Chicagoans Press for Transit Benefits from Olympics | WBEZ
Skip to main content

Eight Forty-Eight

Chicagoans Press for Transit Benefits from Olympics

Among the many details in Chicago's 534-page Olympic bid book is the city's plan for moving spectators and athletes during the games. Some residents say it also provides a pretty good clue about the difficulties they'll have getting around, if the city wins the bid.

Most events would be concentrated along the lakefront and on the South Side. So lots of people who use Lake Shore Drive regularly have opinions about plans to close two lanes of Lake Shore Drive each way to local traffic.  

Karen Gomez is one of them.

GOMEZ: I think the income for the city is going to be great, the revenue. However, I think, as far as the commuting for the locals, it's going to be difficult.
KALSNES: So what would your commute be like with two lanes shut down?
GOMEZ: Horrific (laughs). Doubled, or, hopefully not tripled, but at least doubled.

MENENDEZ: I guess I've been stuck in traffic for 36 years, so I guess the Olympics doesn't bother me too much.

Brenda Menendez is a stay-at-home mom who uses the Drive every day.

MENENDEZ: Chicago is a beautiful city, and I'm proud to be a Chicagoan, and I think it would be fantastic to showcase it to the rest of the world.

The bid book doesn't just call for Olympic lanes on Lake Shore Drive and one lane of many major highways. It addresses another big concern of residents of an urban center like Chicago: mass transit. The plan there is to use existing infrastructure to move people around and add services like shuttles, additional buses and more frequent trains.

Doug Arnot with Chicago 2016 says the area might get more federal money for transit improvements that have been on the drawing board.

ARNOT: We anticipate that there will be significant transportation projects that will be accelerated, pulled forward if you will, 10 to 20 years to improve transportation in the city of Chicago as a result of if we were lucky enough to win the games.

Arnot says that expectation is based on federal funds going to past American games, like Atlanta and Salt Lake City.

Joseph Schofer is a transportation expert at Northwestern University. He says Chicago's idea is practical and doable.

SCHOFER: This is not a city where you need to drop a new rail-transit system out of the sky to make this work. We've got an old system, but it's an extensive system, and it works well, and it can work better.
Of course, Schofer says while visitors are moved around, the city likely would urge residents to telecommute, take vacations and work staggered schedules. Schofer says Chicago should not make big investments in transit – unless there's a long-term use for the city.

SCHOFER: It's not that I'm opposed to the investments, I'm just saying I don't think you need to do it. And the obstacles are money and time. These things don't happen rapidly, and you need a lot of dollars to make them happen.
But if federal funds did follow an Olympic nod, transit advocates and residents are already weighing in on the improvements they'd like to see.

Dhyia Thompson works on public transit for Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation, or SOUL. She points out where SOUL wants a new Metra station at 35th Street.

Thompson says the Metra Electric South Chicago branch just comes every one or two hours at some stops, off peak. Her group wants train service every 10 minutes.

THOMPSON: People are very frustrated and upset that there's inequities with transit. If you go downtown, you'll see five 151's heading North, and maybe one number 6 heading south.

She notes that most Olympic events would be south, Soldier Field to Jackson Park, so that's where transportation should get the most help. 

THOMPSON: If you can look at our streets and neighborhoods, we need improvements, just basic beautification.

At the Roosevelt station of the Red Line, commuters are waiting to go home.

Betty Harris says she's excited about the possibility of the Olympics because her kids are in gymnastics – even though it would add to her commute.

HARRIS: Well, it would be longer wait times than normal for now. Buses might be a little more crowded. Fares shouldn't go up again, I hope.

Harris says it's already crowded on the train now. She says a few extra people – wouldn't hurt.

Get the WBEZ App

Download the best live and on-demand public radio experience. Find out more.