Petition Calls for Restoring Green Line Service to Jackson Park, Obama Library

A Green Line Train at 51st Street. Photo: Wikipedia Commons
A Green Line Train at 51st Street. Photo: Wikipedia Commons

One of the worst urban planning decisions the city of Chicago made in recent decades was demolishing the roughly one-mile stretch of the Jackson Park branch of the Green Line between Cottage Grove and Stony Island in 1997. At the time community leaders argued that the sight and sound of the elevated tracks were discouraging new investments in housing and retail long that stretch of 63rd Street in Woodlawn.

But now that more and more people are understanding that convenient transit access is a huge asset for homes and businesses, it has become increasingly clear how short-sighted that move was. The missed opportunity that the missing tracks and stations represent became painfully obvious when the site of the Obama Presidential Center was announced: kitty corner from the old Stony Island station location.

Currently the Green Line stops a mile west of Jackson Park, but it used to go all the way there. Image: Google Maps
Currently the Green Line stops a mile west of Jackson Park, but it used to go all the way there. Image: Google Maps

This bitter irony hasn’t escaped the notice of Woodlawn neighbors, who have launched an online petition demanding that the CTA restore Green Line service to Stony Island and the future presidential library site:

There is insufficient access to Jackson Park. While we welcome the Obama Presidential Center and some companion projects for renovating Jackson Park itself, by themselves these plans are too small. Without restoring the ‘L’ we have no viable infrastructure for welcoming people to the Jackson Park vicinity. CTA buses and Metra Electric trains cannot possibly carry the expected increased traffic to the Hyde Park, Woodlawn, and South Shore areas. Likewise, existing roadways cannot adequately be retrofitted to accommodate changing traffic patterns resulting from the proposed closure of S. Cornell Drive through Jackson Park. Restoring the Green Line over E. 63rd Street not only offers an above-grade solution to alleviate automobile traffic but also offers connection points to CTA Buses, Metra Electric trains, and the CTA ‘L’ system at large in ways that no other proposal can.

The petition adds that there are multiple options for traveling between the Loop and Jackson Park, Woodlawn, Hyde Park, and the University of Chicago, there is limited transportation infrastructure to take residents and students between these areas and communities to the west, such as Englewood and West Englewood. “Restoring the E. 63rd Street branch of the Green Line with strategically placed stations not only encourages visitors to Jackson Park to take in the surrounding neighborhoods but also enables our South Side neighbors to move more freely to, from, and within Woodlawn and steps from the University of Chicago in ways they have not been able since the ‘L’ was razed 20 years ago.”

The petition, which has more than 80 signatures so far, calls for the following provisions:

  • A joint planning committee with an equal number of government officials and community representatives, as well as reps from the Obama Foundation and the U. of C.
  • Reusing salvaged materials from the demolition, currently stored at a nearby CTA yard.
  • As much as possible, the original materials currently stored at the 61st Street Yard be salvaged and used in construction.
  • Reestablishing two-way boarding at the King Drive station.
  • Installing two new stations between Cottage Grove and Stony Island, as was previously the case with stations at University and Dorchester.
  • Conducting a study to determine whether it would be viable to reinstall historic stations near Calumet Avenue at 58th and 61st.
  • An additional study be conducted toward reinstating either or both the 58th and 61st stations or otherwise strategically located stops between Garfield and Cottage Grove.
  • Stations that are wheelchair accessible (this is already required by federal law for new CTA stops), with designs that celebrate their communities.
  • Coordinating the design of the Stony Island station with that of the Obama Library.
  • Financing the construction via funding from the Obama Foundation and other public-private partnerships, rather than with tax dollars, if possible.
  • In lieu of tax dollars, as much of the needed funding as possible come from other sources including but not limited to the Obama Foundation and other public–private partnerships.

The organizers will be submitting the petition to just about all relevant city officials, regional transportation officials, and state representatives, as well as the University of Chicago and the Obama Foundation. Be sure to sign the petition to show your support for undoing the mistakes of the past and restoring rapid transit access to Woodlawn.

  • david vartanoff

    ABSOLUTELY!!! ADA connection to Metra Electric, and to CTA buses on Stony Island. The comments about 58th and 61st are correct too. Ultimately the Ashland Branch should be extended to Midway giving South Siders a better way to access the airport. If every other train departing Jackson Park reversed at 58th they could then head west to Midway.

  • rduke

    A “Gray Line” conversion of Metra Electric would have a huge multiplier effect on the region if this went through.

  • david vartanoff

    YES!!!

