CTA: Growing North Side Needs Brown Line Flyover

Brown Line flyover at Belmont
CTA diagrams show how the flyover would eliminate delays on three tracks.

Last night, the Chicago Transit Authority explained at a packed open house that it simply cannot run any more Red Line trains through the Clark Junction, the busy crossing one block north of the Belmont station where the Brown Line splits from the Red and Purple Lines. To untangle the crossing, CTA has proposed a flyover that would send northbound Brown Line trains over, instead of in the way of, up to three Red and Purple Line trains that pass every 3-7 minutes during rush hour. CTA spokesperson Catherine Hosinski said that previous news reports, focusing on today’s average 84-second delay, miss the point: The project is about improving reliability today, and increasing Red Line service in the future.

CTA added additional trains to the Red Line in 2012, when the Plan to Reduce Crowding reduced some bus service and increased train and other bus service. Materials at the open house now say that “the aging Red Line has reached capacity,” and that no new trains can be added during rush hour until Clark Junction is fixed. In addition, delays to any one train that occur today now result in ripple effects down the line, Hosinski said, since the junction’s signals are so tightly scheduled. She made an analogy to a street intersection: “Do people make left turns from the right lane, across all other lanes, on city streets? No, because it doesn’t make sense…and neither does this 100 year-old design.”

The CTA projects that, “if growth continues as it has historically,” ridership in 2030 will require twice as many southbound trains – up to 80 trains in the morning peak hour. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, our region’s comprehensive planning agency, “estimates that over 185,000 new residents will live within half a mile of the North Red and Brown Line stations” in 2040, compared to 2010, and that many of those residents will rely upon transit.

Without the flyover, the CTA says that they won’t be able to add more train trips. The Red Line is one of only a few corridors on the North Side that even can be expanded. The area’s arterial streets (including Lake Shore Drive) are also already congested, and continued population and job growth will only strain the system further. In the end, growing congestion and continued delays will discourage development on the north side – a rare, but important example of a growing transit-oriented corridor in the Chicago area.

Residents and business owners are understandably upset that their homes and businesses may have to move, if the project is approved by the CTA board and federal government. Jacob Peters, a Streetsblog reader, told the RedEye: “The improvement is direly needed, but I don’t think 16 buildings have to be torn down.” He suggested using a “scalpel,” instead of a “hammer,” to carve out a route.

44th Ward Alderman Tom Tunney spoke to many attendees and to Streetsblog. “Of course there’s a positive [community impact]. This is infrastructure for the next generation. As a CTA user myself, all you have to do [to see the problem] is go on during rush hour or a Cubs game.”

CTA's Brown Line flyover public meeting
Alderman Tunney speaks to residents at the open house.

Tunney is concerned, however, that 16 property owners would be displaced. “This is an upheaval for them. One building is a 12 or 14 unit condo building [that was] recently built.” He pointed out that this will create another headache for some property owners, especially on Wilton Avenue. “It’ll be another ten year planning process,” he said, referring to the lengthy Brown Line reconstruction project, “dealing with planning, to execution, and construction, and then another 18 months for redevelopment.”

Michael Connelly, CTA vice president of planning, assured the crowd that the design is nowhere near complete. “The renderings here are meant to be conceptual, and to serve as a frame of reference,” so that residents would better understand how things might look. He said that after this meeting, CTA will ask the Federal Transit Administration for permission to move forward with engineering and design options, after which they will hold another public meeting. Construction could begin as early as 2017.

  • Deni

    The one thing missing from the plan is to add another portion to the flyover to allow brown line trains to turn around at Belmont during rush to help add capacity and frequency to the Loop-Belmont section.

  • 2Fast2Furious

    They should just turn the whole thing into a Six Flags Great America style roller coaster at that point.

  • There are already crossover tracks by Racine Avenue where they could short-turn trains (meaning they turn before they reach the Kimball terminal, the normal route end).

  • Deni

    A loop turnaround is a better, faster way to short turn than crossover tracks. And a train on the turnaround could hold for traffic and not be in the way.

  • 2Fast2Furious

    This plan sounds like a colossal money waste for marginal benefit at best.

  • Deni

    Then you have not considered the benefits and know not what you are talking about. The benefits are enormous and more than worth the cost. There is a reason this idea has been round for decades and why this exist on other transit systems.

