Roseland Resilient in Face of Decades-Delayed Red Line Extension

No sidewalks on 130th
Altgeld Gardens residents wait for the bus on 130th Street.

The Chicago Transit Authority has been planning an extension of the Red Line from its current terminus at 95th Street for decades and I joined a tour group at the Congress for New Urbanism’s transportation summit last week to see the proposed station locations. Development Communities Project’s board member Phyllis Palmer led the tour because the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning has provided DCP with a Local Technical Assistance grant to prepare the Greater Roseland communities for the extension.

Palmer told the group that former Mayor Richard J. Daley promised an extension to happen in about 10 years after the Dan Ryan branch opened in 1969. Obviously that hasn’t happened, but the CTA gets a tiny bit closer every year.

DCP organizes meetings, called Panels of Discussion and occurring at central churches, that invite business owners and neighbors around each station to talk about how to develop the surrounding buildings and land, and to advise the CTA in its planning.

Services and points of interest that would be newly accessible with the Red Line extension.
Services and points of interest that would be newly accessible with the Red Line extension.

About 20 other summit attendees took the bus tour of these neighborhoods, asking questions of Palmer and CMAP project planner Kendra Smith. Two of the main but informal discussions we held on our shuttle revolved around local bus transit service, including existing conditions and possible enhancements like bus rapid transit, as well as improving and integrating Metra service into the neighborhood’s transit connections.

The second discussion, like many about improving Metra, had no answers and no conclusion. The existing service consists of the Electric line to downtown, but only during rush hours. Metra service to Chicago State University is also spotty as some classes end after train service, so Electric trips between CSU and the neighborhood’s State Street station aren’t possible at night.

Smith and Palmer described the problems with bus service: route times, connections between routes, and delays. Only one bus route runs overnight (making access to the 24-hour Red Line difficult) and residents experience disconnected bus schedules. Smith said that for an interim improvement, “residents are vigilant about getting the CTA to link up schedules.”

Palmer and Smith
Palmer and Smith speaking to tour guests.

CMAP’s study of the Red Line extension shows that hundreds of thousands of jobs, and dozens of colleges, are unavailable by transit to residents in one hour. Trips to north side universities require several transfers as many of the buses operate in silos, only bringing neighbors from their home to a place where they can make a connection towards their final destination.

Palmer cited the long delays created by Union Pacific freight train activity as one reason why rapid bus service would be infeasible and undesirable. Smith said that another reason the communities rejected BRT was because of buses being unable to move well in snow storms, compounding the neighborhood’s disconnection. Smith added that “BRT doesn’t fit the bill for their quality of life,” and noted that many of the buses, especially the one to Altgeld Gardens, are packed.

The CTA’s alternatives analysis in 2009 looked at BRT [PDF], but not improving Metra service, perhaps another example of many showing the lack of good regional transit planning. BRT was rejected because, among other reasons, narrow road width.

The neighborhoods have other transportation deficiencies. 130th Street near the over 3,000 residents of Altgeld Gardens lacks sidewalks and there’s only one bike lane, which we spotted on 103rd Street. Smith said it wasn’t there the last time she was in the area. Lastly, Smith declined to call the Metra Electric State Street stop a station because the service has only an inaccessible platform and single track.

From the tour it looks like the Greater Roseland community is preparing itself well for the eventual extension – which currently lacks a local funding match – by setting up business owners to be proactive and empowering residents to advocate on their behalf for the service.

  • david vartanoff

    If Metra and CTA were genuinely interested in serving these citizen/taxpayers they could institute a quick bus shuttle cycling Kensington on the Electric District and beef up MED service. See the Gray Line site for further details. The tracks are already there; all that is required is writing the schedules and dispatching the trains.
    The money to build a Red Line extension would fund a new station at 130th on the South Shore and years of service from Hegewisch as well as Kensington. Now that RTA is scheduled to go Ventra (bad product from a vendor with a spotty record but once implemented makes Metra-CTA fare integration solelly a political issue) Gray Line service can be easily integrated w/CTA fares. Why build a new right of way when an underused one is right there?

  • Anne A

    I get your point about making more use of existing right of way. However, one of the “disconnect” issues is that much of the far southeast corner of the city is low-lying former marshland. In heavy rain, 130th St. east of I-94 can get very badly flooded, making it impassable. I-94 and other roads in this area also get badly flooded in some locations. Given the increased frequency of “100 year” storms, I wonder how many days per year a 130th St. station in Hegewisch would be inaccessible to residents west of I-94.

