When you build a Walmart in Chicago, you better make sure public transit goes there

A new Walmart under construction on Chicago’s South Side has a problem: public transit doesn’t make it all the way to the store.

CTA bus routes No. 106 East 103rd and No. 111 111th/King Drive currently stop at Cottage Grove Avenue, which is several blocks from the store that is part of a $135 million development.

Beale said he is outraged and he threatened to convene public hearings on the CTA bus routes if the situation is not rectified by the time the Wal-Mart opens this week.

The alderman said the retail developer built the site to accommodate buses with a bus turnaround and nearby sidewalks for commuters. He said CTA officials told him it would cost $680,000 a year to extend the two bus routes to the Wal-Mart. But Beale said the costs would be offset by the additional riders making trips to the store.

CTA officials, acknowledging that they signed the 2011 contract Beale described, said late Monday afternoon that the transit agency is working with the developer and Beale and will implement service “as soon as possible.”

It sounds like the CTA is behind on this one. At the same time, this provides an interesting contrast to the typical suburban or exurban Walmart which relies on a large parking lot full of drivers. Big box stores are still relatively rare in denser big cities, even as companies like Walmart and Target (their first Manhattan location opened three years ago) are looking to expand. Thus far, the Walmarts in Chicago are more on the edges of the city, lending themselves to driving.

It would be interesting to hear how the companies themselves, local residents, and the city describe how the big box experience changes in an urban area. This would be ripe for participant observation as the store opens and both changes and is influenced by the surrounding urban neighborhood.

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