New CTA buses and mid-life overhaul of more than 1,000 vehicles will avoid dismal situation 6 years ago

A 4400-series TMC RTS bus on State Street. Photo by Kevin Zolkiwicz.

I arrived in Chicago in 2006 to attend the University of Illinois at Chicago for a sociology and urban planning degree. I visited home in Batavia, Illinois, quite often. I took route 60-Blue Island/26th from campus to Northwestern Station to catch the Union Pacific-West line to Geneva. I distinctly remember how decrepit these buses were (this route seemed to have the oldest ones in the fleet, 4400-series TMC RTS). They lumbered; they were dark inside; they had stairs to climb aboard; passengers who wanted or needed to use the ramp had to spend several minutes waiting for the ramp to deploy and then be elevated.* I don’t know how much was just old design, no upgrades being made, or broken down equipment.

That was at a time of major service cuts, fare hikes, and deliberations about new legislation determining how to fund the Regional Transportation Authority and the three service boards it oversees (Chicago Transit Authority, Metra, and Pace).

The Chicago Transit Authority made announcements this year that should ensure this won’t happen again. Continue reading New CTA buses and mid-life overhaul of more than 1,000 vehicles will avoid dismal situation 6 years ago

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Chicago bike sharing suggestion map is now live, public meetings coming soon

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The Chicago Department of Transportation has made public its bike sharing station suggestion map, where you can click on a location on the map to say “this is a good place for a bike sharing station”, up-vote others’ suggestions, and see the most popular suggested locations.

Go suggest a good location now.

As of this writing, there are 116 locations suggested (and 123 additional votes for those locations), many (or most) of which were made during testing periods. Additionally, the map doesn’t show the ~150 locations that Bicycle Program Coordinator Ben Gomberg said at the September Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting were already selected (the majority of which he said were at train stations). I expect there will be 1,000 suggestions within two weeks, so get crackin’.

There are five meetings on three days coming up later this month (you can see them in our calendar).

At the meetings in late October and early November, representatives from CDOT and Alta, the bicycle provider and operator, will discuss the new program and answer questions. Attendees can suggest locations to install bike stations in the proposed service area.

Monday, October 29
11:30h – 13h
Chicago Architecture Foundation
224 S Michigan Avenue

15 – 17h
Pop‐up meeting at Union Station

18:30 – 20h
Chicago Architecture Foundation
224 S Michigan Avenue

Tuesday, October 30
18:30 – 20h
Lincoln Belmont Public Library
1659 W Melrose Street

Tuesday, November 7
18:30 – 20h
Charles Hayes Center
4859 S Wabash Avenue

Tracking the rate of submissions

24 hours and 22 minutes later, on 10-17-12 at 20:50, there are now over four times as many station suggestion locations (477) and 1,963 additional votes for those locations. The most popular location is somewhere around the Polish Triangle, at Milwaukee/Ashland/Division, with 33 votes. The second most popular locations is the Logan Square CTA Blue Line station, with 28 votes (I submitted this one).

49 hours and 20 minutes after we first collected the suggestions, on 10-18-12 at 21:48, there are 578 suggested locations (an increase of only 21%) with 3,076 votes for those locations (only 5 locations lack non-submitter support, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). First place remains the same, while the Western CTA Brown Line station is tied with the Logan Square CTA Blue Line station.

On 10-22-12 at 12:14, there are 826 suggestions and 5,759 votes for those locations (only 2 locations lack non-submitter support, 1, 2). The Polish Triangle location keeps its first place crown, now with 85 votes. Logan Square Blue and Western Brown CTA stations are no longer tied: Logan Square is 1 vote ahead!

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New Wilson Red Line train station offers more flexibility, better looks, and a long wait

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The Gerber Building, at the corner of Wilson Avenue and Broadway, will be restored to original architectural heritage. 

