Friday, December 2, 2016

How long until proposed Red Line extension turns local tempers all “red?”

It is one of those projects that has been discussed for years – extending the Chicago Transit Authority elevated commuter train lines deeper into the city’s South Side than they already go.
Proposed route for Red Line extension

On a certain level, the project makes too much sense. The commuter trains that help city residents get from place to place and are a common fact of everyday life in most of the city only go as far south as 95th Street.

WHILE CHICAGO ITSELF usually considers 119th Street to be its southern boundary and there are parts of the city at the southeastern corner where 138th Street is the end of life as we know it and where suburbia begins.

Now as somebody who actually originates from that part of the city (born in South Chicago and with relatives scattered across the neighborhoods that comprise the 10th Ward), this is a project that I have long followed.

Because for people in the southeast part of the city, there are a few bus lines that pass through that eventually can take you to a place along the Dan Ryan Expressway where you can catch a Red Line train.

But it can be a slow, plodding trip (what with all those bus stops) and it can result in an hour-and-a-half journey to get downtown. There are parts of Will County or Gary, Ind., that have quicker connections to downtown Chicago via suburban commuter trains.

IT’S NO WONDER that those people who live near a Metra Electric line station in the South Chicago or South Shore neighborhoods, or in the Hegewisch neighborhood where the Indiana-based South Shore commuter line keeps its lone Illinois-based station, prefer to use those suburban-influenced services even though they're very much urban residents.

Which is why the idea of extending that Red Line train that now runs down the middle of the Dan Ryan to 95th Street would be a life-altering experience for the Far South Side.
Metra lines more a daily life reality in Far South Chi

A direct CTA el train extension going to 130th Street? Actual stations in the Roseland and Pullman neighborhoods – instead of having to take a bus to the west to catch a Metra Rock Island line commuter train in the Beverly or Morgan Park neighborhoods.

It sounds like nirvana (and I don’t mean the 90’s era rock band).

EXCEPT TO THOSE people who, while complaining about how isolated their part of Chicago often feels, will also be the first to complain about anything that brings about change.

They’ll be the ones who think of el trains as being something associated with “the ghetto” or artsy-fartsy North Side neighborhoods – and something they’ve managed to do without all these years.

I have heard from some of these people already. Although they have been muted largely because of skepticism that the city will ever get its act together and actually build the extension!

But will they get louder, now that talk is progressing to the point of figuring out where exactly new track would have to be built. City officials this week said they would allocate some $75 million for engineering studies. Which means figuring out what structures would need to be torn down.

CRAIN’S CHICAGO BUSINESS reported Thursday about the project – pointing out that 82 single-family homes and 19 multi-family properties are on a list of things that would need to be torn down to make room for 5.3 miles more of train track for the el extension.

The weekly business newspaper already has some comment from people who admit train service would be nice, but not necessary if it means they have to move.

Personally, I became an el proponent back during the stints I lived in North and Northwest Side neighborhoods, and I often wonder how it is that my home base neighborhood, so to speak, has never been willing to demand such equal service.
May someday no longer be distant southern CTA outpost?
Except that too many people living out in the land where Indiana isn’t an esoteric concept but is the place at the other end of the Chicago Skyway have become too used to their sense of isolation from the rest of Chicago – a concept whose time truly ought to come to an end.


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