The end of the Scarborough RT

I recently had the good fortune of being able to take a vacation to Toronto. The chief reason I took this trip when I did was because Line 3 of the Toronto Subway, also known as the Scarborough RT, is closing soon.

For some context, here is a map of the Toronto Subway as of the time I post this:

Toronto Subway map (from TTC)

Line 3 is that short blue one way off to the east. It serves Scarborough, a suburban part of Toronto, Unlike Lines 1, 2, and 4, which run conventional rapid transit equipment mostly underground, Line 3 runs smaller automated railcars powered by linear induction motors and is fully above-ground. The idea was that since Scarborough was a lower-density area than most of the rest of the Toronto Subway service area, they would use a somewhat “lighter” technology that cost less to operate and maintain.

The route is only six stations over four miles, and is entirely suburban, requiring a connection at Kennedy to reach downtown Toronto. Additionally, the ridership is very low compared to the rest of the system, with only one station besides Kennedy (Scarborough Centre) ranking better than 40th out of 75 among subway stations.

Owing to the fact that the line currently has fairly low ridership, operates different technology than the rest of the subway, and the fixed infrastructure and rolling stock are old enough that they all would need to be majorly overhauled or replaced entirely, the government of Ontario has decided to replace it with an extension of Line 2. The extended Line 2 would cut farther east to a more residential area instead of the current industrial corridor seen between Ellesmere and Kennedy.

I wanted to see what was there before it’s lost to time, so here’s what I found:

Line 3 Scarborough train interior
Interior of a train
Line 3 train departing Kennedy
Train departing Kennedy
Line 3 train at Kennedy
Train at Kennedy

The design of the stations definitely looked pretty dated. There hasn’t been much change since they opened in 1985, and you can definitely see that in their design. I also was delayed because of mechanical problems at Kennedy, reflective of the issues the line faces right now.

Outbound platform at Scarborough Centre
Scarborough Centre
Entrance at Scarborough Centre
Entrance at Scarborough Centre

Scarborough Centre was definitely the most active part of the line. I actually saw a good number of people getting on here. It’s right next to the Scarborough Town Centre shopping mall, and also has a number of connections with TTC and GO buses. This is the only station (other than Kennedy) that will be served in approximately the same location by the Line 2 extension.

Entrance at Ellesmere
Entrance at Ellesmere
Ellesmere external view
Other entrance at Ellesmere
Outbound platform at Ellesmere
Platform at Ellesmere

Ellesmere is the lowest ridership station in the entire Toronto Subway system, and I could see why. It’s pretty isolated, and it doesn’t even directly connect with Ellesmere Road (which bypasses the station on the overpass). There really isn’t anything around the station.

Inbound platform at Lawrence East
Platform at Lawrence East
Entrance at Lawrence East
Entrance at Lawrence East

Lawrence East also felt somewhat isolated, but not as bad as Ellesmere. It helps that it has a bus connection on Lawrence.

McCowan external view
McCowan
McCowan external view
McCowan
Platform at McCowan
Platform at McCowan

I’m surprised McCowan doesn’t have higher ridership numbers, given that it’s located in what looks to be a reasonably high density area with several bus connections. I guess this can be attributed partly to its proximity to Scarborough Centre.

Midland station structure from ground level
Entrance at Midland
Inbound platform at Midland
Platform at Midland

Midland, on the other hand, doesn’t surprise me it has low ridership (second lowest in the entire system after Ellesmere). It only has one bus connection and appears to be in a fairly low density area without any major housing or employment centers or other destinations nearby.

With all this, it makes sense why they’re replacing this with an extension of Line 2 and rerouting it. The current train mainly just serves commuters from the Scarborough Centre area heading to Kennedy, and they have to make a transfer there, while a Line 2 extension would eliminate that transfer. The rerouting will also hopefully attract more passengers by going through a residential area instead of an industrial one. Of course avoiding having one short line that’s incompatible with the rest of the system (increasing maintenance costs and adding operational complexity) will also be a good thing. However, it is a shame that the residents of Scarborough will have to go roughly seven years without rail service between when Line 3 closes and the Line 2 extension opens.

Requiem for Northwest Indiana, Part 2 (Michigan City)

As promised in my earlier photo set on demolition in Miller Beach (Gary), here is a photo set of all the demolition in Michigan City. I originally was planning to do this in March or April after all the snow melts, but the construction schedule forced a change of schedule. It looks like they’re planning on starting new construction on 11th Street right at the beginning of March, and I wanted to photograph everything after demolition was (mostly) completed but no new construction had started. As a result, there were a few buildings left standing that will be demolished in the future and there is a bunch of snow in my pictures.

