95th and State Street just got a whole lot safer

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The CTA’s new South Terminal at 95th Street and the Dan Ryan Expressway is the endpoint of CTA’s Red Line for now, but with enough money, the city hopes to extend that rail line south to 130th Street. | Mary Mitchell / Sun-Times

Just about every South Sider I know has a story about the CTA’s 95th and the Dan Ryan L station.

My most memorable one happened many years ago. I slipped on a down escalator during rush hour, and harried commuters stepped over me to catch their departing train.

I bore the scars of that for years.

But most of the stories are about near-misses while trying to leave the terminal.

This dangerous game of chicken was the first thing Mayor Rahm Emanuel noticed when he campaigned at the Red Line station in 2011.

“I remember I was standing there and shaking hands, and it was not only busy, but kids were dodging between buses and cars. It was not safe,” Emanuel recalled.

Rebuilding the 95th Street Red Line station became the mayor’s signature campaign promise.

This weekend, when buses roll in to the modernized south bus terminal, Emanuel will have delivered on a big part of that promise.

“You couldn’t touch it up,” Emanuel told me. “You had to rebuild it from the bottom up.”

I got an advance peek at the new terminal, before bus operations shifted from the old one to the new on Saturday night.

Partially covered in eye-popping red panels and largely enclosed by glass, the new South Terminal rises above the Dan Ryan Expressway like a phoenix.

The North Terminal is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year. A bridge will connect the two terminals, so commuters can move between them without having to dodge cars racing to get on the Dan Ryan.

Among other amenities, South Side commuters will make their way along much-wider sidewalks, stand under shelters with overhead heaters in winter and begin or end their journeys in a space that represents the future of public transit in Chicago.

Dorval Carter Jr., president of the Chicago Transit Authority, pointed out that about 20,000 people use the old terminal on a typical weekday, and about 1,000 buses go in and out.

“If you ever tried to maneuver that area, it was like the wild, wild West,” said Carter. ” The new terminal is much more open and customer-friendly and a lot more safe than our current operation in terms of how the buses and pedestrians have to move.”

If there’s a drawback, it’s the lack of parking in and around the terminal. The area has never had adequate parking spaces, and that problem still exists.

Carter is hopeful the parking situation will work itself out.

“This will be the starting point for the Red Line extension, a $2 billion project that extends further south, and that will provide more opportunity for parking,” he said.

Commuters should also be aware there are no functioning escalators in the South Terminal for now. Because of the ongoing construction, riders will have to use the elevator or stairs until the North Terminal is completed.

Carter, who grew up on the South Side, has a huge vision for what should be done to enhance public transportation on this side of the city.

“The 95th terminal is the biggest major investment we have made in the history of the CTA, but we also announced the refurbishment of the Garfield station and plans to revamp the Cottage Grove Station,” he told me.

Besides eliminating a dangerous situation, the Red Line project created 3,000 jobs, a community benefit desperately needed in an area hard-hit by unemployment.

One fascinating aspect of this project is the decision to include a “living art” component. The agency hired Theaster Gates, an internationally recognized installation and performance artist and professor at the University of Chicago, to design an arts installation for the North Terminal.

The arts installation will include a radio DJ booth and feature live artists mixing music, as well as oral histories.

“I have been making a very strong point that I want CTA facilities to be more than just catching a train and catching a bus,” Carter said. “That is going to provide an outlet for community debate, town hall meetings, music and other activities.”

The mayor is pretty pumped about how the first phase of the Red Line project has turned out.

“The old station was opened during the Nixon era, and no one had done squat,” Emanuel said. “The people on the South Side and the businesses and the neighborhoods deserve this.”

          • • •

PODCAST: What’s the ‘D’ word most Baby Boomers won’t discuss?

Find out on Episode 10 of the “Zebra Sisters” podcast. Mary Mitchell and educator Leslie Baldacci cohost the podcast — a refreshing look at race relations from the viewpoints of two women, one black and one white. They unwind awkward subjects and discuss current events with candor and humor. Subscribe (free) on iTunes and Google Play Music — or listen to individual episodes on the Sun-Times’ website. Email zebrasisters@suntimes.com or give them a shout-out on the Zebra Hotline at (312) 321-3000, ext. ZBRA (9272).

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