Austin Boulevard and W. Corcoran Place, City of Chicago
Green Line: Lake
Address: 351 N. Austin Boulevard
Established: January 25, 1901
Original Line: Lake Street Elevated Railroad
Previous Names: none
Status: In Use
Original Ground-Level Station
Austin Avenue station was built as part of the Lake Street Elevated's 1899 extension west from Laramie Avenue to Austin Avenue into Cicero Township and what is now the suburban of Oak Park. After leaving Laramie the line descended from the elevated structure down to ground level and continued to the terminal at-grade. The line was extended west of Austin Avenue later in 1899. The "L" was powered by overhead trolley wire along the extension for safety purposes due to the grade-level running. The tracks also paralleled the adjacent Chicago & North Western Railroad.
The modest stations on this portion consisted of island stations and platforms constructed of wood. The narrow station houses with their clapboard paneling and peaked roofs with overhanging eaves emptied out onto an island platform covered by a peaked canopy that was actually a continuation of the station house's roof. The tall steel poles that carried the "L"'s overhead wires occasionally poked through the canopy, interrupting the platform.
The "L"'s street-level operation began to result a number of crossing accidents, typically due to pedestrians and wagon drivers failing to take note of approaching trains. Neither the "L" nor the C&NW had any type of crossing protection originally. Manually-operated crossing gates and gatemen helped reduce accidents but did not eliminate them. The problem got worse as automobile traffic entered the picture and became more prevalent. The situation was further exacerbated when the parallel C&NW elevated their right-of-way circa 1908-09, creating a blind intersection due to the embankment preventing southbound traffic from seeing approaching "L" trains until they were on the crossing. The Chicago and Oak Park municipal governments tried for decades to get the "L" to elevated their tracks west of Laramie Avenue, to no avail.
Finally, in 1961 construction began on a joint project to elevate the Lake Street "L" tracks. The $4 million project was jointed financed by the Chicago Transit Authority (who had assumed operation of the "L" in 1947), City of Chicago, Village of Oak Park, Cook County, State of Illinois, and US Bureau of Public Roads, and in cooperation with the Chicago & North Western Railroad. Rather than build a new elevated structure for the "L", the rapid transit tracks were relocated onto the C&NW's embankment, occupying the southern portion of the elevated right-of-way, which the railroad vacated. The elevation project eliminated 22 grade crossings between Laramie and Harlem avenues.
The elevation project included the construction of new stations and removal of the old wooden stations at street-level. The stations included new island platforms on the embankment and street-level station houses on the south side of the embankment. The stations were very modern for the time, and described thusly in a promotional brochure for the project:
Integrated with the south wall of the North Western embankment, the new stations incorporate many design features.
Large picture windows enhance a light and bright interior. External walls are of ceramic glazed brick in the color code for the respective station. The color is repeated in porcelain enamel panels of each station front, in the glazed ceramic tile of the interior walls, and in the porcelain enamel panels of the agents' booths.
Electric signs over the entrance of each station buildings are to identify the station and display the travel time between the station and Chicago's Loop.
Passenger control facilities include agent-controlled, illuminated fare indicator turnstiles, coin-operated turnstiles, and electrically-operated, remotely-controlled exit turnstiles.
In the metal platform canopies, which extend over the roofs of cars at train stops protecting boarding and alighting passengers from rain, sleet and snow, the station color code is repeated. Translucent fiberglass panels are interspersed with the metal panels of the canopies.
Platforms and stations are illuminated by fluorescent luminaires.
At the platforms, the lights are turned off ad on automatically by photo-electric cells. Lighting in the stations is controlled by the agents.
The "color code" for Austin station, used for various accents in the facility, was gray. The tiled wall outside the station entrances, on the embankment, featured pin-mounted metal letters spelling out the name of the station entrance.
