This week in CTA news: Changes to Red and Purple line stations plus faster service to airports


The Morse Red Line station would be affected by the CTA’s plan. In the two Modernization scenarios, it would become accessible. Photo by Eric Rogers. 

On Monday and Tuesday, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) held identical meetings about the Red & Purple Modernization Project it started planning (at least with the public) last year. According to the CTA’s website, the project “would help bring the existing transit line into a state of good repair, reduce travel times, improve access to job markets and destinations, and provide improved access to people with disabilities”. The project area is in two areas: on what’s called the North Side Main Line, the four tracks from Belmont to Howard, and on the Purple Line-only tracks from Howard to Linden in Wilmette, Illinois.

At the Modernization Project meetings, the first in Evanston, and the second in Edgewater, the CTA showed 4 alternatives instead of the 6 it had shown at the prior meetings. Three were eliminated and a new one was created. They are:

Four scenarios for the Red & Purple Lines

1. No action

In “alternatives analysis” planning, required for most projects that receive federal funding, this is always an option. It’s used as a baseline on which to compare the other alternatives. It explores what would happen if nothing was done and the CTA continued operated trains as it does now. This includes the absolute minimum repairs. The CTA has noted that many aspects of service would degrade: station amenities, track structure, and infrastructure longevity.

2. Basic rehabilitation

This alternative “provides a strategic mix of repairs, rehabilitation, and replacement for a useful life of 20 years, plus the addition of a transfer station at Loyola.” Additionally, “Based on the current condition of the viaducts, it is assumed that 11 viaducts would undergo minor repairs, 25 viaducts would undergo major repairs, and 22 viaducts would undergo reconstruction.”

3. Modernization

Modernization means to provide ADA accessibility, wider platforms, and other modern amenities. Also included are lower travel times, the same new transfer station at Loyola, and a useful life of 60-80 years. It would also increase platform lengths at all stations, to accommodate 8 car trains on the Purple Line’s Evanston branch, and to 10 car trains on the Red Line portion of the project. New station entrances would be built. Five stations would be removed: Foster and South Boulevard on the Purple Line, and Jarvis, Thorndale, and Lawrence on the Red Line. Here’s a summary from CTA Tattler.

4. Modernization without consolidation

This alternative is the same as Modernization but keeps the five stations. CTA Tattler explains this version. The two modernization alternatives would likely make the steel track structure and earthen embankments look like the modern, concrete Orange Line viaduct (also seen on the Paulina Connector of the Pink Line). See page 23 of the Exhibit boards.

The latter three alternatives all require the CTA to acquire new right of way, which could mean it buys and demolishes property in order to build new or upgraded track, longer and wider platforms, and additional station entrances.

More reading on the Red & Purple project

From around the web

  • A report from the Evanston meeting (Daily Northwestern) – One of the attendees says to the reporter that they disagree with closing down stations. The CTA has an interesting graphic (see below) in the Exhibit boards (page 20) about how station consolidation can increase train efficiency while keeping walking distance changes minimal because of additional station entrances.
  • Vote for the alternative you prefer (CTA Tattler) – Right now, there are 56 votes, and 53% of votes are in favor of Modernization.

From the CTA’s website


This clever image posted on one of the Exhibit boards shows how walking times would be different with fewer stations on the line (in some cases better). Station consolidation means trains can make fewer stops, shortening travel times.

But the CTA plans to upgrade some stations beforehand

In a completely separate project, the CTA board approved a $57 million project to give seven Red Line stations a facelift:

“CTA President Forrest Claypool called the seven North Side stations – Jarvis, Morse, Granville, Thorndale, Berwyn, Argyle and Lawrence – “the worst stations we have.” (quote via Chicago Tribune)

Kevin Zolkiewicz, a Grid Chicago contributor, notes that Bryn Mawr is no longer in the project to get its own facelift, despite decrepit conditions. The station upgrades do not interfere with the Red & Purple Modernization Project because no timeline has been set for the huge undertaking. The CTA is only in the initial planning stages and will soon begin the environmental review process. This project is akin to the Brown Line Rehabilitation Project wherein planning prior to construction can take 5-10 years.

Speeding service to O’Hare and Midway airports

United is expanding its workforce in Chicago and Mayor Emanuel recently sat down with the CEO and several United employees. One of the topics was transit.

