Moving forward with our projectto interview all 50 Chicago aldermen about their views on sustainable transportation, I recently met with 7th Ward Alderman and Committeeman Sandi Jackson at her office, 7123 S. Yates, directly across from a Metra station. Her district includes parts of the South Shore, South Chicago, and Calumet Heights communities on the Southeast Side.
After defeating incumbent Darcel Beavers in 2007, Sandi took her place in Chicago’s influential Jackson family dynasty. Her husband is Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., representing Illinois’ 2nd district, which includes the 7th Ward, and her father-in-law is civil rights activist and former presidential candidate Jesse Jackson Sr. As alderman, Sandi has been a strong supporter of the proposal to redevelop the former U.S. Steel plant site, located on the lakefront between 79th and 92nd. The proposed housing and retail development, called Lakeside, would include the Chicago Velo Campus indoor velodrome and multisport complex.
We discussed her commuting habits, the importance of providing multiple transportation options to Lakeside residents, and why she’s excited about the velo campus idea. We also talked about why she’s supporting the city’s Streets for Cycling and bike sharing projects, as well as her own plans to encourage positive pedestrian activity on the ward’s business strips by hiring security guards to patrol the areas.
Do you get around the ward much by walking?
If I’m not driving the ward I’m walking it. We’re lucky that our ward is compact enough that it’s easy to walk it, when weather permits. But when we’re in we’re in a hurry, for instance when we’re trying to look at various issues, whether it’s roads that need to be re-paved or sidewalk repairs or lighting fixtures that need to be replaced, we tend to drive because we have more area to cover. But I’m lucky to live only two blocks away from my office so in the summer I try to walk it as much as I can.
Obviously, you’re right next to a Metra stop. Do you ever use that to get downtown?
On occasion. I don’t use it as much as I did many years ago. It’s unfortunate now that I have to carry so many things with me when I go downtown. But this location is still a very viable transportation hub and that’s one of the reasons we located our office here. It’s very easy for our constituents to get to us, whether they’re far south or they’re working downtown and they need to get home, they can always exit the platform and come right to our office. And since the congressman [Jesse Jackson Jr.] secured federal funding to renovate many of the Metra stops in this area six or seven years ago, they’re all the more attractive and accessible.
The Jacksons’ shared committeeman office, located next door to Sandi’s ward office and across the street from Metra’s South Shore station
You wrote a letter of support for the Chicago Velo Campus proposal. How do you think this project can benefit your constituents?
Outside of encouraging people to get exercise by biking, we’re really excited about hosting athletes, and possibly world-class athletes like Olympians, who will come down and train at the permanent structure when it’s built. [Last summer the velo organizers opened Lakeside Velo Works, a temporary bike racing and education facility featuring a portable, outdoor wooden velodrome, at 8615 S. Burley.] Our goal is to have the best indoor velodrome in the country, located right here on the South Side, where not only Olympic cyclists can train but also kids from the community can go there to learn how to repair bikes and train in the same arena.
We’re also interested in the tourism this would bring in. Chicago’s tourism really begins at its lakefront. I’ve heard that four to seven million people visit Navy Pier every year. Then they head south to the Museum Campus and take in the Shedd Aquarium. If they’re bicycling, they continue south to enjoy the lakefront and the beaches. We want to encourage them to cycle further south, ending up at the velo campus, because we think that’s a wonderful way to showcase this jewel that we have that is the South Shore lakefront, but also to help spread economic development evenly throughout the city. The velo campus would be a great anchor to bring people south so they can see what’s really down here.
The temporary velodrome at Lakeside Velo Works – image courtesy of Chicago Velo Campus
The velo campus has a youth program. I believe they’ve been working with one particular school so far.
Yes, and the hope is that they’re going to expand it. I know that Sullivan has been one of the target schools because of its proximity to the campus, but the hope and the goal is to broaden it to include Powell Elementary School. Bradwell is another school that’s relatively close.
We think that when children try [bike racing] as an alternative way to exercise, they get to experience something that one would normally only see up north or outside of our city. That really expands their horizons. So the gentlemen who are spearheading this project have been working very closely with our office to ensure not only that the temporary structure went up but also that we’re actively making plans to incorporate a permanent velodrome into the larger development.
In about six months we’re going to be expanding South Shore Drive onto the [former U.S. Steel] site. When construction begins in earnest on the development it will bring along with it a shopping mall and the largest boat slip in the city. But not just that. Two and a half miles of lakefront property that was not open and accessible to residents for twenty years will now be open and accessible. We’re really talking about building a city within a city. This space is almost 600 acres of lakefront property that will host close to 150,000 new residents when it’s all said and done. So when you’re looking at the future and more avenues for biking, one only has to look at this site.
[She takes out a portfolio with maps and renderings of the Lakeside development.] But when you look at this, this is South Shore Drive here and this is the existing bike path that ends at 71st Street. And if people want to go the rest of the way they have to take South Shore Drive to get to [Lakeside Velo Works]. But the goal is to redirect that bike traffic so that they now can continue riding their bikes down the lakefront, [around the perimeter of the Lakeside site]. So what we’re doing now is connecting the north to the south.
