Transit Advocate: TOD Could Revitalize Area Around the 95th Red Line Stop

Cynthia Hudson of the Active Transportation Alliance and Michael LaFargue of the Red Line Extension Coalition at last week’s town hall meeting.

Last week at a town hall meeting hosted by the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council, West Chesterfield resident and transit advocate Michael LaFargue discussed efforts to improve transportation access and encourage investment on the Far South Side.

LaFargue, a board member with the Red Line Extension Coalition, and Active Transportation Alliance community liaison Cynthia Hudson were invited to share their experiences with NLCCC members who wish to improve transit service on the West Side. “We’ll steal some good ideas and then share them back and forth,” explained council member Valerie Leonard.

LaFargue, who also chairs a transportation committee for South Side representative Elgie Sims (34th), began his presentation by providing background on West Chesterfield, an enclave that many longtime Chicagoans may be unfamiliar with. The half-square-mile community sits directly east of the station in the area bounded by 87th Street, the Dan Ryan, 95th Street, and King Drive. It lies within the official Chatham and Roseland community areas.

“It’s a historically Black area,” LaFargue said. “We started moving into this area after World War I, before there were streets and sewers and lights. We love it — we call it a great place to live and a great place to raise a family. But we’ve been challenged by crime and the economy. The recession of 2007 affected the community heavily.”

La Fargue noted that the 95th Street station, opened in 1969, is one of the area’s greatest assets. “It’s Chicago’s busiest transportation terminal, with 50,000 people coming through daily, 14 CTA buses serving the station, six Pace buses, and a Greyhound terminal.”

The 95th stop is currently undergoing a $280 million overhaul, which started in fall 2014 and is slated for completion in 2018. “We’re hoping that this station will wind up being the north end of the Red Line extension,” LaFague said. “The Red Line extension has been talked about since the 1960s. But even before that, circa 1900, we had the Burnham Plan that said there should be light rail to all sides of the city.”

“But the [Red Line] route ends at 95th,” LaFargue added. “That’s not the end of our city. There’s a whole group of people in the Altgeld Gardens area that are traveling an extra 35 or 45 minutes to work, and that’s not fair.”

LaFargue discussed how the current CTA proposal for the Red Line extension would parallel Union Pacific Railroad Tracks, with stops at 103rd, 111th, 115th (near Michigan Avenue), and 130th in Altgeld Gardens. It would require significant land acquisition, and the transit agency projects it would cost more than $2 billion.

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The area around the 95th Street station is a challenging environment for walking and lacks pedestrian-oriented retail. Image: Google Street View

Along the way the new train line would serve the Greater Roseland Medical District. LaFargue would like to see a critical care center added, as well as a hotel where families of patients could stay. He also believe the 115th stop could help rebuild Roseland’s Michigan Avenue retail district.

“Roseland used to have a wonderful business district, about a mile long,” he said. “It had J.C. Penny’s, Gately’s [department store], and a wonderful hobby shop. Nixon stopped at i11th Street when he was running for president. People want to see it revitalized.”

LaFarque, who works as a real estate broker, said he believes that transit-oriented development in conjunction with the 95th Street station rehab could also be a major shot in the arm for the local economy. “Remember the old wild, wild west movies where there was a train station with development around it?” he said. “That’s TOD. It’s usually mixed-use residential and business.”

“TOD is supposed to allow a community, improve its walkability, and give you access to jobs,” LaFargue said. “We’re challenged in this area… [In the 95th Street area] walkability, and the availability of restaurants and shops where people would like to go is not there.”

However, there’s land in West Chesterfield by the station that the CTA recently acquired through eminent domain to use as a staging area for the reconstruction project. LaFargue says this land, which was previously occupied by eight businesses that were “horrible neighbors” would be an ideal place for new TOD in the future.

“This gives us the opportunity to work with the CTA, government officials, organizations, councils, the parks , and schools to develop a TOD that would improve our community,” he said. He noted that, at a recent board meeting, CTA chairman Terry Peterson endorsed the idea of TOD at the location.

