Life just got a little easier for train passengers who rely on the Chicago Transit Authority’s Blue Line to commute to and from the city.
On Sept. 26, CTA officials completed an upgrade that allows rail riders to board Blue Line trains from Circle Avenue; the terminus had long served as an exit only. The update means passengers are no longer required to walk an additional two blocks to the east and board at Harlem Avenue.
“It’s excellent,” said an excited Anthony Johnson of the new access point. Johnson is a Berwyn resident, but said he rides the Blue Line in and out of Forest Park almost everyday.
To use the new entrance, passengers must have a transit card. Turnstiles installed there do not accept cash, nor is there a vending machine at which to reload CTA passes. The Harlem Avenue station remains a full-service location, according to a CTA spokesperson, and the platform is accessible from both the east and west.
In June 2008, village officials learned that the CTA intended to upgrade the Circle Avenue station, and that the project would be paid for with federal money. In lobbying for the additional access point, the municipality relied in part on a massive condominium and townhouse project planned for the nearby Roos property on Harrison Street as evidence of a likely increase in ridership. That development, however, stalled in the midst of the recession and remains nowhere near completion.
Nonetheless, Commissioner Mike Curry said the upgrade will certainly be appreciated by transit riders. From the early going, Curry had a hand in urging the CTA to make the improvement.
“This is a great, great event for Forest Park,” Curry said. “It’s huge.”
In particular, the commissioner pointed to public safety as one of the primary advantages of the new entrance. On Harlem Avenue, pedestrians must navigate the heavy vehicular traffic brought by the entrance and exit ramps for I-290 before they reach the Blue Line station. On Circle Avenue, the surrounding area is much more pedestrian friendly.
The Ferrara Pan Candy Company employs more than 400 people and is just around the corner from the Circle Avenue terminus on Harrison. An employee in the factory’s human resources department said the new entrance would certainly be more convenient for workers commuting on the Blue Line, but it was not known how many employees rely on rails.
Katie Turek, a high school student who attends St. Ignatius in Chicago, rides the train each day. She said she learned of the CTA’s upgrade from her mother, who uses the Blue Line to commute to work. The added convenience is nice enough, she said, but doesn’t significantly change her commute.
“I just live a couple blocks away. It doesn’t make that much of a difference,” Turek said.
Because the proposed residential development at the Roos site has failed, officials at the nearby park district on Harrison are considering trying to purchase the land. Executive Director Larry Piekarz said the upgraded CTA stop could make it easier for the park to obtain transportation grants through the state, and apply those funds toward improvements at the Roos site.