Woe is the Blue Line.
While other transit lines are seeing upgrades or fancy new rail cars, the Blue Line—which is often the first impression for some travelers to Chicago—is stuck in the Dark Ages.
Stations along the northern section of the Red Line are currently undergoing renovation, while the southern portion of the Red Line will see an overhaul next year. Meanwhile, the new 5000-series rail cars with the aisle-facing seats are now on the Green and Pink Lines.
Comparatively, it's not smooth sailing on the Blue Line, which has seen a 17 percent growth in weekday ridership over the last four years, according to CTA data.
In a sit-down interview six weeks ago, CTA president Forrest Claypool acknowledged that crowding is an issue on the Blue Line. The CTA is examining its ridership levels systemwide.
The growth is quite evident at the California, Damen and Division stops on the North Side. Those stations are seeing about 1,000 or more riders each weekday than they were four years ago.
Yet the infrastructure is not there to support the influx. Thirteen of the Blue Line's 33 stations are not accessible for riders with disabilities. Those same stations are difficult to navigate for travelers with luggage heading to and from O'Hare or Union Station (The Clinton Blue Line stop is blocks from Union Station).
The trains themselves can be tricky to negotiate. The Blue Line is the only transit line that still has cars with the accordion doors, which provide narrow passage even for solo riders. Forget about it for riders carrying the typical Chicago accessories: Coats, purses, backpacks, luggage, strollers.
Yet, it's the Green and the Pink Line that are first seeing the new trains, which raise or lower to meet the platform height—making it easy for riders with disabilities and travelers with baggage to get on. Eventually, the cars will make their way to the Blue Line and all CTA lines.
Meanwhile, about a third of the Blue Line is underground, where some stations are dimly lit and dirty. More than half of the Blue Line's stations have been cleaned by the CTA's Renew Crew, which visit stations on a regular basis for cleanings and repairs, but sometimes it's tough to tell the difference because the subways are so dark.
There is a silver lining for Blue Line riders—only 8 percent of the line was under slow zones last month, compared to 23 percent on the Red Line and 21 percent on the Brown Line. Slow is no woe for this line.
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A weekly dispatch from a CTA station of note
This week: Kedzie-Homan Blue Line
It's been about two decades since the Kedzie Blue Line stop in East Garfield Park was renamed the Kedzie-Homan stop—but the name change won't be official until possibly this year. The station was renamed in the '90s to reflect two station entrances that saw similar rider traffic: one on Kedzie Avenue and one on Homan Avenue, the CTA said. Though maps and some stations signs say "Kedzie-Homan," some of the larger signs at the station still just say "Kedzie." These signs have been in place for about a decade, and will be replaced, possibly later this year, CTA spokesman Brian Steele said.
Next up: Forest Park Blue Line