All CTA rail stations would be made accessible to people with disabilities by 2038 under a plan detailed in a report issued Thursday.
Of the CTA’s 106 stations, 42 will still be inaccessible by wheelchair after renovations at the Quincy station in the Loop bring it into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The CTA’s All Station Accessibility Program will add ramps, elevators, new “wayfinding” technology for the blind and deaf, and other accommodations to non-compliant stations. This exceeds the agency’s obligations under the ADA.
Marca Bristo, executive director of Access Living, which advocates for access to transit in Chicago for people with disabilities, welcomed the commitments in the plan, but said she hoped they could be accomplished on an accelerated timetable.
The 20-year commitment was announced by CTA president Dorval Carter in 2016, at an event marking the 25th anniversary of the ADA. But CTA spokeswoman Irene Ferradaz said Friday that the clock would start ticking on that 20-year period with the publication of the report this week.
“We’re really glad to see the City of Chicago and the CTA make this commitment. We have seen commitments like this come and go, not only within transit authorities but within public school systems and housing authorities and other places. We really hope this one is treated very seriously … like any other major project,” Bristo said.
Ferradaz said the plan would be weighed equally with the system’s other priorities.
Previously-announced improvements at four Red Line stations — Lawrence, Argyle Berwyn and Bryn Mawr — are the only updates that are fully funded. The report estimates that the already cash-strapped CTA will need to secure $2.1 billion in additional funding. The project depends on new state and federal funding sources, Ferradaz said, adding that the CTA hopes publicizing the report will increase public support for providing that money.
Those four Red Line stations, along with two Blue Line stations and a station in the Loop, are slated for the first phase of the project. The plan prioritized stations along under-served stretches of track where disabled people might need to travel past several stations before being able to board. Stations that were particularly complicated to renovate were put off in favor of more straightforward projects. Those complications include stations’ age or surroundings; they may be hemmed in by freight lines, expressways or other nearby structures.
For several decades, disability rights activists have pressured the CTA to expand access to public transit. Along the way —through civil disobedience, several lawsuits, and the passage of the American with Disabilities Act — buses and trains, and most CTA train stations, were retrofitted to accommodate people with disabilities.
The ADA allows transit authorities to make only some “key stations” accessible, a concession to the difficulty very old systems, like the CTA, would have had retrofitting their entire system. In 2009 the CTA announced that it had fulfilled this legal obligation under the ADA. Unless new stations go online, or old stations undergo serious renovations, the CTA is not required to make any more stations accessible.
The portion of ADA-compliant stations in the CTA system compares favorably with other older transit systems, closely matching the portion of accessible stations in Boston and dramatically exceeding the portion in Philadelphia and New York. In some newer systems, like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C., every station is ADA-compliant.