Showcasing the new Wilson Red Line Station on the CTA

October 11, 2012 at 7:06 pm

I just got back from an open house at Truman College showcasing the plans for the new Wilson stop on the Red line. This station will also be a new transfer point for the Purple line, meaning it will be a sort of middle-journey stop for the express route that runs nonstop between Howard and Belmont during rush periods. Construction is set to begin in 2013 and will last about 34 months. According to the CTA, the station will not be closed during construction, but services will change at times, as with any station reconstruction.

This is the stop I use every work day for my travel into the Loop, so it’s pretty welcome news. As it is now, Wilson station is old, rusty, and sometimes looks like it will fall apart at any second. At street level, dilapidated/abandoned storefronts line the corner at Wilson and Broadway where loiters frequently hang out. In all my trips to and from this station, I’ve never been harassed or felt terribly in danger, but image is a huge part of the equation when attracting businesses, and the immediate area is literred with cheap fast food, convenience stores, and checks cashing shops.

I hope that a new station will bring change in the area, and this sentiment is not just my own – many people at the open house were asking what would be done to keep the station in good condition after it’s built, and what the area will look like afterward. It seems that the CTA has done a pretty good job at covering these bases. Aside from the standard run-of-the-mill improvements like more turnstiles, better lighting, improved signage, and ADA compliance, the station has its own set of new impressive design features.

Exterior

CTA Wilson Station looking west on Wilson

CTA Wilson Station looking west on Wilson

New auxiliary entrance/exit on Wilson

New auxiliary entrance/exit on Wilson. The primary station house will be where the current auxiliary exit is.

The exterior view is nice. It seems very well-lit. But one concern raised by some people I heard was that there is no business right around the exit. Instead, the retail space will be along Broadway, with an option for the developer of the retail space at the corner of Broadway and Wilson to put a door leading into the north auxiliary exit. This is similar to the Starbucks that recently opened at the North/Clybourn Red line station, which has one door leading into the station but can still be accessed from the street.

Looking North on Broadway

Looking North on Broadway

Above is a rendering of the tracks above Broadway. Currently, the tracks and their support columns are on the street as well as the sidewalk, and there is no lighting underneath them to illuminate the area at night. The new design has taken the support columns off the street and updated their appearance. New lighting seems to in place. Hopefully this will make the area feel safer at night.

Street view looking north on Broadway

Street view looking north on Broadway; the existing main station entrance is all the way on the left. Credit: Google.

The new retail space along Broadway will hopefully add to the mix that is necessary to create a safe environment along the street. Further north on Broadway there is a mix of stores and restaurants that keep the street busy at most times, and to the south there is a similar mix (including Target, Aldi, and Jewel-Osco). This area needs businesses that can contribute to this mix and keep the street active – that is one way to make the area safer and attract people.

Wayfinding sign in Lakeview

Wayfinding sign in Lakeview

The existing station entrance on Broadway will be removed. Nothing was said of what would be put in its place, but I can assume it will be retail. None of the retail stores will connect to the station, with the exception of the development that would go at the southeast corner of the building. a CTA rep told me that there could be a door installed to connect it with the interior of the station. Someone did express concern that businesses along Broadway wouldn’t attract enough business without the entrance/exit being on Broadway. Supposedly the CTA cannot keep the entrance on Broadway because the tracks are being moved away from being above the building. I don’t think it will be much of an issue, but wayfinding outside of the station in the form of a neighborhood map would be a helpful way to orient new visitors with the neighborhood and its amenities.

