Obama Library Must Bring Better Transit

The Obama Foundation has officially announced the Obama Presidential Library will be located on Chicago’s South Side. When the institution comes to Washington Park or Jackson Park, it will bring millions of visitors and potentially billions of dollars in investment to the neighborhoods surrounding the University of Chicago.  Regardless of which site is selected, the library and museum development will include public investment and private commitments to improve the standard of living for South Side neighborhoods. These commitments must include better transit. 

The Chicago Tribune ran an excellent article that explains the potential economic benefit of the Obama Library and Museum, as well as ways to ensure that these benefits accrue to existing residents. It quoted Obama Foundation Chairman Martin Nesbitt, who has stated that “…We fundamentally want to create a center that will contribute to smart, sustainable growth and be an anchor for public and private investment in the surrounding community.” This commitment to “smart, sustainable growth” is an important part of President Obama’s legacy. For Obama’s vision to take hold in Chicago, a corresponding commitment must be made to improve transit accessibility for South Side residents.

The University of Chicago’s library and museum proposal notes proximity to transit as an asset of both potential sites. As shown in the map below, the Washington Park site is immediately adjacent to the CTA’s Garfield Green Line stop, while the Jackson Park site is located just steps from Metra’s 59th Street station.

 University of Chicago Presidential Library Proposal, via Curbed Chicago

According to CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase, “The CTA will work to ensure that convenient transit options are provided to whichever location may be chosen.” For Washington Park, this would mean improving service and stations along the CTA Green Line. For Jackson Park, the most practical solution would be to increase service on the Metra Electric District, which has been proposed as Transit Future’s Gold Line. In 2012, a study commissioned by the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) found that the Gold Line would have over 13,000 daily riders, but the Obama Library’s 800,000 yearly visitors could dramatically increase these numbers.

Better transit will improve visitor access to the Obama Library, but more importantly, it will transform job accessibility for South Side residents. CNT’s 2014 Transit Deserts in Cook County report identified both Washington Park and Woodlawn as low-income areas with poor access to major job centers, especially for entry-level employees. Whether it’s Green or Gold, better and more frequent transit service would connect South Side residents with jobs, and help the Obama Library and Museum deliver on its promise to empower neighboring communities.

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