The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) unveiled plans to roughly double the service on its Blue Line branch that serves Forest Park at an open house attended by approximately 35 people Thursday night at the Community Center in Forest Park.
The proposed changes will be presented to the CTA board in the next few months, and are the results of the West Side Corridor Study, which the CTA first began working on in 2003.
The biggest change affecting Forest Parkers will be a virtual doubling of service along the Blue Line, according to CTA officials. Rush hour trains would run every five to seven minutes compared to the current schedule of every 10 minutes, according to Michael Shiffer, the Vice President for Planning and Development at the CTA.
During off-peak hours train frequency would increase to every eight minutes from the current interval of every 15 minutes, Shiffer said.
The other major change involves rerouting the Cermak branch of the Blue Line. Instead of merging with the Forest Park branch at Racine, the Cermak branch, with the exception of a few rush hour trains, would make use of an existing but unused section of track called the Paulina Connector to link up with the Green Line at Ashland before heading Downtown.
Reaction to the proposed changes was mostly favorable at Thursday’s meeting.
“It will make my use of the (Blue) Line much more regular,” said Mary Kay Minaghan, a Forest Parker who works out of her home but also makes frequent trips Downtown.
“The time between trains before was sometimes a discouragement.”
Michael Alexander, an Oak Parker who takes the Blue Line to his job as a history professor at UIC, was also encouraged by what he heard despite being skeptical of the proposed changes before the meeting.
“If everyone can get more frequent service I think that’s great,” said Alexander. “I’m a little bit skeptical it can be that good a deal. I do feel that it is important that people who live along the Cermak Line get first-class service. One of the things I wonder about is this idea of trying to still maintain a little bit of service from the Cermak Line into the Blue Line. I wonder if it’s really going to work out.”
Cermak rush hour trains that would maintain their current Blue Line route would only run once every half hour.
That would affect Eric Cromey and Leslie Kouzes, who both work at the Chicago Lighthouse for the Visually Impaired. They both take the Blue Line from Forest Park to Racine and switch at Racine to a westbound Cermak train to get to their final stop at Polk on the Cermak Line.
Under the proposed system they would have to wait longer at Racine to get a Cermak westbound train.
“It would take me an additional 10 minutes, at least,” said Cromey who said he had mixed feeling about the proposed changes. “On the weekends I love it; it’s the weekdays I don’t like.”
A similar meeting earlier last week at the University of Illinois at Chicago did not go as smoothly for the CTA.
“This data is inaccurate. Where are you getting these figures?” demanded Oak Park resident Howard Ehrman in response to numbers presented by the CTA to show that riders supported the changes.
Ehrman said that he had conducted a survey of 2,000 Blue Line riders along with the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization in 2004, and about 90 percent of those surveyed said they would prefer that the routes remained the same.
Attendees at the earlier meeting also expressed skepticism regarding the CTA’s willingness to reach out to the public.
“I’m extremely apprehensive about the public input process. When you come to one of these meetings and there are more CTA employees than residents, that’s a problem,” said Suzanne French, a Blue Line rider from Rogers Park.
If approved the proposed changes would take effect in July for a 180 day trial period, said Elsa Gutierrez, the CTA’s manager of service development.
Kiki Nichols of the Medill News Service contributed to this report.