The dearly departed Jackson Park Green Line: Wish we had it now

October 12, 2011

I was driving down 63rd Street just west of Stony Island when one of my teens asked why the Green Line stopped to abruptly at Cottage Grove.

"You'd think they would've built it all the way to Stony Island or something," she said.

Well, it did go that far, but it might take an old timer to remember it.

Until about 1982, the "L" rolled all the way to a wooden station at Stony Island that was built--as was that leg of the line itself--for the 1893 World's Fair. After that, University, about four blocks east, was the last stop.

Then in 1994, in blunder of astounding proportions, the Daley administration, rather than rebuilding and lengthening the line, decided to rip it down. The hope was that decaying 63rd Street--once a vital retail core--could become a residential boulevard with the "L" gone and lots cleared.

The above amateur video taken in 1994 chronicles the demolition, showing the last days of the structure as it once stood followed by footage of all that precious transit infrastructure turning to scrap. If you like public transit, then viewing the clip is almost like watching a snuff film.

And 17 years after the demolition, not much has truly happened along 63rd.

Some polite-looking, suburban-like single-family homes and townhomes have popped on two bocks of 63rd between Kenwood and Woodlawn avenues, but not enough to fill six vast blocks of empty lots left behind.

The street - and the Woodlawn community itself -  would be best served by bringing back a population dense enough to make the entire neighborhood sustainable. And those densities would be best supported, ironically, by the very amenity the city tore down almost 20 years ago.

This standoff could go on for years to come. But in the interim, let it serve as a reminder that transit is a public trust to be safeguarded and protected.