Unlike Miller where only a few buildings near the station were demolished to make way for station expansion and a new parking lot, the demolition in Michigan City was widespread. They are moving from the current alignment of a single track down the middle of 10th and 11th Streets to a double track alignment adjacent to a one-way street, repurposing the southern (eastbound) lane to take the place of a second track. As part of the process, a number of buildings need to be demolished. Additionally the area north of 11th Street between Franklin and Pine Streets is being demolished to allow building a new parking garage and station building. As a result, there were a large number of houses and other buildings that needed to be demolished.

Additionally, to my knowledge, only commercial properties were demolished in Miller. However most of the buildings demolished in Michigan City were homes.

I did my best to capture as many homes as possible before demolition, but I didn’t really make concrete plans for this project until after some demolition had already begun so in a good number of these I am missing the “before” photo. Due to the large number of buildings, I don’t have much to say for most of these, just pictures.

Without further ado, I present the Requiem for Northwest Indiana, Part 2: Michigan City. This is without a doubt the longest post I have ever made here.

716 E 11th St

Condemned building at 716 E 11th Street
Before demolition
Demolished empty lot at 716 E 11th Street in February 2022
After demolition

523 E 11th St

Demolished empty lot at 523 E 11th Street in February 2022
Demolished empty lot at 523 E 11th Street in February 2022
After demolition (from a side street)

517 E 11th St

Condemned building at 517 E 11th Street
Before demolition
Demolished empty lot at 517 E 11th St in February 2022
After demolition
Demolished empty lot at 517 E 11th St in February 2022
After demolition (from the back)

513 E 11th St

Condemned house at 513 E 11th St on September 11, 2021
Before demolition
Condemned house at 513 E 11th St on September 11, 2021
Before demolition
Condemned house at 513 E 11th St on September 11, 2021
Before demolition
Demolished empty lot at 513 E 11th Street in February 2022
After demolition
Demolished empty lot at 513 E 11th Street in February 2022
After demolition

509 E 11th St

Demolished empty lot at 509 E 11th Street in February 2022
Demolished empty lot at 509 E 11th Street in February 2022
Rear view

505 E 11th St

This house is still standing but will be demolished soon.

Condemned house at 505 E 11th Street in February 2022
Back of the house
Condemned house at 505 E 11th Street in February 2022
Front of the house

501 E 11th St

Demolished empty lot at 501 E 11th Street in February 2022
Demolished empty lot at 501 E 11th Street in February 2022

416 E Main St

Demolished empty lot at 416 E Main Street in February 2022
Demolished empty lot at 416 E Main Street in February 2022

1102 Cedar St (First Christian Church)

This site used to house the First Christian Church. This is by far the biggest building that was demolished, it was nearly a whole block long by itself. It is also used on Wikipedia (as of the time I write this) as the headline image in the article about the South Shore Line.

Front of the First Christian Church, slated for demolition
First Christian Church in Michigan City
First Christian Church, slated for demolition
Demolished empty lot at 1102 Cedar Street (First Christian Church) from the west in February 2022
Demolished empty lot at 1102 Cedar Street (First Christian Church) from the east in February 2022
Demolished empty lot at 1102 Cedar Street (First Christian Church) from the south in February 2022

Requiem for Northwest Indiana, Part 1 (Gary–Miller)

For those not aware, the South Shore Line is currently undertaking a major project to double track the line from Gary to Michigan City (currently mostly a single track) and make a number of other improvements to the line, including improving access and parking to stations, making most stations accessible to passengers with disabilities, increasing speeds, and other things. However, as is often the case with major public works projects, there are property impacts. Specifically, buildings near the Miller station (in Miller Beach, Gary), Portage/Ogden Dunes station, and all along 10th and 11th Streets in Michigan City need to be demolished to allow for the construction.

I have been undertaking a major project to catalog the construction, and as part of that I have been photographing as many buildings as I can before and after demolition. New construction hasn’t started yet, but demolition is mostly complete, giving a strange intermediate state with a lot of empty land full of what once was. This is a grim reminder of that progress always comes at a cost.

I thus present the Requiem for Northwest Indiana. This is part 1, specifically focused on the area around the Miller station.

For this photo set, I took the train out to Miller and arrived just before noon. This was my first time traveling out there in the snow (and thanks to the snow last week there was quite a lot). I got off the train at a snowy station:

Miller headhouse and platform on a snowy day
Miller station in the snow

And now, I present the buildings that were lost.

