With the Chicago Transit Authority's recent announcement of $492 million worth of improvements for the Blue Line, it can sometimes seem like it's the rail system that gets all the love. But the fact is, with many commuters taking a bus-train, bus-bus, or even bus-train-bus-bus-train combo to get to work, the CTA's bus system is just as important as its Elevated sister.
The CTA runs more than a hundred bus lines across an impressive 11,279 stops, and a great many of those stops have been recently renovated—they're clean and sheltered, with screens announcing bus arrival times (although the incessant beeping at some stops is an "improvement" that's questionable at best).
However, with such a huge network and limited funds from the CTA, some stops are bound to fall through the cracks. The endless winter weather and bus bunching can make travel bad enough—and it's even worse if you're stuck at a bad bus stop.
With more than 11,000 options, it was tough to narrow this list down—and it’s by no means complete. But after polling some transit-obsessed Chicago magazine staffers and delving into the city crime data portal, we tracked down some of the most desolate, dangerous, chaotic, or archaic stops in Chicago.
If any of these stops is a part of your commute, you have our sympathies.
STOP: 95th/Dan Ryan Bus Terminal
PROBLEM: Chaos, pure chaos
WHY IT'S BAD: We're sure the CTA thinks of this terminal as a transit hub, but with so much going on here—we're talking train, highway, 14 separate CTA bus lines and an assortment of other busses all intersecting at this station—it's more like a transit hell. The poor signage and traffic noise add up to major disorientation, and with so much congestion, you're going to want to practice your juke and spin-move. Getting to your bus on time at this station is a feat best described as Devin-Hester-esque (Hesterian?). Props are due to the CTA though: a projected $240 million renovation of this terminal is slated to begin midway through this year.
STOP: 9 Ashland route at Cortland, southbound
PROBLEM: There's something in the atmosphere
WHY IT'S BAD: Stand at the southbound bus stop at Ashland and Cortland long enough, and you'll begin to think the city was abandoned. The rusted, grimy arches supporting the Metra track above give this bus stop all the warmth of an ancient ruin, and the pavement around this stop seems to stay wet days after any rain has fallen. It's tough to find a even a garbage can within two blocks of this bus stop, let alone any other sign of civilization. There are a few business of note in the area, such as the Horween Leather Company, whose smell of tanning leather blends with the scent of nearby garbage dumps to create a unique, fishy aroma.
STOP: 55 Garfield route at Garfield Red Line, eastbound
PROBLEM: Personal safety
WHY IT'S BAD: Built from concrete, chain-link, and sharp-looking planes of metal, this disconcerting bus station perched over I-90 looks like it came straight from the Aggro Crag School of Art and Design. Unfortunately, the only "do you have it" you'll hear at this stop won't be a reference to the old Nickelodeon game show Guts—it'll be a forcible inquiry about your personal effects. According to Chicago's crime data from 2001-2013, a mix of robbery and theft puts this stop high in the running for one of the most crime-riddled bus stop in the city (you may have to zoom out to get the map to look like the picture at right). You know what really takes guts? Waiting here for the 55 after dark.
STOP: 78 Montrose route at 2656 Montrose, eastbound
PROBLEM: Gimme shelter
WHY IT'S BAD: On Montrose Avenue, near California, a relic lies at the northern edge of Horner Park. At 2656 Montrose there still stands one of the old-model bus shelters. And waiting here for an eastbound bus is an illogical, vexing experience. Want to wait in the shelter? Go ahead, unless two fully-grown Chicagoans had the same idea—they'll already be taking up all the space inside. Want to sit on the bench? Well, you can find it outside of the shelter. With rusting metal and graffiti-covered planks where the windows once were, the shelter is quite a dinosaur.
Maybe the new, gleaming JCDecaux line of sheltered stops have pampered us a bit too much. The city is currently phasing out the few remaining shelters like this one—and it's an extinction we look forward to seeing.
BONUS STOP: 72 North Avenue route at Halsted, westbound
PROBLEM: It was a water park
WHY IT WAS BAD: Complain enough, and something might actually change. If you've read the feature on potholes in Chicago, you know that the city has had a real pavement problem this winter. It was so bad at North Avenue and Halsted, a series of potholes had fused together to create the Ultimate Pothole, which happened to be directly in front of the westbound bus shelter. On any rainy day, it filled with a bathtub's worth of water, and driver hitting that pothole with enough speed—seriously, some of those drivers had to be aiming for it—would utterly soak anyone waiting in the shelter for the westbound bus.
But the CTA heard about our concerns at this bus stop, and recently sent out a team to patch the pothole at North and Halsted. We haven't had enough rain to determine if you'll get soaked at the bus stop anymore, but kudos to the CTA for taking care of business.
DOUBLE BONUS: The bus stop of the future
Speaking of the CTA taking care of business: in the name of context and fairness, now is a good time to step back from these bad bus stops and take a look at what the CTA has planned for the bus stops of tomorrow.
Notably, the Jeffery Jump shelters at 71st/Jeffery and 100th/Paxton, rendering seen above, are the crème de la crème of Chicago-area bus stop design. Completed in 2012, with a roomy, modern shelter, expanded sidewalk space and at least three benches, the only problem with these shelters is that there are only two of them in Chicago.
POSTSCRIPT: Do you have a bad bus stop? Tell us—and let the CTA know, too!