Talking Transit: Opportunities for development along Chicago’s renovated Red and Purple lines - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Talking Transit: Opportunities for development along Chicago’s renovated Red and Purple lines

Tim Jacobson, Gensler

The Wilson Station, ripe for transit-oriented development and the site of an MPC corridor development initiative.

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Over the next decade, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) plans to entirely reconstruct the north section of the Red and Purple Lines, from Belmont Station in Lakeview to Linden Station in Evanston. About one out of every five non-downtown boardings on the CTA rail system, or about 82,000 per day, take place at stations along this corridor, making it the most popular in the city. Yet much of the structure that carries the hundreds of trains, ferrying people to and from jobs, work and play, was completed in 1924 and has barely been updated. It is, in other words, clearly due for an update.

The first phase begins construction in 2017

The entire upgrade of the 9.5-mile line will cost up to $4 billion, making the Red and Purple Modernization project one of the largest transit projects in the city’s history. The huge expenditure required to complete the program means that it can’t all be put online in one go. It also will need significant aid from the federal government. Fortunately, the Federal Transit Administration announced in March that the project would be eligible for up to $1.5 billion in funding under the Core Capacity program, making it the first project in the nation to receive those funds. Though the CTA still has work to do to win the money, it is a step closer this year.

The upgrade will provide a number of extraordinary benefits for riders along the line, including:

  • Station platform extensions, which will allow trains to run with two additional cars, increasing load capacity by 20 to 30 percent;
  • New transfer stations between the Red and Purple Lines at Loyola and Wilson Stations, and wider, safer platforms along the line;
  • Modern aerial structures that will speed trains and reduce noise;
  • A 35 percent decrease in travel times between Howard and Belmont Stations, reducing the trip from 25.5 minutes to 16.5 minutes, and a 40 percent decrease in travel times between Linden and Howard, reducing the trip from 15.5 minutes to 11 minutes; and
  • An extension of the line’s useful life by up to 80 more years.

The $1.7 billion first phase of the project is currently under review, with public meetings planned to discuss the project on May 21 and 22. This portion of the project includes a new bypass north of Belmont that will carry Brown Line trains over Red and Purple Line trains (they currently have to stop and wait for each other to go by, a process that delays 40 percent of daily trains). This bypass will allow the number of Red Line trains to increase by 30 percent, or nine trains per hour.

In addition, the first phase will include the complete modernization of the track and stations from Lawrence to Bryn Mawr, which will extend on the improvements already planned for the Wilson Station. These improvements will allow faster trains, full accessibility, wider platforms and new stations. CTA is hosting a series of meetings on these improvements on May 21st and 22nd.

The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) is a strong advocate for investing in our existing infrastructure even as we plan for our region’s future needs. In addition, MPC supports the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s objective of doubling transit ridership in the Chicago region by 2040. The Red and Purple Modernization will play an essential role in helping to achieve both of those objectives, by offering upgrades to a decades-old but well-used line that has the potential to attract tens of thousands of new daily riders.

One way MPC recommends potentially funding a portion of the project’s costs is through value capture, which “captures” increases in property values that result from improvements in transit, such as the modernization project. This could provide a major supplement to local funds and help make the project competitive for federal grants.

Ample opportunities for redevelopment along the line

The improvements to the Red and Purple Lines planned in the first phase of modernization work will require some sacrifice from the surrounding communities. Indeed, the CTA has identified 19 buildings and several empty parcels that it plans to acquire using eminent domain to reconstruct the line. The following map, created by MPC, identifies the specific parcels that the CTA plans to acquire, subject to changes over the coming months.

Some property owners have expressed frustration that they may need to move; CTA has promised to compensate residents and has noted that plans have not yet been finalized.

CTA also plans to take advantage of the redevelopment to identify new sites for transit-oriented development (TOD), which could fill the gaps between the CTA lines and the street.

MPC supports well-planned TOD throughout the region, which offers a number of benefits: reduced costs of commuting, lowered congestion, higher sales for businesses, reduced municipal infrastructure costs, higher property values and a cleaner environment. Most of those benefits are a consequence of the fact that people who live and work near transit are far more likely to use transit, walk and bike. For example, 53 percent of Chicagoans who live within a quarter mile of a rapid transit station walk, bike or take transit to work, while only 25 percent of those who live more than half a mile away from a station do.

These benefits are important to the future of the Chicago region, which must concentrate new construction in areas adjacent to its transportation system, such as the Red and Purple Lines. MPC is currently working with the Uptown community on a Corridor Development Initiative, which brings residents and other stakeholders together to discuss the future of several parcels near the Wilson Station. These public workshops, which allow people to identify and discuss their goals for the future of their community, will conclude with a final meeting on May 29.

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