Circuit Court of Cook County

Jury Duty? Plan Ahead if Taking Public Transit in Cook County

I recently received a jury summons for the Circuit Court of Cook County.

In an effort to fulfill my civic duty, I began casually reading through the summons. Then I noticed this statement:

All Cook County Courthouses can be reached by public transportation.

Interesting. Having been previously summoned to several suburban courthouses, I know that access to those locations by public transit isn’t a walk in the park.

Also, my first jury duty experience a few years back was in Skokie, which took me about 40 minutes to drive to in rush hour traffic. I assumed I was summoned to Skokie due to the relative proximity to my home compared with other courthouses. However, I recall an announcement in the waiting room saying they were allowing for more time for jurors traveling up from the south suburbs. I was ignorant to think this, but until then, I had no idea as a Cook County resident, you could be summoned to any court in the county, regardless of where you lived. (This later became a reality for me when I was summoned to Maywood.) If it were taking jurors a long time to drive from the south suburbs, how long would that take them if they took transit?

Especially transit in Chicago’s antiquated hub-and-spoke system?

So I did a little digging. The Circuit Court of Cook County has six municipal district courts and the Criminal Court. The 1st Municipal District (aka the Richard J. Daley Center) and the George N. Leighton Criminal Courthouse are located in Chicago city limits. Thus, they are reasonably accessible by public transit, relatively speaking.

But then there are the other courts. Let’s assume someone gets called to a courthouse on the other side of the county. For example, someone in Rolling Meadows gets summoned to Markham and vice versa. Or Northbrook to Maywood. Or Oak Lawn to Skokie. In Chicagoland, most people would likely drive. But for the transit folks, this presents a problem. Despite the broad number of drivers in the metropolitan area, with nearly 475,000 daily transit commuters in Cook County (and over 550,000 in the metro area), surely jurors aren’t the only ones burdened with the cross-county or inter-county trips. COVID-19 certainly reduced the number of transit users over the past year, but essential workers still felt the burden of the lengthy trips.

How Long Would It Take Someone on Public Transportation?

I looked into how long it would take a juror from downtown Chicago to get to the six district courts and the criminal court by 9 a.m., the general time for an initial summons. To play it safe, let’s say 8:45 a.m., allowing for a 15-minute cushion. I chose downtown because many potential jurors from one part of the county may have to travel through the Chicago Loop to get to the courthouse in another part of the county. Again, this of course is the result of Chicago’s antiquated hub-and-spoke rail system for both the CTA and Metra. Also, my summons included instructions on how to get to the courthouse, indicating only directions from the Loop, so maybe the Circuit Court recognizes the situation, as well.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume people were commuting to the Loop for work. Average commute times for Chicagoland range from about 40 to 65 minutes via public transit. This includes commuters from collar counties, such as Lake, DuPage, and Will, but it is still an accurate depiction for Cook Country commuters. To make it easy, let’s say it takes jurors 50 minutes to get downtown from their homes before heading back out to a courthouse.

Next, using Google Maps and Moovit, I mapped out commute times starting from the center point of the geographical Chicago Loop (approximately the intersection of Clark and Monroe). I chose this as the starting point, as some people may commute to downtown via Metra (which has stations south, east, and west of the Loop) and some via CTA (whose buses run on every street of the Loop and the L creates and passes through the Loop).

Google and Moovit show you approximate transit times, but that’s assuming you don’t have to wait to make a transfer. To factor this into the equation, I am adding on 10 minutes for each transit trip taken due to potential walking and wait times for rail or bus transfers when traveling to the courthouse. (I am not adding the 10 minutes to the initial 50-minute commute to the Loop.) Last, as shown below, I add a note for each courthouse on whether an option for online directions suggested a walk of more than a half-mile to the courthouse.

So, let’s suggest that it takes someone an hour to get from the Loop to a courthouse via a combination of a Metra train and a bus, which would be two transit trips. That means it would take them 2:10 to get there: 50-minute commute downtown + 60-minute commute back out to courthouse + two transit trips to the courthouse (meaning 20 additional minutes of waiting/walking) = 130 minutes.

Let’s dive in.

