One quirk of Chicago’s ‘L’, the city’s rapid transit system, is the presence of multiple stations with the same name. For example, there are not two, nor three, rather five stations called “Western”, one each on the Brown, Pink, and Orange lines and two (yes two) on the Blue Line. This idiosyncrasy isn’t particularly unusual for the Chicago Transit Authority. The New York City subway and Los Angeles Metro each have multiple stations with the same name. It does stand out to foreign visitors however, and it took a German, in their infinite practicality, to make me realize how insane this nomenclature actually is. Which brings me to my main point: how should the CTA rename its ‘L’ stations to prevent confusing repetitiveness?
This seems like a simple enough task, but the ‘L’ can define an entire neighborhood and so can the name of the associated station. Renaming the stations is a task in officially defining space and place and doing so in relative perpetuity. (I’ll address that irony in one moment.) A new naming system at one needs to be systematic, to make the naming of new stations simple, but also create a certain understated cohesion that makes navigating the city easy still. It also needs to take into account the changing nature of neighborhoods and consider that what was once colloquially know as “Clark and Belmont” somehow morphed into East Lakeview between the time I graduated high school in 2010 and moved home in 2016.
The current naming system uses the major street a station stops at for a name. This occurs with few exceptions (e.g. Logan Square) and the occasional intersection (North/Clybourn). Even where a landmark is included the intersecting street is usually tacked onto the name as well (e.g. UIC-Halsted or Cermak-McCormick Place). It’s simple enough, but not when you are overlaying a radial transit system on a city with a continuous street grid that results in multiple stations on different lines in different parts of the city with the exact same name. “Western” is the most garish example, but it is far from the only one. Chicago’s ‘L’ includes:
- Four ‘Kedzie’ stations; plus one ‘Kedzie-Homan’
- Three ‘Cicero’ stations (two were formerly on the same line)
- Three ‘Pulaski’ stations
- Three ‘Chicago’ stations
- Three ‘Addison’ stations
- Three’ Damen’ stations (two were formerly on the same line)
- Two each of ‘Irving Park’, ‘Oak Park’, ‘Austin’, ‘Montrose’, ‘Ashland’, ‘Harlem’ (on the same line), and ‘Belmont’
While a simple system has its benefits, transit systems have power in creating a sense of place, and the importance of not causing unnecessary confusion. One solution to this predicament is combining landmarks with street names, which is more common on the South Side with station names like ‘Sox-35th’ or ’35th-Bronzeville-IIT’. This results in long cumbersome names though.
I propose an alternative: 1) name stations first after the street they stop at. It is relatively straight forward and allows people to orient themselves in the city easily. If you get off at Kimball, you know you’re 3200 west. If you get off at Damen you know the connecting bus is the Damen bus. But, in cases where there is more than one station on a street 2) name the station in relation to the designated community area. For example, the stations named ‘Pulaski’ become “West Garfield Park’ on the Green Line, ‘North Lawndale’ on the Pink Line, and ‘Archer Heights’ on the Orange Line.
Ah, but a there is a problem even with this example. There are multiple ‘L’ lines and stations in certain Community Areas. The ‘Pulaski’ station on the Blue Line was left out and there are four stations on the Pink Line in North Lawndale. The ‘Pulaski’ station was arbitrarily renamed, because there are more than one stations with the same name. There are two final suggestions to alleviate such conflicts: point 3) is to name stations after identifiable sub neighborhoods, especially ones that are not likely to change and 4) rename stations to align with adjacent Metra stops, where they exist.
The latter solution only results in the renaming of a few stops (e.g. the ‘Montrose’ station on the Blue Line becomes Mayfair); the former solution still is imperfect, because it holds that neighborhoods are permanent. We all know neighborhoods change and can do so gradually or rapidly. Changing the names of transit stations is a costly and time consuming affair (which is why it doesn’t happen all that often and would likely have to happen at the same time changes would be made anyhow, such as with the opening of a new station). Thus, renaming station after relatively ephemeral neighborhood names could be problematic in that over a short period of time those names could becoming meaningless.
Who still calls Andersonville ‘Girlstown’, for example?
Then again, this could be good for neighborhoods. Station names indicating an ethnic or minority community aren’t unprecedented. The Red Line stop in Chinatown indicates the exact ethnic community living there: a Chinese immigrant and Chinese-American community! This at a time when many Chinatowns nationwide are disappearing or moving (but not in Chicago).
There is perhaps then an incentive for minority or ethnic communities to stay in place longer is something as seemingly permanent as the name of an ‘L’ station reflects the local demographic. For example, renaming the ‘Belmont’ station on the Red, Brown, and Purple lines in Lakeview to ‘Boystown’ might act as a catalyst for renewed investment in the area by LGBTQ residents and business owners. It would also solidify the stop as the gateway to the neighborhood. Meanwhile, up the road at the ‘Addison’ stop the name ‘Wrigleville’ seems apt.
It is unlikely the name of every station on the ‘L’ will properly reflect the community surrounding said station. Communities change, developers push new neighborhood identities, the system grows and contracts (hopefully no more), and the grid still prevails. Then again, anything is better than having five stations named ‘Western’ in the same system.
Therefore, here are my proposals:
|LINE||PREVIOUS NAME||NEW NAME||NOTES|
|Red||Morse||Rogers Park||Create more identifiable commercial center|
|Red||Bryn Mawr||Edgewater||Create more identifiable community center|
|Red||Lawrence||Uptown||Create more identifiable community center|
|Red||Chicago||Magnificent Mile||Create stronger link between station and N. Michigan Avenue|
|RBP||Belmont||Boystown||Reinforce character of LGBTQ neighborhood|
|BP||Sedgewick||Old Town||Create stronger link between station and neighborhood|
|Brown||Kedzie||Albany Park||Create stronger link between station and neighborhood|
|Brown||Western||Lincoln Square||Create stronger link between station and neighborhood|
|Brown||Damen||Ravenswood||Create stronger link between station and neighborhood|
|Brown||Addison||Roscoe Village||Create stronger link between station and neighborhood|
|Blue||Montrose||Mayfair||Associated with neighborhood and Metra station|
|Blue||Belmont||Avondale||Create community identity|
|Blue||Western||Bucktown||Create stronger link between station and neighborhood|
|Blue||Damen||Wicker Park||Create stronger link between station and neighborhood|
|Blue||UIC-Halsted||UIC East-Greektown||Associated with neighborhood and UIC|
|Blue||Racine||UIC West-Little Italy||Associated with neighborhood and UIC|
|Pink||18th||Pilsen||Create stronger link between station and neighborhood|
|Pink||Pulaski||North Lawndale-Little Village||Create stronger link between station and neighborhood|
|Green||Kedzie||East Garfield Park||Create stronger link between station and neighborhood|
|Green||Pulaski||West Garfield Park||Create stronger link between station and neighborhood|
|Green||Oak Park||Oak Park-Lake Street||Create stronger link between station and neighborhood|
|Green||Harlem/Lake||Oak Park-Central||Combine with Metra|
|Orange||Halsted||Bridgeport||Create stronger link between station and neighborhood|