Warehouse

The largest structure demolished as part of this process was a warehouse. This barn had been seized by eminent domain before I photographed it and judging by the condition was probably already abandoned well before then.

Condemned warehouse at 5701 US-12 on September 11, 2021
Warehouse before demolition from the west
Condemned warehouse at 5701 US-12 on September 11, 2021
Another view of the warehouse before demolition from the northwest

The demolition was still in progress, but most of the walls had been demolished by this point.

Partially demolished warehouse at 5701 US-12 on February 6, 2022
Warehouse during demolition from the north
Partially demolished warehouse at 5701 US-12 on February 6, 2022
Warehouse during demolition from the west

Barn

There was a barn nearby that also had been slated for demolition. I have no idea what the barn was used for or who owned it. I also imagine this had been abandoned for quite a while before I photographed it.

Condemned barn at 5501 US-12 on September 11, 2021
Barn before demolition
Demolished empty lot at 5501 US-12 on February 6, 2022
Empty lot after demolition from the north (the fence is no longer there either)
Demolished empty lot at 5501 US-12 on February 6, 2022
Empty lot from the south

Roxxy’s

Roxxy’s was a bar along the Dunes Highway. According to Google Maps it celebrated its 75th birthday relatively recently (the picture was uploaded in April 2019). I actually had to submit an update to Google to explain that the business was now gone (for my “proof” I gave one of the pictures below).

Condemned Roxxy's at 5705 US-12 on September 11, 2021
Roxxy’s before demolition
Demolished empty lot at 5705 US-12 (formerly Roxxy's) on February 6, 2022
Same view of Roxxy’s after demolition
Demolished empty lot at 5705 US-12 (formerly Roxxy's) on February 6, 2022
View from the side of the former site of Roxxy’s

M&M Beauty Supply

Just south of Roxxy’s was the M&M Beauty Supply. According to Google Maps, they have a few other locations in/around Gary. The building itself was demolished, but the sign remained, at least for the time being. As I did with Roxxy’s, I had to submit an update to Google Maps explaining that this location no longer existed.

Condemned M&M Beauty Supply at 5702 US-20 on September 11, 2021
M&M Beauty Supply before demolition
Condemned M&M Beauty Supply at 5702 US-20 on September 11, 2021
Another view of M&M Beauty Supply before demolition

In this case, I was able to pretty closely mirror the viewpoints of the “before” pictures (I did not have the pictures with me when doing this photo set).

Demolished empty lot at 5704 US-20 (formerly M&M Beauty Supply) on February 6, 2022
M&M Beauty Supply lot after demolition
Demolished empty lot at 5702 US-20 (formerly M&M Beauty Supply) on February 6, 2022
M&M Beauty Supply lot after demolition

Garage

At about 5811 US-12, there was some sort of garage building that also looked like it had been abandoned well before I got there. I do not know what used to be there, unfortunately.

Condemned building at 5811 US-12 on September 11, 2021
Garage at 5811 US-12 from the north before demolition
Condemned building at 5811 US-12 on September 11, 2021
Garage at 5811 US-12 from the southwest before demolition
Demolished empty lot at 5811 US-12
Empty lot where the garage used to stand from the north
Demolished empty lot at 5811 US-12
Empty lot where the garage used to stand from the south

Porky’s Pit

Next to the garage was Porky’s Pit, a barbecue place which also appeared to be abandoned before I started my “before” pictures.

Condemned Porky's Pit BBQ at 5813 US-12 on September 11, 2021
Porky’s Pit prior to demolition from the north
Demolished empty lot at 5813 US-12 (formerly Porky's Pit) on February 6, 2022
Empty lot where Porky’s Pit used to stand after demolition from the north
Demolished empty lot at 5813 US-12 (formerly Porky's Pit) on February 6, 2022
Empty lot where Porky’s Pit used to stand after demolition from the south

Empty Lots West of Lake Street

Next to Porky’s were two empty lots that were still empty before I started. They were overgrown at the time but it looks like they’ve been cleared.

Demolished empty lots at 5825-27 US-12 on September 11, 2021
Empty lots west of Lake Street from the north before land clearing
Demolished empty lot at 5825 US-12 on February 6, 2022
Empty lots west of Lake Street from the north after land clearing
Demolished empty lot at 5825 US-12 on February 6, 2022
Empty lots west of Lake Street from the south after land clearing

With all of this, demolition in Miller Beach is mostly complete. New construction will start soon, and it will be interesting to see what develops. However we cannot lost sight of what was lost in the process.

In March or April (once all this snow melts), I’ll continue this project in photographing all the demolished buildings in Michigan City.

