CTA overhaul study to include Oak Park's Blue Line stops

Makeover planned between Clinton and Forest Park


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By Anna Lothson

Staff Reporter

The Chicago Transit Authority released information about a Blue Line Forest Park Branch Feasibility/Vision Study that will assess needs of the branch between the Clinton and Forest Park stations. Essentially, CTA officials will determine how the stations can be upgraded to be more pedestrian friendly.

This study, which will offer long-range planning options and ways to modernize rail lines, also has the potential to stimulate new economic development for communities along I-290, according to the CTA news release. It will be paid for through a combination of federal funds and in coordination with the village of Oak Park, whose leaders helped secure a chunk of money to conduct the study.

Rob Cole, Oak Park's assistant village manager, said the village won't be using any of its own dollars; its contribution instead comes from funding Oak Park received in 2005 that was specifically earmarked for this type of project and can't be used for any other purpose.

"It's sat out there since 2005. We've been waiting for discussions to get to a meaningful level," Cole explained. "That stage is now. We're saying now is a good time to use this."

Oak Park secured grants through a transportation bill to expand bridge decking near stations along the Eisenhower Expressway to make it safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. The funding must be met with a 20 percent match, but Cole said the CTA agreed to pick up that portion.

Cole said the CTA and community leaders in the corridor are assessing environmental impacts of any changes. CTA has vowed to continue to identify and work with key stakeholders along the route. Because the Blue Line feasibility analysis will be done in coordination with the Illinois Department of Transportation's current planning for the circle interchange and reconstruction of I-290, the planning will involve multiple stakeholders.

Oak Park has also committed itself to having ongoing conversations with IDOT regarding its current Ike expansion study. IDOT officials have pledged to work with the CTA as it moves forward with its own plans, which in most scenarios involve widening the expressway with an extra lane.

Oak Park leaders, however, are skeptical that IDOT's "multi-module" concepts as presented are actually taking into account public transit and what's best for the communities along the Ike. Cole said because IDOT doesn't have the expertise to study transit-related options, it's critical that the state transportation group pay attention to the CTA study.

Enhancing the Blue Line stops along the Ike and expanding the line west to Maywood and even Hillside is something leaders in Oak Park and nearby communities have said could help address congestion issues on the expressway. Cole has said multiple times that IDOT failed to address this issue and through its analysis has not properly linked the importance of expanding public transportation when addressing highway demands.

"It's critical to have the CTA involved when evaluating the capabilities," Cole said, "addressing the good state of repair and demonstrating whether or not a prospective westward extension is a prudent investment."

IDOT tearing up the expressway and not taking into account how the Blue Line impacts overall travel in the area would be inefficient and irresponsible, Cole said.

"An investment in the Blue Line is an investment in improving traffic issues on I-290," he said. The two transportation systems operate in tandem. It's synergistic. You can't divorce one or two from the other."

The newest Blue Line study is anticipated to be completed by late 2013 or early 2014. Cole hopes the CTA's initiative in this project will spark IDOT to realize the group needs to change direction and take into account facts available from other sources.

"There is glaring evidence [IDOT] is going the wrong way," Cole said.

Instead, he hopes the study can help bring Oak Park's Blue Line stations into the 21st century with common sense by better linking the two travel systems.

"IDOT has to really say they are going to work with CTA," Cole said. "It's best they proceed in that manner."

Ike expansion discussions aside, CTA officials say this study is critical in terms of developing the transit system for its customers and the surrounding communities.

"The Blue Line Forest Park study is a key step in investing in transit on the West Side," said Chicago Transit Board Chairman Terry Peterson in a news release. "We look forward to partnering with the Illinois Department of Transportation to develop a long-term multi-modal plan that will meet transportation needs along the I-290 Eisenhower Expressway corridor and ultimately generate new economic development for the West Side."

Former village president David Pope was praised during his last term for standing up for Oak Park, speaking against IDOT's current expansion plans. He and local transportation expert Rick Kuner have kept up with IDOT's plans through each stage. Trustees also vowed at a recent goal-setting meeting that a major priority was reminding IDOT that the village doesn't support the direction in which the transportation group is heading.

Village President Anan Abu-Taleb Taleb said the Blue Line study was a step in the right direction.

"The resilience of our transportation network depends on improved and expanded public access to the high-quality, affordable and reliable transit service the Blue Line can provide," Abu-Taleb wrote in a news release. "We applaud the CTA's commitment to examining the present and future needs of this critical transit asset."

