The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

Red Line project to end transit inequity on Far South Side

The+Red+Line+serves+DePaul+students+through+stations+at+both+their+Lincoln+Park+and+Loop+campuses.
Lucia Preziosi
The Red Line serves DePaul students through stations at both their Lincoln Park and Loop campuses.

A promise that was introduced by former Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley in 1969 to extend the Red Line is coming to fruition. The federal government recently awarded the Chicago Transit Authority $2 billion to extend Red Line access to 130th street through the Red Line Extension.

The Red Line Extension will ensure greater access to public transit to heal a long disparity of L availability on Chicago’s Far South Side. 

The proposed 5.6-mile extension would create four new stations near 103rd Street, 111th Street, Michigan Avenue and 130th Street, and is one aspect of the larger Red Ahead Program to enhance the entirety of the Red Line, including station reconstruction and modernization.

The $2 billion federal grant is the largest in the transit authority’s history, according to the CTA, and will cover half the cost needed to begin the engineering phase. 

CTA President Dorval Carter Jr. told The Sun Times this is the final step before construction can officially begin. 

President Joe Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill made the allocation of these funds possible and seeks to improve access to public transportation nationally. 

The Red Line Extension aims to better connect South Side residents to the rest of the city, giving them access to employment and recreational opportunities. 

The Red Line is the only train line that runs from the South Side of the city, through downtown and to the North Side. 

 These new stations will relieve the Far South Side of the current lack of public transportation, according to Joe Schwieterman, a DePaul professor in the School of Public Service and transportation expert.

“Our rapid transit system has many geographic limitations, and the absence of service on the Far South Side sticks out like a sore thumb,” Schwieterman said. 

With the absence of public transportation on the Far South Side, many label the region a transportation desert, according to Euan Hague, the director of the School of Public Service.

“For the city that area was kind of ‘out of sight, out of mind,’ probably because it was past the end of the Red Line,” Hague said. “There’s a lot of Chicago south of 95th Street, but for city officials it didn’t seem to be a priority to invest in that part of the city.”

For Hauge, despite the proposed plans for four new stations, a significant disparity is still seen between the dense concentration of public transportation on the city’s North Side, compared to the transportation desert on the Far South Side.

“We’re going to enhance equity by providing the service, but the service is still not as equitable as on the North Side, where the stations are much closer together,” Hauge said.

The Fullerton L stop in Lincoln Park, which provides Red, Brown and Purple Line services, is 0.6 miles south from additional Brown Line access at Diversey.

The Red Line’s current terminal at 95th Street/Dan Ryan is 1.1 miles south of the next available point for Red Line access at the 87th Street station. 

The distance between stations also raises the problem of what Hauge calls the “last mile,” the commute that remains once riders leave the station. 

“For a long time, particularly in the Far South Side where you have a lot of vacant land, you need regular bus service to fill those gaps,” he said.

Easier access to employment is also a perceived benefit of the Red Line Extension, according to Nicholas Zettel, DePaul instructor and Chief of Staff at the First Ward Office. 

“The most immediate benefit is that it’s going to give residents the chance to get downtown faster and get to employment centers,” Zettel said.

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning finds that essential workers live in higher concentrations on the South and West Sides of the city, furthering the need for reliable public transportation. 

“The Far South Side, and neighborhoods of marginalized populations have a large number of workers in essential jobs,” Schwierterman said. “They rely on transit to get to those kinds of jobs.”

The U.S. Census Bureau shows that residents of the Roseland neighborhood, where two of the proposed new stations will be, have 31.6% of the population working in educational, health and social services. 

Only 19.9% of those residing in Roseland utilize public transportation to commute to their essential jobs and rely on driving. 

Percentage of essential works and CTA commuters in zip codes near proposed stations. (Jake Cox)

With four new stations, Zetter is predicting a regional spike in development. 

“It could potentially spur development in an area that has historically been a place where people haven’t invested for reasons that are racist or rooted in segregation,” Zetter said.

Even though development and the introduction of big organizations, such as grocery stores, have the potential to help anchor the Far South Side, the risk of gentrification runs high, according to Zetter. 

“There is always a fine line … because to end disinvestment, you have to invest in places, and the question always is ‘how do you invest in places without displacing people?’” Zetter said. 

Listening to the community is an important step in infrastructure projects, according to Hague.

“Not every community wants to look like Lincoln Park,” Hague said. 

Instead of displacing communities due to development, Zetter said the city must provide pre-existing communities with empowerment and resources to allow residents to “stay in place, and thrive in place.”

The construction of these stations is not in the near future. According to Schwieterman, the city must aid Far South Side communities before the stations are available for public use.

“I am troubled by how long it is going to take until the first trains run, and to make sure we don’t fall asleep and not provide the Far South Side better options before the first trains start running,” Schwieterman said. 

This means ensuring more regular bus service on the Far South Side and express bus service from the 95th Street terminal, according to Schwieterman.

Zetter said the emphasis and priority remain on aiding a long underserved community.

“The biggest thing is how preexisting community networks can be strengthened and what resources the city can provide,” said Zetter.

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