I have photographed the entire Chicago L!

At long last, I have photographed all 145 stations on the Chicago L! If you just want to see the pictures and not read the rest of this post, check them out here.

My first published photo was taken on March 9, 2019 at Adams/Wabash:

Adams/Wabash station after some rain
Photo at Adams/Wabash

…and my last published photo to complete the set was taken at Morgan on November 6, 2021:

Outbound platform at Morgan, looking west
Photo at Morgan

This was a really fun project, even if exhausting at times, especially near the end where I was trying to finish before it started snowing and we were less likely to get clear skies so I had to take advantage of the chances I got. This involved a lot of days getting up, eating breakfast, loading a day pass onto my Ventra card, and heading out the door to the Red Line then spending most of the day out on the train in parts of the city far from home and ending the day with an hour or two of sorting photos and choosing which ones to upload.

In the course of this project I really came to appreciate the diverse nature of the system. It ranges from utilitarian like Bryn Mawr (for now) to very old-fashioned like Ashland (Green Line) and Quincy to modern like Washington/Wabash and Wilson and everything in between. Meanwhile, the track structures range from elevated to embankment to ground-level to freeway median to open-cut to tunnels. Adding to that, the scenery ranges from industrial to suburban to medium density to ultra-high density as well. Really a big mix of everything.

This project also was a really cool way to experience the city, since I didn’t just go to the stations and take some photos and leave, but instead often walked between adjacent stations and on occasion got lunch on the go (best one was Italian Beef at Nicky’s near 35th/Archer). Walking through the neighborhoods really helped me get a good feel for the area. This also helped me improve my photography skills and figure out more about what conditions are/aren’t good and which techniques work and which ones don’t.

Going forward, I do have a few gaps to fill, between certain parts of stations I couldn’t/forgot to get to for various reasons or stations that received significant changes since I originally photographed them (for example, the three Blue Line stations under Milwaukee Avenue received new flooring). I’ll hit those as I have time, but am not in any hurry. I also of course will continue photographing the ongoing construction in my part of the city. I want to photograph Metra stations (I already have photographed all the stations on the South Shore Line), but am in less of a hurry to do that. After all, Metra doesn’t run anywhere near as frequently as the L does (and some lines don’t run on weekends at all).

Touring an abandoned prison

Today I took a trip down the Joliet Correctional Center in, you guessed it, Joliet. It was an active maximum security Illinois state prison from 1858 to 2002 and held a number of well-known inmates, including Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, Baby Face Nelson, John Wayne Gacy, and most famous of all, Jake Blues. It’s interesting that the most famous inmate is fictional.

To get there, I took the Metra Rock Island District to Joliet, then a Pace bus. Of course I got some pictures of the Metra station on the way:

Front of a waiting Rock Island District train at Joliet
The train that took me to Joliet
Rock Island District waiting room at Joliet
Waiting area
Rock Island District train at Joliet from the Amtrak/Heritage Corridor platform
Amtrak/Heritage Corridor platform
Joliet station building from across the street
Station building

Then, I went into the prison on a tour. It was definitely very eerie being in there. The building is a little worse for wear (it was closed due in part to being in poor condition and has seen virtually no maintenance in the intervening two decades). You can see all of the photos I deemed worthy of publication in my Flickr album, but keep reading to see a selection of them with more detailed descriptions.

We entered via the eastern gate where Jake Blues famously walked out. According to the tour guide the gate was actually welded shut, they only opened it after the film company bribed the warden to let them use it and have a crew break the welding. Even then, they only got one shot and five minutes.

Along the path from that gate were the industry buildings to the north and a few other buildings like inmate intake processing to the south.

Industry buildings at the Joliet Prison
Industry buildings (or what’s left of them after severe fire damage)
Industries building at the Joliet Prison
Another burned out industry building
Auto shop building at the Joliet Prison
Burned out auto shop building
Joliet Prison inmate processing building
Inmate intake processing building (also burned out)
Joliet Prison water cistern
Water cistern

We then headed to the solitary confinement building, which had solitary confinement cells on the first floor and death row cells on the second.

