Once Again, Alderman Dowell Tries to Block a Sustainable Transportation Amenity

Rendering of the new Red Line station at the first proposed location, the southeast corner of 15th and Clark.
Rendering of the new Red Line station at the first proposed location, the southeast corner of 15th and Clark.

For the third time in less than a year, 3rd Ward Alderman Pat Dowell is on the wrong side of a transportation issue.

Last spring, Dowell blocked the point-to-point car-share service Car2go, which would have provided a new mobility option for residents who don’t own cars, from operating in her ward due to concerns about causing a parking crunch for private car owners. That was despite the fact that the service has been shown to reduce car ownership and parking demand.

Last summer the alderman tried to get the 31st Street bus service pilot cancelled by writing a letter to the CTA board arguing that the small number of #31 buses, rather than the many single-occupant vehicles on 31st, “cause major congestion.”

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Alderman Pat Dowell

And now, at a time when Chicago has the opportunity to mitigate the amount of traffic congestion and pollution that will be caused by a massive South Loop development by opening a new Red Line station, Dowell has come out again the ‘L’ stop. She even made the absurd the argument that the station would be “out of character” with a dense urban development a stone’s throw from downtown.

As reported by Crain’s Chicago’s Danny Ecker, Related Midwest, the developer of the 62-acre parcel on the east bank of the Chicago River south of Roosevelt Road, called The 78 by the city and also known as Rezkoville, had proposed adding a Red Line stop at the southeast corner of 15th and Clark streets. The $300 million facility, would fill the one-mile-plus gap between the Roosevelt and Cermak-Chinatown stops.

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The new stop would be located at 15th and Clark. Image: Google Maps

“While I fully support ‘The 78’ development as unique and necessary opportunity for growth in the City of Chicago, I can not support Related Midwest’s proposal to add a new CTA Red Line Station on 15th St. and Clark St., right in the middle of an established, entirely residential area,” Dowell said in a statement. “This location would be too disruptive for my residents and completely out of character with the area.”

Related presented its plan for the development to local residents at mid-December community meeting, unveiling renderings of an airy glass-box stationhouse above the proposed subway stop. The structure would have stood on what is currently a green space with trees by condos and townhouses, kitty-corner from Cotton Tail Park.

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What the southeast corner of 15th/Clark looks like now. Image: Google Maps

Dowell claimed in her statement that most 3rd Ward residents are against the new facility because it would be located within the existing Dearborn Park II development of condos and townhomes and because the staging and construction for the project “would eliminate already limited community green space for years.”

Crain’s reported that, in light of Dowell’s opposition, yesterday Related announced that it will instead locate the Red Line stop on land the developer owns the southwest corner of 15th and Clark. The north-south street is the boundary of the 3rd and 25th wards. Danny Solis, alderman of the 25th, who’s not running for reelection, has apparently given the project his blessing.

“We’re pleased to announce that the new station will be moved to The 78, on the west side of Clark Street,” Related president Curt Bailey said in a statement. “We are grateful for every opportunity to work with Alderman Dowell and the community as part of our process to build and improve The 78 and surrounding communities.”

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Related is currently proposing placing the station at the southwest corner of 15th and Clark. Image: Google Maps

But that still wasn’t enough to satisfy Dowell. She told Crain’s she’d still be dead-set against the project because “the impact is going be faced by the residents who have invested east of Clark who have made that land valuable, so to speak.” She said she might be willing to approve the facility at a different location than 15th/Clark.

All 50 City Council members would vote on whether to approve the station, and typically aldermen don’t vote against a project if the local alderman supports it. On the other hand, Crain’s noted, the issue is further complicated because city officials hope to create a new tax-increment financing district to use gains in property tax revenue within the zone repay the developer for building the ‘L’ stop.

It’s understandable that Dowell was opposed to giving up green space in her ward to make way for the station. But there’s no excuse for her to oppose the new proposal for the stop, which would be outside of her district, when the facility would be key for reducing the number of car trips associated with hundreds of new upscale housing units at The 78.

Given that the new Red Line stop would provide excellent transit access for people who currently live near 15th and Clark, it raises the question of whether there might be another unspoken motive for opposing the station than just concerns about construction headaches. One possibility that springs to mind is Not In My Backyard-style fears that a new station for the Red Line, which stretches almost the entire length of the city, would make it easier for so-called “negative elements” to access the neighborhood.