When a United employee argued that Chicago sorely needs an express train to O’Hare, Emanuel said the goal could probably be accomplished “over two horizons” — not one. (Chicago Sun-Times)

While “two horizons” sounds quite meaningless, Emanuel explained that he’s evaluating proposals that shave 12 minutes off travel time from the Loop to O’Hare and Midway. Many Chicagoans are aware of the canceled plans to build a “superstation” under Block 37, now a shopping mall on State Street between Randolph and Washington Streets. The Washington Red Line station, which had transfers to the Blue Line, closed as a result of the scrubbing.


This Orange Line on the Harrison Street s-curve may soon be zooming to Midway Airport. Photo by Jeff Zoline. 

In addition to the superstation, former Mayor Daley appointed a panel and issued a request for information. As the Chicago Sun-Times reports, “It was not known whether the request was ever issued or, if so, what the interest level was.” Read the article to learn more about the history of speeding trains to the airports, and more on the conversations with the United workers – they, many of whom are new to Chicago, had ideas worth discussing, like charging different fares during rush hour.

There were no details on how the travel time savings would be achieved.

P.S. I wrote an article for Architect’s Newspaper in November 2011 about renovation of the Wilson Red Line station.

43 thoughts on “This week in CTA news: Changes to Red and Purple line stations plus faster service to airports”

  1. Claypool has apparently never been to Wilson, THE worst station on the North Side Main Line. It’s falling apart and constantly reeks of urine. Glad that it’s hopefully getting an upgrade as part of the RPMP. That area is slowly becoming gentrified, sparked by the redevelopment of Wilson Yard, and a upgrade to that area’s ‘L’ stop would be a welcome improvement.

    1. I’m pretty sure he left off Wilson because it’s already due for a complete reconstruction. In a couple years, it will be the nicest station in the CTA system.

      I really hope the CTA has the balls to go through with the station closings. It would do a lot to speed up travel times (important for making the line more useful) and reduce the cost of this massive construction project, with only a block or two added to commutes. I feel like a lot of people who complain about these closures aren’t able to see the big picture.

      1. I believe Ald. Joe Moore wants to get the idea of closing Jarvis off the table as quickly as possible. A nice little pocket of retail (Charmers cafe, an Irish pub, a wine shop, etc.) has grown up around that station and he’s afraid business would be hurt by the closure.

        1. The Modernization scenario includes new station entrances to Howard at Paulina and Rogers. However, that’s probably not going to be a consolation to the residents and the alderman. 

          As Kevin Z said on this page, “While the arrangement in this graphic would work rather well, that wouldn’t be the case with additional entrances proposed at Howard, for example. Once you enter that entrance at Rogers, you’ll still need to walk the equivalent of almost two blocks to get the platform.”

          1. I’m not sure if that will be the case with most of the new stations (maybe it’s the case with Howard). For one, the platforms will be lengthened to accommodate 10-car trains. For another, they can slightly re-center the stations between the two entrances to avoid this problem.

            I wouldn’t compare these to the FP Blue Line stations – distance between the entrances and platform is the least of their problems…

          2. Exactly.  For folks in the middle of the ONE MILE gap that would be created by the loss of Jarvis, an entrance at Rogers and Paulina will be a tiny consolation at best.

      2. I’m all for closing a few stations to save money/time. Some stations are only a few blocks from the next one. An 8 car train is barely out of the Granville station by the time it gets to Thorndale. And Jarvis seems totally useless to me. It’s only a couple blocks from Howard.

          1. Saying that a station is dangerous seems like a cop-out to me. It’s not the CTA’s responsibility to deal with that, and there much are better ways to deal with crime than avoiding (giving up on?) a station.

        1. You can run A-B trains that skip stops to avoid the slow downs and keep existing stops. America has an aging population and the extra walking distance in an city with hard winters is a serious consideration. The Center for Neighborhood Technology defines access as being within 1/2 mile of a rail station, 1/4 mile of a bus stop. Any CTA “improvements” that disregard that standard should be rejected. Chicago will have no problems with density 20-30 years from now. Low traffic north lakefront L-stops won’t be low traffic when the Earth has 9 billion people on it so removing stops is a bad idea.

          1.  No need to have the Red Line run A-B service when the Purple is offering up Express service from Howard/Loyola/Wilson… and the difference between consolidation and non consolidation for a Red Line Belmont to Howard ride is a measly 2.5min. If anything Purple Express Service can be expanded beyond just rush hour and let the Red remain a local line.

        2. Removing Lawrence-Argyle and Jarvis will leave 7/8 to 1 mile gaps between stations.  Losing South Blvd. will create a similar gap for southeast Evanston, at the closest location to St. Francis Hospital, which serves many people in south Evanston and Rogers Park. 

