Games Learning Resources Visit the Museum
America on the Move
Collection Exhibition Themes
Return Arts and Leisure Communities Immigration and Migration Making the Exhibition Technology Work and Industry Other Topics Guest Curators

The CTA in the 1950s: Innovation
 

For city residents and suburbanites who continued to rely on transit for their daily commute into the Loop, the Chicago Transit Authority sought innovative ways to make itself a viable alternative to driving. In the 1950s, for the first time in decades, money was spent on building new rail lines and on purchasing new surface and rail vehicles—sometimes at the cost of rising fares and service cuts.

In the 1950s, the Chicago Transit Authority sought to modernize its fleet, infrastructure, and operations as it worked to position itself as a leader in planning for the future of the city.

A 1958 CTA publication, New Horizons for Chicago Metropolitan Area, suggests the goals and approach of the transit agency at the time:

“Essential to the fullest attainment of…economic expansion is a modern, expanded, integrated and co-ordinated rapid transit system that serves all of metropolitan Chicago with fast, off-the-street service supplemented by feeder buses. Attainment of the new horizons is today’s challenge for a greater tomorrow. Will metropolitan Chicago be equal to the challenge? The answer rests with the people of the Chicago metropolitan area whose vigorous support must be forthcoming if the rapid transit needs for the new era of economic progress are to be provided.”

“Loop Rapid Transit Stations.” Revised drawing, dated 8-15-56, for the Chicago Transit Authority’s Staff Engineer’s Office.
“Loop Rapid Transit Stations.” Revised drawing, dated 8-15-56, for the Chicago Transit Authority’s Staff Engineer’s Office.

This 1956 map shows the route of Chicago’s Loop “L”; the placement of Loop “L” and subway stations; the route of the subway lines under the Loop; entrances, exits and transfer bridges; and a few of the major buildings served by the CTA.
Courtesy of Michael J. Shiffer

Integrated Transportation

One of the CTA’s major innovations in the 1950s was the construction and opening of the new Congress Expressway rapid transit line. Forward-thinking transportation planners in Chicago had envisioned early on the possibility of including a median strip rapid transit line in the construction of the city’s expressways. Chicago pioneered this method of integrated urban transportation.

Mayor Richard J. Daley driving the first spike, Congress Expressway rapid transit line, Chicago, 1955
Mayor Richard J. Daley driving the first spike, Congress Expressway rapid transit line, Chicago, 1955
Courtesy of Chicago Transit Authority
West Side Subway Dedication Plaque, 1957
West Side Subway Dedication Plaque, 1957
Plaque installed in a CTA Congress Line “L” station to commemorate the construction of this innovative median-strip rapid transit line.

The new Congress Expressway (West Side Subway) rapid transit line allowed the CTA to modernize infrastructure and to speed service through the city’s West side; to make use of the other-wise underutilized right-of-way in the new highway; and to develop an integrated transportation network of rapid transit, buses, and roadways.

The experiment was successful in many ways, and has been emulated throughout the United States in the years since. Yet, critics point out that the line merely replaced the nearby Garfield Park line while it offered fewer stops through West side neighborhoods. In addition, the station and platforms are isolated from surrounding neighborhoods in the middle of a busy expressway.

Here you see the cover and a selection of views from Chicago’s West Side Subway: First Rail-Transit Facility Constructed Within A Superhighway, printed by the CTA in June, 1958.

Chicago’s West Side Subway: First Rail-Transit Facility Constructed Within A Superhighway, June 1958
Chicago’s West Side Subway: First Rail-Transit Facility Constructed Within A Superhighway, June 1958

This book of photographs was printed by the CTA in 1958 to illustrate the new stations along the Congress Expressway rapid transit line.

Courtesy of Chicago Transit Authority

CTA’s Halsted Street Transit Station, 1958
CTA’s Halsted Street Transit Station, 1958

Night-time image of a 6000-series CTA train servicing the Halsted Street station on the CTA’s Congress Line. From Chicago’s West Side Subway: First Rail-Transit Facility Constructed Within A Superhighway, June 1958

Courtesy of Chicago Transit Authority

CTA’s Damen Avenue Transit Station, 1958
CTA’s Damen Avenue Transit Station, 1958

Street level at the Damen Avenue station on the CTA’s Congress Line. From Chicago’s West Side Subway: First Rail-Transit Facility Constructed Within A Superhighway, June 1958

Courtesy of Chicago Transit Authority

CTA’s Pulaski Avenue Transit Station, 1958
CTA’s Pulaski Avenue Transit Station, 1958

Passengers and a 6000-series train at the Pulaski station on the CTA’s Congress Line. From Chicago’s West Side Subway: First Rail-Transit Facility Constructed Within A Superhighway, June 1958

Courtesy of Chicago Transit Authority

CTA’s Western Avenue Transit Station, 1958
CTA’s Western Avenue Transit Station, 1958

Two 6000-series trains at the Western Avenue station on the CTA’s Congress Line. From Chicago’s West Side Subway: First Rail-Transit Facility Constructed Within A Superhighway, June 1958

Courtesy of Chicago Transit Authority

Previous Page
Next Page
National Museum of American History About This Site | Sponsors | Buy the Book | E-mail Signup | Credits