Transit & Chicago's United Center

Last night I visited the United Center -- home arena for the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team, Bulls basketball team and many concerts -- for the first time. While I was mainly there to drive a pedicab, I did take note of the transportation network as I am known to do. What struck me most about the United Center is its poor access to transportation facilities. It is located two miles west of downtown and surrounded by giant parking lots (the grey areas on the map).

Map-United-Center Even though it was built only 20 years ago, in one of the largest cities in North America, no provision was made for a rapid transit connection. The closest station is Illinois Medical District on the Blue Line but that's a pedestrian unfriendly 15 minute walk (from parking lots to an expressway median). The Pink Line travels within two blocks of the stadium but does not stop nearby.

The CTA runs a bus shuttle before and after the game -- Route 19, United Center Express -- to the downtown area for rapid transit and regional transportation connections. Yesterday there were four articulated buses staged to load as the game ended. That's a capacity of only 400 people. What about the rest of the 20,000 attendees?


It seems that, as a direct result of this built environment, most of them drive. There is no incentive to visit anything nearby and thus no disincentive to driving. In fact, both of the pedicab rides I got after the game were to nearby parking lots.

The developer of the stadium should have been required to build a Pink Line station on Madison Street, make pedestrian improvements on the route to the Blue Line, and pay for increased service before and after the game. I don't know if they pay for the bus shuttle but experience elsewhere suggests it's unlikely. The Prudential Center in Newark, NJ is an example of a stadium built recently with no parking facilities and funding for transit service.