Riders React to Red Line El Closure

CTA, Red Line, Chicago, Sox-35th
Terrence Woods, 16, and Frank Lewis, 14, arrive at the Sox-35th stop. They use the Red Line daily. (Photo/Sadé Carpenter)

By Sadé Carpenter

Red Line El riders are concerned about long travel delays and safety as the May 19 South Branch Reconstruction Project start date approaches.

Several riders said they fear a more chaotic commute, and some worry that additional bus and shuttle services won’t be enough to avoid a considerable inconvenience to Red Line passengers.

Frank Lewis, an Uplift Community High School student from Armour Square, takes the Red Line daily from Sox-35th. He said he travels to the Wilson stop to get to school. Lewis said he heard a month ago about the closure on the news, and is upset about the construction, he said.

“I feel bad for people who work far from home,” Lewis said. “How will they get to work?”

The Red Line Dan Ryan branch – Cermak-Chinatown through 95th/Dan Ryan – will be closed for five months, beginning May 19. During the closure, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) will completely rebuild the tracks and drainage systems in order to provide speedier and more reliable service, according to the CTA website.

Lewis said he is not fully aware of the alternate route options and which will be best for traveling to school. Since he would have to make multiple transfers, it would take more than one hour to travel by bus, he said. Lewis’ mother has planned a family meeting to discuss their options.

The CTA has prepared alternative travel arrangements to accommodate commuters during the reconstruction, including alternate Red Line service on Green Line tracks and free rail entry at Garfield elevated stations. According to the CTA website, the CTA will also provide free shuttle buses south of 63rd street to the Garfield station on the Green Line, as well as discounted bus rides.

Terrence Woods, also of Armour Square, attends Wendell Phillips Academy High School. He routinely rides the Red Line from Sox-35th to school and back, but has not planned alternate transportation. He understands why the construction is necessary, but said it will be a huge inconvenience.

“I don’t think it’s worth it,” Woods said. “Instead of closing all nine stops, maybe they could do a few stops at a time.”

According to the CTA website, officials considered other options – such as working on weekends, only – but found the temporary closure to be most efficient. It would have taken four years to complete the project with construction limited to the weekend, and the five-month closure will save $75 million.

El, Train, Red Line, Sox-35th, CTA, Chicago
Passengers prepare to board El train as it arrives at the Sox-35th station. (Photo/Sadé Carpenter)

Tee Green, a Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center employee, takes the Red Line from the Sox-35th stop every day. Despite provisions made by the CTA, Green is concerned that it won’t be enough.

“What about all these people?” he said. “How many shuttles will they have and how often will they run?”

Once the construction begins, Green said he plans to leave home an hour earlier than usual to get to work. He has not owned a car since 2008, but said he may have to buy one. The Red Line closure has geographical and racial ramifications, Green said.

“They would never do this on the North side,” he said. “It’s an inconvenience to black people [who live in the South Branch neighborhoods].”

The construction project may have a stronger impact on daily commuters, but it also impacts occasional Red Line riders such as Alejandra Rodriguez.

Rodriguez, a sophomore at the Illinois Institute of Technology, lives and works on campus. She does not have a car, and primarily takes the Red or Green Line for social activities on the weekend. The Green Line stops running prior to 2 a.m., so Rodriguez takes the Red Line home when she is out very late, she said.

Rodriguez is uncertain if the expected benefits of the project – faster travel times, for one – is worth the time, money and hassle of closing stops, she said.

“I think the construction will make traveling take longer and it may be scary to take a shuttle at night,” she said.

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