Wilson station design: sleek, bold, neighborhood-changing

More than 170 individuals turned out for the CTA Open House at Truman College Thursday night to view and discuss design proposals for the $203 million rebuild of the Wilson Red Line station.

The designs are sleek and ambitious. By reconfiguring the entire track structure and taking advantage of available space between the historic terracotta buildings on Broadway and the modernist Truman College to the west, the station redesign represents a bold move to recreate a vibrant core for the Uptown neighborhood.

The station’s main entrance will be on the south side of Wilson, fronted by a 22-foot glass curtain wall to keep out the snow and wind. The Gerber building across the street, built as an elegant passenger rail terminal in the 1920s, will get a completely restored façade, including replacement of the decorative arch that was removed decades ago at the Broadway corner.

The Gerber building will include an auxiliary station entrance on the north side of Wilson. The rest of the building – some 16,000 square feet – will be developed for commercial uses, including, if 46th Ward Ald. James Cappleman has his way, a French Market selling fruits and vegetables every day of the week.

A third station entrance will be at the south end of the 10-car platform, at Sunnyside, serving the Aldi and Target stores to the east and Truman College to the west. The block-long expanse alongside and under the tracks, between Wilson and Sunnyside, offers opportunities for transit-oriented development of retail stores or an office building facing Truman College, said CTA representatives.

Crusty heart of Uptown

The station is at the scruffy heart of Uptown, where wide sidewalks are filled at all hours with pedestrians and hangers-on, including more than 6,000 incoming commuters each weekday. The area’s been struggling for a long time and the current Wilson station, whose main platform dates to 1900, hasn’t helped much. Three times it was voted the CTA’s “crustiest” station by readers of RedEye.

The current station entrance facing Broadway takes passengers down a grand but worn staircase past flaking walls and empty storefronts. The current auxiliary entrance is no better, with its chain-link “walls.” At track level, rotting boards curl upward on an unused auxiliary platform. Several out-of-the-way corners smell of urine.

“When I was elected alderman I made the Wilson station my number one priority,” said Alderman Cappleman, who attended the open house. “I vowed that it would never again be voted ‘crustiest’ station, and I give credit to Mayor Emanuel for his big vision and his interest in transit.”

The station design exceeds Cappleman’s expectations, he said, after 20 years of false starts. He wants to build pedestrian traffic around the new station by developing a full-time fruit and vegetable market inside the Gerber building. “Seattle has Pike Place and Cleveland has (the West Side) market,” said Cappleman. “We can too, something that reflects the great diversity of Uptown and becomes a destination for people from other neighborhoods.”

Transit details

The CTA’s presentation boards and Wilson web page provide plenty of new information about the station and its surroundings.

• Express platforms – Two wide platforms will allow transfer from Red to Purple Express trains, under translucent canopies. Each platform will be served with an elevator and escalator.

• Track realignment – The current meandering track structure will be completely rebuilt from Montrose to the curve crossing Broadway. By moving the tracks slightly west and using modern construction methods, all of the support columns now blocking views or auto lanes on Wilson and Broadway will be removed, and most of the columns on the Broadway sidewalk will also be gone.

 Pedestrian access – The site plans and renderings show wide access paths from Sunnyside and Wilson, and a pedestrian zone under the tracks made of water-permeable pavers. There’s room for bike racks and a reference to a bike-sharing station.

 South-end improvements – The area near Montrose now includes a stretch of abandoned elevated track, a green-roofed electrical substation and the CTA’s signal shops (in the building with decorative brick). The elevated structure will be removed and replaced with landscaping and permeable pavers, but no access from Montrose or Clifton is shown, so far.

Opportunities for comment

CTA’s representatives at Truman talked about engineering, design and logistical details to a very interested crowd, and several times were heard saying that the plans are not final and that public input is welcome. The CTA is particularly interested in how to use the pedestrian and transit-oriented spaces between Wilson and Sunnyside.

CTA Station Watch has previously published ideas about a soundstage in the French Market and the addition of green features and solar-energy production. The city’s own Department of Transportation just unveiled the “greenest street in America” on Cermak Road, with several innovations that could work at Wilson. With a $203 million budget, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that the Wilson station should be a showcase of new ideas.

Comments can be submitted to CTA by email, fax and mail. And you can keep the public conversation going by commenting right here. What do you think?

This story originally appeared on CTA Station Watch.

Want more? Grid Chicago's Steven Vance wrote about the station design, express service and the Uptown neighborhood.

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  • you forgot to put "ludicrously expensive" in your headline.

  • In reply to whateva:

    A million bucks -- or $200 million – isn't what it used to be, especially when it comes to infrastructure. The Wacker Drive reconstruction cost $300 million, and the proposed rebuild of the Circle Interchange is pegged at $375 million. Putting real money into these projects is surely better than nickel-and-diming it, as when CTA, years back, put a chain-link enclosure around the main entrance at Lawrence Red or the auxiliary entrance at Wilson. That approach just degrades a civic asset.

  • It won't be built as planned.
    The track realignment, that will happen, as will the two platforms.
    But the roof will go as too expensive & the station will look like Belmont.
    While the station building is from 1923, the two remaining platforms are from 1900, except for Track one, which is from 1959.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    Thanks for pointing out that the main platform dates from 1900. I've fixed that in the story. As for the canopies, yes, we'll have to wait and see. They do look very nice in the renderings.

  • I really hope they are able to soften the curve or "kink" right at Montrose. This bend in the tracks creates a permanent speed restriction down to about 25mph. If they can eliminate it, the stretch of track from the Sheridan curve into the Wilson station would be one of the few places on the line that trains could get up to maximum speed. However per the detailed plans, it looks like the structure work ends just South of Sunnyside.

    The Montrose bend got me back to thinking about all the new slow zones around Diversey/Wellington on all 4 tracks. There are a series of sharp kinks and bends in the tracks at this location and I'm now wondering if it has something to do with excessive wear on the tracks, which are causing slow zones just a few years after the tracks were rebuilt with the Brown line project. It's a shame the CTA didn't realign the tracks to soften or remove these sharp jogs when they had the chance during the Brown line project. Most if not all the original buildings that backed right up to the elevated structure are long gone at Diversey and by Wellington, I think they could have realigned the structure with out acquiring properties. Yes it would have been expensive, but the long term effects are probably more due to constant maintenance to the tracks in the area as well as excessive wear on train wheels. Of course the CTA doesn't have the resources and/or proper management to give the tracks in areas with high wear and tear the attention they require, so we all suffer with the resulting slow zone epidemic.

  • In reply to Matt:

    The Diversey Kink [that's really its name] was supposed to be straightened out as part of the Brown Line expansion project, but that idiot Frank Kreusi canceled it with the statement: "You don't really want us to spend $25 million to straighten out a piece of track, do you?"

    Yes, actually, we did want that.
    I'll bet that over the 40 years of life that the feds require this to last, they will spend far, far more than $25 million on worn track & worn wheel flanges to replace.

  • Good. Lots of construction jobs and a terrific L station at the end. What's not to love about this project?

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