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How can we create “transit-supportive housing” near new Red Line extension stations?

Photo opp at an info table on the Red Line extension at a South Side community festival last summer. Photo: CTA

Now that the $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure bill, with $550 billion earmarked for transit has passed in Washington, and Illinois is projected to get $17 billion, the longtime dream of extending the CTA Red Line south to nearly the city limits is looking likely to become a reality. This week the transit agency hosted two online meetings to get feedback on proposed strategies and concepts for "transit-supportive development" near each of the four proposed Red Line extension station areas.

Similar to transit-oriented development, the Federal Transit Administration defines TSD as dense, mixed-use development near stations that encourages ridership, as well as reducing urban sprawl and traffic congestion, encouraging walking, and fostering economic activity and sustainability. A meeting on Tuesday looked at TSD opportunities around the future 103rd Street and Michigan Avenue stations. I attended the meeting on Wednesday, which focused on the upcoming 111th Street and 130th Street stations.

Screen Shot 2021-12-10 at 3.53.12 PM
“Connectivity” was the buzzword at Wednesday's event. CTA staff explained that the project would extend the train line 5.6 miles from it's current southern terminus at the 95th/Dan Ryan station to 130th Street, near the Altgeld Gardens housing project in Chicago's Riverdale community. The new tracks elevated from 95th to 116th, south of which trains would run at ground level. According to Ammar Elmajdoub, a strategic planner at CTA, this will bring new development and economic opportunity, a theme that was reiterated several times during the meeting.

The meeting was moderated by Barbara Keaton Stubblefield, senior manager of community outreach at Ardmore Roderick, an engineering firm that's consulting on the project. Also presenting was senior planner Teresa Fourcher from Solomon Cordwell Buenz, an architecture and planning company that's also consulting. A question-and-answer segment was led by SCB planner and urban designer Elbert Whitfield. In between, several people from both the CTA and relevant neighborhoods offered their takes on the project. According to Elmajdoub, the draft transit supportive development plan for RLE should be ready by 2022, with construction starting in 2025. Train service is projected to start by mid-2029.

Erin Lavin Carbonagi, managing director of the development consulting firm Urban Resolve, is part of the transit supportive development plan team, and she discussed the positive impact the 111th Street and 130th Street stations could have on the surrounding areas. “We’ve collected a lot of great input at community meetings and organized it into an over-arching vision statement supported by time goals for a strong and prosperous community in the project area," she said. "The vision statement is that the Red Line extension itself will serve as a catalyst towards achieving the community’s vision for regional prosperity, for improved quality of life and for community wealth generation.”

Carbonagi added that these “strong and prosperous communities will benefit from diverse housing options, successful commercial districts with thriving businesses and workforce advancement, neighborhood activity and connectivity.” She also promised that there will be “access to quality housing for residents.”

She stressed that this vision was inspired feedback from community members. “We’ve heard from your voices and your requests great interest in attracting grocers, restaurants, retailers and other great amenities to the area. But in order to attract these amenities, the economics need to attract the developers, and the economics need to attract these types of tenants.”

Carbonagi noted that the populations of the areas around the stations have been falling in recent years, and incomes levels have been decreasing, with the median age increasing. However, the Chicago Metra Agency for Planning predicts a future increase in population in these neighborhoods, “in part due to the Red Line extension.”

The area around the 111th Street station site in Roseland.
The area around the 111th Street station site in Roseland.
The area around the 111th Street station site in Roseland.

Andrea Reed, executive director of the Greater Roseland Chamber of Commerce, said the Red Line extension could improve the image of the community, which currently has public safety challenges. She argued that better transit service could help small businesses thrive and encourage more people to become homeowners in the area. “Then they’d have a stake in the community," she said. "When you have both of these things operating, that’s very powerful.” She also mentioned holding a training program to help smaller neighborhood businesses succeed and become “legacy businesses that could pass on the wealth to [family members]. The money stays in the community. And that’s very important.”

Watch Wednesday's meeting here. 

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