Scott Presslak

At a Glance

  • Age: 33
  • Certification: Professional Transportation Planner (PTP)
  • Education: 
    • Bachelor of Arts, Urban Planning – University of Illinois, May 2007
    • Master of Urban Planning and Policy – University of Illinois at Chicago, December 2013
  • Work History:
  • Memberships:
    • Active Transportation Alliance
    • American Planning Association Illinois Chapter
    • Young Professionals in Transportation

In 2002, as a junior at Lake Park High School, one warm spring evening I hosted a few friends to a bonfire in the backyard of my childhood home in Itasca, Illinois. Growing up in Itasca, a community uniquely located along Metra’s Milwaukee District West Line and under a prominent flight arrival path to O’Hare International Airport, hemmed in by Interstates 290 and 355 and now Illinois Route 390, transportation and its impact on Itasca’s growth from its founding in 1890 through the suburban boom of the later half of the 20th Century played a significant role in my upbringing. During middle school and high school, I volunteered at the Itasca Historical Society’s depot museum –housed in the village’s former train station — which piqued my interest in how closely Itasca’s growth and evolution was tied to its transportation infrastructure.

After graduating from Lake Park High School in 2003 (and continuing to host friends in “The Yard” regularly), I enrolled at the University of Iowa as a civil engineering major. As an elective, I took an introductory urban planning course and quickly made the decision to change majors. Unfortunately, the University of Iowa did not offer urban planning as a standalone undergraduate major, so I transferred to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts of Urban Planning degree in May 2007.

Throughout my undergraduate career, I worked one summer job that would prove very useful to my future career: as a field technician for a mosquito abatement contractor in the Chicago area, I was tasked with performing mosquito larvae inspections in dozens of Chicago suburbs, building a significant knowledge of Chicago-area geography as well as first-hand experience with a wide variety of building styles and neighborhood development concepts throughout Chicagoland. Summers back in Itasca also allowed events at The Yard to continue and thrive as my group of friends continued to expand.

I initially planned on continuing directly into graduate school following my bachelor’s degree, having been accepted to the University of Central Florida’s urban planning masters program. However, I decided to pursue a professional internship instead, interning at the Landrum & Brown aviation consulting firm in Chicago. Also in summer 2007, I became very ill and was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a chronic disorder of the lower intestine. Spending much of the summer and following fall on bedrest when not serving at my internship, I concluded my internship in August 2007 and began searching for a full-time position. (The ordeal also gave me some profound insights on the American health care system, but that’s not the focus of this site.)

After a few months of searching, I ultimately was offered and accepted the sole planner position at TERRA Engineering, Ltd., a civil engineering firm in Peoria in late February 2008. While at TERRA, I worked on a variety of transportation planning projects including the Eastern Bypass Study, a 20-mile freeway corridor study to complete a beltway around metropolitan Peoria; the Washington Street Improvement and Warehouse District Complete Streets Projects, a TIGER grant recipient to reconstruct Peoria’s Warehouse District streetscape into a more pedestrian-friendly area; and the Lucas Museum of Narrative Arts, the (failed) project to construct a new museum on Chicago’s Museum Campus between Soldier Field and McCormick Place.

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Almost every picture from a public meeting for a transportation project are just people pointing at giant maps. Here’s me pointing at a giant map.

I lived in Peoria through 2010 but would still frequently come back to Itasca to spend time with friends and family — and, of course, The Yard.

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In case an entire website devoted to train crawls wasn’t enough to prove I’m serious about not taking myself too seriously, here are two beer pong tables I built by hand. They both light up, and I still have both.

Wanting to further my professional career — and wanting to relocate back to Chicago — I was accepted into the College of Urban Planning and Public Administration at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I transferred to TERRA’s Chicago office in January 2011, working full-time while taking grad school classes at night. To save money, I moved into the in-law apartment of my grandmother’s bungalow in Chicago’s Portage Park neighborhood. The bungalow, which had a full bar in the basement, became a satellite branch of The Yard and was branded as “The Speakeasy” while I completed my degree.

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The Speakeasy.

In April 2012, I and my fellow University of Illinois alum Kevin Olsta successfully set a world-record of stopping at every one of the CTA’s 143 ‘L’ rail stations in 9:24:05 using only public transportation, beginning at the Halsted station on the Orange Line and finishing at Linden terminal on the Purple Line. (The record would be broken five days later and broken yet again shortly thereafter.) The CTA has since added four stations and significantly improved the south branch of the Red Line; I remain open to attempting a sub-9:00:00 run.

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Kevin (left) and I at a suburban CTA station (Cicero Pink Line) during the run.

I hosted my first train crawl in 2013 while living in Portage Park, utilizing the Union Pacific Northwest Line that served nearby Jefferson Park. The crawl included stops in Fox River Grove, Barrington, Palatine, and Arlington Heights.

I completed my grad school classes in spring of 2013; following the completion of my masters project — naturally, a “Complete Streets” pedestrian, bicycle, and transit plan for the Village of Itasca — I graduated with a Master of Urban Planning and Policy degree in December 2013. With grad school completed and one of my best friends purchasing a townhouse, I moved back to Itasca in March of 2014. Later that year, I became a certified Professional Transportation Planner (PTP) and departed TERRA for the Performance Management department of the Chicago Transit Authority. At the CTA, I specialized in “post-planning”: data analysis focused on quantifiable metrics of the CTA’s performance, including schedule adherence and regular maintenance intervals. I would go on to play a key role in revamping and automating the CTA’s Daily Flash Report.

On September 6, 2015, I married my girlfriend of two years. We moved to an apartment in downtown LaGrange and later bought at home in Forest Park.

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Don’t take pictures on train tracks. Platforms are okay, though.

While at the CTA, to celebrate the rollout of the Ventra smartphone app and Metra’s adoption of the Ventra platform for mobile ticketing, I hosted a winter train crawl along the Milwaukee District West Line in January 2016. Following the successful train crawl and to reflect the broadening range of events he hosts, I launched The Yard Social Club, devoting my event-planning talents and resources to public events intended to encourage sustainable, walkable suburban development and discretionary suburban transit use.

I served as Metra’s Senior Planner for a year and a half before accepting my current position as an Outreach Liaison for the Illinois Department of Transportation, where I encourage local Chicagoland residents to take a more active role in local transportation projects. My ulcerative colitis is currently in remission, and my wife and I continue to live a short walk away from the CTA Blue Line and several Pace routes in suburban Forest Park.


Further Reading

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