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What’s Up With Evanston’s Unusual Divvy Station Location Pattern?

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A Divvy station at Church and Dodge in Evanston, at the intersection of two protected bikeways. Photo: Steven Vance

As I pointed out back in early June when the new Divvy expansion map was released, which included the system’s first suburban docking stations in Evanston and Oak Park, the locations of the ten Evanston stations seemed a little odd.

When Chicago originally launched the bike-share system in 2013, a high number of stations were concentrated downtown and in dense, relatively affluent Near-North Lakefront areas, with roughly quarter-mile spacing between stations, in an effort to make the system financially sustainable. The rest of the coverage area generally got less convenient half-mile spacing, using a fairly consistent grid pattern. This half-mile grid pattern was also used for Chicago’s 2015 and 2016 expansions.

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The 2016 Divvy expansion areas are show in red on this service area map. Click for a larger image.

One notable exception in Chicago this year is Rogers Park, where there’s a dense cluster of new stations near Howard Street, the Evanston border. “There are a number of logistical and practical factors which have to be balanced when siting stations and it’s really more of an art than a science,” Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Michael Claffey stated when I asked for an explanation of the Rogers Park layout. “These include availability of off-street right of way, parking restrictions and aldermanic support, among other issues.”

Oak Park has distributed its 13 stations using a fairly consistent half-mile grid pattern, similar to what’s been done in much of Chicago.

However, the Evanston locations seem scattershot by comparison. There’s no grid pattern, most of the stations are located in the northeast portion of the suburb, and there are almost none in the southwest quadrant, which is relatively close to Chicago.

Divvy’s Evanston webpage notes that eight of the ten Evanston stations were purchased via a state grant, with matching funds from the suburb. These station locations were chosen based on data from a survey conducted during Evanston’s bike plan update, a Northwestern University industrial engineering research project, a community meeting, an online survey with over a thousand participants, and paper surveys distributed at a senior center and the suburb’s main libraries. This data was used to identify trip generators and destination points.

The other two stations were paid for by Northwestern, so their locations were chosen to provide access between the other eight stations and the campus, according to the Divvy website.

Evanston’s transportation and mobility coordinator Katherine Knapp provided some additional info on the thought processes behind the location choices. “It’s important to note that we not only have to take into account the street grid, which [isn’t as consistent] in Evanston, but also land use, the distribution of employment centers, and where community resources are located.”

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The Evanston Divvy locations, plus trip generators like transit stations, schools, and workplaces. Click for a larger image. Map: City of Evanston

Knapp noted that Oak Park had 13 stations to spread over a suburb with an area of 4.7 square miles and a population of about 52,000. Meanwhile, Evanston’s ten stations had to serve a city of 7.8 square miles and about 75,000 people, which made it especially important to be strategic about locations. Why did Evanston buy fewer stations? “We were trying to strike a balance of community needs with the size of the grant,” she said.

There’s a strong correlation between the Evanston station locations and transit, Knapp said. She also noted that stations were placed along Dodge Avenue (the same longitude as Chicago’s California Avenue), where a protected bike lane was recently installed.

Weight was also given to the parts of town with the lowest rates of car ownership, based on U.S. Census data. This includes northeast Evanston, which features plenty of high-rise housing and “a surprising mix of students and young professionals,” according to Knapp. She noted that the area around the Davis CTA and Metra stops is especially dense with residents and retail.

“When you step back and look at the [Evanston Divvy location] map, it’s been called ‘zany,’” Knapp said. “But when you drill down and look at the demand and what the travel patterns tell us, it makes sense.” The city of Evanston’s Divvy webpage includes detailed information about the destinations served by each of the ten stations.

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New County Policy Supports Active Transportation, Lacks Specific Goals

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Cook County’s Long-Range Transportation Plan mimics existing regional plan to increase transit ridership while changing little in county governance.

Cook County’s new “Long Range Transportation Plan,” released last week, is the first such document published since 1940 and is a policy platform that will guide decisions about transportation spending for the next 24 years. To the credit of county officials, the plan voices strong support for improving walking, biking, and transit, which represents a major change for a governmental body that has focused on facilitating driving for many decades. However, I’d argue that the document, called “Connecting Cook County,” falls short of being a plan when it come to setting concrete goals for promoting sustainable transportation, and that’s a missed opportunity.

On the plus side, the language of the report acknowledges the mistakes of the past and emphasizes the benefits of active transportation. “Cook County, like the rest of the country, has long prioritized the automobile as the preferred mode of personal travel,” it states. It outlines the safety, mobility, and health benefits of better pedestrian and bike facilities and commits to improving this infrastructure across the county.

