Hi there, fellow roadies and curious travelers! It’s your Route 66 Chicago correspondent here again, with news updates. We have a few more details on that goofy idea for a Route 66 ‘museum’ (a marker-sized display would be more truthful) suggested for the CSO’s proposed vest-pocket park next to the Chapin & Gore Building at Adams and Wabash. But let’s start with our second bit of news.
New transit center coming to Jackson Boulevard/Route 66
The city will be turning that big, flat open parking lot on Jackson Boulevard directly south of Union Station (the ground-level one, not the multi-story parking structure behind that) into a new transit station. Right now, a number of CTA bus lines use the east side of Union Station along Canal Street as a parking and turnaround spot. Although there’s a separate bus lane up against the curb, those buses still contribute to a traffic jam every weekday morning and evening during commuter rush hours. The city and the CTA finally got wise, and now a new open-air bus depot will be created in that parking lot, which is probably a much better use of the land (see illustration below).
That should free up Canal Street and allow traffic to flow more efficiently. Moreover, for Route 66 visitors coming in either via commuter trains or by Amtrak, a transit center where they can more easily figure out bus routes in the city should be very welcome. We’ve already opined that the SE corner of Jackson and Clinton Street opposite Union Station (which would be the NW corner of the new bus station) would be a perfect place for the city and the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway to install a wayside marker celebrating Chicago as the nation’s central transportation hub. But in case y’all missed it the first time last weekend, please allow us to reiterate. Not only do you have Union Station on Route 66 right there, you also have the Burlington Building (built for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad) kitty-corner across the way at Jackson and Clinton, and just a few doors west of that is Lou Mitchell’s restaurant, which has been proudly serving both visitors and commuters breakfast and lunch since 1923 – three years before Route 66 came into being. That’s more than enough history there for a wayside marker.
If you agree, be sure to tweet that to Mayor Rahm Emanuel at @ChicagosMayor and @RahmEmanuel using the hashtag #promoteChicagosRt66 so that he gets the message (for that matter, let him know you want to see a big byway information hub on the Grant Park corner of Jackson and Michigan, too; just saying: the busy mayor needs a little push).
CSO Park? Great! Throwaway Route 66 display? Not so much
Which leads us to the recap of our second news update. We mentioned that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is considering taking that poor little patio that once served the wonderful Rhapsody restaurant on Adams at Wabash (now replaced by Tesori, which doesn’t use the patio) and making a vest-pocket park out of it. Well, there’s a Route 66 sign there now, and one barely notices it while driving by. Mind you, that patio looks more than okay as is for a parklet; but if they insist on redoing the patio, that’s their privilege.
But then someone got the cockamamie idea that it should serve as a “Route 66 museum” too – like you could squeeze anything more than a small display into that spot. Nuts! And word is that Hizzoner the Mayor thinks that would be enough mention of Route 66 so that he doesn’t have to think about doing anything far more appropriate on the right spot, which would be at Jackson and Michigan – out in the open where everyone might actually see it (as opposed to in that tiny park, where people won’t realize it’s there in the shade under the L tracks until they’ve gone past it, if then). Dumbest. Idea. Ever.
Now, don’t take our work for it – inspect the location for yourselves (or, if you’re not in town, check out the photos below). The landscape architect the CSO has consulted about the park, Ernest Wong of Site Design Group, sketched out a few ideas, but nothing’s written in stone yet. Which is good: there’s time to make a more intelligent decision and reserve the proposed parklet for honoring just the CSO.
Please understand: while we love the CSO and want to encourage it to put a little green space there – and why shouldn’t they name it after themselves? They’re wonderful, and it’s their turf – it would be a monumentally BAD idea to put anything relating to Route 66 there. It would just be logistically wrong for several reasons, namely:
- you won’t be able to see it from Michigan Avenue, which is where most of the tourists are;
- it’s dark under the L line on Wabash, and even pedestrians will only notice the park at noon when there’s enough light, if then;
- unless drivers on Adams are stopped at the traffic light at Wabash, the only way they’ll notice that parklet is in their rear-view mirrors as they go by, which is too late;
- there’s nowhere to park a vehicle nearby in case people want to stop and take a look or snap a photo, which will discourage visitors from stopping there;
- the park site is on a street with a narrow sidewalk that has a lot of pedestrian traffic on weekdays, the patio/garden is separated from the sidewalk by greenery and a fence that right now completely encloses it, and the architect’s rendering shows shrubbery that will serve to obscure any display inside it; and
- IT’S NOT WHERE ROUTE 66 BEGINS, and the city still needs some way of marking the eastern terminus gateway in the right place – which is at Michigan Avenue and Jackson Drive, i.e., on the Grant Park side of Michigan.
Let the CSO do what it wants for its own park. Meanwhile, Dear Mayor, you should have your people (and the tourism folks at ChooseChicago talking to the folks at the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway. They’re already very good at promoting the route and their infohubs and wayside markers are very effective and widely used by Route 66 tourists, but they’ve had NO cooperation from your office or your tourism office. There’s no good reason for that. Besides, if the city can hit up the business community for millions to make Millennium Park happen, it can get the same businesses to kick in a few hundred grand for an infohub and wayside marker for the SE corner of Jackson and Michigan, where:
1) there’s plenty of room for people to have their pictures taken at the actual historic Gateway to the Eastern Terminus, where tourists – particularly international tourists (the kind you want and have been aggressively courting, Rahm) – will LOVE it,
2) the installation will be easily seen from a distance 24/7/365, regardless of season or weather, and will provide information at the visitors’ convenience, and
3) the installation and the tourists won’t be in the way of people doing business or going to work on Michigan, Jackson or Adams, nor will the installation block access to that part of Grant Park (there’s already a wooden kiosk there in summer that takes up a lot more space than an infohub and wayside marker would, and there’s still plenty of room around that as is, as the photo in the slideshow above clearly shows).
The infohub and wayside marker are easily accomplished with the byway’s help. Moreover, that’s the most cost-effective solution to promoting Route 66 in Chicago, WHICH YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN DOING ALL ALONG. So there. Now suck it up and make the call. Thank you.
Until next time,
Your 66 tour guide, Marie