Marketing transportation services to Chicago's Polish community - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Marketing transportation services to Chicago's Polish community

Pace Bus

Polish language bus schedules are available for the Pace Bus system.

Finding information about commuting programs can be challenging, particularly if a potential traveler is unfamiliar with using transit. What happens if that traveler’s first language is not English? What information is available, and how do they learn about what services exist?

 These were some of the topics my former research assistant Ziggy Czykieta  and I discussed at Transport Chicago on Friday, June 6. Our presentation “Marketing Transportation Services to Chicago’s Polish Community” addressed some of these issues.

 Chicago has often been called the largest Polish city in the world after Warsaw. While this may or may not still be true, it has a sizable Polish population. There are over 800,000 people identifying their ethnic heritage as Polish in the Chicago area. Illinois has the largest number of Polish speakers in the United States, and has the second most spoken foreign language in Illinois, the Chicago Metropolitan Area, and the City of Chicago.

 How closely these residents identify with their Polish heritage and Poland varies, as there were four waves of Polish immigration to the United States and the Chicago area:

  • 1850s to 1930s: Poland didn’t exist as a country during this period until 1918, so many of these immigrants came from Germany, Austria or Russia.
  • After World War II: This wave was spurred on by the damaging effects that WWII had on Poland, and the Communism that followed in the late 1940s.
  • 1980s and 1990s: Martial law was implemented, and many Poles left to flee political oppression.
  • After 1990: This group left primarily due to economic reasons, and was often better educated than previous waves of immigrants.

 When Poland joined the European Union in 2004, it had a major impact on immigration to the U.S. As Poles could immigrate to other EU countries, the UK and Ireland became popular (and much closer) destinations. The U.S. dropped to fifth place.

 Our research found that the Polish population in the Chicago area is largely suburban. Only 21 percent live in the City of Chicago. The largest population growth has occurred in the collar counties.

 There are heavy concentrations of Poles near both airports, Midway and O’Hare, in Chicago neighborhoods and adjacent suburbs. Many of the neighborhoods traditionally thought of as Polish, such as West Town and Archer Heights, are no longer so, as Polish residents have been replaced by gentrification or Hispanics.

 The Chicago Transit Authority, Pace and Ventra have some materials in Polish. Two Pace timetables, Route 250 Dempster Street and 270 Milwaukee Avenue, are printed in Polish. Both routes operate through communities with sizable Polish populations.

 We reviewed local Polish media, and learned that the Dziennik Zwiakowy, the Polish Daily News, covers transportation issues in Polish, including stories about the Chicago Transit Authority and Divvy Bikes.

 Much of the research conducted about the local Polish community appears to be several years old, and has not been updated. The challenge going forward will be to determine where concentrations of people needing Polish language materials reside, and to determine what is needed to best serve them.

In many U.S. metropolitan areas, Commute Options programs work with travelers whose first language is not English, having native speakers working with these groups on promoting commuting options.  Chicago offers a unique challenge to market commuting options to the Polish community.  As is the case, with Chicago area TDM, some segments are already in place, as mentioned above, but a comprehensive program is needed to reach this and other sizable non-English speaking commuters.



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