The Austin station had two entrances, with one at Austin Avenue at the west end of the station and another at the east end of the station at Mason Avenue. As a result, the station was sometimes referred to as "Austin-Mason" in some promotional materials, though maps and signage simply referred to the station at "Austin".
The station entrances at Central, Austin and Oak Park were equipped with an escalator in addition to the stairs to access the platform. The escalators were of a reversible, dual-operation type. Typically, in rush hours the escalators operated in the peak direction (up in the morning, down in the evening) and in off-peak hours operated automatically. While in automatic mode, the escalator was activated by treadle steps, at the top and at the bottom. Once set in motion by a passenger, it operated in the proper direction until the passenger had alighted. Flashing signs warned patrons not to board an escalator operating in the wrong direction. Both the escalators and stairs were protected by glass-walled shelters at the platform level.
The platform features a wooden floor and a steel canopy supported by I-beams. The platform lights outside the canopy were unusual, found only in Oak Park suburban stations and at Austin, with a thin pole and a conical head with a convex saucer as a cap.
Lake "L" trains began using the new elevated right-of-way on the C&NW embankment between Laramie and Harlem on Sunday, October 28, 1962. The ground-level stations closed and the elevated platforms opened, but the new permanent street-level station houses were not ready yet, due to the street-level tracks needing to be removed before they could be completed. Thus, on opening day, temporary fare control areas were used at Austin and Mason. Completion of the remaining amenities was not far off, however. The escalator at Austin went into service on Friday, November 2, 1962. The station's two permanent station houses went into service on Monday, January 14, 1963.
The station saw modest changes through the following years. On Monday, February 5, 1973, in one of several rounds of cost-cutting that year that included multiple station closures and service reductions, the Mason entrance to Austin station was closed, though it was retained as an exit. Mason remained available as an exit as least as late as the 1980s, but has since been closed and boarded up.
Green Line Renovation
The Lake Street "L" and the rest of the Green Line closed in 1994 for a two year refurbishment, but a CTA citizens advisory task force recommended that Austin (along with Oak Park, Laramie, Homan and Halsted) be shut down and never reopened to make the interval between stations standardized one mile and to save money. However, after a protracted battle waged by Chicago citizens and elected officials, the station reopened in 1996 with the rest of the Green Line.
However, unlike other stations that were rebuilt, few alterations were made to Austin station, as it was not originally budgeted to receive an overhaul. The existing station house, platform, and canopy remained. The station received new fare controls and some new signage, though some old signage remained. More significantly, Austin station, along with Oak Park and Ridgeland stations in Oak Park, reopened without modifications to make the stations handicapped-accessible. CTA officials contended they were not mandated by federal law to make all stations handicapped-accessible because they made only cosmetic changes to Austin and the two other suburban stations while carrying out the $350 million Green Line renovation. Eighteen of the line's 27 stations -- all stations except Austin, Oak Park and Ridgeland, and some Loop stations shared with other routes -- were eventually made handicapped-accessible, including the Marion Street entrance to the Harlem/Lake terminal in downtown Oak Park. The other stations, at Austin, Oak Park and Ridgeland, were not scheduled to be made accessible because the transit authority did not have the money, CTA Chairman Valerie Jarrett said in 1996. Oak Park residents with disabilities protested the lack of accessibility after the project, and Village President Lawrence Christmas agreed to seek funds to make all the Green Line stations in Oak Park handicapped-accessible but the three stations are still currently not ADA-compliant.
Austin station received some new signage at platform level in 2009, including new "board here" signs and new column signs that adhere to CTA's Green Line Standards (which, ironically, were first designed as part of the 1994-96 Green Line rehab), replacing some signs that dated from the 1980s A/B skip-stop era. The station name signs remained an odd variant, presumably installed in the 1994-96 rehab -- they had white letters on a green background, a style previously used for "B" stations in the skip-stop era (whereas Austin was an "AB" all-stop station under A/B service); these were not replaced with Green Line Standard station name signs until a few years later.
