CTA's Least Walkable Train Stations

by crandell | 02/05/2011

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Creative Commons Attribution: Zol87 at en.wikipedia

Chicago has an incredible train system with 144 stations providing access to many great walkable neighborhoods, and that's not even counting Metra stations. The combination of walking to transit is what allows city residents to be less dependent on their cars. But there are also stations in not-so-walkable areas, surrounded by freeways, vacant lots or suburban-style development. I took a look at the Carfree Chicago Train Stop Guide to find the CTA's ten least walkable stations. The Train Stop Guide lists Walk Scores for each train station, which gives a sense of whether the station has lots of people and activity within convenient walking distance. Below are the least walkable stations listed with Walk Scores. Eleven are actually listed because three tied, and I excluded O'Hare and Midway, since these are special destinations:

  • 47th Street Station (Red): 46
  • Cicero Station (Blue): 48
  • Garfield Station (Red): 49
  • 69th Street Station (Red): 52
  • 51st Station (Green): 55
  • 43rd Station (Green): 57
  • 95th Street Terminal (Red): 57
  • Pulaski Station (Pink): 58
  • California Station (Green): 60
  • Kostner Station (Pink): 60
  • 79th Street Station (Red): 60

All of these stations were in the City of Chicago, which may surprise some folks who think of suburbs as always being less walkable than the city. Six of these stations are located on freeways.

Often conversations about improving transit revolve only around how to expand train and bus lines to serve more riders. But Chicago also needs to be looking at how to bring more riders and economic activity closer to our existing transit service by encouraging development near under-utilized stations. In order for public transit to be an enticing mobility solution, potential transit riders need to be able to conveniently get to the nearest station by foot. And they need to be able to conveniently get to their final destination by foot from the stop they get off at. Also, there needs to be a lot of potential riders near the stations, and there needs to be a lot of destinations near the stations, or the transit system wouldn't be particularly useful to very many people. So the key to having a transit system with a meaningful impact on a city's mobility is having transit stations surrounded by walkable areas with lots of people and lots of activity (jobs, shopping, parks, entertainment, etc.) Now, you can bring the transit to the centers of activity, or you can bring the centers of activity to the transit, but the two need to be coordinated. This is call transit-oriented development. Focusing new development around existing train stations is a smart way to make better use of expensive infrastructure.

I'm encouraged that the City already seems to be pursuing this strategy. Take a look at this Transit-Friendly Development Guide adopted by the City. There are also draft plans on that site for four stations, including 43rd St., which is on my list above.

I'm also encouraged that at least one candidate for mayor, Rahm Emanuel, understands this concept as well. Posted on his transportation page you'll find this:

Establish a clear transit-friendly development policy to streamline approvals and prioritize investments

Every transit station attracts riders and development potential, but the City has not fully integrated the goal of improving rail lines and stations into its capital and economic development strategies. Rahm will issue an executive order that establishes clear and consistent principles for transit oriented development – expedited permitting, set-aside of city-owned property to expand car sharing and bike parking, assistance with land assembly, expanded use of tax credits and loan guarantees, and identification of instances where the City will jointly invest with CTA to improve the transit system. The order will recognize the clear link between housing and transportation costs in keeping neighborhoods affordable, and will evaluate improvements on their ability to reduce the combined cost of housing and transportation for Chicago residents. This policy will help to focus all investment – including in Chicago’s TIF districts – around developments that integrate station upgrades with mixed-use developments.

Why do you think the stations on my list score so low? What do you think the city can do to make the areas around our train stations more walkable and more useful?


