WICKER PARK — Relieved and grateful commuters returned to Wicker Park's Damen "L" stop Monday after a nearly two-month shutdown for renovations, part of the CTA's $492 million "Your New Blue" project aimed at providing faster commutes and more reliable service.
"This is going to make my commute way faster," said Jeff Bird, a 22-year-old financial consultant.
Bird, who works Downtown, has had an unusual commuting experience because his first day at his new job was Oct. 20, the day the station closed.
After texting a reporter when he arrived at work, Bird said he got to the LaSalle stop in about 20 minutes, shaving his morning commute by half, since he had been taking the Milwaukee No. 56 bus to the Division station during the renovations.
Alisa Hauser says businesses near the station were packed this morning:
Built in 1895, the station sees around 7,000 passengers daily and is the fourth busiest stop along the O'Hare Blue Line, which serves about 80,000 passengers each week day.
The Damen station's $13.6 million facelift — part of a larger $25.6 million contract awarded to F. H. Paschen for upgrades to the Damen, Western and California stations —included adding more room in the station house, installing more bike racks and replacing the roof.
The station also got improved signage, a new wider turnstile gate for strollers and folks with luggage, refurbished walls, new stairs and platforms and new gooseneck vintage-style lighting.
New original public artwork is scheduled to be installed next winter, officials said.
The renovation follows similar work at the California L station in Logan Square, which reopened in October. Next month, the CTA will make improvements to the Western-O’Hare station, which underwent a major rehabilitation in 2001.
Among the officials welcoming commuters back on Monday were CTA President Forrest Claypool.
“I’m pleased to report that in just one year’s time, we’ve completed major track work that is shaving as much as 10 minutes off of Blue Line commutes and have completed three station renovation projects,” Claypool said in a news release.
“We want to thank businesses and residents for their patience during this project, which will benefit the neighborhood for the long term," Claypool added.
Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) described the Damen "L" station as "a vital link for Chicago to the Wicker Park and Bucktown neighborhoods, which will benefit from a modernized station.”
“We appreciate the CTA’s investment in the Damen station and in the community,” Moreno said.
John Becker, a worker at Stan's Donut's, 1560 N. Damen Ave., said the newly renovated station is "beautiful."
"I didn't have much time to look at it because I was rushing to work, but it is beautiful," Becker said, adding that he plans to take a closer look after his shift.
Becker, who lives in Logan Square, estimates that he spent around $200 on Uber rides to and from work during the two-month shutdown.
Victoria Morris, a 30 year-old Wicker Park resident, was enjoying a free cup of coffee and doughnut at Stan's Donuts, one of several shops eager to welcome back commuters with free food.
Morris, an artist who works out of the nearby Flat Iron Arts building, has been using the station less frequently because she cannot always get up the stairs.
"It makes me really irritable that they closed the stop for two months and we didn't get an escalator or an elevator. I barely use it because my leg is f----- up. I have muscle spasms in my left leg and it collapses all the time," said Morris, who has multiple sclerosis.
Announced last December, Your New Blue is the most ambitious service improvement project on the Blue Line O’Hare branch, which had 25 million rides last year, officials said.
Damen is the only stop among the four busiest stations along the O'Hare branch that does not have an elevator; there are no immediate plans to add one either, a CTA spokeswoman said last week, citing more time needed to "analyze the highly complex schemes presented for making the Damen station accessible."
The following small businesses are offering deals and offers to welcome back commuters:
Penny's Noodles, 1542 N. Damen:
Flash your Ventra card and buy one entree, get one free, on Monday and Tuesday (limit two free meals per person).
Flash Taco is giving away free chicken, pork and veggie tamales at a cart outside of the station.
The tamales will be offered during the 7 a.m. to 9 am. morning commute and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. evening rush hours for the first three days that the station is reopened, through Christmas Eve.
Stan's Donuts, 1560 N. Damen Ave.
Get one free glazed donut and one free 12-ounce coffee for displaying a Ventra card on the first Monday and Tuesday that the station reopens, all day long.
Glazed and Infused, 1576 N. Milwaukee Ave. (in the walk-up window)
Enjoy one free doughnut and one large coffee; just show your Ventra card. Choose from any of Glazed & Infused's regular menu doughnuts or from five new holiday creations, including the Royal Oreo cake doughnut drizzled with peppermint, the Hot Chocolate Snowball and a spiced eggnog Bismarck.
The Glazed & Infused "Welcome Back" promotion will be offered from December 22-24, only at the shop's Wicker Park location.
At La Colombe, 1552 N. Damen Ave.
Anyone who flashes a Ventra card from Dec. 22 to 28 will get a free drip coffee.
Blue Line Lounge and Grill, 1548 N. Damen Ave., will be having drink and food specials Monday, to celebrate the reopening.
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