Email: anna@oakpark.com Twitter: @AnnaLothson

Reader Comments

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Resident from Oak Park  

Posted: June 28th, 2013 12:36 AM

Furthermore, nobody is reporting on the fact that the trench will not be widened!! Instead of focusing on the pedestrians and being mixed up in the crossing of the ramps on Harlem and on Austin, the Village should push for nicer/wider pedestrian bridges adjacent to these intersections. If the trench does not widen, then the intersection with the ramps should be limited to just move vehicles--use separate bridges for moving pedestrians. This will be safer and will be more welcoming to connect OP

Resident from Oak Park  

Posted: June 28th, 2013 12:28 AM

Anna Lothson, I see a lot of quotes from Rob Cole but none from IDOT. Did they decline your phone call or did you not even call them? I suspect the latter. Chris and Donovan--I agree with you both. This "reporter" and the assistant village manager have been misleading every one. the CTA wants nothing of the Blue Line expansion. They want to maintain their one existing lines especially the Blue which is already underutilized (see the ghost stations along the IKE.


Posted: June 25th, 2013 4:37 PM

Blah, User friendly could include improvements to the ramps or the addition of elevators for mobility impaired transit users. But, while the Blue Line could use those improvements they are needed more on the Green Line at Oak Park, Ridgeland, and Austin.

blah from Oak Park  

Posted: June 25th, 2013 3:38 PM

Seems like a whole lot of money for a whole lot of nothing. More "user friendly stations"? Are there safe entrances and it is safe to get on and off the train? Is there enough room for people? What else do you need? Espresso machines and free WiFi?

Brian Slowiak from oak park  

Posted: June 23rd, 2013 2:24 PM

Disagree, there is single track usage now because the w/bound loops around to become the e/bound train from Des Plaines using only one track.

Brian Chang from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 23rd, 2013 9:37 AM

Single track can work when you have 1 or 2 hour headways (like on the South Shore). With 5 to 10 minute headways on the Blue line, you need the double track.

Brian Slowiak from Oak Park  

Posted: June 21st, 2013 6:11 PM

How about a single track for the CTA instead of a double track. Switching operations on one end.South Shore has been single track for decades.

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 21st, 2013 5:30 PM

"Monorail" - Lyle Lanley


Posted: June 21st, 2013 5:06 PM

Very true, Muntz; extending the CTA to 1st Avenue doesn't seem like much, but there are other considerations. 1st Avenue is accessible to east and west bound traffic on the IKE, while you can't easily get to the DesPlaines Avenue el stop for drop-off or pick-up. Also, 1st Avenue could provide more area for PACE connections. Finally, it would be easier to get to both Loyola and Hines hospitals. Bonus, create bike path to forest preserve using unused CSX and CN tracks north of station.


Posted: June 21st, 2013 4:47 PM

Muntz, Brad did not have a good point.


Posted: June 21st, 2013 1:12 PM

Cdonovan2-Extending the BL to the old Comed site wouldn't be a bad idea as it could use the original yet still available land, but it would seem like alot of work just to extend only an additional 3/4 mile and Forest Park already has the terminus facilities.


Posted: June 21st, 2013 1:01 PM

Tyler-You wouldn't need to bring it underground east of Austin. The 4 lane capacity already exists into the city. It is a good idea as your options are limited in the trench, but this subject has been broached before and was told it was cost prohibitive. And imagine how many stairs/ramps it would take to access it!


Posted: June 21st, 2013 11:59 AM

Thank you "Chris in Oak Park" for keeping your eye on the ball. The CTA is not planning on extending the Blue Line, but to get it to 1st Avenue has been discussed in the past. A possible location could be the ComEd site in Maywood, but there are environmental issues with the ground. Oh, by the way Sleatrkny, IDOT already committed to keeping the plans for expanding the number of lanes to the existing trench, so no houses will be lost. Take out the obsolete CSX tracks making room for lanes.

Tyler from Oak Park  

Posted: June 21st, 2013 11:51 AM

Just out of curiosity, I'm sure it would be ridiculously expensive, but couldn't the CTA theoretically move the entirety of the L west of the loop underground si its a subway that runs from Forest Park to the Loop? That way they could expand the Ike without pissing of OP residents (nor any other residents). Undoubtedly, it would be a HUGE project in terms of cost and time though.