Stations score poorly when

Stations score poorly when there's nothing nearby. Stations on the southside red line are in the median of the Dan Ryan, so there's only so much you can do there. I haven't looked into all of the other stations on your list, but to pick out the Garfield green line stop it seems simply upzoning the area could do a lot of good. Other than a small strip of B1-2 (small-scale retail) on the south side of the street (away from the station entrance) almost the entire area is zoned RS-3 (single family). Even if a developer wanted to build there to meet some of the demand for good TOD, they'd have to get a massive zoning change first--just one more hoop for private money to jump through

Remember: that CDOT Transit Friendly Design study calls out the Garfield stop for a "Major Activity Center" (that's what stations like Belmont and North/Clybourn are classified as) and yet there's no coordinated action by the city to spur investment here. Also, the block immediately surrounding the stop (bounded by Garfield, Prairie, 54th, and MLK) is mostly vacant lots, so a zoning change should be a relatively minor action--and one that doesn't cost the city a dime.

Elevating Chicago also

Elevating Chicago also pointed out via Twitter that the 47th St. and Garfield station areas could be impacted by this TIF plan, which calls for pedestrian-scaled development on a restored street grid: http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/dcd/supp_info/tif/47th_state_...

I'll second Ted's statement.

I'll second Ted's statement. The stations on your list have a low Walkscore because there aren't many destinations nearby. A Walkscore has nothing to do with the quality of the walking environment, just the number of things within walking distance.

Notice also that all of your stations are on the south and west sides. Basically, there's less stuff on the south and west sides compared to the north side because there isn't the same combination of density and high incomes. Lots of people with lots of money can support lots of shops. Fewer people with less money support less stuff.

All that said, it does make a lot of sense to cluster destinations near train stations. So I agree that the city should encourage that, at least to the extent that they have any influence in the private development market. I haven't looked into specific zoning around these stations, but perhaps the city should. Make it more profitable to build there (higher density, less parking), and developer might. The only other real tool I can think of would be a TIF District. Since basically the whole city is already a TIF, that doesn't really offer any kind of an advantage to any particular area anymore. It's just a tax revenue diversion scheme.

I realize how Walk Score

I realize how Walk Score works, and the diversity and density of amenities in an area has a very close correlation/causation relationship with the quality of the walking environment. The question is why are there so few people and so few destinations on real estate like this with such great access to transit? Economics is clearly a factor. But it's not like these neighborhoods don't have some vibrant centers of activity -- they're just not centered on the train stop. And there are certainly other low-income neighborhoods with vibrant blocks around the train stop. You would think that in a low-income neighborhood where cars are a luxury that more people would want to live by the train stop. The city's decision to put train stations in the middle of a freeway is also clearly a factor. What else are we doing wrong?

Well, I find the 47th Street

Well, I find the 47th Street station to be very walkable—I walk two blocks, catch the 15 and within a few minutes I’m there! That’s the case with most all the Dan Ryan line stations south of 35th—they only work because they were designed to be part of an integrated transit network, not stand-alone stations. I don’t think this necessarily detracts from your overall point—the city should be trying to focus development around stations—the Dan Ryan stations actually form a kind of counterpoint to your argument, showing that a rail line can have successful ridership even if it has a generally anti-urban in character.

I don't see the point of

I don't see the point of this. Who cares if the red line runs along the dan ryan. not all of chicago lives right at a station. we take buses that feed into the red line (i take the 55) and use the train to get where we want to go. if all that stuff was right at the 55/Garfield stop then i would just take the bus there, do my stuff, and not get on the train at all.

Very informative blog! In

Very informative blog! In Chicago mostly people just become accustomed to less than stellar train options.I will visit your blog regularly for some latest post. Thanks for sharing. Web Hosting Pakistan

The south side Green Line

The south side Green Line stations are technically walkable, but basically are in a wasteland. I remember that they said that they had to keep some of them open, despite the fact that they were also served by the Red, because one would have to walk through gang territory.
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Those train stations are

Those train stations are definitely not around universities otherwise they would be in a different classification now. As a student in Chicago I know I am grateful to benefit from a great infrastructure, a train network that makes it easy for me to get anywhere I want. I am actually working on my dissertation paper these months on the city infrastructure and I found a lot of dissertation help material for that.