Joliet Prison solitary confinement building
Solitary confinement building
Joliet Prison solitary confinement building side view
Solitary confinement building – the windows here were the cell windows at the top of the cells
Joliet Prison original cell interior
Original cell (preserved), apparently three people were held at a time in these cells
"It's never too late to mend" at the Joliet Prison in the solitary confinement building
“It’s never too late! To mend.” (I wonder if that was always there or added because of the Blues Brothers)
Joliet Prison solitary confinement building lower level
Solitary confinement cellblock
Solitary confinement cell at the Joliet Prison
Solitary confinement cell (there was also a toilet-sink unit to the right)
Death row cells at the Joliet Prison
Death row cellblock
Death row cell at the Joliet Prison
Death row cell

Then we headed into the cafeteria building, which was segregated by race into north and south cafeterias (I don’t know/remember which one was which). The north cafeteria in particular included some interesting Simpsons-based graffiti.

Joliet Prison north cafeteria
North cafeteria
Chief Wiggum graffiti at the north cafeteria at the Joliet Prison
Chief Wiggum graffiti in the north cafeteria
Joliet Prison south cafeteria
South cafeteria
Kitchen at the Joliet Prison cafeteria
Kitchen

Then we left to head towards the cell house, passing by (but not entering) the gymnasium.

Joliet Prison gymnasium entrance
Gymnasium entrance

The tour guide then let one of the people on the tour open the door to the east cell house.

Man opening the east cell house door at the Joliet Prison
Man opening the cell house door
Cell block at the Joliet Prison east cell house
Eastern cell house cell block
Cell in the west cell house at the Joliet Prison
Eastern cell house cell

Apparently the eastern cell house cells had beds removed post-closing for maintenance reasons. Also a sobering fact that the left portion of the ceiling in the cell block was added to prevent inmates from trying to jump to their deaths, with apparently as many as three suicides per day.

We then left the cell block and walked by the hospital but couldn’t enter it.

Front of the hospital at the Joliet Prison
Hospital
Front hallway of the Joliet Prison hospital
Entrance to the hospital

We then entered the western cell house, which apparently housed inmates that were disliked even by the other inmates (use your imagination).

Cell in the west cell house at the Joliet Prison
Cell in the western cell house (including a bed this time)
Cell block in the west cell house of the Joliet Prison
Cell block in the western cell house

Here, note the closed doors instead of bars. Apparently this was to avoid inmates throwing stuff at the guards. The inmates here were so disliked that they even had their own yard to avoid contact with other inmates.

West cell house yard at the Joliet Prison
Western cell block yard

We then passed the school and headed towards the chapel.

School building entrance at the Joliet Prison
Entrance to the school building
Chapel stage at the Joliet Prison
Chapel stage (it’s hard to see in this photo but many of the glass panes were missing)
Confession booths at the Joliet Prison chapel
Confession booths
Joliet Prison chapel seating area
Seating area
Joliet Prison chapel
Chapel entrance

It’s hard to see in the photos but the ceiling was in pretty bad shape due to apparently the roof being struck by lightning.

We then walked by a few other buildings to conclude the tour.

Joliet Prison library building
Library building
Joliet Prison laundry facility
Laundry machines
Joliet Prison sally port
Sally port

We then left via the eastern gate via which we entered.

Joliet Prison eastern gate
Eastern gate

I don’t really have much to say, I think the pictures speak for themselves. It was a very interesting tour.

Five lines done!

I have now photographed every station on five of the eight lines of the L: Blue, Brown, Orange, Purple, and Yellow! Of the three remaining lines I have eleven stations left if I’m counting correctly.

My most recent expedition was to photograph the rest of the Blue Line, and in keeping with the blue theme the sky also was a very deep blue. I photographed the rest of the Congress Branch:

Inbound track at Pulaski (Blue), looking east
Pulaski
Inbound track at Kedzie-Homan, looking west
Kedzie-Homan
Platform at Western (Blue - Forest Park), looking west
Western (Congress Branch)
Inbound platform at Illinois Medical District, looking west
Illinois Medical District
Platform at Racine, looking outbound
Racine
Inbound platform at UIC-Halsted, looking east
UIC-Halsted

In particular I got one very nice photo at UIC-Halsted, juxtaposing the station with the downtown skyline:

UIC-Halsted from Morgan Street
UIC-Halsted from Morgan Street

I also photographed Washington, which somehow I had never photographed all this time despite its central location:

Platform at Washington, looking north
Washington

I also photographed two abandoned stations along the Congress Branch in the process:

California (Blue) from California Avenue
California
Kostner (Blue), looking west from pedestrian bridge
Kostner

Then I headed up to Logan Square to get lunch, and on the way home photographed the new flooring at Chicago:

Platform at Chicago (Blue), looking northwest
New flooring at Chicago

Compare this to the flooring in 2019:

Blue Line platform at Chicago
Flooring at Chicago in 2019

Definitely an improvement, looked like they were doing the same thing at Grand and Division too.