Two years ago LaFargue and other community leaders surveyed hundreds of residents within a few blocks of the station to ask what they kind of improvements to the neighborhood they want to see. “They’re interested in safety, security, good schools, great parks, improving their home values, and community-oriented businesses,” he said. “This is important to them because the community is at a tipping point. If we develop the [station] area without community input, without businesses that would be good neighbors, we’ll get more of the same.”

Based on the survey results, the leaders sent Mayor Emanuel, the CTA board, and other elected officials a memorandum on their thoughts and expectations were for development around the 95th Street stop. In the future, the local leaders hope to develop a community benefits agreement with businesses, developers, and government officials to help ensure that neighborhood residents have a say in future development and help ensure it will be a net positive for existing residents.

“We’d like to see our property values rise and our schools improve,” LaFargue said, noting that it’s currently possible to buy a house in the area for as low as $5,000. “Our community is looking for safe, secure, and clean. Other communities may be looking for something a little different.”

  • What does Mr. LaFargue think of the efforts to upgrade the Metra Electric District Line to operate as part of CTA’s ‘L’ System?:

  • simple

    In recent years, CTA’s 95th Red Line station has struggled to exceed 15,000 train boardings per day, placing it around eighth on the list of CTA’s busiest stations. Assuming equivalent numbers coming and going, that would be about 30,000 people per day using the station — or about 60% of the 50,000 Mr. LaFargue claims. Thirty to forty years ago that station was CTA’s busiest, serving about 50,000 people per day, but not now. Improved transit service is certainly needed in this area, but when advocates exaggerate the basic facts it doesn’t build credibility for the cause.

  • Anne A

    Safer pedestrian access (as well as improved traffic flow within the station) could do a LOT to increase ridership at 95th St. In the current configuration, crossing either Lafayette or State (especially State) on foot can be a dicey proposition.

    Right now walking through the station can be a challenge. There just isn’t enough space for pedestrians to move through the station, especially in the bus platform areas. I hope that the new design will make it easier and safer for pedestrians to walk to/from the station and for bikes to get in and out.

  • Michael

    Many people who use 95th daily don’t just board a NB red line train. Its a connection point for 20 buses that go all over the far south side and south suburbs. Because its a terminal station, bus ridership should be included in ridership data, which should account for the remaining 20k riders your model is missing.

  • Anne A

    Those bus routes are VERY heavily used. I was there the other day, and the 381 bus I was riding was PACKED when leaving the station in mid afternoon. The same was true of many other buses I saw leaving around that time. The bus numbers must be included. Some of those bus passengers are walking or riding bikes to/from nearby locations, so not all of them are arriving on the train.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    He told me he had heard a bit about the campaign by the Coalition for a Modern Metra Electric, but intended to further research efforts to improve the line.

  • david vartanoff

    point is that double tracking the South Shore to Hegewisch and restoring the four stations between there and Kensington is way cheaper than building a Red Line extension on the old C&WI (now UP) ROW. Card readers on the platforms and total fare integration w/CTA and it is done.
    This is not to ignore 95th St so much as to exploit under used assets already owned. Rebuilding the MED 95th St station and having better bus coordination there as well as fare integration of the Rock Island should give riders more options for travel.

  • simple

    I agree that if someone is transferring between buses they’re not included in that number. But there would need to be a lot more bus activity at that station if there were 20,000 bus-bus transfers there in addition to 30,000 bus-rail transfers. In reality the overwhelming majority of the traffic at that station is bus-rail transfers, so they’re accounted for in the 30,000 figure. If you don’t believe me, just stand there and watch buses unload for a while (I’ve done it many times) — nearly everyone who gets off a bus there goes to the train, very few to another bus. It’s certainly nothing close to 40% bus-bus transfers, which is about what it would it would have to be to add up to 50,000 people per day using the station.