The Austin/Lake Green Line “L” station, located at 351 N. Austin Blvd. in Austin, is likely to become more accessible for handicapped commuters in the near future.
The Chicago Transit Authority’s budget this year includes money to pay for the installation of an elevator running up to the station’s platform and turning the currently sealed Mason Avenue entrance into an emergency exit, among other enhancements.
Mike Connelly, the Chicago Transit Authority’s chief planning officer, said that the project is currently “in the first stage of design,” but added that there was no concrete timeline for when the design would be completed and when the construction would begin.
Out of the 11 “L” stations serving Oak Park and Austin, only four are designated as handicap accessible: the Central/Lake, Laramie and Cicero/Lake Green Line “L” stations in Austin, and the Harlem/Lake Green Line “L” station in Oak Park.
In October 2019, the CTA received $20 million to help cover an estimated $24 million in project costs related to the improvements.
While the original Austin/Lake station was built in 1901, the current structure dates back to 1961, when the tracks were raised above street level. The second, Mason Avenue entrance was sealed in 1973 as a cost-cutting measure.
In addition to serving as an ‘L’ station, Austin/Lake station is a hub for city and suburban buses. CTA Route 91/Austin, which serves Austin and the neighborhoods further north, passes nearby, and the hub also serves as a terminal for three Pace bus routes. Route 315 links the area to the suburbs further south, while routes 309 and 313 serve the Lake Street corridor in Oak Park, River Forest and Melrose Park.
According to the CTA’s All Station Accessibility Program 2018 strategic plan, the Austin/Lake Green Line “L” station got high priority because the need for improvements is more acute and renovation would be relatively easy.
Because of the age of the embankment the station and the tracks sit on, the CTA wants try to reduce the impact on the structure as much as possible by installing the elevator in the existing station house. Because of the size of the embankment and the fact that the “L” shares the embankment with the Union Pacific West Metra line tracks, the platform can’t be widened. This means that, if the current east stairs and the escalator were kept as is, there wouldn’t be enough room for wheelchair users to get to the elevator.
In addition, the sidewalks on the ground level don’t currently have enough room to add an ADA-compliant ramp. As a result, CTA will need to take out the escalator, move the east stairs closer to the middle, and expand the sidewalk, which would require the removal of the westbound turn lane.
The Mason entrance would be reopened, but not as a full-fledged entrance — it will serve as an emergency exit to satisfy ADA requirements.