Loop Station Consolidation Will Offer Quicker Ride for Straphangers

Rendering of the Washington/Wabash station.

Currently, the Green Line’s Morgan station, with its sleek green glass canopies, has my vote for the most attractive CTA stop. That’s about to change, as the Chicago Department of Transportation gets ready to build a new superstation at Washington and Wabash featuring dramatic undulating awnings, designed by Teng + Associates. The city says the faceted skeletal steel and glass structures refer to the curving forms of the lakefront and Grant Park, as well as the historic Jeweler’s Row district on Wabash; I think they resemble a ribcage. Either way, they’ll be a striking addition to the city.

The new $75 million station is bankrolled by a federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement grant, plus a 20 percent local match. It will replace the existing Randolph/Wabash and Madison/Wabash stations, which date back to 1896 and stand little more than one full city block from each other.

Consolidating the two into a single stop will improve train times and decrease operating costs. And, unlike the old ones, the new station will be fully accessible for people with disabilities. The Randolph and Madison stops currently serve about two million riders each per year, and the city predicts the Washington station will get over four million, making it the fifth busiest in the system.

Construction is slated to start in August and last 18 months. The Madison stop will be closed during the work, but the Randolph station will remain in service until the new station opens. Sections of Wabash will be closed to car traffic during parts of construction, but sidewalks will remain open throughout the entire project.

On Thursday, CDOT held an open house about the new station at the Chicago Cultural Center. Citizens were invited to check out display boards, talk to staff about the project, and provide feedback on the environmental assessment document, available online here, to a court reporter. Paper copies of the EA are available for review at the Harold Washington Library’s fifth floor municipal reference collection. Written comments on the EA can be sent to CDOT by 5 p.m. on Friday, April 4, 2014 via email at WashingtonWabashEA[at]CityofChicago.org, or in writing to Public Information Officer, Chicago Department of Transportation, 30 North LaSalle, Suite 1100, Chicago, IL 60602.

Rendering of the new Washington/Wabash station.

Transit advocate Charles Papanek, who lives in East Lakeview, told me at the hearing that he’s pleased with the plan. “It’s definitely one of the better projects the city is proposing,” he said. “It’s a good station consolidation idea, considering the actual space between the two stations is incredibly tight… It’s a very well thought out replacement project for these two, frankly, very ancient stations.”

Garland Armstrong, an Elmwood Park resident who serves on ADA advisory committees for the CTA and Metra, said he’s very happy the new station will feature elevators, since his wife Heather usually uses a wheelchair. “It’s long overdue,” he said. “Me and my wife will be able to get off here to go to Target and Macy’s, so we won’t have to go all the way down to the library station at State and Van Buren and then have to take a bus to get over here.”

Less happy about the project were merchants from this stretch of Wabash, who spent a significant amount of time complaining to city officials that their businesses would be hurt by the temporary loss of parking spaces and loading zones on Wabash. CDOT architect Julian Silva told me that the city is proposing to relocate loading and valet parking zones on the cross streets at the southeast corner of Madison and Wabash and the northeast corner of Washington and Wabash.

“Unfortunately, construction projects are disruptive, and this is a very complex project,” he said. “All the foundations of the columns need to be redone, so there will be a lot of excavation. The business owners have valid concerns, and we’re listening to them, but I think we have a reasonable solution.”

  • No Ur Fax

    and yet those whiny architectural preservationists want the old stations to be saved and maintained and have $$$ wasted on it. but not $$ spent by them, $$ spent by the CTA or the government.

  • BlueFairlane

    Wow, that’s ugly. I hate fad architecture.

  • Anne A

    If the old stations were more functional, I might want to see them preserved. With cramped headroom on the mezzanine level and lots of stairs, they don’t function all that well even for able bodied folks. Right now most of the Loop El stations have no escalators or elevators and are a nightmare for anyone with a walking disability. The addition of this new ADA accessible station will mean that there’s one fully accessible station on each side of the Loop.

    I’ve needed to use the Wabash stations while recovering from an injury and using a cane or crutches, and those stairs were a nightmare. I have a friend with a walking disability who currently uses Randolph. Those stairs cause her a lot of pain. I’m looking forward to the new station.

  • JacobEPeters

    Whoa, just don’t bemoan all preservation because this one makes little sense. Your argument could be applied to any building which should be preserved from a cultural, social, or aesthetic standpoint. A better way of explaining why these stations don’t need preservation, is that none of them are as intact as the fully restored Quincy station within the loop.

  • No Ur Fax

    It’s called progress, efficiency and modernizaiton. If you want nostalgia head over to a museum.

  • “Straphangers”? Nice use of old-timey language

  • Lizzyisi

    I also think it’s ugly, but the stop at Randolph is ugly as it is! I’ll be sad to see the “ancient” stations go–I love the reminder of how old the city is and how long the L has been a part of it–but it sounds like the design addresses some real accessibility issues and maybe increases efficiency.

