Thursday, August 13, 2009

Will far South Side "culture" adapt to having the "el" within its presence?

Many people automatically associate mass transit and elevated commuter trains with urban areas.

Heck, mention the “el” and one thinks of those raucous trains roaring overhead cutting through city neighborhoods taking people from place to place.

YET THERE HAS long been a significant portion of the city for which the idea of mass transit and the “el” was a mythical concept – something that exists elsewhere but is just a dream for us.

I’m talking about the far South Side of Chicago – that land where street numbers are in the hundreds and where some of the streets even bear the names of letters (Avenue O, anyone?)

The Chicago Transit Authority gave its approval Wednesday to a project that could someday change that mentality. But I’m wondering if the thought patterns of a whole generation of Calumet Area types are so engrained that the thought of taking the “el” to go anywhere will remain an alien concept.

I’m sure there will be people who live in places such as the East Side or Roseland who will figure they got along all these hundreds of years without the “el,” so who needs it now.

SOME MAY EVEN think they remain in such neighborhoods because of their mass transit isolation from the rest of Chicago.

So when I looked at the graphics prepared by the CTA that detailed how the Red, Orange and Yellow elevated train lines were to be extended, I was unsure what to think – except for the Yellow line, which is meant to stretch out even further into suburban Skokie so that theoretically, people can go from the State Street shopping experience to the Old Orchard Shopping Center.

That strikes me as silly, but I’m sure there is somebody who thinks it is long overdue for people in Chicago to take the “Skokie Swift” all the way to their suburban shopping mall.

Now I will be the first to admit that when I lived in neighborhoods of Chicago on the North and Northwest sides, I loved using the “el” It was convenient, the trains ran somewhat regularly and I literally could get around the city at a moment’s notice without an automobile.

WHEN ONE COMBINES those “el” lines with the bus system, it works well. But the whole city never had the benefit of the setup that exists north of the Chicago River.

Certain parts of the South Side don’t have an “el” line that come anywhere near them – primarily because the major South Side line is that Red Line train that cuts down the middle of the Dan Ryan expressway.

Unless one lives right by the expressway, using those “el” trains were too much of an annoyance to get to. There also is the fact that the Red Line only went as far south as 95th Street, whereas for most of the South Side, the city/suburban boundary is 119th Street and in some parts (like the Hegewisch neighborhood) goes as far south as 138th Street.

95th and the Dan Ryan wasn’t that convenient for many far South Siders, and when combined with the somewhat seedy reputation that particular stop has developed in some people’s minds, it meant that “el” trains were not a part of the daily reality.

SO NOW, THE CTA wants to stretch the Red Line down to 130th Street, while also making stops at 103rd, 111th and 115th streets. A whole new generation of Roseland and Pullman neighborhood residents will get to experience an “el” train as an alternative to the Metra Electric south suburban commuter trains that make a stop at 115th Street.

Will they get used? Maybe.

Although a part of me wonders if those who live in any surrounding neighborhoods will make a trip into a place near the Pullman neighborhood to catch an “el” train.

The sad part of many people, whether urban, suburban or rural, is that they easily get latched into their habits and it creates a mindset. Those attitudes aren’t easy to break.

I CAN’T SEE many people who currently catch a South Shore line commuter train when it makes its stop in the Hegewisch neighborhood giving up that option to catch an “el” train at 130th Street – even though for some people who live in the western part of that neighborhood, it would be closer to their homes.

It is habit that there are no trains when one gets that far south. Those of us who have a problem with that isolation (such as myself, I was born in the South Chicago neighborhood but don’t live there anymore) left a long time ago.

And those who can live with being cut off from the rest of Chicago (such as some of my relatives who remain in places such as the East Side and South Deering) probably aren’t getting all worked up over the CTA’s latest action – which by all admission will take years to become a reality.

After all, the CTA still needs to get money to pay for the project, let alone time to actually construct it.


When that “el” station at 130th Street (just west of the Bishop Ford Expressway) does get built, it will be within eyesight of the landfills maintained by Waste Management Corp., which has gone a long way toward controlling the smell of rotting trash that used to pervade the air throughout the area.

I’d hate to think of having to wait to catch an “el” train while coping with that stench. It would be unbearable, and enough of a reason to find an alternate mode of transportation.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Extensions of the Yellow and Orange train lines will take people to the Old Orchard and Ford City shopping centers respectively, while extending the Red ( line will put people within site of garbage dumps.

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