A colorful inspiration at the CTA


Date of Publication: September 25, 1992
Source: Chicago Tribune


Sometime by the end of the year, the Chicago Transit Authority plans to reconfigure its Howard-Englewood-Jackson Park rapid transit line into a Lake-Englewood-Jackson Park line and its Lake-Dan Ryan line into a Howard-Dan Ryan line.

For people already overwhelmed by the complexity of the sprawling elevated-subway system trying to figure out which train goes where and what stops it makes and doesn't along the way getting used to this may seem as simple as trying to comprehend a three-way trade in the National Basketball Association.

But don't despair. The CTA also is easing into another new scheme that not only will make the new alignments easier to sort out, but will make the entire train system easier to track (pardon the expression).

The agency has begun color-coding its trains, installing new colored front roller-curtain signs on each that will match the color of the train's route on CTA system maps. Thus, the reconfigured Howard-Dan Ryan line will become the Red Line, the Lake-Englewood-Jackson Park line will become the Green Line, the new Southwest line-scheduled to open in the spring will be the Orange Line, the Evanston Express will become the Purple Line (which should make eminent sense to Northwestern fans) and so on for the seven lines in the system.

The idea is to make the entire system simpler to understand and explain; once you see where you want to go on a CTA map, get on a train marked with the matching color. This may not make a lot of difference to veteran train users who are accustomed to thinking in terms of mouthfuls like O'Hare-Congress-Douglas (hereafter Blue) and even have shorthand designations for their lines. But it can make a lot of difference to first-time or occasional users, visitors to the city and people with language problems who can find the train network intimidating and confusing. It may even win the CTA some new riders.

It is part of the determination by CTA President Robert Belcaster to make the system more user-friendly (please pardon that expression, as you applaud the goal). He takes no credit for inventing the idea, which is successfully in use in such cities as Paris, London, Washington and Boston. But he deserves enormous credit for having the good sense to adopt it here, and eventually hopes to link the color-coded train system with color-coded buses. It is a positive, useful strategy for a system more accustomed to getting a black eye.