Chicago Recommends Red Line Extension Route

Chicago Red Line Extension MapAfter third round of public meetings, project will go into engineering.

This week, Chicago’s CTA held meetings on the extension of its Red Line, completing initial work on alternatives analysis for the corridor. The project is designed to bring heavy rail service south of the line’s existing 95th and Dan Ryan terminus towards the city’s southern edge to serve a significant poor and minority population currently lacking quality transit service. CTA officials will advance into the federal government’s New Start capital funding process with an elevated alignment along the Union Pacific corridor as the preferred alternative. Bus Rapid Transit alternatives were eliminated from consideration.

The choice of a heavy rail alternative was always the expected choice, as it will allow commuters from the area to reach the Loop directly via the Red Line’s existing Dan Ryan branch, which runs in the median of I-94 as it passes through south Chicago. An advantage of this extension, as I wrote in December, is that it will be “closer” to the inhabitants of the area it will serve because it won’t be located in the middle of a highway, a terrible place to put a rapid transit right-of-way if we’re working to encourage transit-oriented development and walkable communities around stations.

Unfortunately, the decision to place the line along the Union Pacific corridor won’t make these the most convenient stations, either, because freight trains will continue to run along separate tracks adjacent to the Red Line extension. Freight trains currently pass at-grade through intersections in this area of Chicago, which is quite impoverished and is in desperate need of investment. It isn’t particularly dense compared to the rest of the city; it has suffered from increasing abandonment and disuse in recent decades.

The primary alternatives being considered would have extended the Red Line either south and southeast along the Union Pacific corridor to 130th Street — the choice eventually picked — or south on Halsted Street to Vermont Avenue. Each corridor is about 5 miles long and would include four new stations. Both would cost roughly the same to build at $1.1 billion, though the former will attract more annual riders, 12.7 million, than the latter, 11.6 million.

Shorter versions of each corridor would serve almost as many riders for a significantly lower cost, so the city might consider shortening the extension to 115th Street to meet federal cost-effectiveness requirements. To me, the last station on the Union Pacific route is unnecessary, because it would serve only the small Carver Park neighborhood, which itself is difficult to reach because it’s surrounded by a river, parks, and industrial zones. Further extensions from there into Indiana are unlikely.

The Union Pacific corridor is centrally located between Metra’s Electric and Rock Island commuter rail lines, something not true of the Halsted corridor alternative, which is further to the west. The public’s support, in addition, came down in favor of the Union Pacific corridor, which would be less disruptive to neighborhood activity than a Halsted line built above a street.

Considering the limited expected ridership and relatively sprawled-out nature of the affected area of Chicago, I think it would be a disappointment to build this extension without encouraging affiliated transit-oriented development. The city should find ways to encourage investors to build new housing and retail in this area, aimed towards the neighborhood’s low-income inhabitants. Chicago also ought to think twice about investing so much money into a project with fewer likely benefits than, for instance, the planned Circle Line, which will serve dense areas of the city near downtown and improve commutes for everyone in the region.

Image above: Red Line extension preferred alternative, from CTA

7 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • For more on why outer-suburban extensions tend to go ahead of inner-city enrichments like the Circle Line, see my post here:

    http://www.humantransit.org/2009/05/rail-rapid-transit-maps-to-scale.html

    This seems to be a distinctly American issue.

  • Toronto’s subway system prioritizes suburban extensions, too, while neglecting city center additions like the downtown relief line along Queen Street.

  • Nathanael

    Oooh…. have they considered connecting it to either Hegeswich or (better) Kensington? There seems to be an intermodal connectivity opportunity being missed here. It also seems to make more sense than the Carver Park station.

    Either would allow for much better connectivity to Indiana by linking to South Shore Line trains. Red Line and South Shore Line reverse-peak service would provide car-free access from the Far South Side to what jobs are left in Indiana.

    Kensington, which already has two Metra Electric branches, South Shore service, and three daily Amtrak trains each way passing through without stopping (sigh), would make an ideal transit hub for transit-oriented development. It needs improvements anyway in order to merge South Shore Line traffic, Canadian National is removing most of the freight trains from the east side — it’s ripe for redevelopment!

    To minimize eminent domain *and* the problem of putting el tracks over the street (which people seem to dislike), I’d probably run the tracks on a bridge next to the UP bridge over the Metra Electric tracks, and land them on the east side, approaching Kensington from the south — by terminating on the east side from the south, a terminus without elevators could be arranged. Meanwhile the South Shore Line could get a grade-separated Kensington approach flying over or diving under this whole mess — which it badly needs anyway. This would require realigning the ‘long-distance’ CN/IC tracks, which would fit well with making a platform for them….

  • So am I the only one who noticed that the recommended terminus is adjacent to Altgeld Gardens? Not that that makes it any less deserving; in fact, Yonah, if you haven’t already read Dreams From My Father, I’d be interested to see if it changes your opinion that that stop is “unnecessary.” Carver Park may be a small neighborhood, but it’s got the CHA’s largest project, one that definitely needs an el station.

  • Cap’n Transit –
    I feel a bit ignorant — it does seem like that community really does deserve this connection. Thanks for the good point. And, no, I haven’t read the book, but this is the most compelling reason I’ve heard thus far to do so…

  • Thanks, Yonah. I wouldn’t read the book just for background on the Red Line extension – you’d probably get just as much out of the first article I linked to. The chapters on Chicago say a bit about the city and about the challenge of community organizing, but they’re a relatively small part of the book. Most of it is about Obama’s childhood and teenage years, and about his first visit to his family in Kenya.

    But it’s been very helpful to me in understanding who Obama is and where he comes from. The book is one of the most thoughtful and honest things I’ve ever read from a politician.

  • You want to see just exactly how things get racially misinterpreted, watch
    this……

    They say there is no “Conspiracy to keep White and Black transit riders
    separated”. Well, current Red Line Extension plans certainly make it seem like
    that.

    I just don’t understand how CTA can plan to cross the Metra Electric District
    Mainline just south of Kensington/115th, and then run immediately adjacent to
    the South Shore Line rails to 130th St.; and yet if I am interpreting the plans
    correctly, there will be no interchange station (between CTA, Metra, and/or
    South Shore) anywhere on the extension.

    Is this an oversight? (unlikely)

    Too costly (this should be a REALLY BIG extension priority).

    Racist Conspiracy (I would want to choose not to believe that – but I am
    admittedly quite naive and Obsessive Compulsive Quixotic).

    Transit Operators planning ahead to protect their own little fiefdoms, and RTA
    not exercising planning oversight authority (Hit the Nail Right on The Head).

    And since CTA and Metra MUST have worked together on big joint station
    intertransfer projects like at (mostly White) Jefferson Park on the NW Side, and Harlem/Marion in (fairly diverse) west suburban Oak Park; so what’s going on (or isn’t going on) here in the (mostly Black) South Side community of Roseland??

    I have plans for a Kensington Transit Center: bit.ly/KensingtonTC in that
    area, which would provide for rider intertransfers; and would create a transit
    and job engine for that now depressed area, on vacant non tax-generating land.

    Just like the lawsuit filed earlier this week, here is a planning defect that
    should be corrected long before construction even starts; instead of a lawsuit
    being filed about it later. But do you think they’ll listen – NO WAY – and this
    is just exactly how racially motivated lawsuits start.

    Somebody on this fine board please analyze this situation for me, and please
    tell me if I’m wrong?

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