Talking Transit: Improving transportation connections to Chicago’s Museum Campus - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Talking Transit: Improving transportation connections to Chicago’s Museum Campus

Terence Faircloth (cc)

The Adler Planetarium may receive improved transportation options thanks to Chicago's Museum Campus Transportation Study.

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Did You Know?

Each year, approximately 24 million people visit Chicago’s central Lakefront attractions—Navy Pier, Millennium Park, Buckingham Fountain, Museum Campus and McCormick Place—making the area a tourism hotspot. In fact, the central Lakefront has about as many annual visitors as Washington D.C.’s National Mall or Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., and together, the Field Museum, Adler Planetarium and Shedd Aquarium are one of the most popular groups of museums in the country. The central Lakefront is the top attractor in the Chicago region and one of the mainstays of our area’s economy, which gains more than $20 billion a year from tourism, according to World Business Chicago.

The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) is working with its partners to ensure that the Lakefront continues to attract visitors to drive economic growth, particularly through strong transportation links.

Transportation to, from and within Museum Campus

Despite its large number of visitors, the Museum Campus itself—one of the most important attractions of the central Lakefront—is difficult for many people to access, whether by foot, bike, automobile or public transportation. While the Campus is close to downtown, its location is relatively isolated because it is situated east of Lakeshore Drive and, at minimum, more than half a mile from the nearest Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) El station.

From Union and Ogilvie Stations, for example, it takes 42 minutes to get to Museum Campus on foot and between 23 and 33 minutes via transit. The current bus service that accesses the Campus, CTA line 146, is slowed by the fact that it must travel in lanes shared with cars. Even within the Campus, getting around between destinations can be hard. The 2,500-foot walk between the Field Museum and Adler Planetarium may be beautiful during the summer, but it is impossible for many people in the depths of winter.

Because of a lack of convenient transit options, many visitors must rely on automobiles to get to Museum Campus, particularly during Chicago Bears football games. Before and after those events, residents of the nearby South Loop community are inundated with streams of attendees and hundreds of cars. Parking lots are completely packed on the campus. But visitors, both local and from afar, are willing to take transit if better options are provided for them.

Employees on Museum Campus are also an important group for potential improvements. Employees at the Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium, for example, use public transportation to get to work, but not as much as others downtown, according to research conducted for MPC’s Commute Options program. At the museums, 26 and 34 percent of workers used transit to get to work, respectively, compared to more than 50 percent for central Chicago workers in general. That doesn’t mean Museum employees don’t want to use transit, but it does mean that they’re not being provided adequate options to do so.

The high interest of visitors and employees to use transit to get around suggests that, if better connections on public transportation are made available, people will respond by using transit more often. The New York Mets, a baseball team, implemented several transportation demand management approaches in 2006 that encouraged more people to get out of their cars. The results were astonishing; the share of people choosing to take transit to games exploded from 24 percent to 45 percent in just one year. Similarly, when the San Francisco Giants (another baseball team) moved from a transit-inaccessible location to a transit-accessible one, the share of event-goers using transit expanded from 5 percent to almost 50 percent.

In other words, when good transit options are made available, people respond.

For a large share of both local and non-local visitors coming to the Museum Campus, according to a recent survey of visitors by the Chicagoland Regional Transportation Authority , the destinations at the campus were just a portion of a broader trip. For out-of-region visitors, 50 percent also visited Millennium Park and/or Navy Pier, and more than 30 percent visited the Art Institute, the Loop and/or North Michigan Avenue. Among people who live in the region, more than 20 percent visited Millennium Park, Navy Pier and/or North Michigan Avenue as part of their visit. These facts reaffirm the importance of connecting the Museum Campus to the entire central Lakefront.

Improving those connections is essential if the Museum Campus is to continue growing as an important tourism destination. This is particularly true because of several coming improvements for the area, including the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, to open in 2018 just south of Solider Field; the renovated Northerly Island; Maggie Daley Park just east of Millennium Park; and the renovated Navy Pier.

A task force to evaluation potential improvements

In August 2014, City of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel created a task force to propose transportation enhancements to the Museum Campus area. The task force is chaired by MPC President MarySue Barrett and City of Chicago Chief Operating Officer Joe Deal. The task force is currently examining transportation flows and proposing ways to improve pedestrian, public transit, water, bicycle and vehicular traffic, which may involve new investments or opportunities to better leverage other nearby transportation infrastructure and services.

This week, MPC held an open house that attracted 70 attendees who were interested in learning more about the project. Participants watched a presentation, talked to project staff, drew on maps of the area and left written notes.

In addition, MPC worked with partner Civic Artworks on an interactive web application that allows anyone to submit ideas between now and Thursday, Nov. 6, for improving transportation to, from and within Museum Campus, and comment on those of others. Together with the results of the open house, MPC will work with the whole task force, the Chicago Dept. of Transportation and consultant Sam Schwartz Engineering to develop a plan that addresses transportation needs while keeping the public’s interests in mind.


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