  • Fred

    I’m curious if they have considered going single track at the junction during construction. If they did that and gave up the straightening, I would think they could do the entire project withing razing a single building west of the red line.

  • Kevin M

    RE: “Tunney is concerned, however, that 16 property owners would be
    displaced. “This is an upheaval for them. One building is a 12 or 14
    unit condo building [that was] recently built.””

    I’m disappointed in our city’s leaders–the CTA, city council, and mayors–for not raising the warning flag on this flyover plan to the area residents long ago–before new developments or businesses came along. Yes, I realize that the reality is that there would have been backlash 10, 15, or 25 years ago (whenever this Flyover plan was first conceived by the CTA), and it would have asked politicians of that time to stick their necks out for something that wasn’t going to happen any time soon (perhaps not even while they were in office). And, there was money to be made by continuing to use & redevelop these now to-be effected properties.

    Still, it would have been the right thing to do in the long run. Announcing this long-term plan a decade or longer ago would have greased the skids for making it happen today, it would have prevented a lot of wasteful building & redevelopment, and it would have prevented a lot of stress on business owners and households occupying these properties.

    I’m for the flyover, but I argue that the City & CTA failed to lead the people years ago.

  • JacobEPeters

    yep, I always raise my arms and scream my brains out when traveling on the Orange Line between Halsted & Roosevelt…

  • Adam Rosa

    Since the CTA failed is failing to fully illustrate the magnitude
    of demolition and it’s effect on the neighborhood, I’ve decided to do
    some quick visualizations that shows what happens and how it feels as a
    pedestrian when intact blocks are removed and replaced with vacant land
    and/or parking. Though there is potential for new development on some
    of these sites, even that would be unlikely to happen for 5-10 years
    once the project gets started.

    The visualizations aren’t intended to precisely show what the
    final infrastructure would look like, but they speak to the enormous
    impact that this project, as currently designed, would have on the
    neighborhood fabric as well as existing businesses and residents in the
    area. Feel free to share these among those interested.

    It is essential that the CTA work with the community on a
    context-sensitive solution to improving efficiency on the Red, Purple
    and Brown Lines that doesn’t create substantial negative impacts.

  • JacobEPeters

    This is why minimizing demolitions must be the goal of this project. There are many alternatives that have yet to be explored, and as with every project, they must be weighed against each other. The status quo is not a solution, let’s all get together and find one that works to create the kind of world class infrastructure this neighborhood needs. Think long term, like we should have started in the 80s.

    Also, the flyover isn’t designed. That is why when I suggested that not pursuing a completely straight line, but rather getting curves to match desired speeds, the CTA personnel made a note. The alignment shown demolishing 16 buildings is a worse case, caveman construction kind of scenario.

  • mike

    The only way this should happen is if the density is replaced in the vicinity of the demolition.

  • rohmen

    On the flip side of the coin, however, announcing these type of projects can have the exact type of chilling impact on development you elude to–and then what if the plan never even comes to fruition and property laid dormant that could have been put to use for 10 or more years.

    Even announcing which buildings will be impacted at this point has put the property owners in the area in a weird position. How do the 12 to 14 condo owners sell their units right now when the city had tagged that building as a target for a project 5 years in the future?? Those people are between a rock and a hard place now, and have every right to be extremely bitter about it

  • Adam Rosa

    Amen!

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    That’s why they should buy the condo owners out now at Fair Market Value, hire a professional property management company and rent out the condos until demo to cover some expense.

    But thankfully the CTA does such very lousy job at managing their properties, so the building will probably collapse from neglect and that way they won’t have to pay a demo company in five year’s time.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Sad to say, if this plan goes forward, they should probably consider taking more, not less property. Yikes, that probably sounds terrible to a lot of you. But from the nice photos provided by Adam Rosa below, you can see that you will have some very narrow and odd sized properties left over. Probably not enough to build any kind of reasonable TOD with serious density because of the weird foot print. And if the lots are not expanded for future development, finding an investor that will pay the cost of land acquisition and construction for a two or three story building may take many, many years.

  • Kevin M

    Once the project is approved, the buyout of all properties–including the condos–begins. All of these property owners are stuck for the time-being, and there is argument that they should be compensated for that in some way as well.