George N. Leighton Criminal Courthouse

Average Time: 0:43 from downtown, 1:43 from home
Minimum number of transit trips: 1 (+10 minutes)
Potential walk of at least 1/2 mile: Yes

As I previously mentioned, with the criminal courthouse (2600 S. California, Chicago) in the Chicago city limits, public transit options allow for a relatively easy trip. A person could take the 60 CTA bus from downtown all the way to the courthouse. Among other options are the CTA Green and Pink Lines to their respective California stops, and then take the 94 California bus south to the courthouse. A third option is to walk nearly a mile from the Pink Line stop, though this may not be suitable for people with disabilities, or on days of extreme weather.

Although the transit options are efficient, it still would take about 90 minutes to get to the courthouse from home. NextCity published a nice piece on how even though the courthouse is in the city, it is still remote.

The Richard J. Daley Center (1st Municipal District)

Average Time: 0:05 from downtown, 0:55 from home
Minimum number of transit trips: 0
Potential walk of at least 1/2 mile: No

Not really a hardship as the Daley Center (50 W. Washington, Chicago) is not even three blocks north of Clark and Monroe. Jurors can walk straight up Clark for five minutes. Or if they desire to take transit, they would need to head east to Dearborn and take the CTA Blue Line north a mere one stop, or take the 22, 36, or 62 CTA buses, which would take as long as walking.

Skokie (2nd Municipal District)

Average Time: 1:22 from downtown, 2:32 from home
Minimum number of transit trips: 2 (+20 minutes)
Potential walk of at least 1/2 mile: No

Skokie is a broad “village” north of Chicago with a number of business districts. Unfortunately, the CTA Yellow Line, which has two stops in Skokie, is nowhere near the Skokie Courthouse (5600 Old Orchard Rd., Skokie), though there have been past proposals to extend the line.

From downtown, there are several rail options. A juror could take CTA Purple Line express and either transfer to the 205 CTA bus at Davis in Evanston or the 422 Pace bus at Linden in Wilmette. Both buses go to the courthouse. Another option to Evanston is the Metra Union Pacific North Line to Davis and take the 205 bus. They could take the Purple Line to Howard and transfer to take the Yellow Line to Dempster, where they then would have to transfer to the 54A CTA bus to the courthouse. They could also take the CTA Blue Line from downtown and transfer to the 54A CTA bus at Irving Park, which will be a nearly hour-long bus ride to the courthouse, or Harlem, which will involve two Pace bus transfers (422 and 423).

Overall, even with many transit options, it could still take someone more than two-and-a-half hours door-to-door from their homes to the courthouse.

Rolling Meadows (3rd Municipal District)

Average Time: 1:24 from downtown, 2:34 from home
Minimum number of transit trips: 2 (+20 minutes)
Potential walk of at least 1/2 mile: Yes

Now we take a look at the Rolling Meadows Courthouse (2121 Euclid Ave., Rolling Meadows) out to the northwest. For the fastest arrival, you have to take the Metra’s Union Pacific Northwest Line at some point. One way is taking the Blue Line L to Jefferson Park and transferring to the Metra there. Or taking the Metra from the Ogilvie Transportation Center downtown. The closest station to Rolling Meadows is Arlington Park. But there are no early morning horse races, so you can’t cash in on a win, place, or show prior to jury duty.

From the racetrack, you then get to take a nearly mile-long walk, ensuring for some people that they could be a sweaty mess when they arrive in time to sit in a courthouse all day. Again, not a viable option for people with disabilities or extreme weather.

To avoid having to walk that last mile, you can take the 696 Pace bus from Arlington Park, which will bring you right near the courthouse.

So, 50 minutes to get downtown, plus the 84 minutes to get out to the courthouse, plus at least another 20 to factor in for transfers, and it could take you 154 minutes, or more than two-and-a-half hours.

Maywood (4th Municipal District)

Average Time: 0:48 from downtown; 1:48 from home
Minimum number of transit trips: 1 (+10 minutes)
Potential walk of at least 1/2 mile: Yes

Going to the Maywood Courthouse (1500 Maybrook Dr., Maywood) from downtown is a straight shot west on the Blue Line along the Congress branch to Forest Park, removing any concerns of waiting for a bus or train transfer. However, as with Rolling Meadows, this trip requires a nearly mile-long walk from the CTA station to the courthouse. Another option is to wait at the Forest Park station for the 320 Pace Bus, which goes directly to the courthouse. But that bus only comes every 30 minutes; not exactly the best option if you need to get to the court at a certain time, unless you leave 30 minutes earlier.

