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

Published by: Commercial Club of Chicago
Publishing date: 1909

1915 Plan

Published by: Traction and Subway Commission
Publishing date: 1915

1923 Kelker Plan

Published by: Committee on Local Transportation of the Chicago City Council
Publishing date: 1923

1927 Blair Plan

Published by: Henry A. Blair, President, Chicago Surface Lines
Publishing date: 1927

1930 Plan

Published by: Chicago City Council
Publishing date: 1930

1937 Plan

Published by: Harrington, Kelker and De Leuw
Publishing date: 1937

Comprehensive Plan for the Extension of the Subway System of the City of Chicago

Published by: Chicago Department of Subways and Superhighways
Publishing date: 1939

New Horizons for Chicago's Metropolitan Area

Published by: Chicago Transit Authority
Publishing date: 1958

Plan for the CTA to Assume Services of the North Shore Line Interurban

Published by: Chicago Transit Authority
Publishing date: 1958 (Updated 1961)

1962 Plan

Published by: Chicago Transit Authority
Publishing date: 1962

Chicago Central Area Transit Plan

Published by: City of Chicago
Publishing date: 1968 (revised until 1979)

1995 Transportation System Plan

Published by: Chicago Area Transportation Study, Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission
Publishing date: 1973

Year 2000 Transportation System Development Plan

Published by: Chicago Area Transportation Study
Publishing date: 1980 (Updated 1982 and 1984)

Year 2010 Transportation System Development Plan

Published by: Chicago Area Transportation Study, in cooperation with the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission
Publishing date: 1990 (Updated in 1994)

Destination 2020

Published by: Chicago Area Transportation Study
Publishing date: 1998
Full version:
CATS' web site

Current CTA Alternatives Analyses [Off-Site Link]

Published by: Chicago Transit Authority
Publishing date: 2006-present
Includes: Circle Line, Red Line Extension, Yellow Line Extension, Orange Line Extension