The Red Line, the backbone of the 'L,' has become more like a ball of nerves. Last week, the CTA touted a 3 percent increase in ridership from 2010 to 2011, but the southern portion of the Red Line saw a dip—perhaps due to slow zones.
The case of Red Line slow zones may provide clues to how Red Line and Loop ridership could be affected in the next few months when two construction projects will likely bring similar slowdowns. The CTA will be working on renewing its track in the Loop this spring, and the agency will be improving stations on the northern sections of the Red Line this summer.
The Loop project, which is slated to begin in mid-April, involves replacing nearly 11,500 feet of track. The CTA said construction work will be primarily limited to weekends. Reroutes are anticipated in the Loop on Friday nights while full closure of portions of Loop track is expected for the rest of the weekend.
Separately, the northern Red Line project, which is anticipated to begin this summer, involves modernizing seven stations by water proofing and improving lighting. Plans include temporary station closures expected to be no more than six weeks.
Meanwhile, the southern portion of the Red Line remains under a slow zone as the CTA performs track renewal. This area has seen train speeds between 15 and 35 miles per hour for months.
This time last year, more than 38 percent of the southern portion of the line, from Cermak-Chinatown to 95th Street, was under slow zone. Correspondingly, this section of the Red Line saw a 1 percent decrease in weekday ridership compared to the previous year.
Only the Sox-35th and Cermak-Chinatown stations along that portion of line posted weekday gains. The Cermak-Chinatown stop was under construction for most of 2010 after a truck crashed into the station two years earlier.
Riders have been known to modify their commute if construction or cuts lengthen it. When the CTA reduced bus service by 18 percent in 2010, about 3 percent of bus riders became rail riders, according to CTA ridership reports.
When the CTA worked on Orange Line signal problems, which created slow zones for about eight months in 2010, a small percentage of riders ditched the line. Orange Line ridership rebounded last year, posting a 4 percent increase over 2010.
Since the Loop and Red Line project will (presumably) take place in nice weather, some riders may choose to walk or ride their bikes instead of dealing with the hastle of shuttered stations or slow zones.
But some will most likely turn to the bus system. Buses that mirror the northern Red Line—the Michigan Avenue Express buses, the No. 36-Broadway and the No. 22 Clark—will likely see increased ridership this summer.
Then maybe by next year, buses will be the new heart of the system.
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A weekly dispatch from a CTA station of note
This week: Washington/Wells
Ads for Zurich, a global insurance agency that has a base in Chicagoland, recently popped up at the Washington/Wells stop to celebrate the company's 100-year anniversary. The ads look back at Chicago's progression as a city over the last century. But if riders want a taste of nostalgia at this Loop stop, they should hang out on the platform that services the Orange, Pink and Purple Lines, where there is a working pay phone. The CTA in 2010 opted not to renew the contract with the company that operates the pay phones, which once numbered in the hundreds across the system. Though some phones are still in operation, they are a rarity. A piece of history, even.
Next up: Monroe Red Line.