Rendering of the proposed Lakeside site from the development portfolio
We’re also planning for a dock for water taxis, so that if you have folks who are down at Shedd Aquarium or Navy Pier or the Museum Campus that want to make their way south they’ll be able to do it by waterway or bus, or hopefully they’ll be able to do it by trolley.
Water taxi service is a great idea.
Yes, because we want to make this a walkable, eco-friendly environment, so we’re looking at various transportation modes so that we don’t end up with a space that’s overly congested with too many cars. So residents might have the opportunity to take a trolley to the Metra stops. Having a trolley or an expanded shuttle bus system to take people right over to the existing stops would make this development all the more attractive.
You know, when you get a chance I really hope you’ll go online and look at the [promotional video for the development]. It really talks to a much larger degree about this project as it relates to the community, and just kind of building it in a way that ties it into the community, so that we don’t have folks that feel isolated from the project, but so that they feel as if now, after all of these years, this space that had been cordoned off from them is now open and accessible. So that’s one of the exciting things that are happening in the ward with respect to transportation.
A page from the Lakeside development portfolio
Plus we’ve got our special service area [SSA, one of dozens of districts in Chicago that generate funding for projects and services like street cleaning, public art or street furniture via an additional property-tax] that just came online that’s going to help us create even more bike lanes. We’re also going to get bike racks, especially on our main corridors, to help folks who want to ride their bikes. If they want to this office, for example, they should be able to park their bike right outside on a rack and feel secure in leaving it for a bit while they come in to meet with their alderman.
There are so many exciting developments with respect to our new commissioner of CDOT [Chicago Department of Transportation], Gabe Klein, who was very instrumental when he was in D.C. in initiating the bike share program that is up and running there and is used widely throughout that city. We’re looking forward to his expanding that throughout Chicago but especially here in the 7th Ward because we know that it’s something that people are very interested in and we very much want to see it expand quickly so we can get our folks out and exercising, even if they don’t own a bike.
I try to get my kids out as often as I can to ride our bikes. Because we have they great fortune of living right here on the lake where we have access to the Lakefront Trail. And so we want to make sure that other residents, who don’t necessarily live right up against the lake but want to bike, can bike. That’s critically important.
They’re starting to choose the locations for the bike share kiosks. Have you been lobbying CDOT to say, yes, we want the kiosk in our ward?
Absolutely, so much so that we’re going to have the commissioner down here in a couple weeks, to ride through the ward and talk through a lot of those developments, but also to talk about our larger transportation needs, because we want to make sure that we have a holistic approach to this, looking at all modes of transportation and ways to make life easier for all of our residents.
Any news about CTA, Metra or South Shore Line service in your ward?
Nothing just yet. I know that we’ve been talking to the congressman’s office in terms of talking to Ray LaHood about securing more federal dollars to expand our Metra service on the existing lines, and also to expand the CTA’s bus service. A few years ago we lost a couple lines because of the CTA’s financial situation and so, because ridership is so very high on the South Side of Chicago, we’re looking forward to getting those lines reinstated. We’re thinking that will happen if we’re able to secure federal funding for it, because we know that the state and the city are having a difficult time with their revenue streams. And [U.S. Transportation Secretary] Ray LaHood, having come from the city of Chicago, is very sensitive to our needs, and we feel very fortunate to have a secretary of transportation who understands the importance of infrastructure.
Chicago’s been having good luck getting federal transportation grants lately.
We want to keep that good luck going.
Are any projects going on in your ward to make it safer to walk here?
Yes, what’s going to happen fairly quickly, with the onset of our SSA, is the SSA will be hiring private security guards that will be primarily responsible for patrolling our main corridors, like South Exchange Avenue, 75th and 79th. We think the increased security presence encourages people to get out of their cars and walk more, and to visit the myriad of shops and restaurants that we have. Oftentimes people will pull up in their cars, jump out and grab something to eat and then get back in their cars and rush off. If they see increased security, if they see increased landscaping, if they see snow removal during our heavy snow days, then we think they’ll be more inclined to stop and enjoy and smell the roses.
Will these be armed security guards?
Yes, they will be armed security guards. And what we’re hoping for is a vendor that uses either retired Chicago police officers or off-duty police. We want a security team that is thoroughly familiar with the Chicago P.D. because they’ll be working closely with them, basically hand-in-hand with them. We think it’s helpful if they understand the beats that surround them, and they know the officers who work within those beats.
Any thoughts on the city’s Streets for Cycling plan to install 100 miles of protected bike lanes?
I’m 100% in favor of it. I know that Gabe Klein is an avid biker. He bikes to work almost every day, I understand, and so he understands firsthand how important it is to have dedicated bike lanes. I’d love to see more of that so our bikers when they’re out navigating our streets have safe lanes in which to do so. I think Chicago is probably one of the more bike-friendly cities but we could stand to be friendlier and by implementing those lanes and by bringing this plan on full-steam and full-throttle. So I’m firmly in support of the Streets for Cycling plan.