A new intermodal link at Congress Parkway and Financial Place, leading passengers up to Metra platforms, as viewed from the northwest.
If there were a contest for “best hidden train station in the Loop,” the dubious winner would be Metra’s LaSalle Street station. Have you ever tried and failed to find this station, or had to give extremely detailed directions to help someone else find it? If your answer is “yes,” you’ve got lots of company.
So why is it such a mystery?
Much of the signage directing “potential” passengers is small, placed in mid-block locations far out of visual range from adjacent intersections, and doesn’t follow the design standards of Metra signs. The station itself is tucked and hidden behind the Chicago Board Options Exchange; the platforms are also above ground with a single point of entry. This aerial view gives you a point of reference.
CTA riders who wish to connect from the LaSalle/Van Buren ‘L’ station will find signage at platform level mentioning LaSalle Street Metra station. Once you get down to street level, directional signage is tough to find. There is none on the stairs between the CTA platform and street level.
LaSalle Street station sign viewed from mezzanine level of CTA LaSalle/Van Buren station.
The Metra sign shown above is visible from a limited area of the CTA station mezzanine. There is no other Metra signage on Van Buren. If you’re approaching LaSalle from the east, the sign looks like this at most times of day – backlit, with no direct lighting, obscured by bird poop and grime, well above the normal line of sight for this busy intersection. It’s more visible from the west, at least in daylight. At night, it’s in the shadows of the ‘L’ structure. A few smaller signs, attached to some of the ‘L’ support columns closer to eye level, would be more effective.
LaSalle St. station sign viewed from Van Buren at LaSalle
Van Buren at Financial Place (northbound leg) shows a lack of station signage at the access ramp.
View from LaSalle and Congress, northeast corner -nearest signage mentioning Metra (inset) is midblock.
This ADA access sign is adjacent to the Metra sign in the inset above – 1/2 block from either Van Buren or Congress, along a sidewalk that’s much too narrow for a wheelchair.
The situation on the west side of the station, entering from the southbound leg of Financial Place? This side has ADA access, but there is no station signage until the elevator vestibule, near the escalators shown at right below.
Over the last 15 years, I’ve had several injuries that had a major impact on my mobility and greatly increased my awareness of accessibility issues. Being on crutches due to a sprained ankle or knee surgery creates a strong desire to minimize travel distance and impact on the body so that your body doesn’t run out of steam before you reach your destination or a place where you can sit down and rest. There are few things more disheartening than having to go to an unfamiliar place when you’re tired and in pain, then finding that you’ve 1/2 block or more in the wrong direction due to missing, hidden or misleading signage.
Access ramp from Financial Place. There is no station signage here.
Financial Place approach – no station signage until elevator vestibule at left of stairs, a half block east of curb on Financial Place, nearly 1 block south of Van Buren Street.
A new intermodal link was opened at Financial Place and Congress in fall 2011, creating an easier connection to CTA buses.
Intermodal link viewed from platform. The stairs lead down to Congress Parkway.
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Bus stop on Financial Place, looking south from Congress Parkway.
The Blue Line connection is also easier, if you know how to get to and from the LaSalle blue line station. Signage placement is unsatisfactory, making this nicely designed intermodal link less effective than it could be for anyone who isn’t already familiar with it.
If signage for the Blue Line connection was relocated to line-of-sight locations and a small amount of new, better-placed signage was added, the new intermodal link could provide a significant improvement for those who need it, including passengers who ride Metra to connect to the Blue Line to O’Hare. It eliminates the need to walk halfway up the 400 block of LaSalle, then double back across Congress, offering shelter from the weather for most of the connection. Staying on the south side of Congress shortens the walk, which is also helpful if you’re walking to the South Loop or Printers Row. It improves the odds of being able to get to a Rock Island District train on time instead of missing it. Catching a train is especially critical in off-peak trips when service is at 1 or 2 hour intervals, and when open cars on the train are usually towards the south (far) end of the platform, further from station entrances.
The Blue Line connection has signage issues at both ends. The elevator at the new Metra-CTA intermodal link comes down to sidewalk level on Congress, but the sign by the elevator is a bit of a tease. Although the buses are fully accessible, the LaSalle-Congress Blue Line station is not. Passengers unfamiliar with the Blue Line station may assume from the sign that the station is accessible, then discover that the nearest accessible station is a few blocks further away at Jackson and State.
CTA Blue Line sign in elevator alcove at Metra platform level.
If you take the stairs instead of the elevator, view of the directional signage is obscured by a lighting fixture and roof support. It’s well above eye level, not visible from the stairs.
CTA signage – intermodal link, street level.
It’s very easy to miss this sign in the elevator alcove along Congress unless you’re walking near the curb. It would be more visible if placed to the left of its current location.
CTA Blue Line sign in elevator alcove on Congress Parkway east of Financial Place.
At the Blue Line station, old signage at the mezzanine level on the north side of Congress Parkway indicates the old north-south connection to LaSalle Street station. The old connection is still an available option, but it’s longer.
LaSalle blue line, mezzanine level, north side.
No signage has been added to indicate the new, more direct, intermodal link.
An observant, curious person walking west on Congress might notice the link just before Financial Place.
CTA and Metra signage at intermodal link to south of sidewalk, south side of Congress between Metra station and Financial Place.
There is no easily seen signage to direct pedestrians walking west on Congress Parkway towards the Metra station. The station’s minimal, poorly placed signage on all sides represents lost opportunities and lost fares.
On more than one occasion, I have given detailed directions to people who wanted to ride the Rock Island. When they saw no signage to confirm that they were heading in the right direction, they often took wrong turns (or turned back because they thought they’d taken wrong turns) and got into the station late enough to miss the train; evening and weekend trains run only every 1 or 2 hours. Sometimes they went to the Red Line and arrived later. Sometimes they reserved an I-GO car near the station or went home to get their cars. Sometimes that missed train was enough to keep them from making the trip in the time they had available.
Adding a blue and white Metra directional sign at eye level at each intersection around the station could greatly improve access to this station and increase ridership if occasional riders can quickly and easily find the station and get on a train instead of wasting time searching for it. Better signage would also improve the rider experience for anyone with a walking disability.
Grid Chicago is a blog about sustainable transportation matters, projects and culture in Chicago and Illinois, by John Greenfield and Steven Vance since June 2011.
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