  • Cameron Puetz

    Ideally the 63rd Street Metra Station could be converted to a combo station similar to Jefferson Park.

  • Jacob Wilson

    Why did they have to add all that public/private partnership rubbish at the end? Sure it would be nice to have the Obama foundation kick in for some aesthetic improvements but this is a much needed public infrastructure project to restore something that was wrongfully removed. We shouldn’t have to beg the rich and opening that door sets a dangerous precedent going forward.

  • Chicagoan

    Extend it to the 63rd St. Metra station and build a Jefferson Park-style CTA/Metra superstation (Call it Dorchester.) and also have a station at Woodlawn Ave.

  • Leggy Mountbatten

    Why would they want to use “original materials”? Not structural ones, I hope. That would be costly and silly. If an addition is built, make it so it reduces noise significantly.

  • Mike

    When the CTA dismantled all the brand-new, never-used structure that was erected east of Cottage Grove to Dorchester, they stored it under the train yard at 61st. It’s all still there. I think that’s what this refers to.

  • Chicagoan

    Old portions of the Green Line have structural steel that’s reminiscent of the steel used for the Eiffel Tower.

    Could be a nostalgic thing such as this.

  • Leggy Mountbatten

    That’s crazy. How big is that?

  • Mike

    I’ve been past it – it looks like it takes up much of the space under the above-grade platform along Calumet Avenue and much of the way from 63rd to 62nd.
    Actually, there’s a photo of these beams on the petition page – it’s the image on the upper right, behind a fence.

  • Carter O’Brien

    I agree with you in in the big picture, but it doesn’t sound like the station was wrongfully removed so much as the City actually responded to community demands. That Reader article required a serious suspension of disbelief to read all the way through, where were the voices of reason back then?

    I guess I am just smh as there is absolutely *nothing* new about the fact that “convenient transit access is a huge asset for homes and businesses,” this has been the urban model since the late 1800s, for crying out loud.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Well, there was that whole postwar car culture boom that changed Americans’ perceptions on this subject. Hell, Richard J. Daley seriously considered tearing down the Loop ‘L’ tracks. http://gridchicago.com/2011/an-interview-with-former-milwaukee-mayor-and-current-congress-for-the-new-urbanism-head-john-norquist/

  • Carter O’Brien

    Sure, but that was some 40 years prior, and Daley was doing so for completely different reasons and pretty much squarely *against* local sentiment, no?

  • Leggy Mountbatten

    Great info, thanks!

  • We should not blindly go ahead and extend the Green line down 63rd. There’s other alternatives that need to be considered.

    There’s a very serious problem about south side transit that extending the Green line doesn’t address, and in fact blocks: the University of Chicago, the densest demand for transit on the south side, is not served by rapid transit. I’d rather see the Green Line rerouted onto 59th if it is to be reconstructed.

    Another alternative is to have the Green Line extended onto the old New York Central right-of-way, to reach towards South Chicago and eventually Calumet.

    All of these options are also of lower priority than getting more frequency on the Metra Electric.

    So, where should we focus?

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Downtown business owners supported tearing down the tracks, but commuters were against it. I’m saying, we’re just now starting to come out of a long period of U.S. history where proximity to transit has been undervalued. Therefore, there is something new about “more and more people are understanding that convenient transit access is a huge asset.” I don’t think the Jackson Park branch would have been torn down in this day and age.

  • bdickus2001

    Bishop Brazier likely won’t support such a move, despite its potential for positive impact.

    Also, I’m interested to know how the petitioners expect the re-extension to be configured. Since running an overhead line down 63rd street wouldn’t go over well with the two blocks of houses/condos that Brazier’s father and Allison Davis Jr. developed toward the east end.

  • Carter O’Brien

    I agree with regard to Jackson Park, but I disagree that an appreciation for the importance of light rail is anything new on the community level, losing infrastructure altogether (as opposed to the Daley concept of replacing it with freeways) almost never goes over well. This particular area seems to be an outlier, that’s why the Reader article is so shocking. There was talk for example about removing the Ravenswood Line in the late 70s and early 80s and people went nuts. Today (and absolutely in 1997) almost nobody can even fathom something like that, it literally seems like you’d have to be an alien from another planet to think that was a good idea.

    I signed the petition, don’t get me wrong, this should be done – but it bears noting that something went horribly wrong in this case and it was not something imposed from the outside. I think the lesson here is that this kind of planning requires city-wide decision making, with people thinking through decades worth of consequences. What would be new would be Chicago moving past the “every ward is a fiefdom” mentality (aka, zoning) when it comes to urban planning.

