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CTA Asks Chicagoans to Weigh In on New York-Style 'L' Trains

By Erica Demarest | April 19, 2013 10:50am | Updated on April 19, 2013 12:06pm

LINCOLN SQUARE — The CTA wants to know how you ride the "L" and particularly how you feel about looking another commuter in the face while seated.

The transit agency is asking all Chicagoans, whether or not they ride the "L," to fill out an online survey about how they stand, how they sit, how they enter and how they exit trains.

And, most importantly, the survey asks riders how they feel about New York-style seating, the kind where commuters sit in rows with their backs to the train's side windows, sometimes getting squished by the people sitting on either side of them.

CTA officials said the survey data could impact future decisions on train car layouts.

"It's just a little bit too personal for me," said Rogers Park resident Alma Perry, sitting on one of New York-style trains on the Red Line Friday morning. "If the train is crowded [and you're sitting on one of the benches], there's people standing in front of you in your comfort zone."

The survey comes after the CTA said it would spend $2 billion on up to 846 new rail cars in the coming years. Those cars might have the same, New York-style seating configuration as trains that have been rolled out on the Red, Green and Pink lines since 2011.

The new style allows for a capacity of 120 people per car, which is up to 30 people more than the traditional style of stacked rows and only a few seats facing others across the center aisle.

Once the new trains make it to the tracks, that two-by-two seating that CTA riders are more accustomed to will likely be gone.

"We always want to get customer input," said CTA spokeswoman Lambrini Lukidis. "It's not just about which seats they prefer."

For Friday morning commuters at the Western Brown Line station, that arrangement is a mixed bag.

"It seems too crowded," said Lincoln Square resident Sue Wallace, a daily "L" rider. "You're sitting right up against somebody else. Instead of one person [sitting next to you], you're up against two people."

London expatriate and Edgewater resident Stefan Herman, 44, said he liked the inward-facing seats better than the traditional "L" seating.

"I like that it reminds me of a London Underground back in the day," Herman said.

When he first got to Chicago, Herman "felt really weird with people sitting right behind me."

Herman thinks with the new trains "people engage each other a bit better. It's much friendlier."

The survey also asks whether commuters prefer seats with plastic covers, as New York's subway has, or fabric, which Chicago's trains have.

In this case, Perry prefers New York's approach.

"You can clean it [plastic] off easier," Perry said. "Fabric holds a lot of bacteria."