A DAWN TO DUSK PROJECT DOCUMENTING CHICAGO’S CTA LINES
BY: Emma Cullnan, Sonya Everett, Ducibella Larbi, Wendy Rociles, Staryell Wright
Assistance By: Kristin Heinichen, Kelly Cline
Regardless of one’s background, public transportation is made available to all Chicago residents. But as it courses through Chicago’s grid, it also brings into view the city’s economic disparity. From North Side to South Side to West Side and back to the Loop, the Chicago Transit Authority, CTA, unifies a city that has divided itself.
“Even though people may live on one side of town and go to work on the other, it’s still very divided. There’s no real interaction between all of the different people,” Jailyn Baker-Shawler explained.
Baker-Shawler, is an 18 year-old high school student who takes public transportation to and from her school in the Wicker Park area. Every morning and afternoon she takes the Red Line’s elevated train, also known as the “L.” She comes from a middle class background and is able to afford the fare. The Metra, a commuter rail of the Chicago metropolitan area is another option, but it’s a more expensive one with less stops and more amenities. And since Chicago has a rich public transportation infrastructure, Baker-Shawler has chosen a mode of transit that best suits her needs.
“I don’t think I’m being judged,” she said of choosing the “L” over other transportation means. “It does however, show the income gap of the people who take it.”
Baker-Shawler doesn’t believe public transportation should be free. She sees it as a way to contribute to the economy of the City and keep the expensive security systems operating. That said, she hopes rates don’t increase.
“If it gets any more expensive some people will have to change schools….it will then be less about the “little” (poor) people and more about the “big” (wealthy) people,” she said.
Since 1947, the CTA has made an effort to connect the residents of Chicago and 35 surrounding suburbs with accessible transportation throughout Chicago, with 128 bus routes and 8 train lines. This accessibility offers equal means of getting to work, school, health care facilities, and other necessary establishments.
“The Metra is clean and quiet…The CTA (Red Line) is reliable and brings people together in a situation where they can socialize,” said Melody, who requested not to have her last name used.
Melody is originally from Ghana, Africa. She moved to Chicago 23 years ago and though she has a vehicle, she prefers to take public transportation. Melody drives from her home in Olympia Fields to the Metra station where she gets off at 35th Street. She then takes the Red Line from 35th street to Chicago and State and walks to Northwestern Hospital where she works as a Registered Nurse. She is educated, employed and lives in one of the wealthiest communities in the United States, though she feels as if she’s seen as something less.
“I am being judged all the time. (I believe) it’s because I’m black and have an African background,” she said.
Melody is one of the only Africans on the Metra, which makes her feel a bit “self-conscious,” she explained. She laments that others do not sit close to her on the Metra unless it’s overcrowded. She blocks out her feelings of loneliness by wearing headphones.
“I look forward to getting on the CTA (Red Line) after the Metra because it’s more of a relaxed atmosphere,” she said.
While there are gentrification efforts throughout the city, the neighborhoods have established an identity. The North Side has considerable middle and upper-class residents. It also contains public parkland and beaches stretching for miles along Lake Michigan to the city’s northern border. The South Side has a reputation for being poor or crime-infested, but it ranges from affluent to middle class to working class to impoverished. The West Side’s role has been a gateway for immigrants and migrants as well as funneling poorer residents away from the wealthier lakeside neighborhoods and central business district.
While the CTA reveals the difference in socioeconomics and cultural affiliation, it doesn’t provide a glimpse into the sentiments of those who feel the pangs of segregation.
“The people on the Metra (that judge) think they are better than I am, but we are honestly the same meat,” Melody concluded.
The North Side is served by the Red, Brown, Orange, Purple, and Yellow lines of the CTA and the North Shore Metra lines.
The South Side is served by the Red, Green and Orange lines of the CTA and the Rock Island District, Metra Electric and South Shore Metra lines.
The West Side is served by the Blue, Green and Pink lines and the BNSF Railway and the Union Pacific / West Line Metra lines.
Metra operates 241 stations on 11 different rail lines.