The Chicago Transit Authority held an open house-style meeting on Thursday at Truman College (1145 W Wilson Avenue) in view of its subject, the Wilson Red Line train station (read last week’s article). The CTA’s plans, estimated to cost $203 million dollars, give the rebuilt station three entrances: the main entrance will be on the south side of Wilson Avenue; an auxiliary entrance will be on the north side of Wilson Avenue to the west of the Gerber Building (which hosts an entrance from Broadway currently); there will be an auxiliary entrance on Sunnyside Avenue with direct access to Target and Aldi stores.

CTA’s director of communications and media relations, Brian Steele, summarized the project:

The Wilson station will become a main transit hub along our north side corridor but also a community amenity. This is the the first new transfer station since Library in 1997 which will provide new flexible trip choices and a better transportation option in a vibrant community.

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Rendering of new Gerber Building.

One example of new trip choice is that commuters who are heading downtown in the morning starting from a Red Line station south of Howard can transfer to the Purple Line Express at Wilson instead of Belmont and potentially have a shorter trip. The ability to transfer at a station several stops from Belmont and Howard can help redistribute passengers amongst crowded Red Line trains and less crowded, but faster, Purple Line Express trains.

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Neighbors talk to CTA staff and view information display boards. 

Many website comments (here and other places) dealt with the local environment’s nature of having crime, drug deals, and people urinating. I asked Alderman James Cappleman (46th ward) at the open house to talk about some of these neighborhood issues.

He first noted that the Urban Land Institute (ULI) conducted a study about the station and environs, for the second time, which says that the addition of a new station (upgrade, renovation, new, it doesn’t make a difference), doesn’t by itself make a difference (here’s background information). Cappleman said it’s necessary to protect the affordable housing stock, and work with neighbors, police, schools, community groups, social services organizations, and police (he said it twice for emphasis), to reduce crime and poverty in the area.

He specifically mentioned that the arrest rate for drug abuse is over 10 times the city average, and that in the Census tract containing the train station, over 50% of households are considered to be below the poverty line (which changes often based on the nation’s changing incomes). The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, Cappleman explained, considers a “healthy community” to be one with 25% or fewer households below the poverty line. He ended with, “When that study’s released, we’ll start discussing how to deal with that [the relationship of the station to crime and perception of crime]”.

Joseph Musco attended the meeting, too, looking for insight and answers to the changing costs of the project, where they’re being spent, and their sources. He noted that the estimated cost of the project increased from $135 million in November 2011 to $203 million now. Don Gismandi, capital grants manager, was standing next to the funding sources chart and informed me that in the past year CTA has continued its engineering studies which resulted in more accurate cost estimates.

I asked CTA for a breakdown of costs, which they could not provide, as “project components as project plans have not yet been finalized” and “details on how much each project components will cost will also depend on the contractor selected following the competitive bid process, which is not expected to take place until early 2013”.

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Funding sources chart.

Here are other attributes of the project:

  • Construction will last 33 months during which the CTA will operate a neighborhood business campaign in the same style as the one it ran during the Brown Line Capacity Expansion Project. The station will remain open.
  • The Gerber Building will be restored and CTA, along with its real estate manager Jones Lang LaSalle, will seek the right developer to build out the space.
  • The viaduct that carries Track 4 will be removed; 4 tracks will be constructed.
  • All track and the track structure will be replaced with a concrete aerial viaduct, much like the viaduct at Belmont and Fullerton stations. This provides a smoother ride and is quieter for the neighborhood.
  • For accessibility, there will be an elevator at the main entrance and ramps at the Sunnyside Avenue auxiliary entrance.
  • View all photos for this story
  • View the display boards (.pdf)

Take Action

For more information, visit the CTA’s website. The CTA invites comments about the project:

Updated October 12 to correct quotes and paraphrasing of Alderman Cappleman. Added link to display boards. Added cost estimate quote from CTA. 

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CTA reveals designs for new Wilson Red Line station which show new entrance on Sunnyside

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In this drawing of the original and current station house at the corner of Wilson Avenue and Broadway, it appears the station’s architectural heritage is preserved and even restored (see what it used to look like).

