The following is a conversation about the CTA Red north rehab project between Patrick Barry, founder of CTA Station Watch and Tattler contributor, and Kevin O’Neil, your good ol’ CTA Tattler.
With seven stations rebuilt and reopened, a half-dozen viaducts fixed and painted, and a mile of slow zones eliminated, it's time to give the CTA a final grade for the Red North Station Interim Improvements project.
It's an $86 million piece of work, and from the perspective of this long-time user of the Morse station, it wasn't just money well spent. It was a lifeline for our end of Chicago's mighty Red Line, a timely and critical reinvestment that, along with other projects up and down the line, will lock in the long-term benefits of Chicago's transit backbone.
In fact, I give the project an A-plus. It's been executed on time, the quality of work has been excellent, and most importantly, the aspirations have been high. It's a true upgrade of the rider experience.
My colleague Kevin O'Neil might think I'm being soft on the CTA, and sure, I have a few quibbles, but when a public agency has the vision and follow through to do something this well, I think it deserves full credit. Do you disagree, Kevin?
In general terms, I don’t disagree that the CTA did a fantastic job on this project. But I do think you are an easy grader – a softy. Were you ever a first grade teacher?
The CTA should not be ashamed of earning my grade – I give it a B-plus.
Just because we’re all humans, nothing is perfect, so the CTA will get no A-plus from me. But before we talk about the small problems, I will agree that the results are a “true upgrade of the rider experience.” From the gleaming stationhouses to the repaired slow zones, there’s much to like here.
Right. The stationhouse floors, for instance. When I saw them tear up the old terrazzo at Morse I thought, oh great, are we going to get concrete or something? But then they poured and polished a new terrazzo floor that looked like the old one. I like very much the glazed white brick, especially the curved edges, and someone was creative enough to reproduce the plaster molding up high on the columns, mimicking what was there before.
Also, many of the stationhouses were expanded by taking over adjacent storefronts. The wider space, an extra turnstile and additional exit doors means the stations can comfortably serve the rush-hour streams.
Yep, love the expanded stationhouses. But hey – why not add another turnstile? One of the added turnstiles is for exit only, making it useless when you’re trying to get through a crowd as you hear the train approaching. Just a small quibble.
The platforms are durable, with the new concrete squares replacing the old wood platform. However, I’ve already noticed problems with the caulk at the seams of the concrete squares at the Morse station (see photo). That’s no quibble. It shouldn’t happen after just six months.
The platform furniture is strong and solid, with three heated shelters to protect us this winter. There are at least a dozen cameras on the platform level. Those cameras systemwide are proving useful in apprehending criminals, such as the rapist who attacked a woman near the Lunt entrance of the Morse station.
And what about some of the other amenities Patrick? Such as bike racks and commercial spaces?
The bike racks are a good example of the CTA’s big vision on this project. These aren’t just racks, there are real bicycle parking lots at Lunt (Morse – see photos) and Thorndale, ready to serve scores of riders. They’re not on the scale you see in the Netherlands or China, but impressive nonetheless, a hint of a new transportation culture in Chicago.
As for the commercial spaces, the CTA took the opportunity to transform a deteriorated, nearly worthless set of assets – unrentable, worn out, leaky storefronts – and created attractive clean spaces right next to renovated high-volume transit stations. Nice, though the trick will be to get them rented.
But since you called me a softy, let me chime in with a criticism or two. The caulk jobs, yes, I’ve seen several spots where it’s separating from the concrete already. I’ve seen chipping paint, too, and enough gouges in the concrete platforms to wonder how they’ll hold up over time. So good maintenance will be essential to keep these stations up to the new high standard.
And as many commenters have pointed out, this project did nothing to improve accessibility, with no new elevators. I’ve got a hunch that some could be added at the ends of the platforms, where space allows, but the CTA just keeps kicking that issue down the road, to the Modernization project, whenever that might come. So from the point of view of my mother, who uses a wheelchair, this project gets an F, or maybe an Incomplete.
Now I will come to CTA’s defense on the accessibility issue. Of course it would have been great to add the elevators, but that also would have added millions more to the price. And the CTA never would have gotten each station open in six weeks. Besides, the CTA was very clear from the beginning this rehab would not include elevators. But still, I feel bad for your mother and all the folks who need help getting up and down those daunting stairs.
Another small criticism I have is that I wish there was a little more communication with the riding public about what these stations would look like. There never were any renderings shared ahead of time, and sometimes we were a bit surprised, such as when we learned Lawrence would not have concrete platforms.
The CTA was clear at the start that it was fast-tracking this rehab. They called it a “design-build” project since they went quickly from design stage to building it. Ultimately, I’m glad the CTA did it so quickly, and so well.
After our discussion, I’m prepared to raise my grade to A-minus. What do you think, Patrick? Agreed?
OK, I’m good with that. An A-minus, for big vision and excellent, but not perfect, execution. Well done.