In particular, the document calls transit “the single-most important” mode for helping Cook County compete with peer urban areas around the world that offer businesses and residents “realistic, high-quality” transportation options. It argues that public transportation is also a way to shore up the county’s economic development strategies.

According to county spokesperson Becky Schlikerman, the document wasn’t intended to be a check list of goals to accomplish over the next few years, but rather a set of general policy guidelines. “The Long Range Transportation Plan is a long-term policy document that will serve as a roadmap for transportation priorities and policies for decades to come,” Schlickerman said  “This document is not a list of projects that will be completed in the short-term.”

But for the $1.4 million it cost to create the report, Cook County county taxpayers – who provided feedback in 2014 – should have gotten something more specific. Effective transportation plans set measurable goals, detail objectives on how to achieve them, and detail current statistical benchmarks against which future achievements will be measured.

Despite the fuzzy targets, the policy platform is a big move in the right direction for an a county whose transportation policies have long been stuck in a 1950s mindset. Its goals essentially match the priorities set forth in the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s comprehensive GO TO 2040 plan. That document calls on counties and municipalities in northeast Illinois to make measurable improvements over the next 24 years, with specific goals like doubling transit ridership, improving access to jobs, and reducing pollution caused by highway driving.

Admirably, Connecting Cook County states that supporting transit-oriented development – mixed-use development around transit stations – is the single most important investment the county can make to strengthen the transportation network and make the vast county a more desirable place to live. The document explains that “improvements to be supported by the department include sidewalks, facilities for bicycles, and community plazas.” Since there are over 260 CTA and Metra rail stations in the county, that strategy could indeed have widespread benefits.

The report doesn’t have a lot of specifics on the kinds of projects Cook County should implement, but it does include a few examples. It states that the county’s Department of Transportation and Highways “will assist Pace in its efforts to provide expedited bus service on arterial roads and expressways,” and coordinate traffic signals and transit signal priority for Pace’s Arterial Rapid Transit project.

Where it falls short

One issue with Connecting Cook County is that some of the statistics it uses are outdated, which may have resulted in some misinformed policies. It includes stats on county residents’ travel habits that are based on CMAP’s Travel Tracker, a detailed survey of all kinds of household trips, which supplements U.S. Census commuting figures, which only cover work commutes. The Travel Tracker survey was last conducted in 2008, but the county document argues that “the order of magnitude and character of those trips are not likely to have changed materially” since then.

However, downtown Chicago has gained tens of thousands of jobs, and thousands of new residences since 2008, CTA rail ridership has grown 20 percent while bus ridership has fallen 12 percent, and the number of people walking and biking has increased. Therefore the “character and magnitude” of urban travel has probably changed significantly over the last eight years.

Chart showing CTA ridership changes since 2008

“Connecting Cook County” was informed by data about Cook County residents’ travel patterns, but a lot about how we get around has changed since the survey was done in 2008. This chart shows how ridership on just the Chicago Transit Authority has changed. Chart: Yonah Freemark/Metropolitan Planning Council

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Rosemont Transit Center Rehab, Bus Lanes on I-90 Could Spur New Ridership

People getting off buses at Rosemont and heading into the station

The Rosemont Transit Center. Photo: Jeff Zoline

Pace Suburban Bus is starting a $1.5 million dollar project to modernize and rebuild the Rosemont Transit Center to increase capacity, improve service and maximize efficiency of traffic flow between buses, cars and pedestrians. The project is being coordinated with the Cook County Department of Transportation and Highways and the Chicago Transit Authority. The scope of the program details is as follows:

  • Expand the bus station islands to accommodate two buses in each bay for additional boarding capacity
  • Construct two new bus bays for additional boarding and one new bus bay for extra buses to sit on layovers
  • Upgrade sidewalks and bus boarding islands for improved ADA compliance
  • Improve pedestrian and bicycle access and safety around the transit center with additional sidewalks, crosswalks and bike racks
  • Improve the flow of traffic for taxi, shuttle, and Kiss-n-Ride zones to avoid conflict and congestion
  • Realign the bus lanes from the Tollway exit to reduce conflict with vehicular traffic around the parking lots upon entry into the Transit Center
  • Repair pavement and construct new parking lot gates

Pace will reimburse Cook County for the cost of the project because Cook County owns the land where the project will occur. The project is expected to start this summer and to be completed around October. However, according to northwest suburban news site Journal & Topics, Pace is still finalizing selection of a construction manager.