  • Tooscrapps

    If an L station is out of character, she’s in for a surprise for what’s coming across the street.

  • Jacob Wilson

    If the area wasn’t populated by the rich we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.

    These people are nothing but a drag on society and only interested in themselves and their InVeStMeNt.

  • erybo

    Your suggestion at the end is exactly what this is about. The constituency that has Dowell’s ear (and holds the key to her future) is scared of the “negative elements” that the Roosevelt stop has plenty of colliding with their happy, green, safe little park. They aren’t concerned with progress and they certainly don’t care about logistics. They want to keep it exactly the way it is, so they’re going to fight every bit of this red line stop.

  • planetshwoop

    Using a TIF to pay for it is truly disappointing. Can we have a development without handouts for developers?

  • Carter O’Brien

    My eyes are rolling with enough velocity to rival a wind turbine at this quote: “the impact is going be faced by the residents who have invested east of Clark who have made that land valuable, so to speak.”

  • planetshwoop

    Wait til the parking complaints start.

  • Cameron

    I wouldn’t really call the lot a green space. A large portion of it is currently taken up by an air shaft opening and an electrical switchgear enclosure.

  • Cameron

    I’d argue that transit investments are a good use of TIF funds. This is the closest thing to value capture for infrastructure funding supported by current tax laws.

  • Tooscrapps

    You don’t remember when they dug the Chicago River?

  • Tooscrapps

    Would you rather it come from general funds?

  • Carter O’Brien

    Touché!

  • simple

    Your coverage doesn’t really address the full issue here. One of the key problems with this proposal is that the platforms of a station are something like 500 feet long and they must go on straight track. Where the straight tracks are along the Red Line here is directly under Cottontail Park, which is off the edge of the image above and surrounded by homes. The tracks are not very far below the surface of the park so for the station to be built the park as well as many of the homes around it must be removed. And the households that remain will be living in a construction site for the duration. So it’s not just about putting a station entrance on a small corner lot in a residential neighborhood as this article would have us believe. It’s also about people’s lives being severely disrupted for years and losing access to the neighborhood park that was a primary factor in why they chose to buy a home in this neighborhood and raise their kids here. I don’t suppose any of the sanctimonious NIMBY-bashers commenting here would mind if the neighborhood park where their kids play and have their birthday parties and watch movies in the park and learn how to ride their bicycles etc. were torn up for several years? It’s also the park that will be closest to the new elementary school that will open this fall just a block south at 16th and Dearborn. Several years is a long time for your kids to go without their neighborhood park or their school park. And the issue of putting a station entrance on a corner lot on a residential side street is itself also problematic. Since when is it good planning practice to site subway stations on residential side streets? I thought rail transit stations should be surrounded by stores that riders could use on their walk to and from the train? That’s not going to happen along 15th Street east of Clark Street. Is this really the only place to add a CTA station in this area? Where is the study showing pros and cons of alternative locations?

  • Austin Busch

    CTA platforms don’t have to go on straight track, the Loyola stop on this very same Red Line is curved just as much. The incline is the engineering challenge.

  • planetshwoop

    Every. Single. Development. asks for and gets a TIF. You should be able to issue bonds against the future property tax and not require a separate taxing body for it.

    I don’t know about general funds, but I don’t want more money diverted from parks and schhsch for 20+ years.

    We are talking a lot about property taxes as part of the election .TIF abuse needs to be part of the conversation.

  • planetshwoop

    The end of the Brown line is on residential side streets .It’s a good way to encourage density.

  • TRPCLRMNTCST

    16th to 18th Streets looks like a better location, with access to East-West Connections and an adjacent Marianos. Dearborn Park was always planned as a pseudo-suburban bulwark of normality against the perceived threats towards the south and west. The location does present an opportunity with the St. Charles Air Line, which should be utilized as an Outer Loop Transit Line, connecting Soldier Field to Union Station, etc. Obviously the more southerly location is against the developer’s interests, as it is further from the heart of the 78. I am so looking forward to this station, hopefully they reroute the #18 bus to provide quick access to the red line without the parking lot that is Roosevelt Rd.