          The Center for Neighborhood Technology defines access as being within
          1/2 mile of a rail station, 1/4 mile of a bus stop. Any CTA
          “improvements” that disregard that standard should be rejected.

          We should not be losing ground on this standard.  Period.

      3. Nicest station in the system?  I think the neighborhood will have a negative effect on that.

        Failure to see the big picture?  Losing Jarvis would mean a one mile gap between stations for folks in Rogers Park, unacceptable for an area of its population density.

        1. I have faith in the people of Uptown. If nothing else, it will be the nicest station in the system when it opens…

          I take your point on Jarvis. I actually have less of a problem with the RP stations than with all the stations in Uptown/Edgewater. We could easily lose a couple of those with little impact on residents and lots of cost savings for the CTA. Those stations (closer to the middle of the line) also impact more people in travel times.

    2. CTA could have solved the urine problem at any time by putting the ticket agent on the first floor of Wilson Station to provide supervision and then simply adding a bathroom. Homeless people (and drunk club goers from Uptown) urinate in the lobby of the Wilson L-stop because there are no city run public washrooms in the area. The Wilson L-stop is near one of the largest homeless shelters in America on Clifton. When hundreds of homeless people are moving in and out of an area on a daily basis it doesn’t take visionary leadership to see the need for bathroom facilities. Grant Park would smell like piss too if the Park District didn’t provide bathrooms.

  2. I don’t understand why the modernization alternative would require the demolition and replacement of all the walled embankments with an elevated structure.  What is the cost motivation?

    I also see that the CTA’s webpage for the Red and Purple line modernization does not provide contact information for submitting feedback on the alternative.

    1. I don’t know what the advantages of replacing the earthen embankment with an aerial structure. I surmise it has something to do with the useful life of the project. When they build a completely brand new structure with a quality design and materials, they can predict that the life of that structure is 60-80 years. With the earthen embankment, its current status is unknown (you’ve seen the viaducts, I’m sure, and how they are cracking every which way and many have metal cross braces to hold them up). 

      While not making it explicitly clear that you send your comments to this person about the alternatives analysis, contact Steve Hands. 
      “If you have any questions related to the Chicago Transit Authority’s Red and Purple Modernization Project, or would like to be added to the project mailing list or e-list for future updates, please contact:”Chicago Transit Authority
      Strategic Planning & Policy, 10th Floor
      Attn: Steve Hands
      567 W Lake St
      Chicago, IL 60680-1465E-mail: RPM@transitchicago.comFax: 1-312-681-4195

      1.  “I don’t know what the advantages of replacing the earthen embankment
        with an aerial structure. I surmise it has something to do with the
        useful life of the project.”

        But why not just replace the solid fill embankment with another solid fill embankment? It would be significantly cheaper and would not alter the surrounding neighborhood fabric at all.

      2. It seems that construction may be simpler and more durable with an aerial structure.  On the other hand, my experience is that an aerial structure exposes the surrounding area to a LOT more noise. 

        I lived within 1 block of the red line/purple line south of Howard for 10 years. That section has an earthen embankment.  I’ve noticed a lot more ambient noise in comparable locations with aerial structures.

        Added parking and/or re-established street connections would help somewhat for people who live or work adjacent to the right of way, but I’m not sure if that would outweigh the noise aspect as a quality of life issue.

  3. Re: United.
    The only way that you can shave time off is to just improve the trackage and eliminate the slow zones. Adding express tracks isn’t feasible and very expensive to install.However, they should just look into vanpooling (read: Pace Rideshare) as an alternative to driving, especially since it’s not your own car that you’re using.

    1. I think in the Daley round of express to O’Hare, there was talk of adding strategically located bypass tracks and scheduling the trains “just right” so the express trains could pass other trains and skip most stops. I’d like for someone else to chime in who followed this more closely. 

      1. Good luck with that. What happens when there is a slight delay? Throws the whole system off. We’d have better luck with an express bus driving in the shoulder of the Kennedy. Or, you know, the United workers can just stop complaining and take the Blue line like everybody else. Why should they get special treatment?

  4. It would have been nice if the Mayor could have described how he would shave 12 minutes off the travel time to the airports. Is that just from slow zone eliminations or are we talking major capital investments? I assume also bypass tracks or skip stops, but details please!

