Does It Make Sense to Build a Green Stop Two Blocks From the Red Line?

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Rendering of the new station. If only the surrounding area was actually this lushly landscaped!

Last Wednesday, when I walked the length of Chicago’s Cermak Road, I noticed that the Cermak-McCormick Place Green Line station, currently under construction and scheduled for completion this year, will be only two blocks east of the Cermak-Chinatown Red Line stop. Since that’s only a five-minute walk for most people, the new station, currently under construction, seemed a bit redundant.

Granted, the Green Line’s 35th-Bronzeville-IIT stop is the same distance east of the Red Line’s Sox-35th station. However, that’s close enough that, whenever I ride the ‘L’ home from a White Sox game, I always walk the extra two blocks in order to avoid the crowds at the Red Line.

Does it make sense to build a new, $50 million, Tax Increment Financing-funded station that’s only a few minutes closer to the McCormick Place convention center? The CTA website notes that the station will bisect the two-mile gap between the Red/Green/Orange Roosevelt stop and 35th-IIT-Bronzeville, which has existed since a previous Green Cermak stop was demolished in 1977.

From the renderings, it looks like Cermak-McCormick will be yet another attractive new CTA station, along with the Green Morgan stop, the Yellow Line’s Oakton-Skokie station, and the Loop’s upcoming Washington-Wabash stop. The platform will be encircled by a green-and gray, steel-and-glass canopy that will protect customers from the elements but allow natural light to filter in.

When I asked CTA spokesman Brian Steele about the location, he noted that the station will serve the burgeoning South Loop neighborhood, where more residential and retail development is planned. Mayor Emanuel’s controversial plan for a TIF-funded Marriott hotel and a DePaul University basketball arena north of McCormick Place is part of this building boom.

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The ten-minute walksheds of Cermak-Chinatown (left) and Cermak-McCormick.

Steele added that McCormick Place facilities will be a five-minute walk from the new stop, as opposed to a ten-minute walk from Cermak-Chinatown.  Unfortunately, a half mile of walking is a dealbreaker for many Americans. “Once the station opens, we’ll work with McCormick Place to promote the station as a convenient, affordable alternative to driving,” he said.

Currently, many conventioneers arrive via shuttles from downtown hotels, which use the McCormick Place busway, and there’s also a Metra station (with infrequent service) inside the convention center’s main building at 2301 South King Drive.  However, quick CTA access would be an appealing option for many local people attending events at the center, as well as independent travelers, who currently have to rely on the #3 King Drive bus.

The station, which will have entrances on the north and south sides of Cermak, and on 23rd Street, will also serve the Motor Row historic district, along Michigan from Cermak to 26th Street. This strip, which was home to some of the nation’s earliest car showrooms, is slated to become a pedestrian-oriented entertainment district, including the TIF-funded Broad Shoulders Brewery. Sadly, plans by power-pop legends and Rockford natives Cheap Trick to open a museum/restaurant/music venue on Motor Row appear to have fallen through.

So, while building a new station two blocks from an existing one might not intuitively make sense, it seems likely that the Cermak-McCormick stop will get good use, given all the current and upcoming destinations in the South Loop. On a selfish note, since I live near a West Side Green Line station, I’m looking forward to being able to hop a train to Chinatown for tasty chow whenever I want, without having to transfer to the Red Line.

  • Anne A

    I think it would encourage a lot more folks to take the El to/from McCormick and give a HUGE boost to the Motor Row historic district. It would also make the green line a more attractive option and probably boost El ridership to Chinatown, which could reduce traffic congestion in the area.

  • CM

    I the fact that there’s a two mile gap is reason enough to build the station.

  • KS

    It’s also worth noting that the crossings underneath the Red Line and the Rock Island tracks aren’t exactly the easiest/most inviting, especially at Archer – there isn’t even a sidewalk for a fair bit of it, and that underpass is anything but inviting. So I can see why despite the distance that people don’t exactly make that crossing. Despite the ease of access to dim sum restaurants :p

    That being said, while we’re on the topic of Green Line infill stations, one at around 16th street would seem relatively logical too; even with the Cermak station there’d be a larger-than-average gap to Roosevelt, and with the pretty significant density in that area a subway stop might attract a fair amount of riders.

  • The Chinatown red line station is probably as convenient as is physically possible (or will be, once the Wentworth/Cermak intersection is made less dangerous for pedestrians).

