My fancy overhead photography system

After being totally outclassed by a guy with a drone when photographing the Clark Interlocking construction last week, I was determined not to let that happen again, but this time up at Bryn Mawr rather than at Belmont.

The temporary southbound Bryn Mawr station has been in the works for quite a while. The station is located between Bryn Mawr and Hollywood, right off of Broadway and will open sometime early 2021 once heavy construction starts on the Lawrence to Bryn Mawr modernization project. From what I could see from the street, progress had been going well, but I never bothered to photograph it much, but a few days ago I was walking by there on December 23 (Festivus!) and noticed it was actually starting to look something like a (temporary) train platform and not just a construction site:

Temporary Bryn Mawr entrance, December 2020
Temporary entrance, viewed from the north on Broadway

I didn’t have my real camera with me, just my cell phone, and it was dark, so the photo was not the best quality. Still, definitely looked like something I wanted to photograph in more detail when I had the chance. The issue remained that there was a covered fence that I couldn’t easily reach over, and I didn’t have anything that would help me (I didn’t even have a selfie stick, not that it would help with my big camera).

I decided that I would make my own overhead photography system. However, I currently can’t afford a drone and am definitely not ready for one anyway (I’m gonna wait until I’ve mastered photography on the ground before I start adding piloting a drone to the mix). So, I improvised, and came up with this:

My wonderful overhead photography system

Yup, it’s a stepladder. The fence is just taller than I can reach over with my camera, so I figured with the help of a stepladder I’d have just the boost I need to see over the fence.

I knew this would be a little more suspicious than a drone, given that I would be standing right next to a fence on top of a stepladder holding a camera. While nothing I was doing was actually trespassing, I knew people would not have taken kindly to seeing this. Thus, I figured Christmas would be the perfect day to try this, given that likely the construction workers would probably all have the day off. As an added bonus, it was also completely sunny and pretty cold (22 degrees at the time I took the photos according to my phone). This both led to good photography conditions and a further disincentive for others to be outside. So, with my stepladder and camera, I got cracking.

First, I just started with what I could get without a stepladder:

Bryn Mawr temporary southbound station entrance, December 2020
The entrance and fence from the south on Broadway (you can also actually see the CTA logo now since it’s not washed out due to the darkness and cell phone camera)
Bryn Mawr temporary passage to the southbound platform under construction, 2020
The passage from the north – this goes directly adjacent to the Public Storage parking lot

Then I actually got into action with the stepladder from Broadway and an alley running along the south end of the site.

Bryn Mawr temporary southbound station stairs to platform, December 2020
The stairs to the platform (I don’t know if there will be an elevator, but I’m guessing not since the existing Bryn Mawr station doesn’t have one)
Bryn Mawr temporary southbound station site construction, December 2020
The entrance structure from the southeast

Then I made my way to the alley by the railroad embankment. It didn’t look like I would be able to get much of a view with the stepladder from there, since the passageway being built would block my view of anything further.

Bryn Mawr temporary southbound station stairs to platform, December 2020
The alley between the construction site and the tracks, passing under the stairs
Alley below temporary Bryn Mawr southbound station, December 2020
The alley from Hollywood
North Side Main Line bridge over Hollywood Avenue, December 2020
Tracks crossing over Hollywood (not actually part of the construction site, but this will be replaced as part of the larger project so I figured I should photograph it for archival purposes)

Then I finally went to the other side of Broadway to get some less up-close pictures of the entrance.

Bryn Mawr temporary southbound station entrance, December 2020
The entrance

…and that’s what will soon be the southbound station at Bryn Mawr for around two years (after which they’ll need to open a new temporary northbound station on the other side of the tracks). Northbound passengers will still use the existing station for the first portion of the project. The idea is that all lines will be funneled onto two tracks (from a normally four track line), so the island platform right in the middle can serve southbound trains when all trains run on the western two tracks and northbound trains when all trains run on the eastern two tracks, and the direction not served by the island platform will be served by a temporary station.

I will make sure to continue photographing this as I am able. Odds are there won’t be much more interesting to see until the temporary station actually opens, but I will absolutely be there to photograph that.

Progress going right over our heads

The Chicago Transit Authority is currently in the process of rebuilding the Clark Interlocking, where the Ravenswood Branch (Brown Line) diverges from the North Side Main Line (Red/Purple Lines). Long story short, the current interlocking is all at one level, and when northbound Brown Line trains diverge, they must cross three other tracks, blocking them. In order to reduce delays and increase train capacity, the junction is being rebuilt so that northbound Brown Line trains will use a flyover to pass over the other three tracks so trains can continue underneath them.

I am doing my best to photograph the progress as it goes on, though I am somewhat limited in what I can do from the ground while the system is elevated, and I am avoiding unnecessary travel on public transportation due to the ongoing pandemic, which means I can’t get pictures from the nearby Belmont station platform either. Still, here’s what things looked like back over the summer:

Red-Purple Bypass supports under construction, June 6, 2020
Progress in June, 2020

I haven’t been down there for more photography since then, and this weekend I decided that given the sunny weather, I should go down there again. This time though, I walked and did not enter the station to minimize COVID-19 risk. Here’s how it looks now:

Clark Interlocking progress as of December 2020
Progress in December, 2020

They’re starting to lay the trackbed now, so that’s definite progress. The apartment building that was under construction in my June photo also looks completed, at least from the exterior. The track passes surprisingly close to the building though, and given that the building was still under construction in June, there’s no way they could have built it without knowing about and coordinating with the CTA construction. I guess one lucky tenant will have the train going right outside their window. Interestingly a situation like this exists on the Singapore LRT where it passes very close to buildings at some points, but on that system they actually frost the windows to preserve privacy for the occupants of those buildings. I know there is no way the CTA rolling stock supports that, and I somehow doubt our new railcars will either. Still, I don’t live there, so not my concern.

A side note: when I was there, I got one-upped by a guy taking a photo from above with a drone. That’s way better than what I can do from the ground given the elevated nature and the fact that I can’t (or at least really shouldn’t) walk on the tracks. One of these days I’ll try using a drone, but I want to master my photography skills from the ground before I start adding flying to the equation. I talked a bit with the guy flying the drone, and he indicated that they will be laying track for the actual overpass (i.e. above the existing track) fairly soon.

While I was there, I also photographed the track in the area, and I definitely got a very strong “Chicago” vibe from it:

Below the Brown Line tracks just past Belmont
Alley underneath the Brown Line tracks
Brown Line train just past Belmont
Inbound train approaching the station

I then walked back home and got a few photos on the way back. I realized I haven’t really photographed Edgewater, my own neighborhood, much, which is a shame given its distinct (and awesome) character, so I got some photos there too.

Addison Station from Sheffield Road
Addison station from street level
Wrigley Rooftops
Wrigley Rooftops
Edgewater Beach Hotel from the south
Edgewater Beach Hotel
Apartment building at Sheridan and Catalpa
Apartment building at Sheridan and Catalpa, I don’t know the name of it
Looking up The Bryn
The Bryn, apartment building at Sheridan and Bryn Mawr