WICKER PARK — The CTA Blue Line train runs past Cody Denney's apartment window, but the 28-year-old Wicker Park resident can't use the station that is just a few hundred feet from his place.
And, despite the upcoming overhaul of the Damen station beginning next month, the wheelchair user won't be able to ride it in the future, either.
That's because the $8.1 million renovation of the Damen station — part of a four-year, $492 million overhaul of the Blue Line — does not include a new elevator.
"I was wrong in thinking there would be an elevator," Denney said. "This area is happening. There is stuff going on all the time. They should have an elevator."
Alisa Hauser says the CTA hasn't been able to find a way to work an elevator into renovation plans:
Denney, a full-time student at an online college and a wheelchair rugby and handball athlete, has used a hand-powered wheelchair since a motorcycle accident seven years ago.
Instead of taking the train Downtown, Denney wheels himself several blocks south, to the intersection of Chicago and Damen avenues, to ride the CTA No. 66 Chicago Avenue bus to get to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, where he mentors people with spinal cord injuries.
When he heard about the nine-week closure of the Damen "L" station from Oct. 20 to Dec. 22, he was hopeful the stop would become wheelchair-friendly, but the CTA said the agency was not able to work an elevator into its plans for the station.
Serving customers since 1895, the station at 1558 N. Damen Ave. has historic significance, though it is not an official landmark, said CTA spokeswoman Catherine Hosinski.
"Stations that are considered historic landmarks present unique challenges; alterations have to minimize impact to historical elements of the stationhouse," Hosinski said in a statement. "Damen has [an] additional challenge of being surrounded by other landmark buildings. This, however, is not to say the Damen Blue Line station will never be made accessible."
Station and platform upgrades will include wider gates, more turnstiles, bike racks and public art. There will be more passenger room, with the removal of a concession area.
(See the full renovation plan here)
She said the CTA was in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and pointed to recommendations made by the Illinois Accessibility Task Force.
"In the latest IATF report, four concepts were developed for making [the Damen] station accessible, but as the report states, 'all four Damen Station schemes are highly complex and require additional analysis to further develop' plans," Hosinski said.
She added that 98 of the CTA's 145 rail stations are now wheelchair accessible. The closest station that has an elevator is half-a-mile away at Western Avenue.
Matt McBride, 34, a creative director for an advertising agency, moved to Wicker Park two months ago and also uses a wheelchair.
McBride, who lives less than one block from the Damen "L" station, said he "just assumed that the work on the station would include an elevator."
He said he took the Milwaukee Avenue No. 56 bus to get to his job Downtown, but would prefer to use the "L," which is faster than the bus.
The lack of an elevator also makes it difficult for folks carrying strollers and heavy bags, according to a worker early Tuesday at the CTA station.
The worker said the most common request for an elevator came from tourists carrying bags.
According to a 2013 CTA ridership report, the entire O’Hare Blue Line branch sees roughly 80,000 daily riders at a combined 16 stations, with about 6,625 daily riders at the Damen station.
Damen is the O'Hare branch's fourth busiest station, after O'Hare, Jefferson Park and Logan Square. The Damen station is the only station of the four busiest stations that is not wheelchair accessible.
"Our goal continues to eventually make all rail stations accessible to customers who use manual or powered wheelchairs," Hosinski said.
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