All Stations Accessibility Program (ASAP)
In July 2018, the CTA released its first plan to make the entire system accessible to people with disabilities over the next 20 years. The All Stations Accessibility Program (ASAP) will cost about $2.1 billion, according to CTA, but the program was not funded at the time of the announcement. Rather, CTA formulated and announced the plan to begin the effort to secure funding by building support and increasing awareness of accessibility needs.1
Given the magnitude of this endeavor, project work was proposed to be performed in four phases over the 20-year period. To help prioritize the non-accessible stations, scores were assessed to each location based on needs and the complexity of work to be performed. The criteria used in determining the needs score is similar to what was used in previous CTA accessibility analyses (i.e. the 2012 Infrastructure Accessibility Task Force [IATF] Plan) such as ridership and gaps between accessible stations. In general, stations with higher needs and lower complexity scores were prioritized for near-term plans. Highly complex stations that require more time for planning, design, construction, agency coordination and community input are part of long-term project plans.2
Phase one of the ASAP plan puts elevators in eight stations: Austin on the Green Line, Montrose and California on the Blue Line, State/Lake on the Loop, and Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn and Bryn Mawr on the Red Line.3 The State/Lake project has been discussed on and off since the 1980s, and is an effort managed by the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT). The four Red Line stations are being rebuilt as part of the larger $2.1 billion Red & Purple Modernization Program, Phase One.
Artist's rendering of the conceptual design for the changes to Austin proposed in the ASAP Strategic Plan. For a larger view, click here. (Rendering courtesy of CTA)
In the ASAP plan, the existing Austin station house and platform structures are proposed to be retained but renovated and modified. An ADA compliant ramp would be added between street-level and station house. The elevator connecting the station house and platform is proposed to be positioned on the paid side of the station house, centered between the two sets of stairs that connect to the platform level.4
The existing east stairs and escalator from the station house to the platform are located in a narrow section of the platform that cannot accommodate the required minimum width of 5’ for wheelchair passing and turning. Due to the exorbitant cost of spreading the tracks further to widen the platform, the escalator is proposed to be removed; the existing east stairway would be repositioned to be centered within the existing platform. This will allow sufficient wheelchair passing and turning space at platform-level. While the existing escalator is a key amenity for all station users, all other alternatives to incorporate an escalator would disturb the embankment structures and/or impact adjacent freight rail operations, which would have significant cost implications.5
The Mason Avenue auxiliary station house, at the east end of the platform, is proposed to be reopened to provide a second path of egress to meet emergency exiting standards.6
Cost estimates for the three ASAP Phase One stations that were not part of RPM or CDOT's program were based on the proposed designs at a 10 percent completion level.7 When escalated to the Year-of-Expenditure (YOE), calculated to the midpoint of construction, the total unfunded cost of ASAP Phase One is $140.3 Million. The YOE cost estimate accounts for annual inflation, which makes the same project more expensive to implement in future years. The estimated cost for the ASAP improvements at Austin is $21.3 million in 2017 dollars, or $24.0 million when escalated to the YOE.8
In October 2019, CTA was awarded federal funding for several projects. $20 million was provided to make the accessibility improvements at the Austin Green Line station.9
This Chicago-L.org article is a stub. It will be expanded in the future as resources allow.
1. Wisniewski, Mary. "CTA plans for accessible stations, though funds are not available." Chicago Tribune, July 19, 2018.
2. Chicago Transit Authority. "All Stations Accessiblity Program (ASAP)" flyer. July 2018.
3. Wisniewski, ibid.
4. Chicago Transit Authority. All Stations Accessiblity Program (ASAP) Strategic Plan, July 2018, pp. 37-38.
7. Ibid, p. 83.
8. Ibid, p. 85.
9. McCoppin, Robert. "CTA and Metra stations, Barrington, Naperville and other transportation projects get federal funding." Chicago Tribune, October 11, 2019.