By Gary Washburn
TRIBUNE TRANSPORTATION WRITER
Date of Publication: June 6, 1996
Source: Chicago Tribune
In a controversial decision that brought an angry reaction from community activists in the audience, the Chicago Transit Authority Board voted Wednesday to back a plan to tear down a three-quarter-mile section of the Green Line.
The board followed the lead of the city, which contends that demolition of the CTA's elevated structure between Cottage Grove and Dorchester Avenues is critical for residential redevelopment along 63rd Street in the economically depressed Woodlawn neighborhood.
The long-running battle over the rail segment now shifts to Washington, where federal officials have been asked by the city to provide funds for demolition and forgo repayment of grants used to make improvements on the line.
The debate over whether to retain or tear down the Cottage-to-Dorchester segment has stretched over the last two decades, said Joseph Boyle Jr., the city's commissioner of planning and development.
Disagreement on what to do has "prolonged the discussion and delayed the decision," and there has been little development along 63rd as a result, Boyle told the board. Taking down the elevated structure "will allow 63rd Street to become a focal point for community activity rather than a barrier," he asserted.
Demolition opponents charged that the tear-down plan is designed to permit continued purchase of city-owned parcels along 63rd by the Apostolic Church of God and its pastor, Bishop Arthur Brazier, a veteran Woodlawn community leader. But Boyle said the city's only interest is in neighborhood regeneration.
Citing the results of a March 12 hearing and other public comment, city officials have told the Federal Transit Administration that 56 percent of area residents favor demolition.
Activists who oppose razing the structure charged Wednesday that the numbers were "ginned," and they slammed the CTA's decision to support the city's position.
"I think it was an act of cannibalism," declared Jackie Leavy, project coordinator of the Neighborhood Capital Budget Group, a community-redevelopment umbrella group. "They are eating up their own rapid-transit infrastructure.
"In 10 years, when the Woodlawn community repopulates, those householders are going to be asking why they don't have clean, quiet rapid-transit service," Leavy said. "Clearly the facts show that redevelopment has been going at an increasing pace for several years."
"To lose a fight on dishonest information, inaccurate information and outright lies is extremely disappointing," said Jacky Grimshaw of the Center for Neighborhood Technology. "There is no way we can feel good about it."
The Cottage-to-Dorchester section is at the far end of the Green Line's Jackson Park branch. It was excluded from the line's recent $350 million renovation, pending a decision on its future. Ridership on the branch, as on the rest of the line, has declined in recent years. Patronage slipped to 2,800 boarding passengers in 1993 from 12,600 in 1978.
The CTA Board's endorsement of demolition came with one caveat: that the transit authority suffer no expense or financial penalty.