[This article also ran in Checkerboard City, John's transportation column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings.]
Every time I take the Pink Line to Pilsen and gaze out the window at the United Center, I’m struck by the apparent stupidity of train service that goes right past Chicago’s largest sports and music arena, but doesn’t stop there. The nearest existing stations, the Blue Line’s Illinois Medical District stop to the south, and the Pink and Green lines’ Ashland-Lake stop to the northeast, are both roughly twelve-minute walks to the stadium, long enough to discourage train use. But a new Pink station near Madison and Paulina would be a four-minute hop, skip and jump to the front doors.
As it is, the land use around the arena encourages driving to Bulls, Blackhawks and Bruce Springsteen events. While Wrigley Field, next door to the Addison Red stop, is surrounded by bars and restaurants where fans can spend money after games, the House That Jordan Built sits in a vast moat of parking lots.
Streetsblog USA took notice and included the United Center in its annual Parking Madness bracket, a competition between asphalt atrocities. The stadium made it to the Final Four before being defeated by a parking crater in Jacksonville, Florida. In fairness, the Bulls are currently building a $25 million practice facility on one of the lots east of the arena, and they’ve proposed building a $95 million entertainment complex nearby.
The funny thing is, there used to be a train stop near Madison/Paulina that served the arena’s predecessor, Chicago Stadium. According to the history site Chicago-L.org, the station was established in 1895 as part of the northwest branch of the Metropolitan West Side Elevated.
The Madison stop closed in 1951 when the northwest line was rerouted to the current Blue Line route. The old station house was eventually converted to a hotdog stand, and it was demolished in the 1990s. In 2006, this stretch of track, known as the Paulina Connector, was activated again when the CTA created the Pink Line. However, spokeswoman Lambrini Lukidis told me the agency has no current plans to rebuild the Madison stop.
The United Center management didn’t respond to my request for a comment on the Madison Pink stop concept, but when I checked in with the Active Transportation Alliance, they were all over the idea. “It seems like such an obvious location,” says spokesman Ted Villaire. “The goal should be to reduce the number of car trips to a facility like the United Center. A convenient train station would encourage more people to leave their car at home.”