James Olsen  

Posted: June 21st, 2013 11:32 AM

The Brad is what Oak Park is really all about in 2013. His only use for it is its proximity to the Rahm-controlled portion of Chicago. The fact that he must see (and occasionally interact with) minorities is simply a bridge too far. The only people left to run OP while TB an his ilk are in the city are old hippy bleeding hearts (to TB) who make him crazy. Why don't they listen like his nanny does? And, yes, I'm sure she is hard working and therefore paid well, Unlike some people.

Violet Aura  

Posted: June 21st, 2013 10:56 AM

@Brad: They come from Maywood on foot, Bellwood by Pace bus...That would not deter people from those 'burbs. I think this would be wonderful. Have it extend to Oak Brook. Ogden is a very major thoroughfare and yet there are no bus routes on it going east and this would allow for travel to some nice places to shop and cycle.

sleatrkny from North Berwyn  

Posted: June 21st, 2013 10:26 AM

I have a great idea--let's just expand the IKE all the way south to Roosevelt! Then you could have 20 lanes of traffic and get rid of South Oak Park (which isn't treated as part of Oak Park anyhow) entirely! Problem solved. (sarcasm intended). Sarcasm turned off: you do realize that any expansion of the IKE will take a huge bite out of south Oak Park? If this was effecting houses north of Lake Street, there would be an uproar.


Posted: June 21st, 2013 10:04 AM

Brad-Good point, and I think that is a major reason why we'll never see an extension to Oak Brook Mall. But the lack of a Blue Line connection has not stopped the bad guys from the 'Woods from coming to OP. I would prefer not being held hostage by the local low-lifes. But an extra lane for traffic must take precedence

Brian Chang from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 21st, 2013 9:50 AM

How bout a mini-cap like this?: http://www.oak-park.us/images/Ike/2012_OP-Oak-and-Ike_bridge-after.jpg It would improve the pedestrian experience, reconnect the two sundered halves of the Southtown business district, plus be a potential source of revenue via rent or property tax (depending on how ownership is structured.)

The Brad from Oak Park  

Posted: June 21st, 2013 9:49 AM

Count me in favor of no westerly expansion. Instead of dealing with nonsense coming from the east ghettos offf the L, OP and RF would soon have visitors coming from the west as well, as Maywood through Bellwood has turned into drug infested slums although there is still some pretty housing stock. Keep the L terminus at FP.

CTA Rider from Oak Park  

Posted: June 21st, 2013 9:36 AM

I'll be curious what they come up with and happy for any improvements, but I suspect those village officials infatuated with the Blue Line have never actually ridden it. Getting to the stations, waiting on the platform, and riding down the Ike canyon is a bleak, dehumanizing way to start and end your day. Like the well-intentioned but dehumanizing housing projects, I'm not sure there's a fix or a reason to expand it. The Green Line may pass thru some rough areas but at least has a human scale.

Betsy from Marion st from Oak Park  

Posted: June 21st, 2013 8:13 AM

First, it would be nice to have a secure dedicated bike path from OP to the loop. We are an obese city and state and I would like to ride my bike "safely" to work. Second, they should have police patrolling the blue line 24/7. I am tired of crime. I am tired of gangs, drugs and violence. Look around, the majority of chicago is a war zone. OPRF people are smooshed in a corner of cook county surrounded by death and violence. And they have the audacity to tax us and lol about it. Shame on them


Posted: June 20th, 2013 9:28 PM

If they do decide to expand the Blue Line westward (which I'm for), where are they going to get the land? Folks are already scoffing at adding two lanes to I-290 for autos. Accommodating CTA Rail would require adding 3-4 additional "lanes" on top of that to the existing corridor. The old Blue Line From Des Plaines to Bellwood is now a prairie path. Just adding rail will not solve the congestion issues.

Chris from Oak Park  

Posted: June 20th, 2013 9:25 PM

Both the WJ reporter and the Asst. Manager are misleading the public on the intention of the CTA study. It is to recommend improvements to the current line. The CTA, quoted in today's Tribune, clearly states there will be NO west expansion of the Blue Line. Expand the Ike to 4 lanes. Improve CTA service. End congestion and improve air quality. And, Village of Oak Park, focus on improving services instead of paying stooges like Rob Cole who mislead the public and block regional progress.

ForestParkVal from Forest Park  

Posted: June 20th, 2013 8:12 PM

I would be happy if they just remove the urine smell from the Harlem station.

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