Telling the Story of Chicago, One Train Stop at a Time

Train_Stop_Guide.pngThe Train Stop Guide website would allow you to rate and describe every train stop in Chicago. Image: Carfree Chicago.

It’s amazing how much a strong transit system can reshape the city around it. And not just through the physical changes that transit brings, but the mental ones too. A transit system can reshape the way we imagine or understand our surroundings. In some cities, for example, you identify your location with the nearest subway stop, not a neighborhood. "I work near Metro Center" is a pretty common statement in Washington D.C. When you spend enough time on transit, individual stations start to take on meaning, shared or personal.

As a way of exploring the cultural resonances that build up around transit, you couldn’t do much better than this exercise from Mandy Burrell Booth at Chicago’s Metropolitan Planning Council blog:

Before I joined MPC in 2004, I worked full-time as a journalist. As a j-school student, one of my class projects was to write about every stop on the Red Line. Each of us chose a stop and found a nearby story to share with our fellow students. That experience stayed with me: On the rare weekend when my husband and I don’t have plans, we like to ride the El or bus to a new neighborhood. We’ve even taken the South Shore to Michigan City, Ind., and the Metra to Geneva.

I’d have loved to hear more about Booth’s travelogue of the Red Line, but she does one better, pointing to a crowdsourced attempt to catalog ratings and comments about every rail stop in Chicago. If successful, Carfree Chicago’s Train Stop Guide could answer everything from the practical — like where to get off for a good cup of coffee — to the more impressionistic. For example, one commenter calls the area around the Belmont station "one of those rare places where queers, punks, suburban tweens, yuppie families, jocks and trixies all come together."

It looks like the Train Stop Guide is just getting started, since most stations don’t have comments yet. But once it fills out, we’ll have a transit-oriented portrait of the way Chicagoans experience their city. 

More from around the network: The Chicago Bicycle Advocate explains how the two Chicago men actively trying to hit bikes with their car got off with a light sentence. The Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation catalogs the successes of Safe Routes to Schools in their state. And the Los Angeles Bicycle Coalition praises a Critical Mass ride where the police were respectful participants.