For the last few days, representatives of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have been wined and dined as city officials shuttle them between sites of proposed Olympic venues. IOC members have seen a host of glitzy proposals for multimillion-dollar projects and infrastructural improvements. What they haven’t seen is anything resembling a strategy for revamping the city’s transportation system. Instead, the bid relies on the existing train network along with temporary shuttle services, but pointedly offers nothing in the way of long-term improvements.
For Hyde Parkers, this represents a wasted opportunity. The proposed “Gold Line”—an El route that would take the place of the South Shore Metra Line in East Hyde Park—would be a boon for the neighborhood. The line, which would run every 10 minutes and allow 25-cent transfers to other CTA buses and trains, has been pushed with an eye toward the Olympics (hence the name). The idea behind this initiative is that the Games would increase congestion, and a new El line would be necessary to serve the massive influx of people. Most appealing to Hyde Parkers is that long after the Olympic torch is snuffed, the Gold Line will still be here.
The Gold Line is a good fit for Hyde Park whether or not Chicago gets the bid, but the Olympics present the best chance to push it through. An El stop, particularly in conjunction with Olympic-sized crowds—and, in an ideal world, a new hotel—would spur development in the neighborhood. Hyde Park would become a more attractive destination for retailers and restaurateurs, and a more convenient one for tourists.
For students, meanwhile, freezing late-night waits for the 55 at Garfield would become a thing of the past. If the Gold Line materialized, Hyde Park would undoubtedly be a more appealing place to live. On a broader scale, new transit options would also be environmentally friendly, giving Hyde Parkers and outsiders an incentive to leave their cars at home.
The U of C has been actively involved in the bid, with its purchase of properties in Washington Park and with President Zimmer’s seat on the 2016 Exploratory Committee, and it exerts considerable influence as one of the South Side’s major institutions. Going forward, the U of C should take full advantage of its clout to push for new transit options for Hyde Park.
The Olympics wouldn’t be a panacea for all of Chicago’s problems. But it inarguably presents a unique opportunity for massive infrastructural improvements. The U of C and the city should not trip over the finish line when it comes to public transit.
The Maroon Editorial Board consists of the Editor-in-Chief, Viewpoints Editors, and two additional Editorial Board members.