    Not building or developing/investing in to land that is known to very likely be completely redeveloped in 10-15 years is more than OK–it is the responsible thing to do. So, these properties would have not generated as much tax money? So what-?-this Flyover project (paid for with taxes) might cost less if there hadn’t been so much development/investment on these surrounding properties over the last 10-15 years.

    The buildings that already stood and were in use would have kept being in use–except as rentals and not condos.

    Lastly, there are low-investment ways of making undeveloped land useful to a neighborhood until they are developed later: gardens, parks, or–dare I say–parking lots.

  • This is a really good point. By some of the rehabbed brown line stations there is a lot of vacant land. Paulina comes to mind. However, southport, Montrose, Damen…they’re all doing fine now. Then again I can’t remember what they looked like during construction…

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    None of the above mentioned rehabs left the kind of odd shaped parcels that may end up due to the angle of Clark street.

  • Lee Crandell

    Get rid of the roof on the train cars and it would feel more like a roller coaster. The CTA really should add a convertible car on the elevated lines! Like the holiday train, it rolls out on nice summer days, and if you luck out, you can get an open-air ride to work with a breeze and the sun on your face.

  • BlueFairlane

    But not announcing it now so that people could sell their condos means that somebody’s going to get stuck with a doomed condo … just like now. Delaying it just shifts the identity of the doomed. Announcing it as early as possible relieves that pain to a degree, as it gives people more time to get out.

  • Jason Treadwell

    Not buying it. Clark and Lake has far more shared lines, why isn’t it facing the same crisis? Yes, no need for Brown to stop, for there is much more waiting at Clark and Lake.

    The idea of so much vacancy in a currently dense area gives me the chills and makes me sad. People shouldn’t blindly listen to the mayor and cta on this, we’ve got past vacancies left behind from cta as evidence of what happens.

    While I have no issues with the aesthetics of elevated tracks, the vacancy left behind is only marginally more attractive than a surface parking lot in a dense area.

  • Pete

    LOL @ Tunney pretending that he cares.

  • Jim

    Population growth? What population growth? People are leaving the city!

    This project is a complete waste of money.

    I don’t know how the cta could possibly run more trains during rush hour. Currently, if I take the train I get on at Belmont, and the trip to Washington/wells can easily take 25 minutes. The trains move SO SLOW.

    I find myself driving much more than I used to. It’s faster!

  • Alex_H

    The city overall has lost population but this part of the city is growing in population.

  • Fbfree

    You don’t need to consume the space required for a loop turnaround if your not turning around 40tph at that location. A stub track (or maybe 2) would do the trick for far less money, with all the capacity you’d ever need at a short turn.

    The Ravenswood branch right of way is quite narrow however. I don’t think a short turn could be feasably built close enough to Belmont for the operational cost savings to warrant the capital cost of further property aquisition or significant multilevel track construction.

  • The city has grown a tiny bit from 2012-2013, but what Alex_H said is probably accurate, that Lakeview and neighborhoods along the Red Line are growing faster than the city average/all neighborhoods.

    http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20140521/BLOGS02/140529935/is-chicagos-population-growing-again

  • Clark Junction is one of the busiest junctions (where one line has to cross over another line) in the country. At Tower 18, the junction nearest Clark & Lake, there are apparently not as many trains running during morning rush hour.

  • rick

    In our dealings with the Alderman, he was completely heartless. He came across as huffy & flippant. You need a better solution sir. What a lucky guy to be in such a position & not appreciate the route that got him there.

    People know the real reason behind this plan is $$$$$$$$$$. Be a little more subtle.

  • rick

    I’ve heard on the street, specifically Clark st. that a petition has started for impeachment of Ald. Tunney. Why would you let it get to this stage?

    Dropping this harbinger on people is insanity. Caligula comes to mind. Going for the jugular of hard working people is inhumane. Look into some alternatives, or better yet, scrap the whole idea. I’m sure you can enjoy your spoils for many years by keeping a low profile.

  • Alex_H
  • That doesn’t include the latest data.

  • rohmen

    I look at this situation as one of the downsides to a lengthy public input process, really–and they’re are many upsides, so I’m not saying public input should be done away with.

    In a perfect world, the CTA would already have a plan in place, announce the project is starting, and then scoop in an initiate the eminent domain process right away. The identity of the doomed would be less important at that point because whomever would be impacted would only have to deal with the unavoidable inconvenience of the process itself, and not the inconvenience of being trapped into a piece of property that may (or may not) be impacted after years of haggling over the “scope” of the project is done.

