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CTA hopes to coax back riders with a new program to spruce up 125 stations this year

A message promoting CTA’s cleaning protocols, along with cleaning supplies, at the 95th Street Red Line platform. Photo: John Greenfield

Ever since transit ridership plummeted in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been complaints that safety and rider experience on the CTA have gotten worse, likely as a result of there being fewer "eyes in the railcars" to discourage problematic behavior. One of the main gripes is that the stations and carriages have gotten dirtier, partly due to an increase in littering.

Now that more than 60 percent of Illinoisans have gotten at least one vaccine shot, happily workplaces, entertainment venues, and other destinations are reopening. But according to Chicago Loop Alliance data, we've already been seeing a troubling rising in downtown driving that could lead to major traffic safety, pollution, and congestion issues. So it's crucial for local transit agencies to lure back rider by instilling confidence that commutes will be safe and sanitary.

Litter on a Red Line train last February. Photo: John Greenfield
Litter on a Red Line train last February. Photo: John Greenfield
Litter on a Red Line train last February. Photo: John Greenfield

Today the CTA launched a new strategy in that department, announcing Refresh & Renew, a program to deep-clean and upgrade 90 percent of the system's rail stations. It's part of the agency’s recently announced When You’re Ready, We’re Ready PR blitz to encourage ridership.

“Throughout the pandemic, our number one goal has been to provide our customers and employees a safe, clean and healthy travel environment,” said CTA President Dorval R. Carter, Jr. in a statement. “Refresh & Renew is our way of rolling out the welcome mat for our returning riders. Clean and well-maintained stations are an important part of our commitment to providing a comfortable transit experience.”

The CTA says that under Refresh & Renew, it will speed up its existing rail station improvement program, with over 125 of the system's 145 stations scheduled to receive upgrades in 2021. Work performed will vary by location, but workers will power-wash all of those stations and repaint surfaces like columns, walls, railings, fencing and gates, platform fixtures, and more this year.

A stairwell upgrade at the 35th-Bronzeville-IIT station.
A stairwell upgrade at the 35th-Bronzeville-IIT station.
A stairwell upgrade at the 35th-Bronzeville-IIT station.

Almost a third of the 125+ stops will get more extensive work this year, which may include upgraded LED lighting; improved platform fixtures like benches, trash cans, windbreaks; concrete repairs; updating or replacement of old or damaged signs; and more. Crews will also be doing behind-the-scenes work, like removing outdated fixtures and equipment, and repairs to utility and plumbing lines.

The agency says Refresh & Renew builds on the CTA’s year-round, cyclical maintenance program for CTA stations and facilities launched in 2019. During the winter, crews are usually focused on making repairs and upgrades to CTA work facilities and subway stations, and during the warmer months, they concentrate on outdoor stations.

Lighting upgrade at Sox-35th station.
Lighting upgrade at Sox-35th station.
Lighting upgrade at Sox-35th station.

To give customers a heads-up on when work will be taking place, the CTA has created a dedicated Refresh & Renew webpage and also will be posting signs and messages on digital screens at each station a few days before work starts, while work is taking place, and after it's done.

So far in 2021, work has been completed at five CTA work facilities, plus five rail stations on the Red, Green and Pink lines. Here are the stations on the docket for 2021 work:

    • Red Line: Howard, Jarvis, Morse, Loyola, Granville, Thorndale, Addison*,  Sheridan, Belmont*, Fullerton, Clark/Division, North/Clybourn, Chicago, Grand, Lake, Monroe, Jackson, Harrison, Roosevelt, Cermak-Chinatown, Sox-35th*, 47th, Garfield, 63rd, 69th, 79th, 87th
    • Blue Line: O’Hare, Rosemont, Cumberland, Harlem, Montrose, California, Western (O'Hare branch), Damen, Washington, Monroe, Jackson, Clinton, LaSalle, UIC-Halsted, Racine, Illinois Medical District,  Western (Forest Park branch), Kedzie-Homan, Pulaski, Cicero, Austin, Oak Park, Harlem, Forest Park
    • Brown Line: Kimball, Kedzie, Francisco, Rockwell, Western, Damen, Montrose, Irving Park, Addison, Paulina, Southport, Wellington, Diversey, Armitage, Sedgwick, Chicago, Merchandise Mart
    • Pink Line: 54th/Cermak, Cicero, Kostner, Pulaski, Central Park, Kedzie, California, Western, Damen, Polk*
    • Orange Line: Midway, Pulaski, Kedzie, Western, 35th/Archer, Ashland, Halsted
    • Green Line: Harlem/Lake, Oak Park, Ridgeland, Austin, Central, Laramie, Cicero, Pulaski, Conservatory, Kedzie, California, Ashland, Morgan, Clinton, Roosevelt, 35th-Bronzeville-IIT*, Indiana, 43rd, 47th, 51st, Halsted, King Drive, Ashland/63rd, Cottage Grove
    • Purple Line: Linden, Central, Noyes, Foster, Davis, Dempster, Main, South Blvd.
    • Yellow Line: Dempster-Skokie, Oakton-Skokie
    • Loop Elevated: Clark/Lake, State/Lake, Adams/Wabash, Library, LaSalle/Van Buren, Quincy, Washington/Wells

*Indicates stations where Refresh & Renew work has been completed already this year.  

After the 2021 work is finished, Refresh & Renew will shoot for completing improvements to 22 stations per year, with high-traffic stations getting attention more often.

If you've been riding the CTA lately, let us know what you think of recent conditions in the stations and on the cars in the comments section. 

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