  • Jacob Wilson

    I think in the context of the time it was removed it was wrongful in that government was (and still is) too concerned with local community demands (mostly by the property owning class) and not with the needs of the actual community as a whole. I doubt a lot of every day transit riders on the southside were in favor of tearing down the tracks.

  • ardecila

    Consider the layout of this particular area. Woodlawn is a 3/4-mile strip between 61st and 67th. Arson, neglect, and general decline gutted the neighborhood itself. University students were (legitimately) terrified to go below 61st, as my parents will attest, and they had other, safer transit options. Likewise for South Shore, which had express buses to downtown. By the 90s it was derelict, crumbling and poorly used.

    Basically the Jackson Park branch only works if Woodlawn itself is healthy and densely populated. Now, for the first time in half a century, that actually seems like a plausible future as rising land values push middle class folk out of Hyde Park.

  • Carter O’Brien

    I can’t say I was there at the time, but the Reader article paints a very different picture. From the Reader, note the last line:

    “Elsewhere in the city, community organizations and political representatives have fought to retain local mass transit, seeing it as a vital public service for their constituents. But in Woodlawn both the Woodlawn Organization–an Alinskyite neighborhood group with a long and distinguished history–and Alderman Troutman vocally supported tearing down the el. They argued that it caused noise pollution, that it encouraged crime, that it discouraged new construction along 63rd Street, and that it depressed property values.

    Unfortunately neither the city nor the CTA made much of an effort to assess the validity of these claims. Instead they quickly accepted the wishes of the community, expressed at a single public hearing, on June 5, 1996–a hearing packed, critics like the Hyde Park and Kenwood Interfaith Council’s Susan Johnson say, with Brazier’s parishioners, who were bused in from the suburbs. “The vote was in effect orchestrated,” says Johnson. “The community process seemed to be organized after the fact to support a decision that had already been made by a number of key players.” Actually, a slight majority at the hearing supported restoring operation of the el.”

  • Tristan Crockett

    I still think that the CTA needs to seriously consider putting bus lanes on this Stony Island corridor to improve transit both to the library and on bus routes that already use the corridor.

    The 6, 15, and 28 all stop right at the library site, and together serve a huge area of the south side. Especially with the parkway closings being discussed, and the justification for them being that the traffic can just spill over to Stony Island, worried that the traffic pattern shift will negatively impact the buses that already use this route.

    Improvements made to Stony Island bus infrastructure to prevent this would also have the benefit of better service for any new buses/frequency the CTA might add to serve the library.

  • Brian

    If I recall correctly, the decision to tear down the 63rd St branch was made almost immediately after the entire Green line had been reconstructed, largely with Federal money. Since the Feds didn’t look too kindly on the idea of tearing down brand new infrastructure they had just paid for, they threatened to make the CTA payback the funds for reconstruction of that branch. As a compromise, the CTA promised to “save” the materials and store them for possible reuse elsewhere. In return the Feds didn’t ask for repayment.

  • FG

    So a serious question for all supporting this: do you really believe that the Obama Center is going to attract that many tourists, especially tourists who are going to take an extended green line to it? As it is now, MED will be running (assuming their new schedule is approved and takes effect more or less as proposed) every twenty minutes to and from Hyde Park and Woodlawn from early AM until 8:20 if I remember the proposed schedule. I see that being a more popular option, along with the #6. I also see the #10 being extended to the Center as well which would be even more attractive (lakefront ride, express from downtown to the museums) for tourists.

    What I see as the primary patronage, once the initial excitement of the center is over, is school groups, special events and scholars, not massive crowds of tourists.

    Now should Woodlawn have improved transit? Probably, but there are too many, too closely spaced stations proposed. I’d do one at Woodlawn and a terminal (and maybe not even an intermediate one, though Woodlawn, as in the avenue, not the street, would pick up U of C riders) either at Metra or Stony or right in that vicinity.

  • FG

    Metra is currently proposing 20 minute frequencies throughout the day to Hyde Park (and Woodlawn) until mid-evening, in both directions. Unfortunately, there is a reduction in service to South Shore.

    The University has gradually expanded closer to the tracks (it was already, in my opinion, an easy walk for someone reasonably fit) and has a free shuttle to 57th/59th stations and that will probably be even more used with the additional frequencies.

  • Cameron Puetz

    Presidential libraries do attract a mix of tourists. I would expect President Obama’s library to draw more tourists than most because of both the historic nature of his presidency and the number of other tourist attractions Chicago has to offer. That said I would expect most tourists to ride the Metra or an extended Museum of Science and Industry bus.

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