Park & Ride Disparities Leave South Side Red Line Commuters Without a Spot

Despite thousands of daily passengers, the CTA’s parking availability pales in comparison to other major cities.

Approaching the 95th Street and Dan Ryan Red Line platform, riders will find a newly renovated station with new pedestrian walkways and transit updates but for those with a car, few places to park.

For South Side riders to use CTA-provided parking on the Red Line, they would have to travel the entire 21.8-mile train line to Howard Street in Rogers Park, passing by Guaranteed Rate Field, through the Loop and Lincoln Park — a total of 32 stops. 

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Due to the lack of  CTA-provided parking options, South Side commuters are often forced to park on streets, sometimes illegally, risking a ticket or a tow. If they choose to drive the entire commute, they’ll face a packed Dan Ryan Expressway and expensive downtown parking. 

“I’ve lived on the South Side but I’ve never seen a Park & Ride on the South Side, as far as CTA or anything like that,” said Teon Webster, a former South Side resident who now frequents the Park & Ride at the Howard Red Line station. “A Park & Ride would be great like at the 95th Street terminal. That’s a perfect spot for one … even after all the construction and re-beautification, they still didn’t do it.” 

Park and Divide

There are only 18 CTA Park & Ride lots across 145 stops, fewer than most major cities. Just over 75% of the CTA’s more than 6,000 spots are north and west of downtown. To South Side Ald. Anthony Beale (9th Ward), this discrepancy illustrates an inequity. 

“We know … this is in the heart of the African-American community, where resources have been neglected,” Beale said. “It’s not a priority for the CTA.”

A map of Park & Ride locations in Chicago.A map of Park & Ride locations in Chicago.

Transportation specialist and DePaul University professor Joe Schwieterman sees the same issue. 

“I think what’s driving the inequity in some ways is the Blue Line Extension to O’Hare, just excellent, large parking facilities there,” he said. “And a comparable effort wasn’t made south to upgrade those lines to give the folks in those neighborhoods those kinds of park and ride access.”

Standing on the corner at 95th and State St., Beale points to two, large vacant lots surrounded by black wrought-iron fencing, and notes a lack of space isn’t the issue. Beale said that the CTA already owns unused land that could easily be made into Park & Ride lots. 

“CTA has already purchased all the lots, they have cleared them out,” Beale said. “This Park & Ride can be done in a matter of weeks. It’s already been excavated, it’s already ready to go, the land has been cleared. Give the people some place to park so they can park a car, get on the CTA and get to work in a timely manner.”

However, Beale himself acknowledges that the parking lots are not currently zoned for parking. He does say that if the CTA petitions to change the zoning of those properties, Beale, as the alderman, would “wholeheartedly support it.” 

The proposed Red Line Extension project aims to add Park & Ride lots only to the new stations built south of 95th and Dan Ryan. 

But riders have been promised this extension for over 50 years, only for construction to never begin. The CTA’s newest estimate is to start construction by 2025 should the required funding be secured. 

According to Beale, CTA officials, including president Dorval Carter, fail to appear at City Council meetings even when summoned, making it nearly impossible to raise concerns directly. 

“We’re trying to bring these concerns to the CTA but once again they don’t listen,” Beale said. He believes a South Side Park & Ride does not need to wait for the proposed and long-anticipated Red Line extension. 

The CTA has not responded to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed on Sept. 22 by the DePaul Center for Journalism Integrity & Excellence (CJIE) despite repeated requests. Additionally, requests to interview CTA officials have been declined. 

The CTA’s only response came in emails from spokesperson Brian Steele. He wrote, the

“CTA hadn’t heard any equity conversations surrounding the lots, nor any call for additional lots along the rail system.”

Additionally, he noted the current Park & Ride lots aren’t at their full capacity. 

“Park & Ride lots are below capacity,” Steele said in the same email. “Supply exceeds demand in most locations. This utilization suggests demand for parking is being met.”

The CTA claims that 68% of their riders are “choice” riders, meaning they have a car available to them but choose to take public transportation. However, some choice riders still drive their cars to CTA stations before hopping on the train. 

Spot Supply vs. Driver Demand

On a brisk fall morning, Alnoraindus Burton was dropped off at the 95th and Dan Ryan station. He is a frequent Red Line rider who said he’s used the stop “forever” and said CTA has never offered options to park near the station.

“Never ever. Not since I’ve been coming here,” Burton said.

“I think the biggest disappointment is that we have one of the busiest rapid transit lines in the country, which is the Red Line, which everyone knows and uses, but we don’t have a well-placed system on Park & Rides,” said transit specialist Joe Schwieterman

The 95th and Dan Ryan station averages 60% more daily riders than Howard station.

Also a Red Line commuter, Schwieterman drives to the 87th Red Line station before taking a northbound train downtown for work. 

“If you look at the system, a lot of the older lines, you know, go south and west and so forth, and they’re not equipped with Park & Rides,” he said. “And of course, that’s where a lot of our disadvantaged minority populations live. So, I think as we look at equity, those kinds of questions are going to have to come up.”

Commuter Marvin Howard, who has ridden the Red Line at the 95th and Dan Ryan station for nearly 30 years, laughed at the idea of finding parking near his stop, and said “It’s kind of difficult.”

Pointing at the empty gravel CTA lot directly adjacent to the 95th and Dan Ryan station at State Street, he said the solution is obvious. 

“They should make a Park & Ride,” Howard said. 

Chicago Park & Ride Compared 

Chicago ranks third among U.S. cities in rapid transit ridership, with almost 700,000 commuters boarding the “L” each weekday. When it comes to parking spots offered per rider, Chicago is much further down the list.

Of major U.S. cities, Chicago ranks eighth out of nine in Park & Ride spots per rail rider based on available data.

A look at how commuter parking spots in Chicago compares to other cities.A look at how commuter parking spots in Chicago compares to other cities.

Washington D.C. offers its commuters almost 10 times the amount of Park & Ride spaces. Boston, with 220,000 fewer daily riders than Chicago, has 100 lots dedicated to Park & Ride. Chicago has just 18. 

Schwieterman believes the lack of Park & Ride locations for the Red Line is partially due to the outdated system from the 1960s. 

“The Red Line was built, unfortunately, in the early 60s when there wasn’t a real sense of that drive-to-train phenomenon,” said Schwieterman. “By the 70s, it was pretty evident that that’s what a lot of people [wanted] and so we built a really fabulous, rapid transit line, missing one key detail for a variety of reasons.”

The CTA started purchasing land and lots near the Blue, Pink, Orange, Green, and Red Line stations in the late 1940s. 

“Park & Ride lots have a 100-plus year history, driven by the expansion of the CTA system over the decades. The most recent lots were built more than 25 years ago as part of the Orange Line,” wrote CTA spokesman Brian Steele. 

The Howard parking garage began development in 2000 and went through a number of renovations. The last was in 2006 when the CTA Board approved the $56.7 million project. At Howard’s Park & Ride, however, drivers will often find empty parking spaces.

With $3.6 billion needed, but not yet raised, for the proposed Red Line extension project, South Side residents wanting to park and ride are left waiting for a spot. 

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