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Metra 35th St. station surely won’t win any design awards

UPDATE 04-07-11: The station opened on April 3, 2011. Blair Kamin explains why it doesn’t look as good as originally designed:

It didn’t have to be this way. The Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill came up with a promising design for the station, one that justified the demolition of a Mies-designed brick hut that reportedly served as the entrance to an underground testing facility for explosives during the Cold War.

But then, things went seriously off the rails.

This new Metra commuter/regional rail station at 35th Street and Wentworth/Federal won’t win any design awards. Neither will the Lovana S. “Lou” Jones/Bronzeville Station stand out for having such a generic design.

The station under construction as of October 3, 2010.

Artist’s renderings of the station and street-level plaza, looking northwest. Left photo from Metra’s website and right photo from Singh & Associates’s website.

The amount of visible concrete used in the stairs and ramps construction (one complete set on either side of the tracks) is fitting if you consider the station’s surroundings: a 12-lane highway (the Dan Ryan, I90/94), thousands of surface auto parking spaces to the west (for the White Sox stadium), and an empty lot.

But what if we looked for design inspiration from the east?

Imagine a station shelter modeled after the sound mitigation “tube” over the Illinois Institute of Technology McCormick-Tribune Campus Center a few blocks away at State Street designed by Rem Koolhaas.

Photos above taken by Steven Crane.

Throw in some curves like the Canary Wharf stations on the Jubilee and Docklands Light Railway lines.

Photo of the Canary Wharf Docklands Light Railway (DLR) station by stephenk1977.

Photo of the Canary Wharf Jubilee Underground Line station by Payton Chung.

Companies involved:

Biking to the Chicago Olympics in 2016

What does the Chicago Olympic Committee’s bid book say about bicycling as part of the Olympic transportation system? A system that has to move 15,000 Games workforce, 30,000 athletes and their coaches and support staff, as well as 1.5 million everyday “background” users like you and me commuting? This:

“Travel by bicycles, always welcome in Chicago, will be used practically to augment the plan through the use of bicycle valet service near rail stations.”

The end.

This one line was found under section 15.10, “Public-Transport Network.” It’s public transport-related because the bike valet will be at CTA and Metra stations near the venues. Many of those stations are up to 1.6 miles away, according to the plan. These bicyclists will be expected to ride from hotel or home to the rail station nearest the Olympic venue, park, then board a shuttle bus. 

The worst part of the statement within the bid book is that they felt compelled enough to insert the snide comment that bicycles are “always welcome in Chicago” as if readers may have been confused that Chicago would, in some way, disallow their use during the Olympic Games. Or, perhaps, historically, Chicago didn’t welcome bicycles. With this, I feel the bid book authors have never actually seen bicyclists in Chicago and had to learn this through secondhand communication – this is belittling and dismissive to bicyclists around the world.

The Olympic plan should use bicycling as a mode and opportunity to solve the complicated, expensive, and potentially messy transport issue. Bicyclists should be allowed to ride straight to the gate, which is where they would find bike valet service. And volunteers and staff can ride between gates, venues, and operations centers on bicycles. Instead, Olympic games workers will be driving singly in small SUVs or on Segways just like our public transport and police do now.

A final note on the use of shuttle buses: My concern is where these buses will come from, and what the CTA or other agency will do with them post-Games. According to section 15.11, “Fleet and Rolling Stock,” the Chicago Olympic games “will have access to the Federal Borrowed Bus Program.” What is the FBBP? The internet doesn’t know! A web search reveals one result: an entry on the CTA Tattler blog. No agency in this country has buses they can lend. A table in the bid book following this section, Table 15.11, has a column for transit fleet and rolling stock, and it’s conflicting or confusing. One column indicating the number of vehicles in possession now by various agencies, the next, a number to which these inventories will expand, and the third, the number of additional vehicles on hand for the Games. All rows in the third column indicate that NO additional vehicles will be needed for the Olympic Games – all agencies will have the necessary fleet vehicles to provide transport for the Olympic Games.

I don’t get it.

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