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Transit advocates weigh in on the CTA’s Refresh & Renew program

Advocates say the program to occasionally deep-clean 'L' stations is nice, but it would be great if the agency put more effort into keeping train stops sanitary all the time.

The Green Line’s Conservatory stop, which is getting the Refresh & Renew treatment. Photo: John Greenfield

This post is sponsored by Boulevard Bikes.

The Chicago Transit Authority’s Spring 2024 Refresh & Renew program recently started. It’s a series of holistic improvements that will be made to 13 rail stations and three bus turnarounds, with the end goal of making them more inviting and improving the transit rider experience. The program first started back in 2019. 

"Our riders deserve clean, comfortable stations, and the Refresh & Renew program is just one way we work to keep our facilities looking up to date throughout the system," embattled CTA President Dorval R. Carter, Jr. said in a statement.

Here’s a list of this year's R&R locations, according to the program's webpage.

  • Red Line: Sox-35th, Addison, Thorndale, Granville, Howard
  • Blue Line: Chicago,
  • Green Line: 35th/Bronzeville, Ashland, Conservatory, King Drive
  • Brown Line: Armitage
  • Orange Line: Pulaski, Ashland
  • Bus Turnarounds: 95th/Ashland, Milwaukee/Imlay, Addison/Pontiac

The scope of work varies by location, but the CTA says each station will get a deep-clean power washing of all the surfaces, and a new paint job. Other improvements include lighting upgrades, improved platform amenities, permanent repair work, and updating signage that’s either old or damaged.

35th/Bronzeville/IIT station improvements. Image: CTA

The current cleaning work is slated to finish by the end of May. There will be a summer and fall program as well. Though the dates for the latter will be announced later, that work is expected to last through November. The R&R team has been allocated about $6.5 million from the CTA's operating budget.

Active Transportation Alliance spokesperson Ted Villaire voiced support for the program. "Investing in station refurbishments demonstrates a commitment to providing a high-quality transit experience. By regularly refurbishing train stations, CTA can extend the useful life of its infrastructure, improve service reliability, enhance safety and accessibility, and ultimately provide a better overall experience for commuters while also encouraging the use of public transportation."

"Fresh Paint" signs at Sox-35th today. Photo: Cameron Bolton

"We welcome any initiative to keep CTA stations clean," said Fabio Göttlicher, cofounder of the grassroots transit advocacy group Commuters Take Action. "Riders deserve transit spaces where they can feel comfortable. We feel that this announcement is not particularly newsworthy, as work like this should be part of routine maintenance. Tasks like power washing of stations should be done so often that riders don’t even have a chance to notice their stations getting dirty." 

Dirty train stations are an issue for many U.S. transit systems nowadays. Chicago's Metropolitan Agency for Planning published a report last September on how some riders have been reluctant to return to public transportation post-COVID because of sanitation and other user experience issues. At the time of the report, rider satisfaction with cleanliness had fallen for both CTA and Pace.

Belmont Red/Brown/Purple Line station. Image: CTA

Kyle Lucas, a leader of the sustainable transportation advocacy organization Better Streets Chicago, told the Sun-Times that while he appreciates the R&R improvements, he also wished that the CTA would be more proactive with cleanliness policies. For example, he argued that offering public restrooms at 'L' stops would keep the rest of the station more hygienic. "It can be a real sanitary issue, in particular, when you think about elevators. A lot of people with disabilities need to go to elevators, and for manual wheelchair users, that's really unsafe and unsanitary for them to roll through those sorts of conditions."

While transit advocates generally appreciate the Refresh & Renew program, it would be great to see the transit agency put more effort into keeping CTA stations clean all the time, not just after a special cleaning initiative takes place.

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