Instead of vacationing in the Caribbean Islands this summer, Gerald Mickels, a CTA bus service manager, will be spending his time at the Blue Island and Stony Island bus stops. “I’ve cancelled my St. Thomas trip already,” Mickels said, with a hesitant chuckle to an apprehensive audience at the Whitney Young Library in Chatham. “I’ll be out there on the streets every day till October 18. I’ll be out there in the rain. I’ll be out there in the trenches with you,” he said, referring to the complex new system of bus routes that will be put in place to compensate for the five-month closure of the Red Line.
On May 19, the southern portion of the Red Line, often referred to by Chatham residents as “the lifeblood of the South Side,” will be shut down for a $425 million rehabilitation project. Over twenty thousand South Siders will have to find an alternative route to work.
On a recent Tuesday evening, thirty or so residents damp from the rain gathered at the Whitney Young Library to voice their concerns to a group of CTA and local government representatives. The talk–sponsored by the South Side community group Role Model Movement–was called “Red Line Rehab: Inconvenience, Injustice, or Improvement.” From the speeches given by the CTA planners, 6th Ward Alderman Roderick Sawyer, and other local leaders, it became clear that the purpose of the talk was to convince the community that the project is neither an inconvenience nor an injustice, but certainly an improvement. “In certain zones, you could ride a bike faster than the Red Line”; “There is crime around the Red Line because there is nothing there”; and “Concrete doesn’t last forever” were some of the statements made by CTA planners and managers to the skeptical audience about the project, which promises to cut up to twenty minutes off the commute from 95th/Dan Ryan to downtown, bring in new businesses around Red Line stops, and create major station improvements.
Despite the CTA representatives’ attempts to mitigate resistance from the audience, some community members spoke up about the inconveniences that the temporary system will cause them and their families. “I live at 79th and King Drive, and my wife works downtown, and she will have to travel the wrong direction to get on the Green Line,” said J.P. Paulus. A middle-aged man wearing a Chicago White Sox T-shirt and blue jeans, Paulus shared his thoughts on the plan: “It would make more sense to have specific shuttles that go to a generic place downtown. I feel like they would make this more convenient for the North Side.”
The CTA plans to save $75 million dollars by completely shutting down the Red Line for five months, rather than working on weekends and nights, which would cause the repairs to take over four years, according to the CTA representatives present at the meeting. “It feels unfair because on the North Side they don’t shut down the whole system,” Paulus said. “They did this for the Brown Line, but went through the years-long process and it still seemed to work for them. But down here, they do it because they can.”