New Metra Station Proposed for Fulton Market Near Ashland Avenue

The city of Chicago has set a hearing on a proposed Metra station for Fulton Market east of Ashland Avenue. The new transit hub could ease the commute to the fast-growing business district. The proposed Metra station could also increase access to jobs west of the Loop.

A station at Damen and Racine Avenues was rejected since any service disruption could cause safety issues.

Metra officials and the Chicago Department of Transportation plan to place foot paths on the east and west sides of the platforms near Ashland Avenue. These walkways would mostly bridge the distance to Ogden Avenue. The platform would also connect four other Metra lines.

Jeffrey Sriver, of the Chicago Department of Transportation, says the new station would make the connectivity to other areas of the city much better. These include not only Fulton Market, but also the Kinzie Industrial Corridor, Illinois Medical District, the United Center, and local colleges.

Sriver also pointed out that the new Metra station would make it easier for people from disadvantaged communities to get to work, as well as to the University of Illinois at Chicago and the medical district. It could also help suburban communities grow their economies.

At a Critical Crossing Point

The new Metra station will require a new flyover to be built at the same time since the rail crossing currently creates a bottleneck.

The crossing at Western Avenue and Kinzie Street is at a point where four Metra lines intersect. Also, at least three other rail lines go through to get to the storage and maintenance facilities.

Overall, more than 200 trains cross through the interlocking system every day, and over half of all Metra riders rely on these trains. Building a flyover would end the bottlenecks, expanding service to the O’Hare and the West Side.

Metra’s department head, David Kralik, compared the current crossing to put a four-way stop sign in the middle of a highway. He stressed that a flyover had to be built before or simultaneously with the new station.

The estimated cost of the flyover is a hefty $1.2 billion. On the other hand, the new Metra station is estimated to cost $500 million. The entire project would take 10 years to complete and rely entirely on federal funding.

From Meat Packing to High Tech

Through the 19th and 20th centuries, Fulton Market was the center of the meat-packing trade, as well as a warehouse and industrial center. But, during the 21st century, Fulton Market has become gentrified with the tech industry and corporate headquarters, as well as bars, craft breweries, restaurants, boutiques, and hotels.

The low-slung, historic warehouses, built from 1880 to 1929, have been gutted and remodeled to serve as Michelin-starred restaurants. Other buildings have been repurposed into upscale, trendy retail shops, art galleries, and tech studios.

But, before 2010, Fulton Market was a wasteland of dilapidated warehouses and factories, with Oprah’s Harpo Studios as the only bright spot. A few pioneering, avant-garde restaurants and art galleries were just beginning to colonize the neighborhood.

Obviously, the crumbling, industrial feel of the area appealed to edgy, artistic entrepreneurs and techies. Moreover, the cheap real estate appealed to commercial developers. Gradually, the area evolved from a dangerous place to one soaked in underground cool. This combination forged the current character of Fulton Market.

However, it wasn’t long before the edgy, artistic Fulton Market pioneers were pushed out by wealthy investors cashing in on the atmosphere they had created. The real nail in the coffin came when Google established its Chicago headquarters in the old Fulton Market Cold Storage building.

Today, Fulton Market is bustling during the day with tech worker bees, and with upscale nightlife. It’s a far cry from the rough, tough butchers and warehouse workers of the City of Big Shoulders. Rather than producing meat and potatoes, the neighborhood’s products are primarily virtual.

From Boom to Bust and Back Again

While city officials and real estate developers and private equity firms endlessly promote the place, with every boom, a bust inevitably follows. Developers have turned what was once a truly gritty, edgy area into a sort of plastic cartoon of itself. It’s only a matter of time before a different neighborhood rises to claim the title of “coolest neighborhood in Chicago”.

The new Metra station will take 10 years to build and the tech worker bees will likely still be buzzing about Fulton Market. Only time will tell. But until then, Metra’s service to the area will remain the same.

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