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Red and Purple Modernization

CTA let public weigh in on RPM under the ‘L’ plans for Edgewater and Uptown

The transit agency held public meetings in Uptown and Edgewater, showcasing plans for natural areas, workout spots, plazas, and a skate park.

A display board with Post-It notes Thursday evening at Truman College. Photo: Cameron Bolton

The transit agency held public meetings in Uptown and Edgewater.
The post is sponsored by the Active Transportation Alliance.

This week the CTA unveiled a "block-by-block" vision of what will go under the newly built elevated Red Line tracks between Lawrence (4800 N.) and Ardmore (5800 N.) avenues in Uptown and Edgewater.

When the CTA set out to rebuild the section of the Red Line between Wilson (4600 N.) and Thorndale (5930 N.) stations, it originally intended to preserve the nearby century-old embankment in some form. But it deteriorated more than the transit agency originally thought, and it decided to demolish the embankment altogether, leaving an elevated structure resting on support beams. This freed up space under the tracks, and led the agency to seek public input for what might go there.

The CTA released the initial concepts back in January and took the feedback it got into account when preparing a more detailed vision, which was unveiled at the public meetings held on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. The plans called for a pathway winding under the tracks, with several sitting areas, green spaces and features to reduce rainwater. It would have community amenities such as a skate park, a fitness area and a "sports court." While CTA officials acknowledged that they got feedback that some residents were opposed to having car parking under the tracks, the agency rejected that request and included some parking.  

Wednesday's meeting

The Wednesday, May 22 meeting was held at St. Ita’s Catholic Church, 5500 N. Broadway in Edgewater. The session was geared towards residents living along the section of the line between Foster (5200 N.) and Ardmore avenues. Attendees told Streetsblog there is a lot to like about the concepts, but they all believed that the parking that was included was unnecessary.

Discussing the plans at St. Ida's. Image: Igor Studenkov

The CTA officials present emphasized that the plans unveiled at the May meetings are preliminary. Residents were invited to add suggestions via Post-it notes and share feedback directly with project representatives. There were also billboards where residents could use circle stickers to indicate what kind of features they would like to see. About two-thirds of the way through the meeting, the skate park got a significant number of votes, and so did adding murals, having prominent wayfinding signage, and using environmentally friendly materials.

The CTA is planning to hold the final round of public meetings in late summer of this year.

Over 120 people attended the meeting at St. Ita's. There Jeff Wilson, CTA’s director of government and community relations, said there are several limitations to the project. The tracks and the surrounding buildings inevitably reduce the amount of sunlight, so large-scale green spaces are out of the question. "Availability of natural sunlight is limited. So, when people are talking about green space, I want to manage people's expectations." He added that the designs couldn’t get in the way of regular track structure maintenance and repairs, Wilson said. 

Ardmore to Hollywood. CTA: "Highlights: Smaller plaza spaces with a play trail and parking." View higher-resolution versions of all these block-by-block concepts here.

The plan calls for a skate park north of Foster, fitness pads north of Winona Street (5130 N.) and a "sports court" a little south of Ainslie Street (4900 N.) Emily Ryan, a CTA construction project manager, said that they would be used for "ground sports," since the court can’t have a fence people can climb onto. She did not elaborate on what that meant, except to say that soccer wasn’t one of them.

The plans also include "painted games" such as hopscotch between Winona and Foster. 

The planned parking spaces are mostly located in the sections between Argyle (5000 N.) and Winona streets; between Winona and Foster, between Balmoral (5400 N.) and Catalpa (5500 N.) avenues; and between Bryn Mawr (5600 N.) and Hollywood (5700 N.) avenues. The plans also show a handful of parking spaces immediately north of Berwyn Avenue (5300 N.), where the Jewel Osco already has a large parking lot, and between Foster and Berwyn (5300 N.) avenues. 

Hollywood to Bryn Mawr. CTA: "Highlights: Open plaza and event spaces with a play trail and parking."

Ryan told Streetsblog that, while CTA got the message that some neighbors weren’t interested in parking, they’ve also gotten feedback from other residents who were interested. They only included parking in spots where there was interest, she said. Of course, the fact that CTA gets revenue from paid parking spots under 'L' tracks may have played a role in the agency's decision.

While the under-tracks amenities will be paid for with construction funding, the question of who will pay for regular maintenance is still undecided. Project spokesperson Tammy Chase said the CTA is exploring its options, but upkeep could involve working with local organizations.

