Published on Feb. 26, 2020 by Steven Vance
Updated on Mar. 11, 2020
Author’s note: Many people have good ideas about where Metra should build new stations, but this post is about how station locations are selected and built, and what infill stations on existing train lines do to improve access to jobs.
A prominent real estate developer, Sterling Bay, has proposed a new Metra station in the West Loop, near the office buildings it’s erected. The rationale: make it more convenient for people to disembark near their jobs in the new office node a couple of blocks west of Halsted St rather than at either Ogilvie or Union stations a couple of blocks east of Halsted St. Many of those workers then take ride hail vehicles or shuttle buses operated by their employer or the property manager. A new station would put them two blocks away from work.
A new Metra station in the West Loop is a great idea. There should also be more infill stations on Metra’s citywide network to take advantage of their regional reach, and to fill in gaps in the CTA’s ‘L’ and slow bus networks.
Humboldt Park is another area in Chicago that could benefit from a new Metra station, over in Humboldt Park. I looked at two potential locations:
Both potential locations are where three lines — Milwaukee District-North (MD-N), Milwaukee District-West (MD-W), and North Central Service (NCS)– share tracks before they split near the western end of the Bloomingdale Trail.
There are two main benefits for building any new Metra station:
Building infill stations, like a new one in Humboldt Park, is paramount to creating an effective RER system. RER means Regional Express Rail [note 1]. It’s a name borrowed from the Paris region that turns commuter rail systems that serve morning commutes in one direction and afternoon commutes in the opposite direction into a regional rail system that serves people going in multiple directions. The difference between Metra and RER is designing service for all riders.
Metra is tuned to serve people who work weekdays in the Chicago Loop. Regional rail, on the other hand, is designed to serve them and everyone else: people with jobs in the suburbs, people running errands, and people who need to get somewhere at a convenient time between rush hours. To be able to serve those people, you need more stations. Regional rail also requires more trains to run than Metra does, but this post is specifically about a station.
There’s another benefit that’s specific to a new Metra station in Humboldt Park. A majority of the region’s jobs are in downtown Chicago, and Humboldt Park and East Garfield Park residents would have a fast ride to the downtown terminals from this station. In fact, two or all three lines would stop at the proposed new station in the West Loop, depending on its final location.
Envision this: Humboldt Park and the West Loop would be connected by a fast, single, two-stop trip. Humboldt Park and downtown Chicago would be connected by a fast, single, three-stop trip.
When the City of Chicago and the Chicago Transit Authority opened a new Green/Pink Line station at Morgan, plenty of new trip opportunities opened up, following the two main benefits listed above. Living in one place and working in another place, if they’re both along the Green or Pink Lines, suddenly became more feasible and convenient. Live in Austin and go to work in Fulton Market. Live at one of the co-living residences in the West Loop and go to school in the South Loop.
The city is currently constructing a new Green Line station at Damen/Lake, but I’ve argued they haven’t created a transit-supportive land use plan.
What’s nearby the hypothetical new Metra station on Kedzie Ave just north of Chicago Ave: Imagine the station being at the center of four land use quadrants. Two of them contain light industrial uses, one has a busy anchor strip mall that with clothing stores, two grocery stores, a bank, and several restaurants, and the fourth has older buildings with commercial uses. That’s just on the first block.
Walking a block further, one starts passing by residential uses. In fact, according to 2015 population data, about 16,656 people live within a 10 minute walk of the hypothetical station. (Get a Transportation Snapshot and see details on how that number is derived.)
Suddenly with trains stopping a couple dozen times a day, there’s an incentive for the strip mall owner to densify the land, potentially adding housing and more retail. Across from the strip mall the City of Chicago is expanding and improving Kells Park.
A station at Division/Grand/Central Park would serve the same three Metra lines as the Chicago/Kedzie hypothetical station. Fewer people live within a 10 minute walk (11,344 versus 16,656) but the advantage of this location over the first is the opportunity for equitable transit-oriented development: The station is surrounded by vacant land and low-density commercial uses that could be developed to add housing.
A massive building and parking lot, formerly used as a CVS and still owned by the company, has been shuttered and vacant for almost four years. The land could support hundreds of new apartment and townhouses.
Another advantage this location has is practical: There’s land for Metra to purchase to use for its station platforms, ramps, and waiting rooms.
Sterling Bay has considerable influence, and its own funding sources that could potentially contribute land, planning studies, or direct contributions, which can get the station built. Beyond the Peterson and Auburn Gresham stations, I’m unaware of any planning for new Metra stations within the city. And given Mayor Lightfoot’s attitude towards lowering the cost of Metra service on the South Side — which would be funded by Cook County — I don’t know if we can count on her support.
What should you do? Cook County commissioners and the Cook County president choose more Metra board members than the Chicago mayor, and the state legislature can set rules and direction for Metra.
Contact elected officials who represent the Chicago/Kedzie area:
And the ones who represent the Division/Grand/Central Park area:
[note 1] RER in French stands for “réseau express regional”, or regional express network. It is also similar to the S-Bahn systems in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, London Overground, the S-tog system in Denmark, Sydney Trains, and all Intercity and Sprinter trains in the Netherlands. These rail networks have trains that come every 15-30 minutes outside of rush hour, whereas Metra lines vary between 1-6 hours. They all differ from “rapid transit” systems like the ‘L’ where trains come every 5-10 minutes.
Metra should add a new station in Humboldt Park [you're reading this one]