Razing 'L' Would Hurt Woodlawn


By Gregory Munson, Researcher, Center for Economic Policy Analysis
VOICE OF THE PEOPLE (Letter to the Editor)

Date of Publication: May 8, 1996
Source: Chicago Tribune


The City of Chicago and the Chicago Transit Authority have a unique plan. They want to enhance Woodlawn's development potential by demolishing much of its rapid transit system. The plan-- supported by some community residents and opposed by others--flies in the face of the maxim that rapid transit enhances development.

A recent study by the Center for Economic Policy Analysis examined arguments in favor of demolishing a section of the elevated Green Line along 63rd Street. These arguments are that noise, bad esthetics and crime associated with the "L" inhibit development. Not one of the issues is defensible.

With routine mitigation measures, the "L" would be quieter than buses. Moreover, the buses and cars that would replace the "L" will emit noxious fumes and clog 63rd Street.

Parts of the 63rd Street "L" structure are unattractive, but they have not yet been renovated. Rehabilitated sections of the Green Line are much more appealing.

Analysis of official Chicago Police data shows no correlation between the "L" structure and street crime patterns.

Contrary to the city and CTA's logic, 63rd Street can be redeveloped with the "L" intact. Many recent residential and commercial projects in Chicago are along elevated tracks. These range from single-family homes for working-class families to expensive townhouses to office and retail complexes.

There would not be a debate about demolishing the "L" if Woodlawn were not heavily disinvested. Disinvestment's results are indisputable. The 16 blocks of Woodlawn bordered by 61st and 67th Streets and Dorchester and Woodlawn Avenues lost 72 percent of their housing units and more than 83 percent of their population between 1960 and 1990. However, disinvestment in this area and throughout Woodlawn was not caused by the "L" and the "L" has not prolonged it.

Decades of disinvestment in Woodlawn are now ending. Pockets of redevelopment are visible and more are coming. Much of this new development is occurring within three to four blocks of the long-promised Dorchester station. It is no longer a question of when Woodlawn will be developed, but how.

If the "L" is torn down, can Woodlawn ever be fully redeveloped? As new houses and apartments are built, residents will be forced to clog local streets with more and more cars. Visitors to nearby attractions--such as the University of Chicago, the Museum of Science and Industry and Jackson Park's Japanese Gardens--will exacerbate the congestion. An over-reliance on cars will choke off development, not encourage it.

The city and CTA have recently invested nearly $350 million in the Green Line. Rehabilitation of the Jackson Park branch to Dorchester insures that the investment benefits Chicagoans and the CTA. Dorchester station would increase CTA income by boosting ridership.

The demolition of the "L" from Dorchester to Stony Island lost the CTA thousands of daily riders and yielded no substantial benefits for Woodlawn. Are the city and CTA willing to gamble $350 million and the future of a community by demolishing even more?