  • simple

    1) The main entrances to the stations at the end of the Brown Line are actually immediately adjacent to Business and Commercial zoned property, not residential, so no they are in fact not on residential side streets (although single family residential is indeed nearby to all of them).
    2) The stations at the end of the Brown Line have been there for about 100 years, and their surroundings still haven’t densified beyond typical densities for Chicago neighborhoods that are away from rail transit, so that’s not really a good example of putting a transit station on a residential side street being a “good way to encourage density.”

  • simple

    Apologies for the lack of clarity in my earlier post. What I meant is that new CTA platforms must go on straight track. Loyola Station’s platforms are very old and not compliant with modern station design standards. The issue is the gap between the rail cars and the platform edge, which becomes too wide by modern standards if the platform curves. The track incline you note west of Clark Street would indeed likely also be an engineering challenge if platforms could be built on curved track.

  • Cameron

    While 15th street is a residential side street, Clark (which the station entrance faces) is by no definition a side street and is likely to take on a commercial character as the 78 develops.

  • ardecila

    Serving the Roosevelt shopping district is intentional, the 18th bus connects Pilsen and North Lawndale to shopping options. A reroute would speed up the service at the cost of losing that important connection.

  • ardecila

    The Red Line curve at 15th is not severe enough to create a hazardous gap. The only issue with curvature is that it blocks sightlines for the operator to see all the doors, but that can be remedied with a CCTV system. CTA already uses such a system on the curved platform at Addison (Blue Line) and Loyola.

  • endora

    This area is not a transportation desert. There are areas on the west and south sides of the city with minimal access to public trans. This area is already well served by two red line stops (12 and 22) and and orange line stop. 300,000 million for a new stop to serve Related development Corporation–aren’t there better ways to spend taxpayer money?

  • simple

    Despite your confident tone, what you say is in conflict with the US Code of Federal Regulations, Title 36, Chapter XI, Part 1192, Subpart C, Section 1192.53, which specifies that “Where new vehicles will operate in new stations … the horizontal gap between each vehicle door at rest and the platform shall be no greater than 3 inches…” In practice this means that newly built platforms must be on straight tracks, because the train needs about that much gap from the platform edge at its closest point just for safety purposes so even a very gentle curve will create a platform gap of more than 3 inches at the rail car doors. The stations you cite as examples pre-date the modern standards.
    Please see https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/36/1192.53 for the full reference.

  • Cameron

    In this case no, there really aren’t better ways to spend the money. The money is being fronted by Related and likely reimbursed by a TIF. If the money doesn’t get spent on this station, then it gets spent on something else related to the 78. Not building this station doesn’t free up money to address transit deserts.

  • endora

    But we, as taxpayers, subsidize the TIF, since those profits go back to RELATED DEVELOPMENT, a multi billion dollar corp. This is all about CORPORATE profits. The proposed stop isn’t going to benefit underserved areas. This area is already OVERSERVED.

  • ardecila

    The phrase “new vehicles in new stations” seems to refer to a brand-new transit line, where the railcars are purchased at the same time the line is constructed. This will be an infill station on an existing line using (more or less) pre-existing railcars, so I’m not sure this legal standard applies.

    Assuming it does apply, then the statute specifically specifies a standard for “retrofitted vehicles” at a new station, which is a 4 inch gap. But even if that statute does apply in this case (not sure it does) then that implies not a BAN on curved platforms, but simply a minimum radius of curvature.

    CTA’s two doors per railcar are approximately 26′ apart, so assuming a 4″ gap at the doors and a 1″ gap at the midpoint of the car (to avoid the carbody rubbing against the platform edge) that implies a minimum radius of only 355′. Both Addison (~1200′ R) and Loyola (~2000′ R) would therefore be compliant under this standard, and so would the proposed 15th St station (~1100′ R). On the other hand, the old curved platform at Chicago Brown would not be compliant at only a 200′ radius, which is likely why CTA had to move platforms to a straight section of track further south when they received a big Federal grant to rebuild the Brown Line stops.

  • ardecila

    Dowell claims to support the 78. Of course, it’s not in her ward so she has deniability.

  • simple

    Clearly you think you know more about this subject than CTA or any other rail transit operator or rail station designer in the USA. In the real world curved platforms for CTA-type trains can no longer be built for the reasons I tried to politely explain above. In your world they apparently can. This discussion illustrates why trying to educate people via internet comments is futile. There is no way to prove whether you know what you’re talking about or if you’re just spouting off with ignorant confidence. Good luck convincing CTA, FTA, and the ADA community that your interpretation of the rules allows curved platforms. This was all debated many years ago, and curved platforms in new or substantially rebuilt stations lost the debate. They simply will not be approved. Even slightly curved platforms either result in too large of a gap at the doors or too small of a gap and the ends or centers of cars to accommodate the potential yaw of moving trains.