The average total time door-to-door is just over 90 minutes, which of course is better than the other suburban courthouses due to Maywood’s proximity to Chicago.

Bridgeview (5th Municipal Court)

Average time: 1:20 from downtown; 2:30 from home
Minimum number of transfers: 2 (+20 minutes)
Potential walk of at least 1/2 mile: No

To get to the Bridgeview Courthouse (10220 S. 76th, Bridgeview), you can take either the CTA Orange Line or Red Line to their respective termini, where you then transfer to the 381 (Orange Line) or 386 (Red Line) Pace bus, which takes you to the courthouse. The Orange Line route is about 10 minutes faster. There is also the option to take the Metra Southwest Service to Worth (and transfer to the 386 Pace bus to the courthouse) or to Oak Lawn (and transfer to the 381 Pace bus to the courthouse).

Even with all of these options, it could still take about two-and-a-half hours, as with several other courthouses.

Markham (6th Municipal District)

Average Time: 1:30 from downtown, 2:40 from home
Minimum number of transit trips: 2 (+20 minutes)
Potential walk of at least 1/2 mile: Yes

Located in the southern part of the country, the Markham Courthouse (16501 S. Kedzie Pkwy, Markham) has a broad range of commuting options ranging from 1:15 to 1:45. For the fastest route, riders would take the CTA Red Line south to 35th St., where they would walk east a block to the 35th Street/Lou Jones Metra Station on the Rock Island Line. From there, they would take the train to Blue Island and transfer to the 359 Pace Bus, which takes them to the courthouse. For simplicity, the 359 bus also connects directly to the Red Line at 95th Street, but that makes for a longer commute.

For the people who want to just have a miserable day, there’s also an option to take the Red Line to 95th, make two bus transfers, and walk a mile to the courthouse. They would no doubt be selected to serve on a multiday trial.

Regardless of the route, it still would take 2:40 on transit to the courthouse.

The Verdict

These are all extreme examples, of course. With the exception the Daley Center, the majority of jurors would likely take a car to all courthouses, judging by the more than 1.5 million Cook County residents who already commute alone to work via car. For those who take transit, they might not have to travel downtown and then back out to a courthouse; they may be able to connect more efficiently via lateral or horizontal bus routes. But as I alluded to earlier, the hub-and-spoke rail system forces people to travel inbound to downtown just to go outbound to the courthouses.

As you can tell, given the multihour trips, you don’t want to be called to a jury on the other side of the county and have to take public transit, lest you have a five-hour round trip. Let’s not overlook the fact that if you’re dismissed from the court at nonpeak transit hours, your commute home could be much longer.

Another issue is that no uniform payment system exists among Metra, CTA, and Pace. While the Ventra app is used by all three agencies, and CTA and Pace allow discounted transfers, if you have to ride Metra, you will pay the full fare for that ride, plus full fare for any additional transfer to the bus or L. With a juror payment of $17.20 per day, a roundtrip Metra/CTA/Pace combo likely erases that earnings. And yes, for people who drive, the cost of gas would probably have the same cancel-out effect.

Lower-income jurors who would likely take transit to the courthouse face another hurdle. What if they are selected for a multiday or multiweek trial, and they have to do this commute over and over? This marginalizes transit riders, especially those paid by the hour, whose employers aren’t required to pay employees when they are not at work and at jury duty instead. The $17.20 for a day rounds to just over $2 per hour for an eight-hour workday. That’s not a good trade-off for what these people would be spending on transit connections to or from far parts of the county.

Although jury duty is at most an annual thing, and far less frequent for most residents, it is still a daily task for hundreds of people throughout the county. Day in and day out, jurors have to trek to courthouses that aren’t even centrally located (thus harder to get to) in the communities in which they’re located. Certainly some auto-centric planning there.

Are Cook County courthouses accessible by transit? Yes, technically. But it might take you over two hours to get there.

A version of this article was previously published June 27, 2018. 

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