  • Rob Rion

    The main line of the Metra Electric district runs right by Altgeld Gardens and the Blue Island Branch runs right thru Roseland. If RTA and CMAP was doing their job they would not waste the money to extend the Red line. They would just put in a new station at 130th street right on the Main Line, west of Altgeld Gardens. That would make more sense than a station on the South Shore Line by I-94 and 130th. The Main Line gets more trans. For Roseland just upgrade the Blue Island Branch. For some reason that did not get studied. RTA should then force Metra to run more trains on all branches of the Electric District. Metra owns the right of way and the trains so they don’t have the excuse. I don’t see the need to waste money to move Metra Electric from Metra to CTA.

  • david vartanoff

    Gray Line proposes fare integration not any operational shift. You are absolutely correct about capacity on the MED mainline but last I looked midday service is token at best. As to the Blue Island Branch, even without full double tracking much more frequent service is possible. All it takes is political will.

  • david vartanoff

    Aware of the marsh issue. FWIW the South Shore (NICTD) could probably tell you how often they have been flooded out (my guess only once or twice in 50 years)

  • CL

    Great article — we really need the red line extension. You did a great job of explaining why the current options are insufficient. Anyone who thinks the bus and Metra are enough needs to spend some time on google maps looking at travel times — not to mention the overnight issue. Being able to get directly on the L, or even just being able to transfer after one bus ride (an east/west bus) instead of 2 (a north/south bus and an east/west bus), would make a big difference to the people who live there.

    It would also help people like me who make trips to the area. When the roads are bad, I take the red line all the way down. It takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes, including the walking, but I read my book and it’s okay. When I look up anything south of 95th, though, forget it. Especially when I need to go east or west after going south. Driving takes 45 minutes, and transit would take over 2 hours.

  • Anne A

    I think you misunderstood. I didn’t mean that NICTD tracks have been flooded out. I mean 130th St. and other major streets in the area – connectors between areas west of I-94 and the NICTD tracks. Some locations are significantly lower than the tracks and much more prone to flooding than the train line itself.

    If people can’t count on reaching the train, then it’s not reliable for them as daily transportation.

  • This was a big part of the informal discussion on the bus. I didn’t record or note everyone’s voices and contributions to the discussion, but there was some great concern amongst this group of transportation planners that there are issues that we can solve now to connect these neighborhoods to the greater rapid transit system without spending $1.5 billion.

  • There is existing infrastructure and service (the Metra and the South Shore) that can be greatly improved. First up, linking CTA and Metra schedules with neighborhood needs (jobs and schools), and Chicago State University (and Olive-Harvey College).

    I believe Smith said that CTA bus schedules are already linked to class times at both CSU and OHC, but as I stated in the article, Metra is the missing link.

    I want to reiterate: I don’t believe anyone who works for Metra was on this tour, nor at the CNU Transportation Summit. There were no answers and the discussion about improving Metra led nowhere.

  • HJ

    Im sorry Roseland, but the Red Line Extension is not going to happen any time soon. The new $240 million dollar 95th street station is all you are going to get. Until ridership on the South branch drastically increases, neighborhoods improve, or transit funding magically balloons, the extension cannot be justified.

  • JacobEPeters

    There are ~38,000 bus riders on an average weekday who ride the CTA and Pace buses that connect to 95th St. Station. The operating expenses for these routes would decrease due to the buses not having to shuttle between 1 and 4.5 miles out of the way to reach 95th, and ridership on these routes would grow as connections to the red line improved and commute times dropped. Our electrified commuter trains need to be operated more like CTA train lines in terms of frequency and schedules lining up with bus routes. Without that, you can’t just expect to see giant ridership increases on a rush hour only train line. This lack of integration on Metra’s behalf is what makes the Red Line extension more justifiable than any of the other CTA extension projects, you sadly can’t sit around and wait for Metra to pick up the slack.

  • That would be workable if Metra had any interest whatsoever in serving these customers, or serving anyone with the kind of frequency and reliability that the CTA gives — Metra thinks a train every 2 hours on weekends is plenty, which is ridiculous. They view themselves as a ‘suburbs to city, only in rush hour’ utility, and that’s the only service they’re willing to provide.

  • HJ

    Sounds like a RTA problem, not a CTA problem to throw $1.5 billion dollars at. I am not implying that the people on the far South side do not deserve service, just that a $1.5 billion dollar extension cannot be justified when so much of the system (thats serves far more riders) is in disrepair and other system expansions through more populated neighborhoods remain stagnant.

  • JacobEPeters

    Yet another reason that alignment of schedules and infrastructure spending between our many agencies would create significant improvements to service levels in many parts of the region.

  • Coolebra

    Yet at the same time IDOT can continue to build one multibillion boondoggle after another.

    We have the money; we simply don’t have our priorities straight and our rules aligned to support them.

  • Fred

    The difference is that poor people don’t have money for lobbyists and political donations. The Illiana has The Wallsmart and BNSF behind it. Find a way for private industry (soylent green, err, corporations is people!) to benefit from the Red Line extension and it would be built in record time.

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