The Rosemont Transit Center was built in 1983 during the extension of the CTA Blue Line from Jefferson Park to O’Hare Airport. Today, the center is a busy multi-modal station hub located in the northwest suburban village of Rosemont serving over 6,000 riders a day. Rosemont is a small town with a large concentration of businesses, entertainment, restaurants and lodging adjacent to O’Hare Airport. In addition to the Blue Line, it’s served by 12 Pace bus routes. Additionally, the station is served by taxis as well as corporate and hotel shuttles. The station also has a 798-space Park & Ride lot for commuters and a drop off (Kiss-n-Ride) area.

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Why a Viral Tweet Blaming Divvy for School Funding Problems Is Misguided

Chicago residents have every right to be angry about the sorry state of the Chicago Public School funding. But don’t scapegoat the Divvy bike-share system, a bargain for local taxpayers that could have a positive effect on our city’s wealth inequality problem.

The above tweet, implying that Divvy is a frivolous project paid for by money that should have been spent on schools, has been retweeted over 1,200 times this month. I understand the sentiment that the city invests too much money on downtown tourist attractions while neglecting the neighborhoods, but bike-share doesn’t belong on this list.

First of all, Divvy is a smart investment for the city. After the system, which launched in 2013, expands this summer, it will include almost 6,000 bikes and 584 docking stations and serve 37 of Chicago’s 50 wards, so it’s evolving into a citywide public transportation network.

The total cost for all of the city’s bike-share infrastructure, plus some of the wages for siting the stations, is $35,838,780, with 80 percent of the bill covered by federal and state transportation grants. (The suburbs of Evanston and Oak Park lined up their own funding for ten and 13 stations, respectively).

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A Divvy station outside Comer High in Grand Crossing. Photo: John Greenfield

$36 million sounds like a lot of money but – like most bike enhancements — it’s a drop in the bucket compared to car infrastructure costs. For example, the current work to expand Chicago’s Jayne Byrne (formerly Circle) Interchange is costing $475 million. That’s more than 13 times the price tag of the city’s entire bike-share network, for a project that many transportation experts say won’t achieve its goal of reducing congestion.

Moreover, the federal and state grants that paid most of the cost of Divvy can only be used for transportation infrastructure. Chicago doesn’t have the option of spending that cash on schools.

OK, you might ask, but how about the 20-percent match the city had to provide – couldn’t that roughly $7.2 million have been spent on the CPS? Yes and no. According to the Chicago Department of Transportation, the local match was largely funded by ward “menu” money (which can also only be used for infrastructure), Divvy’s $12 million sponsorship deal with Blue Cross Blue Shield, and payments from real estate developers who purchased docking stations to go in front of their buildings.

However, it is true that some of the $7.2 million came from Chicago’s tax-increment financing program, which has been widely criticized because it diverts property tax revenue from schools, parks, and other taxing bodies. But if we’re going to have a TIF program at all, spending a few million to fund Divvy stations is in line with the original intent of the program: earmarking tax revenue from a designated district for investments that benefit residents of that district.

As for the expenses associated with running and maintaining the system, CDOT says operations costs are currently being covered by user fees and revenue from the ad panels on the stations.

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App Will Route People, Especially Wheelchair Users, Around Sidewalk Issues

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The lack of a curb cut on the other side of this West Loop alley is a barrier for people who use wheelchairs. Photo: Steve Luker.

Local computer programmer Steve Luker is creating to create a new app to identify and eliminate all the major bumps, cracks, and missing curb ramps on sidewalks, as well as missing sidewalks, in the Chicago area. While these flaws are an annoyance for everyone, they can be significant barriers for people with disabilities. This issue is personal for Luker, who has cerebral palsy and uses an electric wheelchair to get around. He lives in the northwest suburbs and takes transit to various offices around the region, so sidewalk issues make it more difficult for him to access job sites.

Luker says that riding Metra and other local transit is no problem for him, and it’s preferable to asking friends and family to drive him in his van, because it allows him to choose when to go out or come home from an event. Using regular transit is also more flexible than paratransit, which requires booking a ride in advance.

But sidewalk issues sometimes complicate his transit commutes. Luker lives in the northwest suburbs, near a station for Metra’s Union Pacific-Northwest line. His last job was at an office at 8765 W. Higgins Road, a half mile west of the CTA Blue Line’s Cumberland stop. 