  • BlueFairlane

    Wasn’t this site just making the argument that saving five minutes in a walk was enough to justify building a new station at the United Center?

  • JacobEPeters

    Finding a way to boost frequency of service along the Metra Electric, the Red Line south extension and these infill stations would be well complimented by some sort of lower cost LRT type vehicles serving the Metra Electric alignments within higher density city neighborhoods. I know the reasons that this is not currently possible. I’m just dreaming of separated local electric alignment and express electric alignment, with rolling stock that meets the different service needs of urban and suburban oriented rail traffic. For goodness sake the right of way used to be 10 tracks wide. That is massive capacity running through areas that now must deal with very low train frequency.

  • Fred

    That was my first thought upon reading the headline, but if you read the entire article, the conclusion is “Yes, it makes sense.”

  • A Pink stop on Madison would be eight minutes closer to the front door of the United Center than the closest existing stations. A Green Damen stop would only be only five minutes closer, but it would fill in the line’s 1.5-mile gap between Ashland and California and serve many nearby businesses and residences.

  • MLKendricks

    Makes sense to me as long as 23rd is made the “official” path from the el to McCormick. Cermak is a bad walking street just about the entire distance from the Red Line to McCormick. Using 23rd St is calmer, less smoggy and can be lined with resteraunts for visitors, which the convention center area needs more of. Tourists are more dissuaded by longer walks than locals, and most would be discouraged by the Rock Island underpass by itself.

  • MLKendricks

    The CTA won’t do 18th or 16th. On the Green Line that area is dominated by the flyover to the Orange Line, and they would need to acquire property for the station to. They don’t see it as worth it considering it’d already built up nicely and there’s no major venue of demand

  • david vartanoff

    No need fo build a special local system; the IC Electric ran local, express, and ‘specials’ through there when the ROW was 6 tracks wide. It was just like a larger capacity version of the L. If the politicians can ever figure out how to get enough graft out of restoring the MED to its former high capacity operation, we could once again see how a commuter sys should operate. Think Gray Line.
    And, when serious money becomes available, a 22nd St crosstown L on concrete pillars going over to turn north to the Pink Line and then up a restored Paulina L giving O’Hare users a straight shot to McCormick Place, a link to Midway without going through the Loop, andbetter transit for everyone who works at the convention center.

  • JacobEPeters

    I wasn’t saying build a local system, just to dedicate the western tracks to local service, so that light rail vehicles would be exempt from FRA guidelines that dictate the kind of heavy rolling stock that Metra and the South Shore Line use for the suburban services that run in mixed traffic w/ freight & other bulky rolling stock.

    The point I was making is that the existing bones are there, unlike the other new build heavy rail projects you allude to in your second paragraph. We have a lot that we can do through improving the utilization of our existing trackage through capacity improvement projects that eliminate bottlenecks and allow more service to operate on tracks already in service.

  • Nathanael

    It’s worth noting how incredibly useful it is to have both Red and Green line stations for long-term maintenance — this was proven during the recent Red Line closure.

  • david vartanoff

    you write ” We have a lot that we can do through improving the utilization of our existing trackage…” Absolutely correct. The biggest bottleneck on MED is the 3 track main through Van Buren and the throat entering Randolph St (Millenium Park) The degraded interlocking at Kensington (South Shore used to be 2 tracks crossing the then IC pass/frt mains) is IINM in the planning stage of major improvement. With high level mass transit platforms, MED is fully capable of restoring the high frequency rapid transit service within Chicago it operated in the 50s returning greater transit options to everyone in the service area.

  • JacobEPeters

    exactly, & if we can keep the local service operating on a separate line, then we can run a type of rolling stock that is less costly than the standard longer haul Metra commuter train type. Which can make the service even more sustainable in terms of maintaining those transit options in the long term.

  • Anne A

    While the red line station is about as convenient as it gets for reaching Chinatown, having another speedy option for folks who aren’t near a red line stop isn’t a bad thing. Anything that encourages more folks to take transit to Chinatown (and helps relieve congestion there) is a plus.

  • Jason Marshall

    Agreed – maybe I am reading this wrong but it seems like this is being considered only from the perspective of those trips originating/terminating in the loop.

  • Phil

    Hopefully after the Cermak station is built the CTA would finally get started on a station at Madison on the Pink line for fans going to the United Center.

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