Washington-Wabash Opens August 31, State/Lake Station Expansion Planned
At a City Club of Chicago event yesterday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CTA and transportation chiefs Dorval Carter and Rebekah Scheinfeld touted the administration’s transportation achievements and gave a preview of upcoming projects. Carter and Scheinfeld also offered a sneak peek at upcoming initiatives, including efforts to speed up buses and promote transit-oriented development, and announced that the Washington-Wabash station is opening at the end of the month, a project to increase capacity at the nearby State/Lake stop is planned, but so far the CTA isn’t taking action in response to a grass-roots campaign to extend the Green Line to Jackson Park.
“I have a simple premise: If you’re going to have a 21st Century economy, you need a 21st Century infrastructure system,” Emanuel said in his opening remarks. “If you don’t invest in infrastructure, you will not get the private sector investment you’re looking for.” He noted that during the last six years the city has opened four new CTA stations and credited the new Morgan stop for inspiring a development boom in the West Loop. He added that his administration has rebuilt, rehabbed, or lined up funding to reconstruct 46 of Chicago’s 145 ‘L’ stations. Emanuel also mentioned that that morning he and Scheinfeld had cut the ribbon on completion of the Fullerton/Damen/Elston reconstruction project.
Carter and Scheinfeld noted that their departments often team up on projects to improve mobility for residents. “Our citizens are the lifeblood and [transportation corridors] are the arteries that keep the city’s heart pumping,” Carter said. He added that since 2011, $10 billion in Chicago Department of Transportation and CTA projects have been completed or announced.
During the course of their presentation they discussed a long list of recently completed or in-the-works infrastructure projects including the Bloomingdale Trail, the Chicago Riverwalk extension, the rehabs of the 95th Street, Wilson, and Garfield Green stations, and the construction of a new Green stop at Lake and Damen, slated for 2020 completion. They also talked about the city’s Vision Zero initiative to eliminate traffic fatalities by 2026 and the CTA’s plans to make all ‘L’ stations wheelchair accessible within the next two decades.
They announced that the new Washington-Wabash station, with a Caltrava-inspired canopy resembling a whale’s skeleton, will be opening on August 31, which brought applause from the audience. “This has been a labor of love,” Scheinfeld said. She noted that it’s expected to become the CTA’s fifth busiest station, providing more than 13,000 rides a day. “The undulating waves of the canopy contrast with the city grid and the steel-and-glass structure is designed to create a dynamic play of light, reminiscent of the diamond facets that are on display at historic Jeweler’s Row below.”
Scheinfeld said the completion of the new downtown station will compliment the Loop Link bus rapid transit system, which debuted in December 2015. “[Loop Link was one of the biggest wholesale changes in downtown street design since the days of streetcars.” She noted that prioritizing transit with features like bus-only lanes and queue jump signals at some intersections helps increase the capacity of Washington and Madison streets, where almost half of people traveling the corridor are on buses.
Scheinfeld noted that about 60 percent of downtown commuters rely on public transportation, so it’s important to expand mass transit access. “We aren’t building new roads downtown, so we look at innovative ways to better design our public ways to maximize that long-term growth, and Loop Link is a great example of how we can do that.” She also lauded the completion of the Union Station Transit Center in the West Loop, next to the historic Amtrak and Metra terminal, which serves as a key transfer for Loop Link riders.
While Carter said the BRT system has resulted in “faster, more reliable” bus service, Loop Link hasn’t lived up to its full timesaving potential because, more than a year and a half after the corridor launched, the city still hasn’t implemented prepaid boarding at all eight bus station. Carter noted that prepaid boarding is currently being tested at the 69th Street Red Line stop and the southbound Belmont/Lake Shore Drive bus stop. Hopefully the city will soon stop dragging its feet and launch this feature at all Loop Link stops to further reduce commute times.
The CTA chief lauded the growth in parking-lite transit-oriented development in our city. “Because of the our robust transit options in Chicago more and more residents do not want to own a car and are not demanding parking,” Carter said. Because changes to the zoning code reduce or waive the on-site parking requirements for sites within a half-mile of train stations, “these developments can then build more useful and meaningful spaces for the residents instead of housing new parking structures that are increasingly not needed anymore.”
Looking ahead, Scheinfeld said the city is planning a major capacity expansion for the State/Lake elevated station, an improvement “which is a long time coming.” She noted that last year the CTA and CDOT began operating transit signal priority on nine miles of Ashland Avenue, “where late buses get a longer green so they can get back on schedule.” This year they plan to implement the technology on Western from Howard to 79th. “I envision a day when the whole city will benefit from transit signal priority.”
One piece of bad news came up at the talk when the leaders were asked about South Side residents’ recent campaign calling on the city to rebuild the Green Line from Cottage Grove to Stony Island to serve the upcoming Obama Center, which has garnered hundreds of petition signatures. Carter poured some water on the idea. “I regret to tell you that there are no plans at this time to extend the 63rd Street line.” He noted that current federal funding issues, such as the Trump administration’s proposal to get rid of the New Starts and TIGER infrastructure funding programs, make this a difficult time to be lining up new money for transit projects. But Scheinfeld praised the grass-roots effort. “I think it’s great that everyone’s recognizing the value of transit and asking for more.”