Take the "L" to Old Orchard?

[cross-posted from Gapers Block]
The CTA unveiled Thursday night its preliminary concept for a significant extension of the Yellow Line, a/k/a the Skokie Swift, from its current terminus at Dempster Street in Skokie, to Old Orchard Road, just east of the Edens Expressway.

The authority rolled out its presentation at a public meeting at Niles North High School, near where the extension would end. Approximately 50 members of the public were in attendance, along with what seemed to be at least a dozen CTA staffers and consultants. Public officials were notably absent, except for Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen, a longtime booster of more rapid transit to the inland North Shore burb, and an aide of State Rep. Lou Lang.
Much of the presentation consisted of what must have seemed, to much of the audience, a jargon-laden recap of the laborious process the authority had been following since the last public meeting nearly 9 months ago at which first comments were taken. This meeting, dubbed "Screen 2," was intended to present the "Locally Preferred Alternative" favored by planners and, presumably, the public. This alternative, the "Heavy Rail East Option - Elevated," utilizes the existing abandoned Union Pacific Railroad tracks from Dempster to approximately Golf Road, then jogs east to a point east of I-94, just south of Old Orchard Road, north of the high school, and steps from the Old Orchard shopping mall.

The planners considered this endpoint to have more potential traffic than a more straight-line alternative that would end closer to the Cook County 2d District Courthouse about ¼ mile west; however, this is still walkable for courthouse employees and patrons, and is more likely to serve mall shoppers and employees, residents of the new Optima development, and workers at the several office buildings clustered near the Old Orchard expressway exit.

An alternative would have been to use bus lines from Dempster north. That might make sense if most of the anticipated traffic was between Dempster and Old Orchard. However, if the expected ridership is either to or from Chicago to Skokie, a transfer from rail to bus would be a disincentive.

The entire presentation, including slideshow and aerial maps, as well as previous proposals, studies, and public comments is all available online.

The extension is only part of the ambitious transit planning underway in Skokie. The Village has for some years been planning a new Oakton Station to be located in "downtown" Skokie, between Oakton Street and Searle Parkway, where the village has created a TIF and is working on significant job creation through a technology park. Planning and land acquisition are underway and the municipality has obtained federal and local funding assistance for the project. Click here to download the 24-page executive summary of the project.

The Oakton stop and Old Orchard extension fit into the 2007 Skokie Swift North Shore Corridor Travel Market Analysis completed by Skokie, Evanston and the RTA. Again, there is a 14-page executive summary of a much longer report.

That same report analyzed adding an intermediate stop in south Evanston, likely near St. Francis Hospital. However, Evanston has not made the same progress as Skokie.

Notably, and commendably, Skokie has been planning its redevelopment efforts around jobs, rather than bedrooms, seeking to replace some of the employment lost when Pfizer pulled up stakes. This is an essential component of true transit-oriented development, because if all you're doing is stacking condos next to train stations, without thought of where people are going to work, all you're doing is stacking condos near train stations. That's not TOD, it's DUM.

From now through May 14, 2009, members of the public and organizations may submit written comments and questions on the Old Orchard extension to the CTA by writing or e-mailing:

Mr. Darud Akbar
Chicago Transit Authority
Government and Community Relations
P.O. Box 7567
Chicago, IL 60680-7567
CTA Customer Service: 1-888-YOUR-CTA
TTY: 1-888-CTA-TTY1