13.6.11

RECLAIMING THE CHICAGO RAPID TRANSIT.  Unofficially, the Chicago Transit Authority's Yellow Line is the "Skokie Swift." Since sometime in 1964, the service has been a non-stop shuttle between Dempster Street, the busiest commuter station on the old North Shore Line, and Howard Street, where rush-hour passengers have the opportunity to transfer to the express version of the Evanston service.  It's neither as fast as a Mundelein Express, nor do the contemporary cars have the audiovisual effect of six heavy steel interurbans, but it works.

From 1925 to 1947, Chicago Rapid Transit offered a local service between Dempster and Howard called the Niles Center branch.  The point, in common with other suburban electric railway projects of the era, was to induce residential development, the better for the Merchant of Power to sell electricity, light bulbs, and household appliances.  That development didn't take the form United Utilities envisioned, but a Skokie homeowner discovers the fingerprints of the past.
The first interesting fact: our subdivision was created in 1925 as a direct result of the Elevated Line extension on Dempster Street (now CTA’s Yellow line, the Skokie Swift). I know this because our subdivision is called the Northwestern Realty Co. Dempster Terminal. While only about a mile away, today it doesn’t feel related to this area at all mainly because the Edens Expressway now separates the two.

Opening Day at Niles Center Station.
Note the sign advertising Rapid Transit.
Image courtesy The Bungalow Chronicles.

But back then most of the area was surrounded by farmland. The original Dempster Street station, shown here on opening day of the Elevated Line in 1925, was built in the Prairie Style by Chicago Transit Authority architect Arthur Gerber.
That farmland provided The North Shore Line with the speedway that later hosted The Mother of All Bullet Trains. Its tracks would be built west of the Niles Center station, which is where the current Skokie Swift platforms are.



Opening Day at Niles Center.
Image courtesy Chicago-L.org.

That might have been the busiest day for loading rapid transit cars. Four score and six years later, however, local residents and the Chicago Transit Authority are again seeing the wisdom of intermediate stations.
At a recent meeting about potential sites for a new Yellow Line station for the CTA, many Evanston residents agreed that a Dodge Avenue location makes the most sense. Discussion of a new station is just getting underway, and a decision is a long way off.

“One criteria I think is very important is simple fairness — which location best serves people who need it the most,” said resident Rich Nemanich. “I think it’s clear that the Dodge Avenue station is the one, simply because it’s the furthest away right now from any other public transportation.”

The city joined the Village of Skokie and Regional Transportation Authority in conducting a market analysis of the Yellow Line in 2007. They evaluated three possible station locations at Dodge, Asbury and Ridge avenues — locations that had seen transit stations prior to 1964 and the inception of the Howard Street to Dempster Street “Skokie Swift” service.
The transit stations existed, derelict or used for storage, from the end of Rapid Transit service to Niles Center in 1947 until sometime into the 1970s. Oakton Street will soon be getting a new station. The City of Evanston's station planning project included pictures of the previous stations.

Dodge Avenue had a relatively simple elevated station.


The headhouse, at street level, had the potential for retail space.



The headhouses were designed by Arthur Gerber, and the Rapid Transit stations shared a number of design elements.  Dodge Avenue, with its island platform between the tracks, can share design features with the forthcoming Oakton Street station, also an island platform between the tracks.

Asbury Avenue would call for a different design approach, as Asbury is above the tracks.

The headhouse shares design elements with Dodge Avenue.



Platforms were below street level.


Glenview Creek image from Evanston Historical Society collection.

The passenger platforms are relatively short, a feature that is likely to be replicated at whatever new station is built.  The Swift generally runs one married-pair car set, no six car formations for Waukegan or eight cars for Great Lakes on that line.

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