What grade for the CTA’s Red Line north station rehab project? A-plus? B-plus?

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.

Patrick:

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?

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.

Patrick:

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.

Kevin:

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?

Patrick:

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.

Kevin:

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?

Patrick:

OK, I’m good with that. An A-minus, for big vision and excellent, but not perfect, execution. Well done.

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  • I've used the following stations, Loyola, Granville & Bryn Mawr.
    Only Granville has been done & I haven't seen a bit of difference there.
    It looks exactly the same as before! I'm still trying to figure out what was done other than cleaning it.
    We'll have to wait a few weeks/months for Loyola & years for Bryn Mawr.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    When I read this comment Scooter, I have to say I thought: "Scooter should spend less time bitching here and more time paying attention."

    Sorry - but true.

    Loyola and Bryn Mawr were never on the list of the seven stations included in the Red North Interim Improvement Project. And Granville didn't get the full treatment the other six got since it got a rehab in the early 1980s. I even gave Granville a B-minus when it reopened:

    I can understand your confusion about Loyola since there's plenty of work going on there. But I've reported a number of times that it's separate work and separate funding.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    What?
    You think I didn't know that Loyola & Bryn Mawr weren't on the rehab schedule?
    Of course I knew!
    But the fact is that I went through Granville two days after it reopened & it looked exactly the same as before.
    Exactly!
    Now just what did they do for six weeks other than hang around & contemplate their navels?

    I have no confusion about what's going on at Loyola, I go through constantly.
    It sucked before & will continue to suck as long as there is only one stairway for the damn station!
    Reopen the east side of Sheridan stairs, that would do wonders for the problem of too many people trying to get down one narrow stairway!
    Get Loyola U. to pay for the employee needed to run the entrance/exit on the east side!

    And just what is taking so damn long to fix up the station house?

    So I will continue to bitch about the general incompetence of the CTA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    If you open the entrance on the east side of Sheridan, you would only access the platform to go north to Howard. What good is that?

    Chicago-l.org has a good explanation on why that entrance was closed int he first place.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    It's an exit.
    It would reduce the crush at the one & only stairway.

    I wouldn't give Chicago L the time of day.
    They are hopeless suckups to the CTA!
    Such as the unnecessary use of the ® next to "CTA" everywhere on their site.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    Also, according to the CTA salary spreadsheet, an employee.

    However, there is some debate whether he was an employee when he started the site, or like someone else who had a site and is also on the spreadsheet, acted as a suck up to get the job. Maybe that's called "networking."

    However, I haven't found anything off on his historical renditions.

  • I'm happy with most of what they did at Granville--it looks spiffier. But why did they omit benches from inside the platform shelters where there were benches before? The benches were not being abused. I would like an explanation from the CTA of how they believe it benefits me, the passenger, to no longer have a place to sit out of the cold during a long wait. I do not see much evidence that passenger comfort enters into their thinking.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    CC, I think it's better not to have benches. When it's cold, more people can enjoy the heat of the shelter when there are standees only.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    And if there isn't decrowding, the body heat too.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    Benches aside, the "heat of the shelter(s)" is little consolation on days when the winds are strong & biting-cold, or if it's sleeting or raining heavily. The platform roof lines are poor protection on those days. Most L-platforms are more appropriate for warmer climates.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    That may work for rush hour, but not an interminable, lonely wait on a weekend.

  • The work done at the Bryn Mawr station is less than a band-aid and very much a sad joke.

    All that has been done is new doors on the station house, some exterior paint removal and (discount/clearance sale) tile replacement in the stairwell.

    It's just as disgusting as ever.

  • In reply to BrendanDickus:

    Ald. Osterman says that it is due for a separate project, and, as Kevin pointed out, was not part of this one.

  • Overall, I'm a fan of the work they did. Brighter, cleaner, more welcoming. One negative to the work is that there are no longer doors to the stairs, at least at Berwyn. That makes the station house a much colder place and not a pleasant option if you want to wait for the train or a bus in the station house.

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