The Platforms

Platform View

Platform view

There were no renderings of the station interiors (except the platforms themselves). But I did gather that it would look a lot like Belmont and Fullerton stations, with two platforms. I asked a CTA rep about the screens that would display the train arrival times, since I’ve written about this before. What he told me was that the displays would be a new type, not like the current displays at any CTA stations. It will be interesting to see what the CTA comes up with for this. I suggested adding nearby bus route arrival times, an idea the rep said he was already planning on including. I really like this idea, since there are a few bus lines running in the direct vicinity of the station and knowing when the next bus is coming would be helpful. I also suggested adding screens on the sidewalk themselves, underneath the tracks, right outside of the station house. While there are no businesses there now, knowing how soon it is until the next train or bus would be helpful even from the street. I’ve seen this before in Berlin and Paris, and it’s a great way to know how much time you have to spare, say, if you want to grab something first (or if you have to run). The rep liked this idea, and I hope someday it makes its way to the CTA.

Auxiliary Exit at Sunnyside

Auxiliary Exit at Sunnyside

Auxiliary Exit at Sunnyside

There will be an auxiliary entrance/exit at Sunnyside, adjacent to Target and Aldi. I imagine that many people who use the station also frequent the area businesses, both these larger stores among them. The auxiliary entrance/exit will connect to the main platforms via a ramp and stairway. No parking from Aldi will be removed. This will be a great addition, as the space under the tracks currently seems wasted, dark, and dangerous.

Transit-Oriented Development

Transit-Oriented Development

Transit-Oriented Development board

Always a phrase someone like myself enjoys hearing, I’m glad the CTA addressed this for the new station. While I could argue that most businesses and residences near a transit stop in a dense city are “transit-oriented” by default, I gather that the CTA means the station will offer meaningful connections to other modes of transit, including bicycle. A small section of the station between Truman College and the new station house will be reserved for bicycles. No concrete plans were made for bicycle sharing, but then again, the City hasn’t released any specific information about the locations of anticipated bicycle sharing stations (and it hasn’t began asking residents where they should go either – Chicago, take note from D.C.), but a CTA rep told me a bicycle sharing station would most likely go next to these planned bike racks. Adjacent to those racks, she said, might be parking for automobiles. I hope this isn’t the case, for two reasons: There’s really no need (there is a giant parking structure adjacent to Truman College), and there should be no regular automobile traffic crossing the sidewalk near the station. This just creates the same conflict we already see downtown during rush hour with cars trying to enter downtown parking garages when there’s lots of pedestrians walking.

Criticisms

I don’t have a lot, which might sound surprising. I suppose one would be the cost. $203 million is a lot of money for one station. A journalist asked a woman near me what she thought of the station plans, and she talked about her station, Argyle, which just underwent a makeover, and thinks that the Wilson station is trying to show off too much. I do agree that this is a shiny, flashy, new station – but so were Belmont and Fullerton when they opened. I love the Belmont and Fullerton stations – they feel open and inviting. I hope that the same feeling comes to the Wilson station.

One small detail I noticed, and you can see in the first photo above, is that there seems to be new station signage (it is blue in the photo). I wish the CTA would choose one standard way to display its station information. Now, you’ll see several different types of signs to identify the station. There’s a unique type at Clark/Lake, which is unlike most of the designs you’ll see on the rest of the network. The one in the rendering (and it is just a rendering) seems like a new design. Similar to my disdain for the myriad methods the CTA employs to show us the train arrival times on some station platforms, I wish the CTA would standardize the way it gives its riders information about where they are and where they’re going.

I hope the CTA does a good job at encouraging businesses to come to the area and make it feel safer at all times. A CTA rep told me that they would work to “secure the area” during construction, but didn’t go further into what exactly that means. I asked what the CTA would be doing to ensure that the station and vicinity be safe at all times, but I realize that this isn’t just the CTA’s job – parts of this area feel unsafe and a new station isn’t going to change that like magic. It has to be a concerted effort.

That’s why I’m glad there seemed to be good turnout and concerned, inquisitive residents at the open house tonight. I love this neighborhood and want to see it become a safe and vibrant place to live. A new station is a good start.

See other photos I took below, and check out the CTA website for updated information.

Area around Gerber building

Area around Gerber building

Auxiliary entrance at Sunnyside

Auxiliary entrance at Sunnyside

Sunnyside entrance from Broadway

Sunnyside entrance from Broadway. Target is to the left, Aldi to the right.