Sometimes the parts of the "L" that never got built are just as interesting as those that did! Over the hundred-plus year history of Chicago's rapid transit, a number of plans for "L" lines and extensions have been put forth that never came to fruition. Some were alignments included in the companies' franchises that were never exercised. Others were plans that were formulated, but later dropped -- for financial or other reasons. Later, it became public policy for metropolitan regions to periodically issue regional transportation plans to take a planned, holistic view of metropolitan transit and where expansion is needed.
The first regional Chicago transportation plan, published by the Chicago Area Transportation Study (CATS) in 1962, provided this rationale for studying and understanding previous transportation plans when looking at the present and future state of mass transit:
Any realist can see that planning for future mass transportation facilities -- buses, subway and elevated lines, and suburban railroads -- is a particularly difficult task. Historical trends continue to show passenger losses. Risk capital is scarce. The increasing dispersion of riders and the harsh economic fact of serving a more dilute market area cannot be ignored.
Yet the need for mass transportation and the problems created by increasing use of the automobile cannot be ignored. Many people in the Chicago area are completely dependent upon public transit for transportation. The economic well being of large parts of the central city -- particularly the core area -- is at stake. Any accelerating decline in the availability of public transportation would be reflected in lowered property values and increased congestion. Strong efforts are needed to maintain and to improve public transportation services...
...[The history of transit planning in Chicago] provides background for a more detailed inspection of the nature and function of mass transit services. These, in turn, bear on the nature and size of the transit market.
CATS' comment concerning historic trends of passenger losses was certainly true in 1962 and would continue to be the dominant trend in the mass transit market for another three decades. Today, this trend has been reversed, with CTA® ridership increasing steadily since the late 1990s, reversing many of the losses of the previous decades. Still, transit's mode share is modest compared to the auto -- especially in the suburbs -- and ridership projects and mode split forecasts continue to play an important role in long-range transit planning.
Below are a selection of plan summaries, highlighting those sections pertaining to rapid transit (the regional plans of the last several decades also deal with highways, arterials and commuter lines). So choose a plan, take a look, and see the "L" that might have been and what may be in store for the future...
1909 Plan of Chicago
1923 Kelker Plan
1927 Blair Plan
Comprehensive Plan for the Extension of the Subway System of the City of Chicago
New Horizons for Chicago's Metropolitan Area
Plan for the CTA to Assume Services of the North Shore Line Interurban
Chicago Central Area Transit Plan
1995 Transportation System Plan
Year 2000 Transportation System Development Plan
Year 2010 Transportation System Development Plan
Current CTA Alternatives Analyses [Off-Site Link]