Thar She Blows! Whale Skeleton-Like Washington-Wabash Stop Debuts

The new station at night. Photo: CDOT
The new station at night. Photo: CDOT

Faster than you can say “Calatrava,” the new Washington-Wabash ‘L’ station opened to customers today, featuring an undulating, ribbed canopy that’s reminiscent of a whale’s skeleton. The $75 million project is Chicago’s latest piece of marquis transportation project, and the first new CTA train stop to open downtown in two decades.

Emanuel tours the station at this morning's ribbon cutting. Photo: CDOT
Emanuel tours the station at this morning’s ribbon cutting. Photo: CDOT

The morning city officials cut the ribbon on the new station, whose design echoes the skeletal design of the nearby Loop Link BRT stop canopies. “The new CTA station at Washington and Wabash represents the best of Chicago’s heritage of architectural innovation and ingenuity while creating modern amenities for the thousands of travelers who utilize it every day,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement.

The station sits over historic Jeweler's Row. Photo: Ann Alt
The station sits over historic Jeweler’s Row. Photo: Ann Alt

The Washington-Wabash stop replaces the Madison/Wabash and Randolph/Wabash stations that were built over 120 years ago, and consolidating the two stops will create a slightly faster commute for straphangers. The city says the new station is the first fully wheelchair accessible CTA stop with four elevators, an escalator, and a platform that is wider than most others in the Loop.

Washington-Wabash is expected to become one of CTA’s top ten busiest rail stations, providing more than 10,000 rides per day on the Brown, Green, Orange, Pink and Purple Lines. The aesthetically pleasing facility is intended to encourage more transit trips to the Jeweler’s Row district beneath the tracks, and to serve as a gateway to Michigan Avenue, Millennium Park, and the East Loop.

“This station will ensure people with disabilities will have an accessible stop on the east side of the Loop, opening new opportunities to access the city like never before,” Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities commissioner Karen Tamley said in a statement. “It also brings us one step closer to creating 100 percent CTA rail station accessibility across the system and putting us even farther ahead of other legacy systems.” The agency recently announced that its goal is to make all stations wheelchair accessible within the next two decades.

the station as seen from the street. Photo: Anne Alt
The station as seen from the street. Photo: Anne Alt

The station features new public art by local artist Michiko Itatani. According to the city, the two large art glass panels located on both sides of the mezzanine, entitled “Cosmic Wanderlust 1 & 2,” “reflect on human history and culture of the past, present and future.” The work features images of libraries, museums, public spaces and performance halls combined with images of the cosmos.

Now that Washington-Wabash is open, Randolph/Wabash will permanently close on Sunday and and is slated for demolition and removal by the end of the year.

If you’ve had a chance to check out Chicago’s newest transit landmark, what do you think of the new design?

  • Carter O’Brien

    I love it, just wish they would go next level and incorporate solar PV into these kinds of designs, it can be done pretty seamlessly these days.

  • Tooscrapps

    I’m sure you’re thinking more of the Wilson stop, but I have doubts that a station in a canyon of buildings is an appropriate place for PV.

  • Carter O’Brien

    I suspect there is more light hitting the top of an elevated station than one might think, but the bigger point is just that when spending that much money for what is basically art, why not marry form and function?

  • Tooscrapps

    Sure some light may hit it, but is it cost effective to have PVs there?

    Also, how would PVs affect the amount of sunlight that reaches the platform? The design of this station was clearly meant to be open and “airy”. Replacing the glass with something opaque ruins that.

  • Carter O’Brien

    To be clear, this project is done and done, I am not suggesting it be retrofitted. I am saying future infrastructure improvements could, and should IMO, be incorporating PV as a general rule of thumb. Not just for practicality, but because PV needs high profile locations in order to scale and go truly mainstream. Divvy stations – great example. Perhaps future renovations could use Tesla solar roof systems, but what we know for sure is that no PV means zero payback- ever.

  • Anne A

    That spot does get a few hours of sunlight in the middle of the day. It’s certainly not as much exposure as a neighborhood station. I agree with Carter’s suggestion that solar PV should be incorporated into as many stations as possible.

  • Anne A

    Getting another fully ADA accessible station in the Loop is a very big deal. If you have never been affected by a mobility issue (from a broken or sprained ankle to a permanent disability), it may be difficult to understand how big this is. If you’re in pain and hobbling around on crutches, the choice between going up all the stairs at one of the old stations vs. hobbling 2-4 blocks further is not a pleasant one.

    Several years ago I was working at the Aon Center and using a cane due to a knee injury. The only efficient connection between there and my Metra train was hobbling up and down all those steps at Randolph and Wabash, which was rather hellish. If this new station had been up and running back then, and I didn’t have to do all those stairs, my commute would have been much less painful and my recovery time from that injury would probably have been much shorter.

