Thoughts on Uptown and Edgewater Red Line station designs

The current Argyle station design and the future one. Images: Google Maps, CTA
The current Argyle station design and the future one. Images: Google Maps, CTA

Late last week the Chicago Transit Authority unveiled renderings for four new Red Line stations in Uptown and Edgewater, including Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn, and Bryn Mawr, part of the $2.1 billion Red and Purple Modernization project. As a Far North Side resident who lives close to the Red Line, I’m excited for these stations to be rebuilt and made wheelchair accessible.

These four stations date back to the early 20th Century, and are currently relatively gloomy and cramped spaces. The new facilities are designed to create a more cheerful and modern vibe, with a sleek, minimalist appearance, a red-and-white color scheme, and lots of glass to let in sunlight.

The stations will include wider platforms, elevators, and escalators. Demolition is set to begin this spring and the CTA has already begun to built temporary stops at Argyle and Bryn Mawr. In March residents will be updated about upcoming service changes and the construction timeline.

The Lawrence Red Line station, which first opened in 1923, is located in the middle of the Uptown entertainment district, next to the Aragon Ballroom and a stone’s throw from other early 20th Century music landmarks like the Riviera and Uptown theaters, and the Green Mill Jazz club. The CTA says new design’s architecture incorporates influences from the surrounding area and includes a large glass bay to let in sunlight and promote personal security. Lawrence saw 975,396 station entries in 2019.

The Lawrence station as it looks now and the future design. Images: Google Maps, CTA
The Lawrence station as it looks now and the future design. Images: Google Maps, CTA

The Argyle station opened in 1908 as a ground-level station and was rebuilt as an elevated one in 1921. It saw 970,130 riders last year.

Since the Argyle stop located on on a retail strip with many Vietnamese restaurants and other Asian-American-owned businesses, the new station will feature Asian design elements, including new signage. The colorful “Asia on Argyle” sign on the rail viaduct, which drew mixed reviews when it was installed seven years ago, will be replaced with the one-word text “Argyle,” and the pagoda-inspired roof above the tracks will be eliminated, as seen in the image at the top of this post. Here’s some feedback on the changes from our readers on Twitter.

A rendering of the Argyle station. Image: CTA
A rendering of the Argyle station. Image: CTA

The Berwyn Red Line station originally opened in 1916, and it saw 1,013,553 riders in 2019. The CTA says the new design “reconciles the residential area east of the station with its the commercial area to the west.” One usual feature is a mushroom-like weather canopy.

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The Berwyn station as it currently looks, and the new design. Images: Google Maps, CTA

The Bryn Mawr station originally opened in 1908 as a ground-level station and was rebuilt in 1921 as an elevated facility. It saw 1,390,206 entries in 2019. The new facility will feature a glazed terra cotta facade that is meant to complement existing buildings in the Bryn Mawr Historic District, including some iconic Art Deco structures clad in the same material. The station will also include a new entrance on Hollywood Avenue, one block north. Artwork currently hung in the stations will be salvaged and reinstalled. Community members will also be involved in the process of selecting additional new artwork.

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The Bryn Mawr station as it looks now, and a rendering of the new facility. Images: Google Maps, CTA

A major redesign element of the new stations is the removal of support columns from the street. Currently columns for the Argyle, Berwyn, and Bryn Mawr stations are cemented in the middle of the roadways, making the viaducts feel like dismal tunnels, so removing the columns will create an airier layout.

At least as important as the new aesthetics of the stations is the fact that they will now become more accessible to Chicagoans with disabilities and other mobility challenges. I used to work near the Bryn Mawr stop in a supportive housing role with adults with chronic mental illness. Some of the clients I worked with were unable to use the Bryn Mawr station due to the lack of elevators. I doubt the station redesigns will lead to a large increase in ridership, but they will elevate the station experience for current riders and provide access to folks with mobility issues who find it difficult or impossible to climb flights of stairs. Wider platforms are also a welcome addition.

When the reconstruction work begins this spring, the CTA will close the Lawrence and Berwyn stops, although Argyle and Bryn Mawr will remain open via the temporary stations. The service interruptions will be a challenge for local residents and merchants, but presumably bus service for the #81 Lawrence and #92 Foster lines will be re-routed to the nearby stations. Given the density of Divvy stations in the area, some people who live near shuttered stations may choose to ride bike-share to the nearest open Red Line station.

Sadly there are no plans to create a temporary bus lane for the #36 Broadway route along the impacted train line. When I lived in Edgewater, I’d often choose the Red Line over the #36 given the train’s relative speed and reliability. It would have been nice to see the CTA and the Chicago Department of Transportation work together to try to create train-line speeds on the bus route via dedicated lanes.

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