Red Line extension would finally reach Chicago's far South Side black communities

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Ever been to Altgeld Gardens? It's a public housing community on Chicago's far South Side. I'm there every Saturday volunteering with a group of kids. When people ask me where it is, these are my approximate directions: Drive down 94 until you're absolutely sure you couldn't be in the city anymore. Then get off the highway when you see the strip club.

If you wanted to take the train to Altgeld, good luck. The CTA red line stops at 95th street, not anywhere close to 130th where Altgeld begins. One lone bus - the #34 South Michigan bus - travels there. But if CTA has its way, that's about to change. There's a new plan for four additional red line stations extending south, the last of which would reach Altgeld Gardens.

When I talked to a few Altgeld moms about the idea last Saturday, they couldn't stop smiling.

Transit means residents can get to jobs and stores elsewhere in the city more easily. It also means that more people could reach the community, potentially bringing business with them.

Altgeld is extremely isolated community with a lot of crime and few economic opportunities. The neighborhood has a liquor store, but currently no library. There's the strip club I mentioned, but no decently sized grocery store. This new red line extension would be a huge improvement, not only to Altgeld, but also to Roseland and West Pullman, where the other stops will be located. .

If the project moves forward, it will be paid for by federal grant money given to the CTA. "The Red Line extension represents precisely the kind of project Congress prefers to fund. It fits the bill as a true 'new star'" project, not simply a rebuilding of an existing line," says Jon Hilkevitch at the Chicago Tribune. "It provides much-needed transportation options to low-income, minority communities that historically have been bypassed when it comes to investment in infrastructure."

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Bypassed is right. Ever noticed how much farther apart train stops are when you get south of Roosevelt? I always found it confusing how I could reach the former Harold Ickes Homes by train at Cermak/Chinatown, but I couldn't get to Dearborn Homes, just down the road. It always seemed like there was a wide transit berth around the concentration of public housing that used to exist along State Street.

The project could be completed as soon as 2016. Meetings have been underway at Altgeld and in other communities that would be served, gathering residents together to get their input on what should happen. The most recent meeting at Altgeld drew 150 residents - a sign that the proposed changes are much needed.

Metropolitan Planning Council has called the area a "transit desert." Add to that the designation of "food desert," and maybe even "jobs desert." As the Chicago Housing Authority spends millions to rehab Altgeld, hopefully officials can make sure that this time around, the community isn't so deserted.

Photo credits: Top - Manquaze Allen, Bottom - Karin Sommer, Metropolitan Planning Commission 

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  • glad they're FINALLY building this. its not fair that skokie and evanston get fully connected but parts of chicago are left out.

  • I will quibble that although stops on the red line are farther apart south of Roosevelt, there is also a green line with many stations just a block or two east until 63rd St.

    That aside, this overweight, middle-aged white man living on the far northwest side insists that the red line extension must happen and as soon as possible. It is long overdue. To be sure there are far more Metra electric stations on the SE side that comparably on the NW side, but the SE side needs the red line extension to 130th. Construction should start ASAP.

  • @ ltargos: Keep in mind the rail links to Evanston and Skokie were in place shortly after the turn of the century by the former interurban lines that served Chicago. At that time, Altgeld Gardens was still prairie.

    Altgeld was built in the 1930s as a WPA project to house residents that worked in the former steel and railcar plants nearby. Shortly after the Korean War, it became another Chicago Housing Authority misadventure. Because of former franchise wars, transit was exclusively provided by The South Suburban SafeWay Lines buses by way of South Michigan Avenue and South Parkway (n.k.a. King Drive).

    I will agree though that Altgeld is one of a few City of Chicago "satellite" communities, much like Hegewisch. At least Hegewisch has the South Shore Line. Maybe a rail transit connection will spur honest retail growth there. God knows they need it.

  • Well, the CTA better get their act together first and figure out how to break even. The last thing they need is to make another community dependent upon subsidized fares that they can't support long term.

  • When the Dan Ryan 'L' line opened to 95th Street in 1969, we were assured that soon there would be branches on both the Calumet Expressway (now the Bishop Ford) and on the Ryan West-Leg. That's 41 years ago. The original 'L' lines were built over a century ago, using the technology of those times, usually in less than a year--and they are real ELEVATED lines. In contrast, the Red Line extension to Altgeld will run ON THE GROUND, in the expressway median (or at the side). No expensive elevated structure is needed! Though the city and other agencies have meager resources,this is one place where the money will go to good use.
    --JRS

  • While using expressway medians and existing railway right-of-ways are fast tracks to getting the L built, the reality is that they result in usage that is less pedestrian dependent and more vehicle dependent. While expedient in terms of getting approval, they are encourage more sprawl than the older L and subway stations.

    When the Dan Ryan L opened, it was also assumed that the Jackson Park and Englewood branched would be demolished. Thankfully that did not happen either.

    The only wasteful "crime" was when East 63rd was rebuilt in the mid-90s, only to have certain community leaders actually have a rebuilt section demolished before it reopened. East 63rd should have gone all the way back to Jackson Park. Shame.

  • Will the taxpayers have to fund this every year of its life as we do every other "public" transportation? If the project is not a profit maker for the city it should not be considered.
    AMTRAK , Joe Biden's public ride, has never made one dime we taxpayers nationwide are paying for that boondoggle similar to Us Post Office, Dept. of Education and every government enterprise why build it if it has to paid for by more tax dollars in a bankrupt country? All governments are inept and should be greatly shrunk because they waste taxpayer dollars.

  • In reply to FloridaJim:

    FloridaJim, if that's the case then the government should get out of the business of roads. No Interstate highways, roads, bridges or other strips of pavement for you. Also public parks and public schools -- I don't see any income from those either, so we should shut down all those non-profit-makers as well. The American government heavily subsidizes roads and bridges and in general the sprawling auto-centered infrastructure, but you don't see anybody complaining about that when the 6-line highway is widened to 8 lines. Rail, on the other hand, is the demon.

  • In reply to andrewesque:

    I'll complain about the government subsidizing roads and bridges and I'm no fan of public transportation either. It is so easy for the government to fund road and bridge work I don't understand why they don't. That work should be 100% paid for by gasoline taxes. Instead they pay for it from other revenue sources and then complain about our dependence on foreign oil. Go figure.

  • That is good to hear. With that and the new development of the U. S. Steel properties, which I blogged about, things are looking up for us South Siders. My concern though is that when the property values go up, we will not be able to afford to stay here and where will we go?

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