  • Chicagoan

    It’s a beauty.

  • Tooscrapps

    I wish the City would go after some of the low hanging fruit! Hello McCormick place!

  • BlueFairlane

    The thing with these Calatrava-esque skeletons is that I think there’s a diminishing return as more of them get built. They stop looking unique and the gimmick starts to come through. That’s how I feel about this station. And of course, it doesn’t help if you’ve seen the Transit Hub in New York, which is a truly stunning, almost overwhelmingly beautiful design. In the face of that, this just looks like a pitiful copy, an example of Chicago saying, “Me too!”

    I also wonder how it will weather. It will be interesting to see what it looks like three winters in. It’s good to have an accessible station, but in the end I think the look of it will get old fast.

    (I understand that at least on this site, I will be the minority view.)

  • Kevin

    The Transit Hub in NY had a cost of 4.3 billion dollars which is 45x the amount of money spent on this project. I think comparing them is unfair.

  • BlueFairlane

    I disagree, especially since the nature of the design in this very specific style inevitably invites the comparison. A very big thing with a unique look was built in New York. Any smaller thing with the same unique look is going to be compared to it. And if the smaller thing is done without the same level of grandeur–and, more importantly, a similar budget–then the comparison is inevitably going to come out negative for the smaller thing.

    In short, if a style requires a budget of several billion dollars to be done right, then perhaps you’d be better off picking a different style. I kind of think the fact that we tried to mimic New York at 1/45th of the cost only emphasizes the “Me too!” aspect of this.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    This design isn’t mimicking New York in particular. It looks as much like the Calatrava-designed Milwaukee Art Museum, which has been around for a decade or so.

  • Bernard Finucane

    These don’t seem to do anything to improve the comfort of safety of passengers. Considering how extreme the weather is in Chicago, that seems bizarre.

    They should have dug a subway a century ago, TBH. That failing, there are a lot of things that could be done to fix this dinosaur. Adding whale ribs isn’t one of them.

  • ev_one

    The biggest factor to any installation is ongoing maintenance. You might be able to replace the PV on your house at cheap cost, but the CTA has to use union labor. The lifetime labor maintenance will outweigh the tiny amount of electricity it may be able to feed back into the grid.

  • Carter O’Brien

    One of the strongest selling points of PV is that it is durable and low maintenance. As for the “tiny amount” of electricity in question, have you run any numbers on this? Here are the tools:

    This project:

    would be a candidate for it given that the design offers little pragmatic benefits. But it requires vision and to understand that climate
    change and signing on to the Paris agreement, etc. mean we have to
    thinking about renewables not as bolt-on gimmicks but as an integral
    component of our overall infrastructure.

  • Chicagoan

    I couldn’t imagine the Loop w/o the L.

    There’s something to be said about your culture and your history, so respectfully, I think you’re way off.

  • Chicagoan

    I think the World Trade Center Transit Hub is ugly.

    This design is graceful in the way that building isn’t.

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

  • Bernard Finucane

    Lack of imagination is a huge problem in American city planning. I guess you can’t expect too much from a city that looks like this,-87.6258736,3a,75y,47.61h,89.71t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sw32_I6Gp3lnIZyA3wofBog!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

    But this is a no-brainer. Running a noisy ugly elevated train line through some of the city’s best real estate instead of putting it underground is plain stupid.

  • neroden

    It’s not that noisy (especially the renovated sections) and it’s beautiful (especially the renovated sections).

    And it has a major advantage over subways: it doesn’t flood.

  • neroden

    ADA roundup for US passenger rail as of today from best to worst:
    — Most systems, including all fairly new systems, are 100% accessible, some with better methods than others..
    — New Orleans Streetcar uses annoying lifts, because of historic equipment
    — San Francisco has non-accessible cable cars and some non-accessible Muni stops, and some of its accessible stops have one-car platforms; Caltrain isn’t fully accessible but has a plan.
    — Boston is close to fully accessible with a plan for most of the remainder; still working on plans for parts of the Green Line and Valley Road
    — Chicago: the CTA is making great progress and working on a plan for 100% CTA accessibility. Metra is making progress slowly. South Shore Line is making progress slowly.
    — Philadelphia: SEPTA has a plan for 100% accessibility, and is making slow but steady progress. PATCO has no plan and is not making any further progress.
    — Cleveland has a plan for 100% accessibilty but no money
    — Amtrak and MARC are making very very slow progress
    — NJ Transit is making progress occasionally but with no plan
    — Pittsburgh doesn’t have a plan or money
    — New York City (Subway, SIRT, LIRR, Metro-North) is barely trying and is doing less than the legal minimum, breaking the law repeatedly