By Gary Washburn
TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
Date of Publication: June 3, 1998
Source: Chicago Tribune
Wresting a $14 million rail station out of the cash-poor Chicago Transit Authority would be cause for celebration in most neighborhoods--and plans for a new West Side stop on Tuesday indeed drew applause from many community leaders.
But some residents who turned out for the announcement complained the new facility won't do them much good. That's because recent CTA service cuts mean that riders who get off at the station will have to walk several blocks to get to the nearest bus route, leaving them vulnerable to crime.
"There is no bus line here," declared Melissa Ingraham, who earlier engaged Mayor Richard Daley in a debate during a press conference at Lake Street near Central Park Avenue, site of the new station. "After 6 p.m., this area is dark and deserted."
And cabs are nowhere to be found near the future stop, said Linda Jones, another local resident who foresees problems when the station opens in about two years.
But CTA officials contended that the new facility is designed to do the most good for the greatest number of people, including students at Lucy Flower Vocational and Providence St. Mel High Schools, and visitors to Garfield Park and the resurgent Garfield Park Conservatory, all of which are nearby.
Disagreement over CTA policy in the area dates to 1994 when the agency's Green Line was closed for a $409 million rehabilitation and the historic, but deteriorated, Homan Avenue station was shut down for good.
Local leaders pressured the CTA and elected officials to rehab and reopen Homan, which is two blocks east of the new station's site. But when agency officials finally were persuaded to find the money for a station in the area, they decided on Central Park.
Besides the desire to offer a convenient stop for the schools, the park and conservatory, officials concluded it would provide proper spacing on the line. Central Park is four blocks west of the Kedzie Avenue station, while Homan is two.
"You cannot run a rapid transit (line) and stop every two blocks," said CTA Chairman Valerie Jarrett. "It is not rapid transit."
Jarrett predicted that security in the area will get better when more people are present.
"One of the best ways to improve safety is to have ... people walking up and down the street," she said. "How do you do that? You create a station where they feel safe."
Daley said the stop will help Chicagoans "discover" Garfield Park and also boost attendance at the conservatory.
"Its attendance has increased tenfold in four years," he said., "Still, only half as many visitors come to the conservatory's flower show as the one, in Lincoln Park."
Funding cuts have forced systemwide bus service reductions on the CTA, and agency officials said they have no plans to reinstate routes near the Central Park station. A route that ran directly past the site for a brief period in 1989 was discontinued after residents complained of buses causing building vibrations, they said.
Jacqueline Leavy, executive director of the Neighborhood Capital Budget Group, a not-for-profit umbrella organization, said the new stop is a "posftive first step," but said "if this station is not fed by bus routes, it will be a failure."
Leavy called for a design that would extend the new station's platform eastward as close as possible to Homan, so riders could walk down stairs and transferto the bus line that runs on that street.