  • Thanks. “Straphanger” is also the name of a great Taras Grescoe book I’m reading: http://www.tarasgrescoe.com/straphanger/about.html

  • JacobEPeters

    seriously dude? Historic structures when well preserved and kept in a functional use can have many positive benefits to residential and commercial districts. It is oftentimes wasteful to spend additional money and resources demolishing something historic than building a modern equivalent. Especially when current building practices make it cost prohibitive to incorporate the level of intricate detail seen in historic structures. If we banished all history to Museums, then we would lose much of what makes our places special. Preservation needs to be selective, but being anti preservation is just as wasteful of government dollars as those clamoring to never demolish anything. As with everything in life, it is a balancing act.

  • Anne A

    Well said!

  • No Ur Fax

    Preservation implies that it is not cost effective to save. Obviously if it is cheaper in both the short term and LONG TERM the structure should be repaired.

    Preservationists only surface when a building should be torn down because it is too costly to maintain.

  • JacobEPeters

    Not true, too costly to maintain is a justification for clearing a site of a historic building. In this case, it is not functional to have 2 stations so close to each other. If we did not have a preserved station within the Loop, I would be advocating for restoring the Madison station (& connection to Carson Pirie Scott) and expanding it with a new modern ADA accessible entrance to the north, so that the existing station entrance could act as an auxiliary entrance and that the Randolph station could be demolished. Development is not a zero sum game, there are values that cannot be quantified in dollars and cents.

  • Doc Ames

    Any word on whether this will mean a rehab for the Adams/Wabash station? It would make sense to consolidate two of the three old stations and preserve one, as was done on Wells.

  • So I take it you would have been in favor of tearing town the Chicago Cultural Center? Preservationists saved that.

  • Fbfree

    I like the design, especially with regard to customer flow. The new station location will integrate much better with existing bus connections and the loop BRT than the existing stations. The EA doesn’t specifically mention integration with BRT, but the design seems nearly optimized for it:
    – The up escalator is on the correct corner both for customers connecting off Washington and for reaching Millenium Park.

    – The mezzanine is positioned inside the Washington/Madison couplet.

    I’m a little worried that the position of the mezzanine at the north end of the platforms will cause crowding in the forward cars of Brown Line trains heading out of the loop. Washington/Wabash, Clark/Lake, and Chicago are all tend to direct customers forward on the train. Merchandise Mart partly offsets the problem.

  • No Ur Fax

    Whoop dee do for them. I’m in favor of a strict cost benefit analysis of every situation. Dollars and cents. You can’t put a price on “history” because there is none. It is worthless.

  • FG

    The above view is from Washington looking south, right? Which means that for once I agree with the Grey Line people, the connection to Metra/South Shore trains will be worsened by this new station.

    I love the ridership estimates mean that two roughly equally used stations are used by one busier station…

  • Jack Crowe
  • what_eva

    So what exactly makes this a “superstation”? It’s replacing 2, accessible, etc, but so are plenty of other mere stations.

  • alexfrancisburchard

    I’ll be sad. As someone who stands in at 5’4″ Tall, I LOVE the randolph station, it makes me feel like a giant, as my head nearly hits the ceiling walking through there. Plus the framed view out randolph to the lake is pretty spiffy. Farewell old friend!

  • BlueFairlane

    Accessibility improvements are wonderful, and I’m glad we’re getting them. I just wish they didn’t come in a package trying so hard to look sleek and futuristic. You could have a very functional, simple design that would weather well and cost much, much less. This thing will look horribly dated in ten years.

    It’s sort of like the Thompson Building. Some segment of people was probably thrilled with the ’80s version of forward-thinking, futuristic design. Now they just think of the heating bills.

    Also, has anybody thought about what happens when the pigeons start roosting on the ribs? Or will the ribs all be wrapped in those spiky things?

  • BlueFairlane

    My first thought was that Calatrava-designed museum in Milwaukee.

  • BlueFairlane

    Another thought: One of two things will happen to the glass awning over the platform. It will either require constant cleaning from CTA, pushing up maintenance costs, or it will be forever covered in soot and pigeon droppings.

  • Anne A

    Anyone over 6″ has to watch their heads. At 6’2″ or taller, it’s not possible to walk through the mezzanine without hunching over. That sucks!

  • alexfrancisburchard

    As a short person. I don’t care. One building in the city is designed for me. I like it. Tall people can suffer in one city building. Or they can just cross the street on wabash and not go through the short ceilings.

  • neroden

    “Superstation” just means it’s replacing 2 previous stations.

  • neroden

    That’s the plan, but the Adams/Wabash rehab is scheduled for “sometime indefinitely far away when we find the money”

  • neroden

    Yeah. Y’know, why not think big and have a full glass trainshed? Just as much of a pain to clean, but keeps the rain and snow off the platforms and the tracks, and therefore less maintenance problems.

  • The heating bills are actually a lot less of an issue at Thompson than the cooling bills — it turns out that Helmut Jahn accidentally hit upon the precise most productive angle for capturing solar-generated infrared radiation (a paper was published on it about two years after completion of the building). Every single south, east, or west-facing office with slant glass in it turns into a blast furnace for about eight months of the year.

