CTA Reports Huge Ridership Gains on Blue Line, Losses on South Side

The most ridership growth on the CTA has been on the Blue Line, in the central business district, and on the north side of Chicago. Map design adapted from an earlier version by Yonah Freemark.
The most ridership growth on the CTA has been on the Blue Line, in the central business district, and on the north side of Chicago. Map design adapted from an earlier version by Yonah Freemark.

New ridership numbers for the Chicago Transit Authority’s ‘L’ stations show some interesting changes over the past 17 years. The increases in ridership at some stations have been obvious, but the decreases at other stations are a little surprising.

Last year the CTA’s ‘L’ had its highest-ever total recorded ridership. From November 1998 to November 2015, the earliest and latest years for which complete weekday ridership data is available on the Regional Transit Authority’s Mapping and Statistics data warehouse, known as RTAMS, ‘L’ ridership increased by 43 percent.

Sixty-eight of the 145 CTA stops saw an increase in ridership between 1998 and 2015, and 12 stations saw a drop in ridership. The latter included five Red and Green Line stations on Chicago’s South Side, including the Red Line’s 95th/Dan Ryan stop; the Blue Line’s Racine station by UIC and Cumberland stop on the Northwest Side; plus suburban Yellow and Purple Line stations in Skokie, Evanston, and Wilmette.

Nearly all downtown stations have gained more than 2,000 riders per day since 1998, which can largely be credited to the recent development boom – only LaSalle/Van Buren lost riders, at seven percent. The Blue Line stations south of Belmont saw similar increases. Most Green Line stations on the Lake Street branch to Oak Park saw increases of more than 200 riders per day.

The 95th/Dan Ryan Red Line station has seen a 14 percent drop in riders since 1998, or about 2,700 fewer people per day. Despite that, it’s still the ninth busiest station in the system. The stop is currently undergoing a $280 million renovation, which will make it easier and quicker to make transfers between the train and the many CTA and Pace bus routes that serve the station. That, and the more pleasant station environment, will likely boost ridership.

The Green and Pink Line’s Morgan station, which opened in 2013 in the burgeoning Fulton Market District, already has nearly as many riders as the nearby Grand/Milwaukee Blue Line stop. That station reopened in 1999 after being closed for many years. It currently ranks 88th out of the 145 stations for ridership, and Morgan ranks 90th.

A TOD building is under construction next to the Paulina Brown Line station.
A transit-oriented development, with fewer parking spaces than units, is under construction at 3400 N Lincoln Avenue next to the Paulina Brown Line station.

The Paulina Brown Line station has seen a 66 percent increase since 1998. The Center for Neighborhood Technology published a study last year showing an 11-percent increase in population within a half mile of the stop from 2000 to 2011. A new TOD building with 36 units, currently under construction next door, will definitely help ridership.

Interestingly, while the Blue Line’s Racine station has lost 31 percent of its ridership since 1998, the nearby UIC-Halsted stop saw a 69-percent increase during the same period. Although the station is bounded by the Eisenhower Expressway and UIC campus to the south, and the Circle Interchange to the east, there has been plenty of residential development north of the station, and the number of UIC students is growing.

Two Purple Line station in Evanston – South Boulevard and Central – have lost riders since 1998, and the Main stop increased by only one percent. The city of Evanston grew by about 1,040 people between 2000 and 2014, and many new housing units were built downtown. Davis, the closest station to their city center, grew by eight percent.

Losses on the Green Line’s East 63rd and Ashland/63rd branches aren’t surprising, considering the significant amount of housing demolitions and population exodus that took place in Englewood and Woodlawn during the last decade.

While the ‘L’ system as a whole has been gaining ridership over the past two decades, the region hasn’t seen an equal amount of development and job creation near all of the stations, and that’s reflected in these ridership numbers.

  • skyrefuge

    I think the Racine anomaly is the result of either bad data, or something crazy that happened near that stop for one year. If you look at the trend rather than just two endpoints, Racine has slowly but steadily *gained* riders over the last 17 years, not lost them. The number from 1998 is a huge spike, far greater than any ridership number over the last 40 years, so I’d throw it out as a start point. http://www.rtams.org/rtams/historicalRidershipTrend.jsp?dataset=ctaRail&ridershipID=470

    My first thought about the Cumberland anomaly was that it was connected to the increases in Park-and-Ride cost over the period (Cumberland has by far the largest Park-and-Ride garage in the system), and the data mostly allows that theory to live. It shows a dip in 2009 (when rates doubled from $2 to $4) at a time when other stations were beginning their post-recession rebound, and never really grew after that.

