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Don’t Believe the Hype: Plenty of CTA Riders Support the Belmont Flyover

1:23 PM CDT on June 5, 2015

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Residents pour over a map of the project area at Wednesday's open house. Photo: John Greenfield

Other local media outlets have given plenty of airtime to Lakeview residents who are opposed to the CTA’s Red-Purple Bypass project, better known as the Belmont Flyover. Their concern is completely understandable, since the transit agency’s plans call for 21 buildings on 16 parcels of land to be demolished, partially demolished, or relocated.

And, although CTA originally said the price tag for the project would be around $320 million, the environmental assessment released last on May 19 bumped that number up to $570 million, due to the inclusion of additional track and signal replacement north of the Belmont station. That’s certainly nothing to sneeze at.

However, we haven’t heard much from the countless Red, Purple, and Brown Line Riders, from Roseland to Albany Park to Wilmette, who would benefit from the flyover. In a nutshell, the bypass would eliminate the existing convergence of Red, Purple, and Brown Line at a flat junction north of the Belmont station, as well as replace about 0.3 miles of track between Belmont and Newport (3430 North). This would increase capacity on the system’s busiest lines and reduce delays, especially during rush hours. Read Steven Vance’s analysis of the project here.

On Wednesday, the CTA held an open house at the Center on Halsted in Lakeview to give Chicagoans a chance to discuss the project with agency staff and provide input via comment cards and a court reporter. Contrary to what you might assume from mainstream news reports, lots of people I spoke to at the well-attended event voiced support for the bypass.

“I think the flyover is necessary for saving time,” said Mindy Williams, a homemaker who lives downtown and regularly travels on the Red Line. “You’ve got the trains that have to kind of cross through the switches, so they do a lot of sitting and waiting,” she said. “So the bypass, because it’s going to go over that, is going to cut the wait times.”

Of course, there were opponents present as well. Ellen Hughes, a Lakeview resident who runs the website Coalition to Stop the Belmont Flyover, told me that, while her house isn’t slated for demolition, there are several reason she’s fighting the bypass. “I’m actually in it for Lakeview and I’m in it for moral reasons,” she said.

Hughes listed the cost and aesthetics of the flyover as major concerns, and argued that the city is spending money on transit in an affluent North Side neighborhood while neglecting the South Side. In 2013, the CTA spent $425 million to completely rebuild the South Red Line tracks between Cermak and 95th and renovate most of the stations. The agency is currently reconstructing the 95th Street station at a cost of $240 million.

The CTA provided this rendering showing that with redeveloped buildings on Clark Street, the flyover wouldn't be visible from the street.
If redevelopment takes place after the flyover is built, the structure might not be visible from the street. Image: CTA

Hughes also argued that, although the CTA has released renderings of the flyover that show redevelopment around the tracks, she believes the project will create a dead zone in Lakeview. “They are going to ruin Clark Street for two blocks and that’s really serious. They say they’re going to [build the structures pictured in the renderings.] They’re lying.”

“We’re not just going to build [the bypass] and leave,” CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase told me. “All this development is going to occur.” She promised that, before the first shovel hits the ground, the city will have a neighborhood redevelopment plan in place, created in cooperation with 44th Ward Alderman Tom Tunny, local businesses, community groups and residents. “This public hearing will be one of the many conversations that we have to get to that point.”

UIC student Jonathan Powell said the CTA staffers present were doing a good job of responding to residents’ concerns about the flyover. “They seem to be listening,” he said. “Peoples’ fears are being addressed, and that’s a good thing.”

“I think the bypass is very forward-thinking,” Powell added. “It’s a great way to free up space and time on the tracks.” He noted that there’s a similar flyover structure in the South Loop, where the Orange Line crosses over the Red Line, which functions well.

Eric Glatstein, an engineer who commutes from Rogers Park via the Red Line, agreed that the flyover is worth the trade-offs. “Intuitively, it makes sense that this place where three lines have to come to a stop to let one train pass is a rate-limiting factor for the Red Line, and I’m glad they decided to address it.”

He noted that the bypass would likely shave a minute or two off his commute a couple of days a week. “But I think the CTA’s larger point about building capacity in the system is really what drives this,” he said. “Development along the Red Line at this point is limited by capacity, and the density along this line in this area will go up if we can get more trains.”

Although there’s certain to be fierce opposition from some Lakeview residents as the flyover plan moves forward, the CTA is trying to spread the word about its potential benefits to the rest of Chicagoans. Earlier this week, the agency released a compilation of interviews with Red Line customers who like the idea of fewer delays and relief from sardine-line conditions on the trains.

The EA for the bypass project is available on the CTA website, at CTA headquarters (567 West Lake), as well as at Tunny's Office (3223 North Sheffield). Hard copies also available at the Washington, Merlo, and Lincoln Belmont libraries.

Through June 18, written comments may be submitted via email to RedPurpleBypass@transitchicago.com, or mailed to: Chicago Transit Authority, Strategic Planning, 10th Floor, Attn: Red-Purple Bypass Project, 567 West Lake Street, Chicago, IL 60661. All comments provide by the 18th, and the CTA's responses, will be incorporated into a final decision document, which the agency will submit to the Federal Transit Administration.

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