Pullman Transportation Access is Improving After National Monument Designation

After President Obama designated parts of the Pullman neighborhood a national monument, CTA, Metra, and CDOT pulled together some small improvements that could make a big difference.

The new warming house at the 111th Street station in Pullman. Photo: Jeff Zoline
The new warming house at the 111th Street station in Pullman. Photo: Jeff Zoline

soutYou probably knew that President Barack Obama designated parts of the Pullman neighborhood and the former Pullman Company Porter train car factory as the Pullman National Monument in February 2015. The accomplishment was based on 20 years of campaigning by residents and leaders to get a national park designation.

What you probably didn’t know was that several transportation agencies completed small projects that, together, made a big difference in attracting the federal attention and funding. However, it’s important that future improvements benefit local people, not just tourists.

Joe Iacobucci, director of transit at the Sam Schwartz Engineer consulting firm, told the audience at aMetropolitan Planning Council luncheon yesterday that “transportation investments need to work both for the visitor and the resident.” SSE is the lead firm on the Pullman transportation plan, and Iacobucci was formerly a planner at the CTA.

Last summer Metra replaced the windowless hut that served as the only shelter for waiting passengers at the 111th Street station with a proper warming house. Other planned improvements to the station included replacement of platform deck boards and the removal of the unused portion of the platform, replacement of the stairway to the platform, and repair or replacement of the roof over the stairway, according to Metra’s press release.

Metra Electric District Train at 111th Street (Pullman)
The old warming hut at the 111th Street station, which had no windows. Photo: Jeff Zoline

At the luncheon, someone asked whether there are plans to improve service to the station. Currently southbound Electric District trains from Millennium Park stop here only 18 times each weekday. Metra has better service at the Kensington / 115th Street station half a mile south, with 41 stops each weekday. Kensington is the last stop before the Electric Line  splits into branches serving Blue Island and University Park. Advocates are currently pushing for rapid transit-style service on the line.

Iacobucci said the plan right now is to improve the customer experience on existing Metra and CTA service. He explained that transportation service responds to demand, which implicitly says that by increasing the demand to take Metra to Pullman then service would likely increase.

Iacobucci also said that many people riding the Electric District pass Pullman every day but don’t know it’s there. A new “Pullman by Train” marketing campaign will begin soon, advertising to potential visitors that they can start a visit from downtown, see the sites, and return to downtown in about three hours. Another station program will involve greeters on the platform who will shepherd visitors  to the site.

“We need to demonstrate that there’s demand so Metra will respond,” Iacobucci said. As part of the Pullman Transportation Plan, SSE is collecting feedback through this survey.

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Lynn McClure. Photo: Metropolitan Planning Council

Lynn McClure, Midwest regional director of the National Park Conservation Association, said that the station eventually needs to be made wheelchair accessible. She also said there’s a desire to have South Shore Line trains from Indiana stop at the 111th Street station. “Routing South Shore trains to 111th would connect two national parks with one train line,” McClure said, referring to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

McClure also said that Illinois representative Robin Kelly shifted funds earmarked for a cancelled project in the 2nd district to make changes to 111th Street.

As Iacobucci said, these transit improvements are and will be for residents and visitors alike. New jobs and industry have been coming to the area. Method opened a soap factory in the neighborhood two years ago, and Gotham Greens grows lettuce on its roof. Additionally, Whole Foods is moving a distribution center from Indiana to behind the former Pullman Porter train car factory.

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