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West Side survived CTA reconstruction; South Side will too

Updated: July 7, 2012 8:33AM

If West Siders could go without the Green Line for two years, South Siders will get through the CTA’s plans to rebuild the Red Line from Cermak Road to 95th Street just fine.

Additionally, South Siders have accused the CTA of neglecting this leg of the train system for decades. The reconstruction job will be a hassle for a while, but once these commuters find an alternate route downtown, the CTA might have to worry about wooing riders back.

I started taking the Metra during the Green Line construction project in 1994 and quickly figured out that I could catch a train that was mostly on time and sit comfortably for a speedy trip downtown for less than it took to ride the Green Line after I factored in the parking.

You expect traffic to crawl during rush hour. You don’t expect to be watching cars pass up L trains. Although Red Line riders will have to leave home earlier to catch a shuttle to the Garfield Boulevard station on the Green Line, they are likely to have a better commute over all.

When the reconstruction is complete, commuters won’t have to tolerate the Red Line creeping down the center of the Dan Ryan.

And, unfortunately, not all of the Red Line riders are commuters and not all the rides were smooth.

Everyone has a Red Line story. I still carry the scars from mine.

Years ago, I tripped down the moving escalator that unloads passengers on the 95th platform. Throngs of people stepped over my body running for the train. My panty-hose were ripped. My leg was bloody. And not one person stopped to ask me if I was OK.

That goes to show you, Red Line commuters are a hard bunch. They might not like the fact that the Red Line is shutting down, but they’ll manage.

Besides, the furlough will give CTA a chance to get a handle on the panhandlers who often mar the commute for paying customers.

Despite the prohibition against soliciting on the train, the “sock man,” “the incense man” and “the preaching man” are still using these rails to hawk their wares.

I’ve got nothing against someone trying to earn an honest buck, but the presence of hucksters and panhandlers signals to thieves and other criminals that anything goes.

And I’ve never understood why street preachers think people trapped on trains want to hear a bootleg sermon early in the morning.

So far, crackdowns have been largely ineffective.

Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if a community organizer didn’t blast this reconstruction project because mostly black commuters will be inconvenienced.

Also, small businesses, particularly fast-food restaurants, will be severely impacted by the shutdown. To ward off unnecessary resistance, the CTA should use some of the money they save on this project to mitigate losses.

The agency should move early to get information about the shutdown to area churches, beauty and barber shops, retailers, etc., so no one cries foul.

But before commuters start passing out the petitions, it may help to remember the old saying, “no pain, no gain.”

Actually, Red Line commuters likely have Mayor Rahm Emanuel to thank for the fast-tracking of a project that could have taken five years’ worth of weekends.

The mayor often used the Red Line’s 95th station for a backdrop during his campaign for mayor.

He saw first-hand that once you got past Garfield Park, the Red Line became overwhelmingly African American. He also saw that at this end of the L system ­— with its barren and shabby stations and slow zones — commuting was mostly a miserable experience.

A ride on the Red Line to 95th Street is an adventure.

So it’s about time CTA put this end of the L train system on par with the rest of the system. South Side commuters have paid their dues.

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