Best and worst of L, subway stops

The Ride goes distance — to check out every station

May 12, 2008

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The CTA has been asking riders to be “Mystery Shoppers” and tell the transit agency what it’s doing well — and not. To do our part, The Ride rode the entire length of the CTA rail system — 242 miles of L and subway track. Here are 10 “bests” and “worsts” that stood out:

1. Scariest platform

State/Lake — with Clark/Lake not far behind. It’s the combination of the really narrow platforms with so many riders crowding onto them. At its deepest, the State/Lake platform is just eight feet front to back. In some spots, though, commuters have just 3½ feet to maneuver because of posts. An elderly woman was killed after she walked off the platform in 2003 — witnesses said she seemed distracted by something to do with her purse. The station, built in 1894, is the oldest in the Loop.

2. Ghastliest station

Tough category. This one could go to North/Clybourn on the Red Line, where stalactites caused by dripping water dangle from the filthy ceiling. Or, a little farther south on the Red Line, Grand and State, which is cold and dank — except in the summer, when it’s sweaty humid — and currently has all the tiles ripped off for remodeling.

But, no, our winner — er, loser — is the Division Street platform on the Blue Line, for the mush of garbage and water between the tracks, the bad lighting, filthy walls, noise and general sense of claustrophobic urban gloom.

3. Garden spot

The prettiest spot on the L has to be . . . the Conservatory/Central Park Drive platform on the Green Line. The Queen Anne-style station house originally was part of the 1890s Lake Street L. It was reconstructed at Garfield Boulevard in 2001. From the platform, this isn’t your usual L view — vacant lots, expressways, fast-food rooftops. Instead, this time of year it’s Garfield Park in springtime.

4. Coolest art

The 18th Street station on the Pink Line is covered with colorful Mexican folk designs — dancers and gods, saints and flowers.

At the next stop, near the entrance of the Damen station, is a glass mosaic by Juan Chavez depicting scenes from Pilsen. Chavez, along with artist Corrine Peterson, created the “Hopes and Dreams” mosaic in the transfer tunnel between the State/Roosevelt subway and the Green/Orange Line L station.

5. Best-smelling

The Argyle L platform on the Red Line smells like star anise and ginger, wafting up from the Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants below. The Western Avenue station on the Pink Line smells like tortillas. Both beat the more common platform smells.

6. Worst-smelling

Orange Line stations have wind shelters that face away from the tracks, with concrete benches. Something about this configuration attracts . . . who knows what, but it’s not good. Both the Halsted and the Ashland stations were bad — it was better to stand in the wind.

7. Top spot for drunks

From the 47th Street southbound platform on the Green Line, we saw a rooftop littered with 54 empty liquor bottles — and one discarded cane.

8. Paradise for pigeons (not passengers)

For pigeon lovers, Halsted on the Green Line is your platform. Benches and flooring were liberally speckled with feathers — and pigeon poop. Runner-up: the Irving Park station entrance on the Blue Line.

9. Best ride for readers (L branch)

Rides on the South Branch of the Red Line at evening rush hour found everybody silently reading. There were Bibles, news magazines, novels, textbooks and newspapers. And it was quieter than a library.

10. Most obnoxious riders

One last note on riders. After riding 242 miles of L and subway, The Ride feels qualified to observe that the Brown Line at rush hour seemed to have the highest ratio of self-absorbed, loutish passengers. This is the worst line if you’re pregnant — few people even look up to offer a seat.