Honestly not much more to say, this was just a status update and some more pictures. Eleven stations to go if I’m counting correct, and I’ll hopefully get them done in short order.

Bringing it full circle

Two weeks ago, I returned to Cleveland for the first time since being kicked off campus in March 2020. As part of this trip, I did a bit more photography on the RTA. My main focus was on things that had been renovated since I had left (specifically East 79th on the Red Line, the improved tracks at Tower City, and Farnsleigh). However, I also got new and improved photographs of Cedar-University and Little Italy-University Circle as part of the adventure.

I arrived mid morning at Little Italy-University Circle, one of the first stations I photographed during my time at CWRU by virtue of it being right by campus. Most of my photos of that station were from freshman year, when my photography skills were nowhere near what they are now. Here’s an example:

Little Italy-University Circle Platform looking Outbound
Photo of the Little Italy-University Circle station I took in 2016

Compare with a photo from this time:

Outbound track at Little Italy-University Circle, looking north
Photo of Little Italy-University Circle from 2021

Definitely an improvement: better lighting (I got lucky with the weather admittedly), better angling of the camera, etc.

From there I went to Cedar-University, one stop down the line, and serving the southern portion of the CWRU campus. The story was similar to Little Italy for the most part: my photos from 2016 weren’t the best quality due to my inexperience. However, also important was that Cedar-University had a major bus loop attached which I never photographed.

First, see a typical photo of that station from 2016:

Cedar-University platform looking outbound 4
Photo of the Cedar-University station from 2016

Now compare with a photo taken in 2021:

Outbound track at Cedar-University
Photo of the platform at Cedar-University taken in 2021

Much better lighting (once again lucked out with the weather, but also knew to photograph in the middle of the day instead of in the evening as I did with the first photo), better angles, all that.

Then, I photographed the bus loop which I somehow never did in my four years at CWRU:

Northern bus loop platform at Cedar-University
Bus loop at Cedar-University

Having finished there, I started the main focus of my expedition, photographing the stations renovated since I had left Cleveland. First, I went to East 79th. For reference, here’s what the station used to look like:

Looking westbound from East 79th
Platform at East 79th in 2016

The station at the time was a pretty simple affair: a staircase (behind where I’m standing with the camera) and a wooden platform with a basic bus-like shelter and a roof. The renovations, on the other hand, significantly improved it:

Outbound track at East 79th (Red), looking east
Renovated East 79th station platform in 2021
Platform at East 79th (Red) from the entrance ramp
Renovated East 79th platform in 2021 from across the track
Street entrance to East 79th (Red) from the north
New entrance to East 79th in 2021

The new station has a concrete platform, a ramp for ADA accessibility, new signage, a significantly improved roof, and a much better-looking entrance. Overall it is a significantly improved passenger experience from the original. It did add one interesting twist though, a grade crossing. For a while the only grade crossing on the Red Line was at Brookpark, where passengers had to cross a track to reach the platform. Renovations at the station in 2016-2017 removed that grade crossing and replaced it with a tunnel under the track, but later on one was added at East 34th which saw a similar renovation to East 79th, including a set of ramps on the adjacent hillside.

Grade crossing at East 79th (Red) from the entrance
Grade crossing to access the platform at East 79th

From there I headed to Tower City. When I was a freshman at CWRU in 2016, they replaced the northern track, which resulted in westbound trains going to a temporary station on a normally non-revenue track. They did the same thing again to replace the southern track, and the work was completed prior to my arrival. Here is what the track looked like prior to renovation:

Eastbound platform at Tower City looking west 1
Old eastbound track at Tower City in 2016

After several years with a new northern track but retaining the old southern and stub tracks, they were all replaced. Here are the new and improved tracks:

New westbound Red Line track at Tower City in 2021
New eastbound track at Tower City in 2021
New stub Red Line track at Tower City in 2021
Red Line stub track at Tower City in 2021

Meanwhile, the Blue and Green Lines were not operating due to an eight week construction project shutting down the lines entirely, with them being replaced by shuttle buses in the meantime. However, I did notice that the ceiling had been removed:

Waterfront Line platform at Tower City
Old platform ceiling at Tower City in 2018
Westbound Red Line platform at Tower City in 2021
Platform with ceiling removed at Tower City in 2021

I don’t know the reasoning for removing the ceiling, and whether it’s temporary or permanent, but it definitely takes away some of the character of the station. I hope it will be added back. Given that a lot of the mall above was temporarily closed for construction, it wouldn’t be surprising if that were another part of the construction.