  • Tooscrapps

    TIF pays for a lot of parks and schools, as well as roads, CTA, and other public works.

    I think many of us agree that the City should be responsible for infrastructure (roads, sewers, lighting, transit) and that’s what TIF is paying for in Lincoln Yards and the 78. A developer in River North already has that infrastructure and they didn’t directly pay for any of it.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Neighborhood side streets have long had commercial properties on the corners, that doesn’t make the street itself a commercial thoroughfare.

    I’d be interested in seeing evidence/reports backing your claim #2, as I don’t know what standard you’re using as “typical densities for Chicago neighborhoods that are away from rail transit,”but given how dense the North Side is overall compared to the West and South Sides, I don’t think that will hold up. I think it’s pretty clear that the development of the Ravenswood Manor and Albany Park followed the Brown Line, and it’s pretty clear as a lifelong North Sider that these areas are far denser than North Side areas that are true bungalow belts and not well served by the L.

  • Carter O’Brien

    TIFs supporting infrastructure in existing communities to encourage growth/keep up with capital depreciation and technological advances are one thing, TIFs as developer carrots in an area that clearly does not need the carrot to be developed is another. TIF has been so bastardized that we’re all suffering collective amnesia about its purpose, and that is promote development where it would otherwise not occur. This is prime property that will be developed if just left to the market. If anything we need to be thinking about it will be exploiting existing infrastructure such as schools, fire, police. This is literally the history of Chicago, communities (such as this “new” one) annexing themselves into the city to take advantage of the infrastructure. How much has it cost us to clean up the River, for example? That’s why we’re finally seeing this long-dormant property freed from its shackles of speculation.

  • Tooscrapps

    Ok.

    So the City should be paying for new streets, bridges, and CTA stops via general funds instead?

  • Carter O’Brien

    I’m not sure we have the same working definition of “general funds.” It’s not like Chicago has one bucket for TIF and one bucket for everything else when it comes to taxes and revenue. Tresser’s book “Chicago Isn’t Broke” is a must read IMO, and Daniel Kay Hertz did a nice layman-friendly breakdown of Chicago’s byzantine funding structure here: https://budgetblog.ctbaonline.org/chicagos-city-budget-101-5bbea4d9b3fd.

    The larger issue for me is that people off the record who have actual experience working with TIFs and the City have freely shared that from a good government perspective, it’s not about the projects themselves, it’s that TIF as the vehicle is a terrible idea. It’s a terribly inefficient and red-tape laden process, for starters. It also ties the City’s hands for decades. TIF was a great idea as rolled out decades ago – Chicago politicians and developers colluded to corrupt it beyond recognition.

    TIF funds have in recent years been used to support more of what i would call “legitimate” infrastructure needs, but then the question is raised of how much did we lose simply by having to go through TIF? It’s no different than looking at what % a philanthropic organization spends on direct programs and services as opposed to administration costs.

    But all of this is a bit beside the original point – which is should the City be paying for infrastructure that benefits a private developer in the first place? Without this development there is no driver for the L stop, that should tell us something, right?

  • ardecila

    https://www.nap.edu/read/22800/chapter/4#117

    Page 3-44 contains a whole section about methods to address curved platforms within the rules defined by ADAAG, so it is possible in an engineering and legal sense. If there is an obstacle here, it’s a political/bureaucratic one, not a legal or technical one.

    Also, do you think Related would very publicly commit to spending $300M without confirming the feasibility of this station with CTA, CDOT, architects and engineers? They have already hired Ross Barney Architects who are very familiar with rail design standards and no doubt a qualified engineering team as well.

    I have not seen any plan views of the station concept, so Related may in fact be planning to straighten the tunnel over the length of the platform to avoid the issues caused by curvature… but the construction of a new track alignment would surely push costs well above the $300M quoted cost, and cause even larger disruption to Red Line service.

  • Tooscrapps

    All infrastructure benefits private enterprise in one form or another. That’s pretty much the point.