Asked whether the CTA would demolish the embankment along the Thorndale to Howard (7600 N.) section of the Red Line, and the Howard to Central Street (about thee miles north of Howard) portion of the Purple Line, Chase said that it hasn’t been decided yet. Until then, she said, it's premature to discuss any amenities that might go under the tracks. 

Bryn Mawr to Catalpa. CTA: "Highlights: Open plaza spaces for vendor events, outdoor fitness area and dog park."

Jeff Wilson said residents who didn’t attend the two meetings could still submit comments and suggestions by email, or by stopping at the project community office at 5137 N. Broadway during regular hours.

In her opening remarks, Ald. Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth (48th), whose ward includes most of the project area, highlighted the unprecedented opportunity the project brings, to "create space we never thought of before. So, what we would love for you to do is to really try to absorb what's on the posters here and bring your feedback."

Catalpa to Balmoral. CTA: "Highlights: Nature play, park space and seating nooks scattered throughout."

Paul Reise, who lives near the Bryn Mawr station, said that he liked the winding pathways and plenty of spaces to sit and relax. But like others who spoke to Streetsblog, he believs that parking isn’t necessary. "I don’t understand why they would includes a handful of parking spaces,” he said. "There’s [currently] no parking underneath, so it’s not like there’s a need. I think they could us it for something cooler."

Richard Bension said that, if there must be parking, it should have electric vehicle chargers, and he would like to see permeable pavers to reduce flooding. He also would like to see raised crosswalks to connect the sections of the pathway at street crossings.

Balmoral to Berwyn. CTA: "Highlights: Small scale plaza spaces with an area for sports and games."

But Benson said the concept had a lot going for it overall, and he appreciates features such as the skate park. "I like the amount of play space. I think people would gather, move and have fun, and it won’t be just a waking trail." 

Krysta Taylor, who lives near the Berwyn 'L' station, said that after the January meeting she was concerned that the CTA would use much of the space for its own needs, and that she was worried about issues with trash from the Jewel Osco. She said those concerns have been put to rest.

Berwyn to Foster. CTA: "Highlights: Skate park and small plaza spaces alongside parking."

But Taylor said there are still concerns. She isn’t happy that there will still be some parking, and she's still worried about fencing under the tracks, saying that she didn’t want to see children who might be playing under the tracks running to play in the nearby alleys. "I appreciate that the CTA took some of our concerns into account." She said last time she was unimpressed by the proposals, but the current plans are better.

Thursday's meeting

Last night's session focused on the half-mile between Lawrence and Foster. It was held at Truman College, 1145 W. Wilson Ave. in Uptown.

Checking out the displays at Truman College Thursday night. Photo: Cameron Bolton

Tammy chase told attendees the goals of Thursday's session was to share the new designs and get feedback on what kind of features people want to see. "For example play equipment, do they want... recycled material play equipment? Or do they want to see a slide off of the embankment for children to slide down?"

Foster to Winona. CTA: "Highlights: Dedicated to play and well-being given proximity and connection to the two elementary schools."

"What excites me is we've never done this," Chase added. "We've never had this opportunity. I mean imagine we had this big concrete soil block for more than a mile long under the 'L' for years, and suddenly it's going in."

Winona to Argyle. CTA: "Highlights: Open plaza spaces and sports and games area."

"I look forward to seeing what the construction will look like,” said Patricia Wdowka, a real estate agent who is currently serving on Chicago Association of Realators' Diversity 77 Committee as the designated committee member for Edgewater. "Especially being a realtor myself, and seeing both residential and commercial real estate. It's going to be really interesting how [the area under the tracks] mirrors and matches the communities and elevates the spaces of the community as well." 

Argyle to Ainslie: CTA: "Highlights: Open plaza space for events, dog park and playground."

One again, attendees seemed generally pleased with the plan. "What they laid out is actually really exciting from what I can see today," said Aaron Parker. "Until now, [the areas under the tracks are just kind of unused space. So if this gets built out of the way it's advertised, I think it looks pretty cool. I hope they get the funding for it."

Ainslie to Lawrence. CTA: "Highlights: Open plaza areas and active areas."

"I'm personally hoping for some unique walking and sitting areas, because that's probably what I would use the most," Parker added. "The idea of the continuous walking trail, I think that would be nice. There's not a whole lot of great walking paths nearby, unless you can get over to Winnemac Park. This would be pretty close to where I live."

What do you think of the designs? Let us know if the comment section.

Read today's CTA news release about the program here.

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