The New Lake/Damen Green Line Stop Could Transform the Near West Side

Dorval Carter Jr., CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld, and Water Burnett with project workers at the station site. Photo: John Greenfield
Dorval Carter Jr., CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld, and Water Burnett with project workers at the station site. Photo: John Greenfield

For many years there have been conspicuous gaps in Green Line service on the Near West Side. In 2012 the city addressed the 1.3 mile space between the Clinton and Ashland & Lake stations by opening a new infill station at Morgan, which has helped spur development and commerce in the West Loop.

This morning city official heralded the next step in upgrading West Side ‘L’ service as they broke ground on a new $60 million Green Line stop at Lake Street and Damen Avenue, which will bridge the 1.5-mile distance between the Green Line’s Ashland and California stations. It will be the fourth new station opened in Chicago under the Rahm Emanuel administration, also including the Green Line’s Cermak-McCormick Place stop (2015) and the Loop’s Washington-Wabash station (2017).

“Today marks a milestone in the development of the Near West Side as we begin major improvements to Lake Street that will spur even greater economic activity and improve the quality of life for everyone who lives and works in the area,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement. “With the support of [27th Ward] alderman Walter Burnett, we will close the transit gap and provide local residents and businesses in this fast-growing neighborhood a new station that will make the community stronger and more accessible for generations.”

In addition to building the station, the Chicago Department of Transportation will reconstruct a half-mile stretch of Lake from Ashland to Damen, a $12.9 million project. The total $72.9 million expenditure is funded by the Kinzie Indistria Corridor TIF. The roadwork will improve access for trucks in the industrial corridor by increasing the vertical clearance under the tracks. It will also involve relocating support columns for the elevated tracks to make room for the new station. The Damen station is being designed by Perkins + Will, an architecture and design firm that has done the designs for transit facilities across the globe.

The area around the future station has recently seen a significant increase in residential and commercial development, which the improved transit access will surely accelerate. The stop will serve business along the industrial corridor and the CHA’s nearby Villages of Westhaven complex, and it will be a roughly seven-minute walk from the north entrance of the United Center. (The Pink Line also currently runs right by the stadium without stopping – if the city was to build an infill station at Madison and Paulina, it would be a mere four-minute walk from the north entrance.)

After the columns at Damen are relocated, work on the foundation is expected to start in late 2018, with work on the station house commencing in spring of 2019. The station is expected to open for business in 2020.

During the groundbreaking, CTA president Dorval Carter Jr. credited Burnett, whose ward also includes the Morgan stop, with having a “laser focus” on getting the Lake/Damen station funded and built. “This is a community that will benefit from this kind of investment, just as we’ve seen in other parts of the city,” Carter said. “If you look at Morgan, if you look at the Cermak Green Line [stop], there’s been an immediate return in terms of increased development, increased business, and increased opportunities for the people in the communities that they serve.”

Of course, as is often the case in Chicago, infrastructure investments can be a double-edged sword. While the Morgan stop in particular has helped fuel the current development boom in the West Loop, it has also contributed to an increase in housing costs in the neighborhood.

But Burnett told me the Lake/Damen station will have major benefits for his constituents and people who work in and travel to Near West Side, such as parishioners at several churches along Lake, students at Malcom X College, and patients heading appointments at the Illinois Medical District. “It may even encourage folks to start getting rid of the parking lots [in the area] and bring more residential and commercial commerce to the community.”

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Burnett talks with community residents who have completed Minority Business Alliance job-training program. Photo: John Greenfield

After throwing the ceremonial shovels of dirt with the other ceremony participants, Burnett spoke for some time with a group of neighborhood residents who have gone through a mentoring and job-training program run by the Minority Business Alliance. They are now certified contractors hoping to find work with the Lake/Damen project, according to Jerry Lewis, owner of JLL Construction and a lifelong West Side resident who said he has coordinated with the alderman on the program. Lewis said the certification allows the trainees to be hired for union work that pays well. “[This way] the guys in the community who are working on specific projects are able to show representation that they legitimate contractors… without outside intervention coming in and saying what they do or do not do.”