  • BlueFairlane

    I can’t work out how, but is there some possibility the elimination of the Cermak Blue Line branch to create the Pink Line could have prompted some reduction in use for Racine? Might that have been a transfer point for some bus or something?

  • Roland Solinski

    Probably something to do with adjacent stations. A closure or partial closure at UIC-Halsted or Medical District would funnel many more riders into Racine. The Morgan entrance to UIC-Halsted did close for a period of time in 2000 for renovation. There might have been a connecting bus, but it would only have been in operation in the 1999-2000 period.

  • 49western

    Have a look at the complete monthly data, you can see the weirdness more clearly.

    http://www.rtams.org/rtams/ridershipTables.jsp?dataset=ctaRail&ridershipID=470

    It’s not something that happened in 2004 when the pink line opened. Racine’s ridership was more often than not above 3k before May 1999. Since then it has not reached 3k once. Saturday is weird too. These are consecutive average monthly ridership volumes: 1,808; 684; 1,194; 669; 1,239; 866; 1,091; 688.

    Ignoring those outlier months, Racine has increased by about 300 for weekdays since 2000.

  • 49western

    It looks like the Paulina entrance at IMD was reopened around that time.

    http://www.chicago-l.org/stations/medical_ctr.html

    “In 1998, the Damen…It reopened as a full-time manned entrance/exit to Medical Center on December 6, 1998…At the same time, the Paulina entrance was retrofitted…Paulina once again became an entrance, albeit an unstaffed one only for customers already holding farecards.”

  • Cameron Puetz

    UIC-Halstead and Illinois Medical District both had some of their lowest years in 1998, so you’re probably on to something.

  • Cameron Puetz

    1998 is when demolition of CHA’s ABLA Homes located near Racine started. The sudden depopulation of the neighborhood following CHA evictions followed by the slow redevelopment of the neighborhood would explain ridership dropping sharply and then slowly rising. However that doesn’t explain why 1998 is a peak instead of a cliff edge.

  • Jeremy

    The diagram above is a good visual display of why the Belmont flyover needs to be built.

  • Your graph actually shows “Huge gains in most of system, slow growth or some lost out on the periphery”, not what you’ve described in the headline. Evanston and the non-O’Hare stops far out on the northern Blue have the same distribution of dot colors.

  • Also, it’s disingenuous to say they “reopened” the Morgan stop. They moved the former Halsted stop (with good bus transfer rates) to Morgan.

  • Deni

    The “reopened” line was in reference to the Grand/Milwaukee Blue Line stop going back on line in 1999 after it had been closed for several years. It clearly says that the Morgan stop “opened” in 2013.

  • The headline describes changes to two areas, not all areas.

  • The Pink Line opened in 2006

  • I agree there’s a lot more data to be analyzed than these two data points. Starting at November 1998 also excludes the Conservatory station which didn’t open until the following year.

    RTAMS is a great website but its data visualization and extraction are outdated.

  • Jeff Gio

    For those interested, here is a wikipedia article excerpt on Grand-Milwaukee’s closing:

    “Starting in 1982, Grand was closed during night and weekend hours as a cost savings measure due to low ridership. By 1992, the station was only serving 850 passengers a day, and, as a result, the CTA closed the station on February 9, due to its low ridership and a budget crisis.[2][3] While the station was closed, the five stairways to the subway platform became garbage-strewn, and the station fell into disrepair. On April 21, 1999, the CTA decided to reopen Grand due to population growth in the area around the station.[4] After some refurbishment, Grand reopened on June 25, 1999 at 6:00 a.m.[5]”

  • tooch

    the raw data is also interesting to unearth the very real seasonality of the L. furthermore, you can also see the impact of the colder winters versus the warmer winters (1998 was a strong el nino year and the chicagoland was much warmer than usual…like this year) in terms of ridership.

  • The other entrances should be reopened!

    I think the most important one to reopen would be the eastbound Grand Avenue entrance, to quicken the transfer from train to bus.

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