He wound up taking a cab to the work site from the Park Ridge stop, a 2.3-mile trip. “The cab fare cost me $25 a day,” he says. “The transit part, 45 miles, was free,” he said.

Taking the UP-NW to the Jefferson Park stop and then transferring to the Blue Line isn’t an option because that has the same route with missing sidewalks, which made it inconvenient and unsafe to get to the office by wheelchair. There’s also no bus service to that address.

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Divvy Releases Odd-Looking New Service Area Map, Announces New Initiatives

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The new Divvy coverage areas are shown in Red. Click to Enlarge.

These are exciting times for Divvy bike-share users as the city begins its second major expansion during the system’s three-year history. At the same time, Divvy is rolling out a bunch of new features and services, which they say will make the network function better than ever.

The expansion will add 85 more stations on the South, Southwest, West, Northwest, and Far North sides of the city, as well as 10 stations in Evanston and 13 in Oak Park. After the installations are completed, the system will include 584 stations and almost 6,000 bikes, maintaining its title as one of the largest in North America in terms of stations and cycles. The new coverage area is spread across 100 square miles, so Divvy will continue to be (as the city is fond of pointing out) the largest system on the continent in terms of service area.

The city released the new coverage area map last week, and a few interesting aspects spring to mind. As with last year’s expansion, the new areas generally get half-mile station spacing, as opposed to the quarter-mile spacing that was implemented downtown, and in dense, affluent North Lakefront neighborhoods, during the original 2013 rollout. The system is more convenient to use in areas with a higher station density, since it’s more likely there will be a station within a short walk of your trip’s origin and destination.

On the other hand, the new expansion helps make the system more equitable because most of the new Chicago neighborhoods served are low-to-moderate-income communities of color. The new communities include Burnside, Chatham, Greater Grand Crossing, Brighton Park, Englewood, East Garfield Park, West Garfield Park and Austin.

The Divvy service area has previously expanded outward from the Loop in a fairly logical manner, with a roughly equal amount of coverage north and south of Madison Street, although the service area didn’t expand nearly as far west. However, the new expansion map is a little odd, with panhandles of service stretching west to Oak Park and north to Evanston.

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This station in Englewood was installed during the 2015 expansion. Photo: John Greenfield

Since the two suburbs were willing to apply for state funding to pay for their stations, as well as chipping in the required 20 percent local match, it makes sense for the Chicago-owned system to expand in their directions. Although the city of Chicago doesn’t have to spend any money for those 23 suburban stations, their presence makes the system more useful for Chicagoans. For example, it will make it easier for West Side residents to access jobs in Oak Park.

But it would be understandable if residents of neighborhoods closer to downtown, but just outside of the panhandles, such as Lawndale, West Humboldt Park, and West Rogers Park, are upset because they got passed over this round in favor of the ‘burbs. The Chicago Department of Transportation would be wise to spread the word that no Chicago funding is being spent on the Oak Park and Evanston Stations.

There’s an odd little node of four new stations being installed on the Northwest Side in the 45th and 39th Wards this round. That’s likely because the local residents and aldermen have been strongly advocating to get stations.

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CTA: We Can’t Reduces Fees That Social Service Providers Pay on Ventra

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A CTA bus doubles as an info display during the 2013 Ventra rollout. The switch to Ventra created problems for social service providers, but the CTA says it’s working on fixing one of them.

The Chicago Transit Authority said that it’s working to address some of the new burdens that the switch to Ventra has created for social service providers, as described in a study from the Chicago Jobs Council, which I reported about on Monday.

The study was based on a survey of 53 organizations that provide transit fare assistance to their clients, who may be job seekers, homeless individuals, or young people. The problems include the 50-cent surcharge on single-ride Ventra tickets, which has resulted in these organizations collectively paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees.

Another issue is the need to mail in forms and checks in order to buy Ventra cards in bulk. The study also found that a majority of the organizations waited a long time to receive their bulk orders, and unpredictable delivery delays forced them to scramble to find alternative ways to buy tickets.

According to the report, in 2013 the CTA told the Chicago Jobs Council that online ordering would be available in 2014. Last February, the CTA estimated online ordering would be available by the end of this year. The CTA said in a statement yesterday “work is already underway with our vendor to make online credit card purchases and delivery tracking available.”

Pauline Sylvain-Lewis of the North Lawndale Employment Network said she tries to plan ahead for the long wait by ordering two months worth of tickets at a time. That can be an issue, she said, because the nonprofit’s cash flow doesn’t allow for spending large sums of money on a monthly basis, and the purchase price can be so large that it requires approval from the board. If a delivery is late, staff members go to train stations and use the organization’s bank cards, or even their own bank cards, to buy tickets.