From there I took the shuttle bus out to Farnsleigh. Here’s what it looked like prior to renovation:

Both platforms at Farnsleigh
Farnsleigh station in 2016

It’s a pretty basic median station on the Blue Line with two platforms and a shelter. Now see it post-renovation from approximately the same viewpoint:

Tracks at Farnsleigh, looking west
Farnsleigh station in 2021

Notice the mini-high platforms for wheelchair accessibility and the new shelters. Definitely an improvement, and a big win for the ADA. I wonder if the manufacturer of those shelters will steal my photos again

Heading back to Cleveland was a nice experience, and this photo expedition brought things full circle. I got to see the stations I first photographed when I was still fairly inexperienced and bring to it a new camera and better skills. It really shows how far I’ve come in photography and also brings some closure to my time in Cleveland which was sadly cut short by the pandemic. I’ll definitely be back there another day, and it’ll be nice to see what’s changed and what’s stayed the same then. According to the RTA website, no new station renovations are planned, though they do intend to replace their railcar fleet.

On the home stretch for a multiyear project

My ongoing project to photograph the Chicago L unofficially started on March 9, 2019, when I took a spring break trip to the city, unaware I’d live there a year and a half later. The first photo taken in Chicago (at least that I deemed worth publishing) is this one, of the entrance to Millennium Station:

Entrance to Millennium Station
Entrance to Millennium Station at Randolph and Michigan

Interestingly, the first four train stations I photographed in Chicago were all Metra, on March 9, 2019: Millennium Station, McCormick Place, 55th-56th-57th Street, and Museum Campus/11th Street. The situation there was I was going to the Museum of Science and Industry but stopped at McCormick Place along the way to photograph it, and then headed back to 11th Street to visit the Field Museum. The first photo I took and deemed worthy of publication on the L was at Adams/Wabash:

Adams/Wabash station after some rain
Adams/Wabash platform

The date on Flickr is listed as March 10, but it was actually taken very late on March 9 since my camera was still set on Eastern Time due to coming from Cleveland. Little did I know that this would start my most ambitious photography project so far. I photographed a number of stations in/near downtown as part of that trip, and then returned to Cleveland.

In December 2020 I flew out to Chicago to interview for the company that ended up hiring me, and photographed two stations: O’Hare (where I flew in) and Chicago (Red) (near my hotel).

In March 2020, I had been hired for my current job in Chicago and came back to visit apartments. At that point I knew I would be moving here and had in the back of my mind that I eventually wanted to photograph all the L stations. I stayed in Rogers Park (near Morse) and toured apartments all over the north side. I photographed a number of stations in the process, but knew I would come back.

Since then, I have photographed all but about 25 stations. I have photographed all stations on the Loop, North Side Main, Ravenswood Branch, State Subway, Kennedy/O’Hare Branch, Evanston Branch, Skokie Branch, Englewood/Ashland Branch, and Jackson Park/East 63rd Branch. I also have photographed all but one station on the Milwaukee-Dearborn Subway and at least half of the stations on the Dan Ryan Branch, Cermak Branch, South Side Elevated, and Congress Branch. The big ones remaining are the Lake Street Elevated (just under half done) and Midway Branch. I am taking advantage of every good weather opportunity I get, so with any luck I will have this in the bag soon. If not, I’m not in any hurry. Once this is done, it will be without a doubt my most ambitious photography project so far.

I’m not sure what will come next – maybe photographing as much of Metra as I can? I’m not sure how realistic photographing every Metra station is given that there are over 200 of them and Metra doesn’t run anywhere near as frequently as the L (I don’t have a car) and some lines don’t run at at all on weekends.

Chicago Auto Show!

The Chicago Auto Show is usually in February, but got postponed until in 2021 due to the COVID situation. I went and checked it out, and it was a pretty cool experience.

They had cars from most major car brands, and a few brands even had live demonstrations. I was able to ride in demonstrations for RAM Trucks and Jeep, which were pretty cool:

"Camp Jeep" incline at the 2021 Chicago Auto Show
Jeep incline demonstration
"Camp Jeep" ground clearance demonstration at the 2021 Chicago Auto Show
Jeep ground clearance demosntration
"Camp Jeep" unevenness demonstration at the 2021 Chicago Auto Show
Jeep uneven surface demonstration
Ram truck banked turn at the 2021 Chicago Auto Show
RAM Truck banked turn demonstration

Other than that, I don’t really have much to say, just some pictures, of which a selection is below. You can view them all here.