The Chicago Transit Authority sent out a press release this morning with five renderings of their proposed design for a reconstructed Red Line station at Wilson Avenue in Uptown. The station was voted “crustiest” by Red Line readers three years in a row (it lost this year to the Sheridan Red Line station).

The project is estimated to cost $203 million; construction will begin in the second quarter of 2013. The station will become a transfer point between Red and Purple lines; the nearest points to do this currently are Belmont (three stops south) and Howard (ten stops north). It will also be an accessible station, helping close the gap on the far north side until the Red and Purple Modernization Project receives funding. The nearest accessible stations currently are Addison (two stops south) and Granville (six stops north).

A new entrance will be built conveniently on Sunnyside Avenue for near-direct access to the Wilson Yard Target and Aldi stores. A rendering of that area was not included in the press release.

The CTA is holding an open house in one week, on Thursday, October 11, from 6-8 PM, at Truman College, 1145 W Wilson Avenue. This may be a good time to talk to the CTA about using the station as a model of future energy uses.

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This rendering shows glass canopies of a design that were later nixed from the Brown Line Rehabilitation project.

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The station name over Wilson Avenue is reminiscent of the Morgan Street Green/Pink Line station.

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A glass enclosed station house on Wilson Avenue. The rendering makes the tracks appear over 20 feet high. The Belmont Station tracks are only about 13 feet high.

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A rendering of the bridge over Broadway.

N.B. The business of press releases is amusing. I received it at 5:56 AM with a subject line of “Mayor Emanuel Unveils Designs for Wilson Red Line station”. I’m glad Mayor Emanuel was up at that time unveiling these designs.

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Final Bloomingdale Trail meeting presents nearly final designs and plans

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The Bloomingdale Trail design team, a consortium of engineers, planners, artists, and horticulture experts from Chicago and around the country, presented their latest designs at the final public meeting on Monday night at the Humboldt Park field house. The elevated park’s design was divided into 7 segments and printed on enormous posters in two rooms. An eighth segment summarized the phenology planting concept and artwork scattered across the Bloomingdale Trail.

I inspected many of the designs and listened to people express their admiration, excitement, as well as lingering concerns. They included:

  • How tall is the privacy screen? 10 feet; the privacy screen consists of a metal mesh wall covered in plants.
  • Will traffic configurations change on Lawndale Avenue or Bloomingdale Avenue? Nope.
  • How are fast cyclists going to be slowed down? This question has been answered identically at every meeting: the design team has implemented a variety of solutions including horizontal and vertical “deflection” that serve to calm traffic. In this author’s opinion, the mix of traffic (people walking, jogging, pushing strollers, rolling on mobility devices) will slow cyclists.

Enjoy the designs (view the full set of photos). When available, we will publish the digital versions of these images. A comment card at the meeting indicated that this was the final period for neighbors to make comments about the designs (email them to info@bloomingdaletrail.org). Read our past coverage of the project.

Update: Less than 2 hours after posting, the digital images are available. Download a 3 MB .pdf file Continue reading Final Bloomingdale Trail meeting presents nearly final designs and plans

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Metra seeks public input to develop first strategic plan in decades

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A Rock Island Metra train heading towards Blue Island across 95th Street in Chicago. Photo by Jeff Zoline. 

From a Metra news release:

Furthering its goal of soliciting input and engaging in dialogue with its major stakeholders, Metra is asking its riders, the public, elected officials and others for their help as it begins to craft its first strategic plan in several decades. You can offer input by coming out to one of our public open house forums [calendar below] throughout the region. You can also provide input by completing a short survey actively available here from 7/2/12 until 8/10/12.

All meeting materials are on the Strategic Plan webpage.

CITY OF CHICAGO
Tuesday, July 10, 4 PM – 7 PM
Metra
Board Room, 13th Floor
547 W. Jackson Blvd.
Chicago, IL 60661 Continue reading Metra seeks public input to develop first strategic plan in decades

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