The CTA said that they weren’t aware of any bulk card orders taking two months two arrive, adding that “99.7% of all bulk orders CTA receives are delivered within 11-14 business days and more than 88% of all bulk orders are delivered within seven to 10 business days – or faster.”

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Study: Ventra Fees Cost Social Service Providers 140,000 Bus Rides Per Year

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A CTA staffer demonstrates how a Ventra machine works. Ventra replaced simpler and cheaper ways for social service organizations to procure transit cards for their clients. Photo: CTA

Ever since the Chicago Transit Authority and Pace switched from magnetic stripe fare cards to the Ventra smart card system in 2013, social service providers across Chicago have been spending more money on paying for their clients’ transit rides, and giving out fewer rides. A new report from the Chicago Jobs Council details the burdens that Ventra fare policies and ticket ordering delays place on social service organization staff members and money dedicated to helping clients. The jobs council works to change laws and policies to increase access to jobs for marginalized workers.

The report says that for the organizations to provide fares to their clients they have to spend more time and money. The money they spend on the new Ventra fee could otherwise be spent on  hundreds of thousands in additional rides for job seekers. It starts with the cost of a new card. Ventra cards cost $5.

While the CTA refunds the $5 as credit for future rides if the account is registered, staff must spend time managing that registration process, and checking often to see how much value each card has left. In addition, it’s possible for clients to run up a negative balance on their card that, to continue using the card, the organization has to pay off.

The report said that the plastic multi-ride cards “do not make sense for programs that serve highly transient populations” because they represent a “financial liability if they are lost or used to accrue a large negative balance.” Ventra also doesn’t offer a way to register or manage many cards. “Overwhelmingly,” the report said, “providers rely on single-use paper tickets to provide transit assistance.”

Anyone can run a negative balance because bus fare readers sometimes let people on even if they have less than $2.00 on their Ventra account. The CTA assumes you’ll eventually put more money on the account to reach a positive balance.

If an organization doesn’t want to wait long for a bulk order, which has to be mailed in, or pay off negative balances, then they’re out there at CTA stations buying single-use tickets for $3.00, and racking up hundreds of dollars in “limited-use media” (disposable) fees, at a cost of 50 cents per ticket. That’s the fee CTA charges to print a one-time use ticket and encourage using the hard plastic Ventra card.

The report surveyed 53 organizations which provide job training, shelter for the homeless, and youth services and found they’re spending $280,000 annually in fees – the equivalent of 140,000 additional bus rides. Read more…

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CNT’s “AllTransit” Tool Can Help Legislators Understand Transit Needs

Highballing Kedzie

Metra stops only a few times each day at the Kedzie station in East Garfield Park (near Inspiration Kitchens), but AllTransit considers transit frequency when calculating a place’s transit quality. Photo: Jonathan Lee

A new tool shows just how much advantage residents in some Illinois cities might have over others accessing jobs with low-cost transit, and just how much difference state legislators could make if they chose to fund more transit. AllTransit, an analysis tool from the Center for Neighborhood Technology and TransitCenter (a Streetsblog Chicago funder), shows information about access to transit that residents and job seekers have in any part of the United States, using data about transit service, demographic information, and job locations.

CNT project manager Linda Young told me those Springfield legislators can use the tool to understand the quality of transit their constituents have access to. They can also compare their districts to those of their fellow elected officials. For example, Illinois state representative Mike Quigley would see that AllTransit gives his 5th district the highest score in Illinois, and, unexpectedly, the 22nd district, covering East St. Louis, Illinois, and parts south, represented by Mike Bost, is second. The 9th district covering northern Chicago, Evanston, and parts of northwest Cook County, and represented by Jan Schakowsky, comes in third.

While aldermen may also find it useful to see the plethora or lack of transit options their constituents have, the info isn’t broken down by Chicago wards. However, it is possible to search by ZIP code.

Young added that elected officials might also be interested to see how many jobs people who live in designated affordable housing can they get to within 30 minutes. “We see more and more that people are wanting to live in areas where there’s mixed uses and transit access,” she said.

Business owners can also benefit from AllTransit info since it can them how many people can access their business within a certain amount of time. If you look at the Inspiration Kitchens restaurant in East Garfield Park at 3504 West Lake, AllTransit reports that there are 438,632 “customer households” within a 30-minute transit commute.

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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.

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