    As it stands now, however, these buildings are tagged with a black mark and the construction process may not get off the ground for years (if ever). It basically amounts to a quasi-restriction on what you will be able to do with your land without any type of just compensation. That’s a substantially different (and I’d argue much harder to bare) hardship than just losing your house through a government taking.

  • rohmen

    I disagree that it serves the individual and public good by having land that could be used in a positive and profitable way sit underutilized just to preserve land for a “potential” future infrastructure project.

    If the City wants to keep land available for a future infrastructure project, it can eminent domain it right away. Doing anything short of that just improperly places the burden on the private landowners and community itself, IMHO.

    This has been a fairly vibrant corridor in Lakeview community, and I can’t imagine how it would have benefited anyone for these building to have sat potentially vacant/underutilized by announcing a project 10 to 15 years in advance. Given that we are likely still 5 years away from ground breaking, that means land would have been impacted for 20 years. That’s crazy.

    As I noted, the City could eminent domain these tracts as soon as they know the project will be commenced. They haven’t done that, though; instead, they’ve just announced what buildings “might” be impacted. This places the owners of those properties in a limbo state. And while you note property owners should be compensated for that limbo, that is not the current state of “takings” jurisprudence (you can get precondemnation benefits in certain circumstances, but like everything in emninent domain, it will become a fight), and I’ve never heard of a municipal government voluntarily compensating a property owner for the alleged impacts they suffer during a “limbo” period.

  • Flagrant foul

    Scooter is a shill. Look at all his threads.

  • Alex_H

    I was referring to 2000-2010 when I made my original comment.

  • Cameron Puetz

    Tower 18 is where the Brown Line backs up the most during rush hour. Something doesn’t add up here.

  • Adam Rosa

    Lee: They have this in San Francisco on one of the classic streetcars along the Embarcadero… it’s a blast!

  • High_n_Dry

    I didn’t attend the meeting but this is a situation where the extra cost of going underground sounds like a worthwhile expenditure and definitively needs to be researched. Especially if you consider the CTA will have to buy all of the buildings and pay to tear them down. At least it might allow for fewer and smaller buildings to be razed.

  • I’ll ask the CTA how many trains are running through the junction at Tower 18.

  • Ryan Wallace

    Although the finished product would allow for more buildings, going underground would require MORE buildings to be razed. The entrance and exit pits would be rather big and require a lot of staging. Some version of what they have proposed requires they take the least amount of properties to be effected.

  • High_n_Dry

    Ive only looked at google maps but there is a parking lot to the east of the Belmont station and an alley to the west. But the southport station looks a little trickier. Normally I scoff when people suggest subways but if the city really wants to plan for density on the north side then…

  • FG

    If the CTA really wants to increase capacity via train frequency they need to switch to ATO (Automated Train Operation – keeping the operator for emergencies and public perception) which would enable tighter frequencies and would enable crossovers to be scheduled with precision eliminating a large part of the bottleneck here.

  • How can they do this?
    Do you think this is the best use of their currently very limited funding?

    How much would it cost to upgrade the tracks and trains with all the new sensors that would be required?

  • What money is behind this plan? Who will earn this so-called $$$$$$$$$$?

    The CTA doesn’t make any money. The CTA doesn’t propose projects that speed and de-crowd trains because it wants others to suffer.

  • Not a bad idea, just make sure it’s not Jones Lang LaSalle in charge of renting out the condos. They don’t seem to have any urgency in leasing CTA properties. There was a good sleight of news about some of the in-station retail spaces getting leased last year, but what about the big properties?

    For those who want to know more, JLL is in charge of leasing CTA’s excess/ancillary property and their website can be found here: http://www.ctarealestate.com

  • rohmen

    Well, and there is an additional problem with CTA-properties in that the CTA seems to be establishing a pattern of being difficult to work with.

    The CTA leased some of the in-station retail space last year at the Damen and California stops to Cafe Streets to open small coffee shops with a lot of fan fare (on a 10-year basis), and then apparently quietly backed out of those leases less than a year later once federal funds were approved to remodel the stations and it was decided an elevator would go in that space.

    Who wants to deal with that type of uncertainty and lack of future planning as a business owner??

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