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RTA’s Community Planning Call for Projects with a new Transit Station Activation pilot category aims to fund initiatives that make stations and bus stops more welcoming

March 12, 2024

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Imagine stepping off the train at the end of your workday and being greeted by a local artist exhibit, or a farmers’ market with healthy food to browse and bring home, or a performance by musicians from your community. It might invite you and other passengers to linger near the station longer, bringing about a positive presence and a welcoming atmosphere. You might also choose to take transit more knowing that the areas near a station or a bus stop are likely to have presence of people and activity.

The RTA is launching a Transit Station Activation pilot to provide funding for more of these types of projects to help make riders feel safer and more welcome on their commutes and to encourage ridership growth. It is envisioned these projects and activities will be simple, short-term actions or events occurring for a few hours over the course of a few days that will bring residents, transit riders, and visitors to the area. The pilot comes out of the RTA’s regional transit strategic plan Transit is the Answer, which calls on the agency to make the regional transit system safer and more secure for everyone, and the recently held Transit Safety & Security Summit on February 27.

The Transit Station Activations pilot is launching as a new category in the RTA’s Community Planning program. This program provides funding and technical assistance to local governments to help foster the growth of sustainable, equitable, walkable, and transit-friendly communities. Since 1998, the RTA has completed more than 200 projects. The Transit Station Activation category opens the Community Planning program up beyond municipalities to ward offices, chambers of commerce, community-based organizations, downtown associations, economic development corporations, not-for-profits, and business improvement districts/special service areas. Priority will be given to municipalities or neighborhoods impacted by crime with an eye toward equity. The call for projects is open now through March 22, 2024. Apply now.

Eligible pilot projects

For the RTA’s Transit Station Activation pilot, permanent capital improvements are not eligible as activations are focused on temporary, short-term activities that are open to the public. Projects may be located at any Service Board (CTA, Metra, Pace) station or stop. For projects located near CTA stations, activities must be outside of the paid area (i.e., before riders go through any turnstiles). For projects located near Metra stations, activities must be off the platforms. Projects proposed near any transit stations must not impede the operations of transit or rider access to the transit service, such as bus lanes or ADA ramps. Activation projects may take place on Service Board property or adjacent property (with permission from the property owner). While non-partisan voter drives are welcome as part of an activation, other partisan political events or other activities not allowed by property owners will not be eligible. The applicant will be responsible for any post event maintenance, if required. The RTA imagines the following as examples of project activations that could receive funding:

  • Performers – Events where a local musician(s) or school choir performs near the transit station.
  • Vendors – A pop-up event where local vendors set up an area to offer their food, drinks, crafts, or other goods.
  • Artistic exhibition – Local artists are invited to showcase their work and perhaps offer art for sale.
  • Beautification – A community planting day where residents are invited to come to the transit-served area and plant a bed of flowers. This could be expanded to include a periodic, seasonal gardening day where residents weed and water the flower bed.
  • Community Outreach – Staff or members of a community-based organization(s) (CBO) set up a table or booth near a transit station, offering assistance or information about services offered for or needed by area residents.
  • Safe Walk Programs – Programs to facilitate safe walks to or from a transit station or stop such as CBO’s deploying safe passage workers who can support traveling to and from transit stations to other community events, such as a farmers’ market or street festival, similar to the Safe Passage Program for Chicago Public School students.

Examples of existing station activations

While RTA’s grant program aims to expand opportunities for transit station activations, the concept is not unprecedented. Organizations and transit agencies have activated transit stations in the region with farmers markets, art installations, musical performances, and more. These are only a few examples.

Photo: Lakeview Roscoe Village Chamber of Commerce

The Lakeview Low-Line project by the Lakeview Roscoe Village Chamber of Commerce re-envisions the half-mile space beneath the CTA L tracks between Southport and Lincoln avenues as an art destination and a fun and dynamic path connecting the neighborhood. Mural walls host rotating art exhibits, and plazas at Southport, Ashland, and Paulina host regular farmers markets, plant sales, and other pop-up events.

Photo: Rebuild Foundation

Another example in Chicago is a DJ booth at the 95th/Dan Ryan Red Line Terminal. The interactive art installation was created by Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates in partnership with the CTA and the Rebuild Foundation. It was the first known artist-designed and constructed broadcast studio/DJ booth in a transit facility, and its purpose was to provide South Side commuters with a public cultural amenity that celebrates shared history, showcases local talent, and centers the sonic histories and contributions of Black and Brown people.

Photo: Winnetka Farmers’ Market

Metra stations have also played host to activations, including farmers markets like one in Winnetka that utilizes the Metra station parking lot. These activations not only offer commuters a beneficial, engaging experience at the start or end of their ride, but they also draw people to transit stations who may otherwise be unfamiliar with public transportation. These activations can serve as an introduction to the system for new riders.

Join the Transit is the Answer Coalition

Transit is the answer to many of the region’s challenges but is threatened by lack of sufficient operating and capital funding after years of disinvestment and a global pandemic. This leaves our transit agencies to face an existential crisis that neither fare hikes nor service cuts can solve while preserving a useful and equitable system.

We need your help to win sustainable funding for transit and build a better system for everyone who relies on it. Learn more and join the Transit is the Answer Coalition.

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Tagged in: Transit is the Answer | Community Planning | RTAMS

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Low line RTA’s Community Planning Call for Projects with a new Transit Station Activation pilot category aims to fund initiatives that make stations and bus stops more welcoming

Imagine stepping off the train at the end of your workday and being greeted by a local artist exhibit, or a farmers’ market with healthy food to browse and b...

March 12, 2024
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