    You’re right, I’m sure the 78 would get developed without a Red Line station. But I believe it benefits the City as a whole if its connected to the L. That is the CTA’s role: to move city residents, new or existing, in the most efficient way possible.

    Should we using the funds that are not earmarked, like say water fees, to build these projects? I’m not sure. I think TIF works well with these. Frankly, I don’t care how its paid for, but the City should be bearing of the cost of these infrastructure upgrades. That’s the City’s job. Its not like were extending expensive infrastructure into the cornfields for some patchwork SFRs.

  • Carter O’Brien

    I completely agree with you that CTA connectivity is really in everyone’s best interest, and just to be clear, I’m glad this is finally happening. When I played soccer at St Ignatius back in the 80s we had to jog down Roosevelt so we could use Grant Park, and to say that was a sad, desolate stretch that has come a very long way would be the understatement of the millennium.

    It’s unfortunate that the TIF program has been so thoroughly abused, but, there it is. People are very distrustful of it for good reason. So sure, the City should cover infrastructure that is typical for a development, but $300m for an L stop? That’s pretty far from typical.

  • planetshwoop

    Property taxes pay for schools and parks, as well as roads, CTA and other public works.

    TIFs have become ways to capture the upside of development into a pot of money that can be diverted by the alderman for any purpose, and not utilized for the kind of “general good” that happens with regular funds being raised.

    Freezing the tax levels for new development effectively pushes the burden of upkeep onto the rest of the tax base, so it squeezes more from the rest of us AND ensures that the money can’t be used equitably.

    I believe it is one of the contributors to inequality – the tax captured from downtown development cannot be used to help the neighborhoods; it has to be used downtown. When this is writ large across the city, it just makes for incredibly wasteful spending.

    If TIF were implemented in the spirit it was intended, maybe it would be a good thing. But we’re so so far past that it’s probably better to freeze any further TIFs until the governance is sorted.

  • Tooscrapps

    – TIF cannot be diverted for ‘any’ purpose, but yes, must be spent in the TIF or an adjacent TIF.

    – Downtown TIF’s like LaSalle Central have been frozen on new projects and money that is not spent goes back to the taxing districts at the expiration of the TIF.

    – In Lincoln Yards and the 78, the TIF dollars are only going towards public works projects. Now ideally, you have a sunset that when those infrastructure bonds are retired, the TIF closes.

    – I’m not sure how the burden is put on to the rest of us, since these are two large empty areas not generating taxes to their potential. Yah, we say they will likely get developed, but how long have these areas sat vacant? We’ve already had decades of nothing. These areas, among others, are appropriate uses for TIF since they need roads, bridges, parks, transit, etc… things that the City provides or has provided to the other neighborhoods without people batting an eye.

  • ardecila

    You’re right, these areas probably would be developed without TIF. But then they would likely get developed in an insular, semi-suburban style just like Dearborn Park that minimizes the developer’s site costs. Without great walking or transit connections to surrounding areas, residents will likely drive for most of their needs. This cancels out Chicago’s advantage over suburbs and small cities elsewhere, and goes against the goals of this website as well.

    The fact is, truly urban development patterns require high levels of investment in infrastructure that private builders just can’t afford on their own, there has to be city involvement. We’re fortunate that some areas already have lots of infrastructure that can be used, but other areas are still stunted from centuries of massive industrial use. And if not for TIF, then all the property taxes generated by new development would just go into the black hole of pensions and CPS instead of into the city’s urgent infrastructure needs.

  • Carter O’Brien

    We’re going to have to disagree if you view City pensions and our public schools as black holes. I’ll never understand why spending money on schools in the suburbs is considered a no-brainer way to attract and keep families, but when we do it here it’s described as flushing money down the toilet.

    And the insularity that I find problematic is developers and urban planners operating in the absence of these larger community needs. Which raises another question – exactly what kind of economics training do you think the City’s TIF and urban planners have? I’d be willing to bet that where it exists (as opposed to MBA programs), it follows traditional Chicago School “free market” thought, as opposed to more holistic approaches such as solid state aka environmental economics or behavioral economics. There’s a lot of talking out of school here when it comes to incentivizing economic behavior IMO.

    All this said, I appreciate your insights. I’m a huge fan of “At Home in the Loop: How Clout and Community Built Chicago’s Dearborn Park” and would agree there are all kinds of lessons can be learned.

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