In the Loop is your round-up of what’s going on in the transportation world, posted in conjunction with Talking Transit.
After years of discussion, Amtrak released a request for developers for the redevelopment of Chicago’s Union Station, one of the nation’s great intercity rail stations. The project, which the Metropolitan Planning Council has been advancing as part of the Union Station Master Plan since 2010, could include not only the renovation of the historic headhouse, but also the development of a new tower above that building (as was initially proposed when the building was constructed in 1925), and the replacement of a nearby parking deck with transit-oriented development.
The importance of renovating and expanding the station has been demonstrated by St. Paul, Minnesota’s Union Depot, which was renovated several years ago and now is a popular and accommodating place for transportation connections. The Twin Cities’ Metropolitan Council helped support that project, and on July 14, MPC will host the Council’s former chair Susan Haigh for an Urban Think & Drink.
We’ll also be hosting former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean for an Urban Think & Drink on Sept. 21 for a discussion of that city’s extremely rapid growth over the past few years.
Also, apparently we're not the only ones who think pandas and transit go together.
transit in the Chicago region
It’s been a big last few weeks for the Chicago Transit Authority. The CTA revealed final plans for the new 95th Street terminus of the Red Line. What had once been a dreary and gray structure is being replaced by a bright red and quite bold building on both the north and south sides of 95th Street above the Dan Ryan Expressway. This project, the final element of the reconstruction of the south side of the Red Line, will improve passenger amenities by making transit more accommodating and friendly.
One can only hope the project will spur more transit use. Even as ridership on the CTA ‘L’ system has increased dramatically, use of the 95th Street station has declined. Average weekday entries at the stop have declined from an average of 14,894 in 1999 to 11,632 in 2015—a 22 percent decline. What was once the busiest ‘L’ station outside downtown is now outpaced by Belmont and Fullerton on the Brown, Purple and Red lines, and Chicago on the Red Line. Of course, much of this trend has little to do with the CTA at all and much more to do with the fact that large sections of the South Side of the city have lost large numbers of people over the past few decades.
CTA has also been investing millions of dollars in the reconstruction and expansion of the Wilson Station on the Red—and soon Purple—Line, in the Uptown neighborhood. A neighborhood group, spurred on by work MPC conducted in the area in 2014, is developing ideas to rethink the area under the station. CTA’s current plans will simply put surface parking in the void, but the Wilson Underline coalition is proposing public space with benches and landscaping instead. It could be a wonderful addition to the community.
These two stops aren’t the only ones being redeveloped by the municipal transit system. The Quincy station downtown, which serves the Brown, Orange, Pink and Purple lines, will be renovated as part of an $18.2 million program that will integrate elevators for the first time. Quincy is the oldest and best-preserved station in the CTA system.
Finally, CTA made news by recognizing that its history is not just being preserved in the form of historic stations. Indeed, the agency announced the creation of a “heritage fleet” made up of older models of CTA vehicles designed to keep the public aware of the agency’s past.
The Minnesota Twin Cities have been investing dramatically in new transit projects over the past few years thanks to a regional consensus about the importance of investing in public transportation. That consensus, though, is looking shaky. Dakota County, in the southern part of the region, recently announced that it would be leaving the Counties Transit Improvement Board, the funding agency for transit improvements. This move could threaten the region’s future investments as it reduces the tax revenue available.
Other cities, though, are identifying new mechanisms to expand taxes for transit. In Raleigh, North Carolina, a half-cent sales tax referendum is going to the voters this fall to support a countywide system of bus rapid transit and commuter rail lines.
In Los Angeles, a similar plan will also be up for a vote, but some are asking whether the proposal is the right one for that city’s future. We’ll see in November what the voters think.
On the east coast, investing around transit has become the norm, and in Philadelphia, a developer and Drexel University have announced a $4.5 billion plan to radically alter the neighborhood around 30th Street Station, near the center of the city. 30th Street is Philadelphia’s primary intercity rail station. The plan will include the reconstruction of 100 acres over 35 years and eventually provide the space for up to 10,000 new residents and 40,000 jobs—plus enhancements to the station to expand its capacity.