During his regular commute on the Blue Line, Al Bell often notices a rather striking disparity as the CTA train pulls out of the Forest Park station and travels east into Oak Park before going into the city.
On Monday, Bell praised the Blue Line stations in Oak Park and the one in Austin, which is close to the Oak Park border, before lamenting that the quality quickly drops as he travels through the West Side.
“I feel like the CTA should show the same care and concern for every station,” Bell said. “It’s the same transit for everyone.”
That may be the ideal, but the reality plays out much differently, as designer and data analyst Dale Wunderlich recently illustrated in a series of maps and visualizations he published online in May.
Wunderlich pulled the Walk Score and Bike Score ratings generated by Redfin, the popular real estate brokerage, and ranked CTA el stations. What he found was not a surprise: There’s a strong correlation between the wealth and whiteness of an area surrounding a station and its bike-friendliness and walkability.
“Redfin’s Walk Score uses block length and density features, such as [the presence of grocery stores], and so it ends up reinforcing the food desert situations and all of the other things we’re concerned about, particularly in Austin,” Wunderlich said during a recent interview.
According to Wunderlich’s data, there were only a handful of el stations in majority white neighborhoods that received below average walk and bike scores. And the difference is particularly stark between el stations that are just a few miles apart, as Bell observed.
For instance, the Harlem-Green Line stop at the Oak Park-Forest Park border, where the adjacent population is roughly 70 percent white, has a Green Accessibility Score (the sum of its bike and walk scores) of 155 while the Austin-Green Line el station, located less than two miles east in an area that is roughly 30 percent white, has a Green Accessibility Score of just 136.
For commuters who have to travel through these areas, those low bike and walk scores are more than just numbers. They translate into very real complications, such as safety concerns that are exacerbated in transit areas that lack density of people and development.
Marie Watts, who grew up in the West Side and currently lives in Maywood, regularly commutes on the Blue Line and said she’s been satisfied with the line’s service frequency and the station’s condition, but said she’d like to see more CTA workers at the Cicero station during the evening.
“People get their purses snatched,” she said. “They get beat up and thrown off the platform and onto the tracks.”
Nicole Smith, who lives in Austin and works on the South Side, was standing outside of the Cicero Green Line station waiting for the 54 bus.
“They could use a lot more buses out here,” she said. “They’re supposed to come every 15 minutes, but sometimes, the wait is a lot longer.”
Wunderlich said he hopes his data visualization leads to more awareness about the issue of transit equity and that perhaps the data can lead to concrete changes.
“I was interested in providing this to people in the neighborhoods who care about transit and perhaps the information can be used in discussions with the [city officials from agencies responsible for transit, such as Chicago Department of Transportation],” he said.
You can access Wunderlich’s data visualization at: https://tabsoft.co/34YEGCO.