LOGAN SQUARE — Can the Blue Line handle the boom?
As residents get ready to move into a series of major apartment projects along Logan Square, Wicker Park and Bucktown, officials are bracing for how to handle crowding on the "L" line that will serve them, the Blue Line.
Weekday ridership along the Blue Line already has been growing quickly over the past 10 years, outpacing the growth of the entire rail system as a whole, according to Catherine Hosinski, a CTA spokeswoman.
Over the past five years, weekday ridership on the Blue Line has grown by 25 percent. The O'Hare branch of the line has increased by 6.3 million rides over the past 10 years, a 33 percent increase.
Just last year, the branch increased by 5.3 percent over the previous year.
One fear is that the line, which is party responsible for making the neighborhoods attractive and is a key draw for the new developments, could end up overcrowded as residents looking to commute by train move in.
"You are always going to get complaints like the Brown Line," said Paul Sajovec, chief of staff for Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd). "For forever there have been complaints of how people can’t get on trains in the morning at peak times. There's only so many cars they can fit on any given train, but what they do is run more trains then.”
Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st) has plans to meet with CTA officials later this month to get the agency up to speed on the plethora of projects popping up in his ward.
There are at least eight significant apartment projects underway along a stretch of the Blue Line between Logan Boulevard and Division Street. When finished, more than 1,000 units will be added to the stretch.
The housing projects are in various stages of development, but one of the largest, MiCa (previously the Twin Towers), is nearly ready for tenants to start moving in.
The two mid-rise towers, an 11- and 12-story buildings along Milwaukee Avenue, will include more than 200 apartments less than a block from the California Blue Line stop.
Meanwhile, residents have already started moving into the "L" building, which includes 120 apartments just steps from the California stop.
The developments are considered "Transit Oriented Developments," or TOD, which are geared toward renters without cars due to their proximity to public transit.
Other projects are in the pipeline include the Mega Mall development that has yet to break ground but will add 240 rental units just northwest of the towers. A "microapartment" plan near the same "L" stop is still in the proposal stage. It would include more than 130 TOD units.
Most recently, a developer proposed a 150-unit apartment development for the intersection of Armitage and Milwaukee avenues.
"We anticipate the vast majority of those buildings will be heavy users of CTA," said Raymond Valadez, Ald. Moreno's chief of staff.
Other developments in the pipeline that will likely rely heavily on the Blue Line include the 200-unit Wicker Park Connection near the Division stop, a 30-unit building near the Western stop and a separate 59-unit building near the Western stop.
"At least for the 1st Ward projects, they aren't too far away [from being complete]," Valadez said of the numerous developments in the ward. "We have been advocating strongly for TOD and part of that should be working with CTA to handle this additional load."
Part of the development deals for the TOD projects includes an agreement in the leases that renters cannot apply for permit parking in the neighborhood, according to Valadez.
The CTA says it's analyzing ridership trends.
"New developments are just one of several factors taken into consideration by personnel responsible for analyzing ridership trends across our entire system as part of year-round service planning efforts," Hosinski said.
The Logan Square stop, which has the highest daily average ridership outside the Loop on the O'Hare branch of the Blue Line, has increased by 48 percent over the past 10 years to an average of 7,428 riders per weekday in 2016.
Passengers line up to board a Blue Line train at the Logan Square stop Tuesday morning. [DNAinfo/Paul Biasco]
The California stop, which has the greatest number of development projects popping up nearby, has increased its ridership by 62 percent over the past 10 years, according to CTA data as of April 2016.
That stop currently averages 5,274 riders on a weekday.
Since 2011 the CTA has added 17 extra train trips during morning and evening rush periods due to ridership increases since 2011, she added.
One of the projects the agency has already begun to handle Blue Line increases is the $429 million "Your Blue Line" modernization plan of the O'Hare branch.
That includes track replacement, infrastructure repair work, station improvement work and upgrades to signal and power systems.
Part of the project included the $11.2 million remodeling of the California station and $26 million in track repair and replacement between Damen and Logan Square.
While the CTA anticipates ridership increases in the coming years, Hosinski said the "Your Blue Line" funding will allow the agency to handle future ridership demands.
The majority of the projects that will presumably add congestion to the Blue Line fall in the 1st Ward aside from the Mega Mall proposal, which is in the 32nd.
Ald. Moreno has been a proponent of increasing density in his ward, particularly around "L" stops through TOD developments in the past few years.
In contrast, Ald. Scott Waguespack in the 32nd has not been as friendly to developers' requests for greater density.
The Mega Mall, which he gave the green light, is not a TOD project and includes 313 off-street parking spaces in a garage below the residential units. That project also includes a grocery store and gym.
"We don’t feel like anything we have approved is aggressive from the standpoint of density," Sajovec said. "We really haven’t felt it necessary to engage the CTA about do you think this is too much or whatever because we really aren’t being that aggressive about the density levels."
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