Chicagoans Heart CTA Brown Line Improvements – The Data Show It

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Countdown to a New Brown

The Brown Line Capacity Enhancement Project in Chicago was completed in 2009/2010, and Chicagoans seem to love the Brown Line based on the data. The $530 million project was for expanding platforms to allow for 8-car trains, in addition to station improvements and ADA accessibility.  Since 2009, CTA Brown Line ridership growth far exceeds all the other lines combined.  Brown Line ridership exploded by 13.5% in 2009, compared to 1.4% for all other lines. Since then, the Brown Line has consistently outpaced ridership growth in the rest of the CTA rail system.

The US Federal Transit Administration contributed $245 million towards the project, which was meant to improve the 9.3 mile “Loop elevated” corridor in order to alleviate congestion at platforms, bring greater capacity to the line, and add comfort and convenience to the stations.


Many components of the project were on-line by 2009, with the last pieces falling into place in 2010.  The ridership data show this clearly.  Starting in 2009, ridership growth spiked.  Here’s the chart that simply says it all.

Note how before 2009, the Brown Line seems to generally track together with the rest of the system. In fact, it evern underperforms pretty badly in 2007 (probably due to the construction of this very project being well underway).

Then you can see the obvious spike in 2009, where Brown Line ridership pops by 13.5%.  This is in spite of the recession that started at almost the same time. Further, note how Brown Line ridership growth has been faster than the rest of the system for every year since.  This includes in 2013 when ridership in the rest of the system fell by 1.1%, but Brown Line ridership still grew 2.1%.

It seems that Chicagoans are being drawn towards the Brown Line ever since these improvements were made, growing the line in ridership far more than what is happening in the rest of the system.

I compiled the data from the Chicago Transit Authority’s ridership data page.  The Brown Line data was compiled from their annual and monthly reporting back to 2000.  The total system data is conveniently available through their open data for annual boarding totals.

And as always, transparency. Here’s my compilation of the data and calculations.

I’m wondering what your thoughts are, especially those of you in Chicago.  Was this project as popular as the data makes it seem? Do you see any revitalization of the Brown Line corridor, and maybe some improved economic activity? I’d love to know!

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