The Lake Street project will include the following:

  • Full reconstruction of a half-mile section of the existing street.
  • Increasing the vertical clearance under the CTA elevated structure to better accommodate truck traffic that serves industry along the corridor.
  • Relocation of four of the CTA elevated structure columns at the intersection of Damen and Lake to support the new transit station.
  • Curb and gutter reconstruction to improve drainage.
  • Replacement of drainage and utility structures.
  • Replacement of all sidewalks and driveways.
  • ADA curb ramp upgrades.
  • Installation of 103 new “Twin Acorn” ornamental street lights.
  • A total of 46 new trees in pits and parkways.
  • Modernization of three signalized intersections at Damen, Wood and Paulina.
  • Scroller

    Ashland and Western are only one mile apart. However, there is also no station at Western. The next stop after Ashland is California, which is 1.5 miles away.

  • Jason

    This is great news, but it’s actually just one mile from Ashland to Western (1600W to 2400W), not one and a half miles as the article states.

  • Jason

    Scroller below is right! The distance is correct, but the article misstates the next station, which is California.

  • Chicagoan

    Might as well start planning for the Western stop.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Sorry, that was a typo, fixed. I’m well aware that the next Green Line station west of Ashland is California, since I used to live around the corner from it! Brings up a good question though — will the city’s next move after the Damen stop proves successful be to build a Western Green Line stop?

  • Robert Kania

    No, that would probably be too many stations.

  • Chicagoan

    It’ll happen.

  • Robert Kania

    If they add more stations they should also add an express train from Oak Park to the Loop. They can do this on the Blue Line relatively cheaply.

  • CIAC

    “This morning city official heralded the next step in upgrading West Side ‘L’ service as they broke ground on a new $60 million Green Line stop at Lake Street and Damen Avenue, which will bridge the 1.5-mile distance between the Green Line’s Ashland and California stations. ..Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement. …’we will close the transit gap…’ ”

    Not saying building this station is a bad idea (those who would benefit the most probably are residents and businesses about a mile or so north of it) but it’s important to keep in mind that the closest station is just a few blocks away on the Blue Line. This is not an area that should be considered to have a transit gap, in my opinion.

  • Chicago60609

    Nevertheless, a Pink Line stop at Madison should be next. It would allow easy access to United Center from el, something which is sorely lacking. Red, Green, Pink, Brown, and Orange line riders would need but one transfer to for service to United Center.

  • Chicagoan

    I think the city tries to rationalize the lack of a Pink Line stop at Madison by saying that there’s not enough every day commercial & residential activity, but 41 Blackhawks games (at minimum), 41 Bulls games (at minimum), all of the concerts and shows, as well as surging West Loop development make it hard to deny for much longer.

    I wonder what’ll happen first, a Green Line stop @ Western or a Pink Line stop @ Madison.

  • Chicagoan

    Yeah, I just recently learned that the Blue Line’s Congress Branch was built with express capabilities (That huge ROW next to the tracks).

    The CTA shouldn’t concern itself very much with the needs of Oak Park’ers, though, because they have three train lines to get to the city and if they need express service, that’s where Metra comes in handy.

  • Jeremy

    The city should encourage one United Center parking lot to be replaced with housing in order to build demand for a Madison Pink Line stop.

  • Chicagoan

    I agree, specifically, I’d like to see a garage built on the lot bound by Damen, Warren, Wood, and Madison.

  • Cameron Puetz

    It’s a half mile from the Illinois Medical District Blue Line station and due to the Ike and the sea of parking lots around the United Center the path isn’t the most inviting streetscape for pedestrians. The new station is the same distance from the Ashland Green/Pink Line station as the Blue Line. Even with an inviting streetscape, a half mile is on the far side of what most people will walk to get to transit. It’s far from the city’s worst transit gap, but it’s definitely a transit gap. It’s also one of the easiest gaps to solve because the train already goes there. Given how easy it is to solve this gap, and the potential ridership from the United Center to the south and the residential neighborhoods to the north, building this station seems like a good idea.

