Thanks to strong leadership at CTA and the cooperative participation of Chicago’s disability community, we've made significant strides toward improving system accessibility across the city and neighboring communities we serve. When the Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990, less than 10 (about 6%) of our rail stations complied with accessibility standards laid out in the landmark legislation. In December 2009, with the completion of the Brown Line Capacity Expansion Project, we became compliant with what is known under the ADA as our "key" station upgrade requirements.
Today, our bus and rail fleet is 100% accessible to those who require step-free access to bus and train service and 103 of our 145 rail stations (>70%) are now accessible.
In July 2018, we reached an important milestone in our commitment towards making the rail system accessible to everyone by releasing the All Stations Accessibility Program (ASAP) Strategic Plan – our blueprint for making the remaining 42 rail stations fully accessible over the next two decades.
This comprehensive plan outlines both short- and long-term station accessibility projects, including repairs/replacement of 160+ existing rail station elevators, cost estimates and a proposed implementation schedule.
Read the ASAP Strategic Plan
(summary, full report and appendices now available)
It's challenging work, but we're up for it.
Upgrading stations to be accessible presents significant challenges. For example:
- Elevators are custom-engineered and specially-fabricated machines that need to fit perfectly into the space where they'll operate.
- Many stations need at least two or three elevators to get people from street level to a platform.
- Many platforms need widening before a station can be considered accessible, but open, adjacent space to do so may not be available. This is because even with an elevator, platforms need to safely accommodate wheelchairs and allow for safe passage, including around stairwells and elevator towers.
- For subway stations, adding one or more elevators can require relocating over a century of old utility lines and tunnels underground before we can begin excavating shafts and installing equipment. Determining where to add elevators from street level can also be a challenge due to where buildings are and how the surface-level streets and sidewalks are configured in relation to the spaces that exist underground.
Though these are serious challenges, we're committed to accessibility everywhere we provide service.
See also: Learn more about how we maintain, repair, refurbish and upgrade the elevators already in service across our system on our elevator and escalator upgrades page.
What we've done
A new elevator at the Wilson station (Red & Purple lines)
Our ongoing work has led to regular upgrades to stations. In the last ten years, we've either upgraded or added the following stations to be accessible on the 'L' system:
- Chicago, Sedgwick, Armitage, Fullerton, Diversey, Wellington, Belmont, Southport, Paulina, Addison, Montrose, Irving Park, Damen, Rockwell, Francisco and Kedzie upgraded stations on the Brown Line as part of multi-year Brown Line Capacity Expansion project, which was completed in 2009
- Howard upgraded elevated station on the Red, Purple and Yellow Lines, completed 2009
- Cermak-Chinatown upgraded elevated station on the Red Line, completed in 2011
- Grand upgraded subway station on the Red Line, completed in 2012
- Oakton-Skokie new at-grade station on the Yellow Line, completed in 2012
- Morgan new elevated station on the Green and Pink Lines, completed in 2012
- Garfield, 63rd and 87th upgraded expressway median stations on the Red Line (during Dan Ryan Line Track Renewal/Red Line South Reconstruction project)
- Cermak-McCormick Place new elevated station on the Green Line, completed in 2015
- Clark/Division upgraded subway station on the Red Line, completed in 2015
- Wilson upgraded elevated station on the Red and Purple Lines with main entry accessible plus additional, accessible entrance at Sunnyside, completed in 2017
- Addison upgraded elevated expressway median station on the Blue Line, completed in 2016
- Washington/Wabash new elevated station on the Loop 'L', completed in 2017
- Quincy upgraded elevated station on the Loop 'L', completed in 2018
About the All Stations Accessibility Program (ASAP)
What is ASAP?
ASAP is a dedicated planning effort introduced by CTA President Dorval R. Carter, Jr., to establish the first-ever blueprint for making 42 remaining non-accessible rail stations vertically accessible over the next 20 years.
This comprehensive plan, which was unveiled in July 2018, outlines both short-term and long-term station accessibility project plans, including station concepts, cost estimates and phasing. The ASAP plan also goes above and beyond federal requirements and includes plans for the rehabilitation and/or replacement of all 160+ existing station elevators, as well as enhancements to rail system signage and wayfinding to make it easier and more intuitive for people who are DeafBlind, blind, and visually impaired.
ASAP is a collaborative process, which is why we created a working group to help develop and finalize our plan, which was created with the support of the Chicago Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (also known as MOPD), the Chicago Transit Board, personnel from various CTA departments such as Planning, ADA compliance, Infrastructure, Maintenance, etc., as well as consultants from LCM Architects, a Chicago-based design firm consisting of experts in accessibility and universal design.
The ASAP plan is a living document and will be updated over time to remain relevant and consistent with ongoing planning, modernization and construction work planned as part of our capital program.
Why will it take 20 years to make the remaining stations accessible?
Making a station accessible requires far more than the addition of an elevator. Like many older transit systems across the country, we face a wide range of challenges and opportunities related to making its existing stations accessible to riders with disabilities – the biggest hurdle being funding.
With an average age of 75 years, the remaining non-accessible stations all have their own unique set of needs and environmental factors that have been considered as part of the planning process, including:
- Age and condition of a station can require a complete rebuild versus modernization of existing infrastructure
- Layout of a stationhouse may require multiple elevators for access from street-level to each platform
- Site constraints; in some cases stations are only a couple feet from existing buildings and other infrastructure.
- Platform location, length or width may be too narrow or too short to allow enough space for operation of mobility devices
- Historic designations of the station and/or adjacent infrastructure may prevent extensive alterations to the station
- Subway stations present their own unique set of challenges for adding elevators, including:
- Station size and layout
- Station entry/exit points
- Location and number of adjacent/street-level buildings and properties
- Configuration of adjacent streets and sidewalks
- Relocating or working around century-old underground utilities and tunnels
- Excavation and road closures
How were stations prioritized for accessibility upgrades?
In general, non-accessible stations will be prioritized based on a score stemming from a needs and complexity analysis or in coordination with other anticipated projects (i.e. Red and Purple Modernization, Blue Line Forest Park branch Vision Study, etc.).
The criterion used in determining the needs score is similar to what was used in previous CTA accessibility analyses (i.e. the 2012 Infrastructure Accessibility Task Force plan).
Stations with higher needs and lower complexity scores were prioritized for near-term improvement plans. Highly complex stations that require more time for planning, design, construction, agency coordination and community input are listed as part of long-term project plans.
Funding is the biggest challenge as the ASAP plan moves forward. Currently, only a portion of Phase One is funded. It is our hope that a visible plan like ASAP will help foster meaningful dialogue about the need for long-term, viable funding solutions, which is critical to achieving our goal of 100 percent vertical accessibility across our rail system.
In the meantime, as done with all capital projects, we will continue to seek funding for the improvements outlined in the ASAP plan from a variety of local, state and federal sources.
The ASAP plan will be regularly updated over time to remain consistent with ongoing planning, modernization, and construction work as part of CTA’s Capital Program.
All Stations Accessibility Program Strategic Plan - July 2018
Press releases & reference information