette (southernmost east-west street in Jackson Park) to continue south on Stony Island. The Obama Library will be located on the patch of land currently occupied by a running track and baseball diamonds. Image: Google Maps

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