NORTH LAWNDALE — Lifelong North Lawndale resident Rochelle Jackson was named Advocate of the Year by the Active Transportation Alliance for her success in improving the neighborhood’s walkability and public transit options.
The Active Transportation Alliance is a coalition dedicated to advancing the development of transportation infrastructure for pedestrians, commuters and bicyclists as a way to make the city more equitable. The group honored Jackson last week with its Advocate of the Year award at a meeting for members, volunteers and supporters.
“We’ve been working toward a vision of Chicagoland that is home to a multitude of transportation options that allow residents to easily and safely reach any destination. This work is not possible without the dedicated efforts of supporters who share this vision and help us move it forward,” said W. Robert Schultz III, a campaign organizer for the Active Transportation Alliance.
The organization honored Jackson for efforts as co-chair of the transportation committee for the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council, where she led the fight to reinstate the No. 157 Ogden Bus line as a pilot program, organized a series of walkability assessments and partnered with the city to install more Divvy bike-share stations in the area.
The Ogden bus connects the west end of North Lawndale to Downtown and Streeterville, making it “central to the revitalization of the North Lawndale economy and quality of life after decades of disinvestment,” Schultz said.
Until 2008, the bus line was a lifeline for residents who used it as an easy way to travel to the city’s businesses districts for shopping, as well as the medical district, CineSpace Film Studio and Downtown, where many West Side residents work. The line was truncated 13 years ago due to low ridership, and it stopped serving the area west of California Avenue.
Buses like the No. 157 route gave Jackson an early passion for public transportation and ingrained in her the importance of transit for working-class communities, she said. Jackson grew up in the relatively isolated K-Town neighborhood of North Lawndale, but as a teenager, the bus system gave her the freedom to explore all corners of the city, she said.
“On the weekends, I used to just pick a bus and get on it and ride it from one end to the other just to see the neighborhoods and see where it goes. That’s how I learned my way around the city. It’s like a field trip,” Jackson said.
In 2016, Jackson started working with Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th) and other members of the neighborhood’s transportation committee to lobby for the city to reinstate the bus. With recent developments in the neighborhood along Ogden Avenue — including the Lawndale Christian Health Center, the Legacy Charter School and new businesses in the corridor — Jackson made a case that there would be enough riders to justify extending the No. 157 line.
Jackson advocated for the bus by sending letters to CTA and creating a report that detailed how much the bus extension would cost based on staff and fuel costs. She appealed directly to Mayor Lori Lightfoot in 2019.
Jackson’s advocacy led to the No. 157 Ogden Bus being extended to its previous route as a temporary pilot program in summer 2020. The pilot extends the bus all the way to the Pulaski Pink Line station on the west end of North Lawndale.
Jackson was also instrumental in creating the WALK-H project, a local effort to make the Homan Square neighborhood of Lawndale more walkable. The initiative worked with local youth and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago Homan Square to assess the pedestrian infrastructure near the Kedzie-Homan Blue Line station and survey why residents tend to avoid walking in the area.
The assessment resulted in a blueprint for strategies to improve walkability what will guide investments into public art and traffic safety improvements such as crosswalks and bump-outs that will make pedestrians feel more comfortable walking in the area.
“North Lawndale is activating every corner of the community that we possibly can. It’s going to take time but we’re working and we’re moving,” Jackson said.
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