Metra to Reopen A Closed Station Entrance in Hyde Park, Make Chicago State University a Scheduled Stop
Over the years, Streetsblog Chicago has spent a lot of digital ink talking about how Metra seems to focus more on the suburbs than the city, and how Metra Electric line in particular could use more regular service.
While the discussions about increasing service and reducing fares on the Metra Electric line are still ongoing, the transit agency is starting to show some love for two stations that serve two South Side universities. 59th Street/University of Chicago station will become accessible (with an elevator) and the access to the long-sealed 60th Street entrance will be restored. And 95th/Chicago State University station will become a regular service stop, and get at least one heat lamp and a park-and-ride lot.
59th Street/University of Chicago
As the name suggests, the 59th Street/University of Chicago station has an entrance at 59th Street, near the southern portion of the U of C campus. The station is also within walking distance of the Museum of Science and Industry and the north side of Jackson Park. The 60th Street entrance is still there, but it has been blocked off for quite some time. Metra also fenced off the portions of the platforms leading to the 60th Street exit – and those portions, unsurprisingly, are in much worse shape than the rest of the platforms.
The reopened entrance would provide a more convenient transfer to the Chicago Transit Authority’s #59 bus route and allow riders to reach southern end of UChicago campus and northern Woodlawn without having to cross the Midway Plaisance.
The refurbishment of the 59th Street station, including the reopening of the 60th Street entrance, has been discussed since at least 2011. According to Chicago Maroon, in 2015, UChicago signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the City of Chicago agreeing to work with the city and Metra to improve the platform and reopen the shuttered entrance. It agreed to commit $2.5 million of its own money, provided public funding is secured.
The Regional Transportation Authority’s 2018-2023 capital plan included $4 million for the project in 2019. Metra’s original 2019 capital plan didn’t mention anything about the project. But during its August 14 meeting, the Metra Board of Directors approved a change to the plan that included, among other things, the $2.5 million UChicago contribution toward the station rehabilitation.
According to Metra spokesperson Michael Gillis, aside from reopening the 60th Street entrance, the project will include “replacement of the platforms and headhouses, new warming shelters and windbreaks, new lighting, new speakers and signage [and] new elevators.” The elevators are almost as significant as the new entrance, since, unlike the 55th-56th-57th Street station to the north, the 59th Street station isn’t accessible to people with mobility issues.
The memo to the Metra Board of Directors indicates that the design phase of the project will happen before the end of this year, with construction slated to start in 2020.
95th Street/Chicago State University
For much of its history, 95th Street/Chicago State University station almost seemed like an afterthought. While the university is close enough to the station to be clearly visible from the platform, it gets less service than the 59th Street station. And, unlike its UChicago counterpart, the station is a flag stop – trains that serve it won’t stop at this station unless either a rider asks to get off or an engineer sees someone waiting to get on at the platform.
CSU has been trying to figure out a way to capitalize on the station, as well as to encourage development nearby, for years. In September 2018, Zaldwaynaka Scott, the university’s president, appealed directly to Metra Board of Directors, arguing that the station was long overdue for improvements. But that didn’t get traction until this summer.
Last Spring, Metra released the proposal for a new policy that would have set up procedures for opening new stations and closing existing stations. When I looked at the ridership numbers, I found that 95th Street/CSU station would be one of the 24 stations that would be classified as “unsustainable’ and potentially in danger of closing. Failing to maintain or improve stations and having limited scheduled service are potential causes of the station’s “unsustainable” classification, it should be noted.
The Metra Board of Directors was originally supposed to vote on the policy during its May 15 meeting. During the public comment period, Dr. Michael Ellison, CSU’s interim vice president, urged the transit agency to reconsider
“I’m here to ask Metra to partner with us to [maintain] and elevate this transit asset by making much-needed and important capital investment in the [95th Street/CSU] Metra station,” he said. “At Chicago State, we know that the best days are ahead of it. The 95th Street station is the key to revitalization.”
The Metra board ultimately decided to postpone the decision indefinitely. And, on July 28, it announced exactly the kind of investment Ellison was asking for. The station would get an elevator and refurbished stairs, as well as at least one heat lamp. The platform would be refurbished, and a new, 119-space Park-and-Ride lot will be built on nearby CSU-owned land. And, in a major change, the station would become a regular stop.
Gillis told me that Metra is currently working on the design, and they hope to have it finished “as soon as possible.”