  • BlueFairlane

    Why does it have to be glass? Why not some material that won’t permanently display just how dirty the city is?

  • BlueFairlane

    I never thought about that, but it makes complete sense. The south side of the building is angled to face almost directly into the sun.

    It reminds me of the concert hall Frank Gehry designed in Los Angeles, covered in stainless steel panels that concentrated reflected light onto other buildings, adding excess heat. That’s the type of thing that happens when architects try too hard to be edgy and unique.

  • Fred
  • Anne A

    There is no way to enter the station without going through the low clearance area. Stations should be accessible to EVERYONE.

  • alexfrancisburchard

    That’s not true at all. The Low Clearance Area is only under the tracks. The platforms are 4 or 5 feet higher, so the ceilings are as well. you don’t have to duck to enter the staircases. only to cross Wabash Ave.

  • Doc Ames

    Thanks for the info. Just so long as they preserve one of the 19th-century stations on Wabash, I’m happy.

  • Tall people suffer in many buildings, new and old. Also basements, staircases, doorways, train cars, signs on poles on the sidewalk, and awnings. I should wear a helmet while walking…

  • The only reason to stop commission Calatrava buildings is their expense (see World Trade Center PATH station) and that they apparently are falling apart.


  • The station will retain exits on Randolph, Washington, and Madison.

  • Jack Crowe

    Ok. Those are the big reasons. But I also think that look is a bit tired and a bit more dumb.

  • I think there’s too much glass where it doesn’t belong. With a pervasive pigeon population…well, you can surmise where I’m going.

    I’m curious what the “value engineered” version of this looks like. That’s the process CTA went through for Belmont and Fullerton stations with the Brown Line Capacity Expansion project. They’re a little more utilitarian looking up top now, but that’s totally fine with me. Those two stations work really well.

    Chicago-L.org documented this nicely:

    Fullerton, proposed.

    Fullerton, after value engineering.

  • The Belmont and Fullerton Red/Brown Line stations were originally going to have glass roofs and even a kind of skylight for the roadway below. Both were “value engineered” out. (See my comment above to @disqus_fUT9qx936b:disqus.)

  • BlueFairlane

    Now, I like the way Fullerton turned out. (I just now realized I haven’t been to Belmont since the rebuild, which doesn’t seem reasonable.) I think something along those lines, some very much calmed down, less gimmicky version of this, would be great.

  • Or the London building whose parabolic front actually melts cars in certain spots in the carpark in front of it … there are now three spaces permanently roped off because someone’s Jaguar got so hot its interior melted and doors warped badly enough that they couldn’t be opened.

    The architect claimed that these effects “could not possibly be predicted” in the design process because of the “unpredictable motions of the sun.” Unpredictable. Right …. one grad student, one laser-measuring rig, and some cheap software confirmed precisely which areas should be permascaped into non-parking because of solar heating damage. After the fact.

    Some of it is due to construction, though; taking the Thompson Center again, Jahn specced triple-paned tempered glass throughout, which was downgraded to double or single in construction. Not only does this affect insulation, but if even a moderate bomb goes off in the atrium, the entire top structure is going to come down in large, killing shards — even a smallish concussion will cause the building itself to murder almost everyone present. Because they didn’t use tempered glass or triple-paned (triple tempered will blow OUTWARDS when concussive force is applied from within, and it’ll do it in tiny cullet, not big honking knives).

  • FG

    There is another building by the architect of the Scorchie-Talkie in Las Vegas (a hotel) which has the exact same effect – there it shines on the pool and has to be shaded by creative umbrella’s and potted plants by the hotel staff at certain times of day.

    The State also cut the heating/cooling system specified by Jahn at the State of Illinois building, it was going to chill ice at night and melt it during the day, but was cut too late in the process along with the better glazing (much as happened to Mies with his LSD high rises – the AC and double-glazing were scrapped as construction was going ahead).

    The new station already looks dated and will be a total pigeon haven. The problem with glass roofing is during hot summer days (at least its a canyon along Wabash, so only middle of the day) the platforms will heat up like nobody’s business.

  • FG

    Er, no. If the existing station is going to be in use during construction, it means the new station will be to the south, ergo, no entrance at Randolph.

    The rendering you show above is clearly (and in every other source I’ve seen, Chicago-l dot org, etc) looking south from Washington. The entrances are therefore, south of Washington, a full block further from Randolph than current entrances.

  • FG

    I find the “value engineered” version to be more dynamic, probably because the initial rendering is too conceptual with no lighting, etc, shown, but it seems heavier from the big monolithic shrouds below the tracks.

    They should have gotten Jahn to do the station, he current work is really exciting and dynamic, as well as light in appearance.

  • Adam Herstein

    Will there be a direct connection to Millennium Station?

  • I don’t believe so, but let me double check.

  • FG

    NO, it’s now a full block further away than the current closest stairway (SE corner of Randolph & Wabash).


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