Friday, May 26, 2017

What’s good for Hyde Park sticks it to South Chicago, while the masses yawn!

In my mind, I already can hear the lone voice or two out of the South Chicago and South Shore neighborhoods along the lakefront who will express furious anger at the thought of the limited access to public transit they already have being cut even further.
Metra may make it easier to get to Hyde Park from Randolph and Michigan at the expense of other parts of the South Side. Photographs by Gregory Tejeda

The rant will be vociferous. It will be sincere in its emotion. And I also don’t doubt that the masses, particularly those involved with mass transit in the Chicago area, will care less.

I’M REFERRING TO the proposal being put forth by the Metra commuter railroad system that takes people from all across the metropolitan area into downtown Chicago to alter the set-up of the Metra Electric line, which goes from Millennium Station at Randolph Street and Michigan Avenue south to University Park, with branches that break off and take people both to Blue Island and also to the aforementioned South Side neighborhoods.

According to Metra officials, their intent is to boost the number of trains on the line that pass through the Hyde Park neighborhood. Under the current set-up, once the morning rush hour is over, trains go through at the rate of one per hour – the same as through the rest of the south suburbs on the line.

But because Chicago Transit Authority “el” service doesn’t stretch into Hyde Park, people living there rely on the Metra for contact with the rest of the world. Metra officials say they’d like to have trains stopping in Hyde Park stations (every two blocks from 51st to 59th streets) every 20 minutes.

That’s nice for them. I think that’s great. Particularly since I often use the Metra Electric (I’m old enough to remember when the line was a part of the Illinois Central railroad, and there are many old-timers who still think of it as the “IC line”) to get to Hyde Park, and it would be nice if trains ran more frequently.

BUT I ALSO was born in the South Chicago neighborhood, and know that CTA trains don’t go anywhere near the neighborhood. Even the number of bus routes are limited.

A trip downtown on the Number 30 South Chicago bus route that eventually puts you on a Red Line train at 69th Street is slow, makes multiple stops and can take over an hour each way to make the commute.

It’s part of the reason activists in this area are pushing for the CTA to extend the Red Line train south to 130th Street, which would make it possible to use other bus routes to catch the “el.”
UChgo influence makes Hyde Park transit a priority

But just at a time when CTA officials are moving forward with that long-rumored project, Metra now wants to come in and reduce the service the area already had.

NOW I’LL ADMIT a bias here. I was born in the South Chicago neighborhood, and remember as a kid visiting my grandmother who lived just one block from the 91st Street station that is the end of the South Chicago line.

I know Metra officials are arguing that the specific train lines they’re talking about cutting so as to shift the service to benefit Hyde Park have fewer than 10 passengers, and sometimes only one or two.

But I’d argue that it’s because Metra in recent decades has offered such a scant service to the area that local residents have come to not expect it as an option when they need to get from place to place.

Older area residents recall the days when trains ran regularly on the South Chicago branch – in fact, as frequently as the every 20 minutes that officials are talking about creating for Hyde Park! I’m sure area use would increase if service were available.

YET THAT ALSO requires some ambition and a desire to actually provide a product. Whereas in the past, Metra has clearly considered getting people from suburban locations into downtown Chicago as its priority – with the stops that Metra trains make within the city considered as a thing of the past.

You'll need a car to get to area around 95th St. bridge
So yes, Metra officials deserve some praise for wanting to bolster Hyde Park service – possibly by summer’s end.

Yet here’s hoping that residents of South Chicago and the surrounding neighborhoods that would rely on Metra service if it were more frequent and reliable can get their voices up loud enough where they’re heard over the din of public anger on so many issues.

Otherwise, it will be too easy for Metra officials to dismiss them as insignificant; leaving a sizable part of Chicago further isolated from the rest of the city.


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