CTA stations on long path to total ADA accessibility


Esther Bell

The Quincy train station will be remodeled to allow access to  people with disabilities. The $1.2 million project is expected to be completed by the end of the year. 

By Jackie Murray

City officials  announced plans to renovate the 120-year-old Quincy train station to make it accessible to people with disabilities, but lack of funding has hindered progress at other stations. 

According to an April 21 press release from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office, the station will receive two new elevators located on both the inbound and outbound platforms. The $1.2 million project is the largest renovation of the station—which serves 2.2 million riders annually—in 30 years. Construction is expected to be finished by the end of this year, according to the Chicago Transit Authority’s website.

“The Quincy station serves several [train] lines in a busy location [with] several bus routes nearby as well,” said Kyle Whitehead, government relations director at the Active Transportation Alliance. “Busy transfer points like that become hubs. Those stations are naturally prioritized for these types of [accessibility] upgrades.”

However, Whitehead said making all stations accessible for people with disabilities is difficult because of CTA’s  funding, which carries more restrictions than that of similar cities. Construction can also be costly because of restricted available space, particularly around areas with historic landmarks. 

“[CTA has] certain limitations in terms of what they can fund and how quickly they can make these big infrastructure improvements, but I think they’re dedicated [to accessibility],” said Yochai Eisenberg, senior research specialist at the Institute on Disability and Human Development at University of Illinois at Chicago. 

Eisenberg, who served on the CTA’s ADA advisory committee, said a lack of  funding is the greatest challenge facing improving train stations to full access.

The CTA is implementing the  All Stations Accessibility Program. CTA President Dorval Carter introduced the program in January 2016 with the plan to have all CTA train stations accessible for people with disabilities within the next 20 years. Currently, only 69 percent of CTA stations are ADA accessible, according to its website. 

Red Line stations from Sheridan to Granville as well as the nearby North/Clybourn, Monroe and Harrison stations currently do not have wheelchair accessibility, according to the CTA website.

Inaccessible transportation limits opportunities and dictates where people with disabilities can live, the healthcare they can receive, which schools they can attend and where they can work, said Peter Berg, project coordinator of Technical Assistance at the Great Lakes ADA Center, questioning whether public transportation for people with disabilities is a high enough priority. 

The overwhelming majority of transportation options in Chicago are either less efficient or not available for people with disabilities, said Charles Petrof, senior attorney at Access Living.

People with disabilities often only have one option of transportation. When that option is not convenient, they are “just stuck,” Petrof added. 

“[If] both your starting and ending point have an elevator at the station, you can use the system,” Petrof said. “But if any one of your points include the stations that are not accessible, the elevated system becomes pretty difficult to use because you can’t board or exit where you need to.” 

However, he noted that the community of people with disabilities is acknowledging the CTA’s steps to integrating more accessibility.

“The CTA is trying to identify the most appropriate path forward in terms of working on [which] stations first,” Petrof said. “The community [of people with disabilities] is extremely supportive of CTA’s choice to embrace a need to get to full compliance, even if the time we’re looking at is a long 20 years.”