ON THE "L" — What's your spot?
When you get on the "L," where do you look first?
Virtually every regular CTA rider in Chicago has a favorite spot to sit or stand on the train, right?
That lonely, single seat in the back where no one can touch you. Those double seats by the door where you can extend your legs. The last seat on the end, where you only get elbowed by one person at a time.
Here's your chance to show us your favorite place to sit or stand — and then see what the rest of Chicago likes, too.
Check out our interactive and follow the prompts. At the end, you'll get a heat map with results you can share with your friends.
"People do have a technique when riding the train," said Brown and Red Line rider Waleska Sanchez of Mayfair. "It depends how far I'm going. I usually choose a place in the back where I can sit with my family, but if it's a short ride, I stand near the door."
Every time a CTA train door opens at a station, people are making a decision about how to ride. Often, boarding passengers do a quick scan of what's available, determining their spot based on comfort, convenience and the look of other riders on board. Sometimes a person on the train scooches over or switches seats to avoid sitting by someone else.
"Transit demand is dynamic and rapidly changing," CTA spokesman Brian Steele said. "It changes every stop. What's available and where people want to sit is always changing."
Of course, if Chicagoans had their way, they'd be able to ride in their choice spot every single time. Some even wait on platforms in the same place every day.
"I stand at this spot every morning because the doors open here," said 6-foot-5 Steve Bappert while waiting for a Loop-bound Brown Line train from the Western stop. He's been taking the ride from there for nine years.
"As a bigger guy, I look for one of the lone seats," Bappert said. "If I can't find that, I sit anywhere you can get a little leg room."
In 2012, researcher Esther Kim published a study explaining how people choose seats when traveling.
Then based at Yale, Kim focused on intercity buses like Greyhounds. But she said her research can be applied to Chicago's trains and buses as well.
"People are very watchful and cautious of their belongings and space. Once they get on, they start to negotiate their space around them," Kim said. "If you are in any form the slightest bit aware, you would not sit by someone."
She does note that in large cities like Chicago, people are more likely to be "exposed to diversity" and "wouldn't care as much about sitting next to each other."
But in 2012, after the CTA unveiled the "New York-style" 5000-series trains, some Chicagoans did not like the cars in which most of the seats are in one long row and people often sit face-to-face to each other.
"There definitely was a learning curve with how the 5000-series functioned," Steele said of the trains that now run on five of eight "L" lines. "Rider behavior now is very different than when it launched."
CTA officials said they regularly observe at how people ride their trains to determine ways to make the ride better.
Older train models still running on the Blue, Orange and Brown lines trains were designed and approved without input from riders, CTA officials said.
"Seating configurations are both art and science," Steele said. In a lot of cases, seats are where they are to accommodate the mechanical guts of the train beneath.
But that changed with the design of the 7000-series train, a $2 billion project where the seats were placed based on rider surveys.
"The proposed design is the best features from our existing rail cars," said CTA spokesman Jeff Tolman. "Customers have varieties of how people sit or stand."
The design is pretty much one-third Brown Line (single seats), one-third Blue Line (two-person benches facing forward and backward) and one-third Red Line (rows of seats).
7000-series car [CTA]
The trains with something for everyone are expected to be contracted out next year. Prototypes are coming by 2019 and trains running on to-be-determined routes in 2020.
Until then, Chicagoans will stick to their riding habits on the trains that are running.
"I don't have a favorite seat. I like to stand in that spot near the door," said Kristina Winters, speaking of the area designated for wheelchairs on Red Line trains. "Not at the door, because I hate it when people get in the way."