  • david vartanoff

    Nice to see CTA restoring stations hichwere axed as economy/screwthat neighborhood moves years ago. As to expresses, Lake St trains (and everything else except the Evanston and Skokie branches used to run A/Bskipstop–a cheap but effective way to do semi express service without extra tracks. Easily done at low cost. A Lake to Ashland, B Lake to Jackson Park. Adding express tracks to the Blue Line in the median is a fine idea, but way down the list. Long before that, extend the Paulina connector (PinkLine) north to reconnect to the Blue, extend the Pink Line south to connect to the Orange. Include a connection so O’Hare Blue to Pink to Orange to a new stub at McCormick Place without going through the Loop. Also needed ,connect the Ashland Green Line to Midway both for traveling convenience and ground personnel commuting to work.

  • Chicago60609

    I just read the old column on a possible Pink Line Madison stop. Alderman Burnett aide said it would be a 7 minute walk to UC – which is bull – it’s longer to the equidistant Ashland/Lake stop.

    Also, most Bulls/Hawks games are during the colder months of the year, when a 10 minute outdoor walk is a whole lot less pleasant.

    Column link: https://chi.streetsblog.org/2014/04/22/training-for-the-big-game-why-is-there-no-l-stop-at-the-united-center/

  • Cameron Puetz

    Since the United Center is step up for fans to enter and exit all sides of the building, really traffic could effectively be spread across three L stations is the area was friendlier to walking. It’s 0.3 mi from the NE doors to Madison and the Pink Line, 0.4 mi from the NW doors to the proposed Damen Green Line stop, and 0.4 from the SW doors to the Medical District Blue Line Stop.

  • Austin Busch

    Now if they could just put in some bus-only lanes and run a free connector service during games/concerts between Green@Damen, Pink@Polk, Blue@Medical, and the United Center. Heck, fund it by selling off a parking lot for redevelopment.

  • CIAC

    The only line where a transfer to a Pink Line train would be more convenient than to a Green or Blue Line. and only really slightly so, is from the Brown Line. And that’s only on the way to the stadium and not on the way back. Orange Line riders can easily transfer to a Green Line at Roosevelt.

    If people really want to use transit riders to the stadium to help make the neighborhood improve I don’t think it’s a good idea to make it so easy to walk one block from a train to the stadium. It’s a better idea to make it convenient enough to take transit but also require enough of a walk to allow for businesses in between that could attract these riders. That’s one reason why I think a new Green Line station at the place its being built is a better idea than a new Pink Line station. Certainly, they shouldn’t both be built. This probably should be the last Green Line station built. You don’t want that line to turn into what the Red Line is on the far north side. There’s twice as many stations on the northern portion of the Red Line than there should be. This prevents it from being a convenient rapid transit line. Unfortunately, it’s pretty much politically impossible to get rid of stations.

  • Chicago60609

    It is bizarre to state that a transit line should be less convenient for transit riders than need be. That a Pink Line stop at the United Center should be thought to be “too close” for the riders is just idiotic.

  • BlueFairlane

    Metra’s schedule is way too sporadic to be useful to me. If the Green Line gets too slow, I’ll just drive.

  • Chicagoan

    Fine.

    Oak Park is at the end of the Green Line, if they want to be closer to the Loop or the city center in general, they can move into the city with the rest of us.

  • CIAC

    One of the major purposes for improving transit is to make the neighborhoods it serves more robust and economically vibrant. When someone is able to walk directly from a stadium to a train station is discourages the person from shopping or dining in the neighborhood and it means less businesses will open. That’s just the reality. It’s actually worse, in this respect, than people driving to a parking lot adjacent to the destination because at least in that case they’ll notice what’s around them when they drive to and from it.

  • Robert Kania

    There is the CTA United Center express, which runs from the Loop to the United center nonstop. It’s probably your best option if you don’t feel like walking.

    https://www.transitchicago.com/bus/19/

  • Austin Busch

    I mean, I’m fine with walking. But will others be fine with walking or taking the bus that far? Basically, a free quick shuttle that can move efficiently when needed, and when the CTA has spare buses at night, could actually change behavior. Obviously the current system isn’t enticing enough to replace the current parking lots yet.

  • Chicago60609

    The purpose of mass transit is to move the most people in the most efficient manner. A side benefit of this is that doing so can make an area “more robust and economically vibrant.” Making the side benefit more important than the main purpose is just bad planning and awful public policy.

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