    1. I was wondering maybe the mayor has nothing but was just responding to the comments the United workers were making. And now that he’s said that, some ideas will materialize on his desk!

    2. Speed.

      I believe the CTA has an imposed 58mph speed limit… with the system capable of handling 70mph trains it seems possible that you could shave considerable time off a trip to either Midway or Ohare by maximizing the existing potential of the current equipment. It probably wouldnt make up the 12min they were talking about… but it is a start.

      1. I think that track condition is the biggest limitation.  When I’ve been on either the red line or blue line on a section running in the highway median, sometimes the operator runs the train at or near the speed of the adjacent traffic.  Sooner or later, the train meets a track section that’s not smooth enough for that speed, and people get tossed around the train.  I’ve had similar experiences on the purple line (although without the de facto speed reference of street traffic).  We’ve got a LOT of slow zones.

        In recent years, trip times have often been 20-50% higher than what I experienced back in the 1970s-80s.  Track condition is only part of the problem.  Since the CTA switched to one-person operation of trains, anytime there’s a problem that requires operator attention (door malfunction, disruptive person, etc.), the operator has to stop the train and go back to tend to the problem.  This takes a minimum of 2-3 minutes, often 5+ minutes – per incident. 

        I’ve occasionally had trips from 95th to Howard where there have been multiple incidents, between door problems and other issues.  Add in slow zones, and a trip that should take 55 minutes or less becomes a 90 minute trip.  I can hardly wait to see what the delay times will be with 10 car trains.

        If we had good track conditions throughout the system, that would be a HUGE boost in reducing trip times.  But I have no expectation that we’ll have good track conditions on more than a fraction of the system anytime soon.  It’s an unfortunate reality of the reduced budget/ deferred maintenance  scenario of recent years.

  5. Perhaps the CTA is trying to make the land underneath ripe for some kind of redevelopment? Think Demon Dogs or the shops under the L at Granville. 

    I suspect, however, that it is more of an engineering concern…

    1. I was thinking the new space under aerial viaducts could be used to sell parking to neighbors. Or create a new alley and reconnect the street grid in places where it’s blocked off. 

  6. The $57 million Red Line “facelift” is a major alteration of 7 stations under the ADA and I’d like to see compliance with the ADA under the facelift spending, not the RPM project.

    Where ADA-compliance can be achieved for 20% of the cost of alterations, it is not “modernization” or a futuristic scenario, it’s the law. Twenty percent of $57 million dollars is $11 million. Can you make 7 stations ADA-compliant for $11M? If not, why?

    And for the purposes of ADA-compliance and spending, is the $100 million budgeted for the Wilson Station truly a separate project? It’s money allocated from the same pool by the same people on the same line in same region over the same 3-year period. Spending $157M over an 8 stop stretch and getting only 1 station ADA-compliant is unacceptable.

    The Governor of Illinois and the Mayor of Chicago are spending a combined BILLION dollars on the Red Line and ADA-compliance is being presented as some kind of futuristic cherry on top of a modernization sundae. The ADA was passed 22 years ago. It’s long past the time where political leaders in this city can describe equality of access as modernization. Equality of access is a civil right, and ADA-compliance is federal law. Every elevated stop on the Red Line should be brought into compliance before CTA expands in Evanston or any CTA station gets a complete and costly remodel like Wilson. CTA should put out an RFP to make every above ground Red Line L platform ADA-compliant, pick the low bidder, and spend the cash to make it happen.

    It’s just not OK to portray ADA-compliance as some kind of futuristic goal while you cut the billion dollar funding pie up into slices so small that ADA-compliance for each piece is always over two horizons.

    1. I think you’re living in a fantasy world, where the CTA has an unlimited amount of money, and constructing elevators on a LIVE, 24-hour transit line comes cheap. I’m all for increasing access for the disabled, but I also recognize that if we spend hundreds of millions of dollars to make ADA upgrades to these stations — only to demolish them in 10-15 years — we’ll have wasted a lot of money that would benefit ALL riders in that area. 

      Yes, it’s tough, but we live in a world with budget constraints. Maximizing the benefits for all is the way to go.

  7. If you like to improve access / speed to get to the OHare airport, how about you extend the Brown line to the Blue at Jefferson Park???  This is only 1.5 miles and would allow much of the North side to get to the airport bypassing down town….

    1. This is a good point. For many of the city’s residents, getting to any other point in the city requires a trip to or through downtown. The Circle Line and Western or Ashland BRT is an attempt to reduce the need to change trains downtown. 

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