Bentley Flying Spur at the 2021 Chicago Auto Show
Bentley Flying Spur
Honda CR-V at the 2021 Chicago Auto Show
Honda CR-V
Volkswagen ID.4 at the 2021 Chicago Auto Show
Electric Volkswagen ID.4
Bentley Continental GT at the 2021 Chicago Auto Show
Bentley Continental GT
Subaru Outback at the 2021 Chicago Auto Show
Subaru Outback
Toyota Prius Prime at the 2021 Chicago Auto Show
Toyota Prius Prime

I did get a pretty cool souvenir at the gift shop though, a replica US-66 sign:

Replica US-66 sign

When I was waiting in line to experience the RAM truck, one of the brand reps saw me holding the sign and asked me if I’ve ever been on US-66. I must have made him feel old when I pointed out that it was decommissioned before I was born. I have been on “Historic Route 66” in Arizona though.

Fireworks and a trip to Milwaukee

I have been to Milwaukee a number of times in my life, as I have family that has lived there in the past. However, this was my first time traveling there for non-family reasons. I just wanted to get out of dodge for a bit and also experience the Hiawatha.

It was a bit tough finding a time for this to work, since I wanted to be in Chicago for the Fourth of July (more on that in a bit). I also needed a time when it was going to be sunny, and I didn’t want to take more than two days off work. I ended up choosing the Monday-Wednesday after July 4 (July 5-7), since I already got the Monday off anyway, and the weather looked favorable.

In the meantime, it looked like Chicago cancelled the fireworks, so I looked at options in the suburbs. It ended up looking like Wilmette was my best option since I could easily get there on the Purple Line. However, when I was downtown on July 3, I saw a service alert indicating that there would be restrictions on carrying bikes and strollers on the L in the evening, leading me to check again the firework situation. It turned out that much like when they announced they cancelled the annual dyeing of the Chicago River for St. Patrick’s Day then did it anyway, they did the same for the fireworks and uncancelled them. My guess is that they did so to avoid people traveling from out of the area and also that gave them leeway to make a decision based on case numbers at the time. They did somewhat modify the firework setup, not having a singular viewing area but instead having a seven mile long stretch along the lakeshore where they could be viewed (using bigger and higher fireworks to accomplish this). I thus changed my plans and went downtown, and watched from just north of Museum Campus since that seemed to be approximately in the middle of the viewing area. The fireworks were pretty awesome, just a bit odd having the sound lag behind the visual due to the distance.

Fourth of July fireworks in Chicago

Then, on Monday, I hopped on the 1:05pm Hiawatha to Milwaukee from Chicago Union Station. Union Station was a lot more chaotic than I expected, I guess people are starting to travel again.

Hiawatha Cabbage car at Chicago Union Station
“Cabbage” (cab+baggage) unit at the back of the Hiawatha at Chicago Union Station

From there everything seemed to go smoothly until somewhere just north of the Wisconsin border, we stopped. After a few minutes, the conductor announced that there was a “vehicle on the tracks” and that they were being “inspected for damage.” My first thought was that we hit a car. However, I didn’t hear any crashes (I was two cars from the front of the train), and I checked Google Maps and didn’t see any traffic advisories in the area.

View out the window from near where we stopped

After about ten minutes they announced that they had moved the vehicle so it only blocked the northbound track, so we just needed to wait for a southbound train to clear the area so we could go around it on the southbound track. After about five more minutes, the southbound Hiawatha passed us and we were moving again. We ended up only being about fifteen minutes late, nothing terrible. From there, I photographed the train in Milwaukee:

Hiawatha at Milwaukee Intermodal Station
My train at Milwaukee Intermodal Center

I also photographed the Marquette Interchange, a famously obnoxious traffic interchange:

Marquette Interchange from the southeast
Marquette Interchange

A friend of mine from middle school met me at the station, and we walked around for a bit and got an early dinner at the Brat House, where he got a burger and I got the “southsider,” a bratwurst with melted cheddar, jalapenos, and bacon. It was pretty delicious and a good introduction to Milwaukee. I also got a picture of the Milwaukee river from the park where we ate our dinner:

Milwaukee River looking south from State Street bridge
Milwaukee River from State Street

The Milwaukee River and all the drawbridges was definitely a reminder of Chicago, giving a nice familiar vibe. After that, we parted ways and I continued exploring the city. I scoped out a skyline photography spot, Veterans Park, and determined it would probably be good after the sun set. While waiting for the sun to go down, I got some ice cream and then went back to the hotel to rest my legs for a bit. Then, as dusk approached, I headed back out and caught the “The Hop,” the Milwaukee downtown streetcar, at Wisconsin Avenue and took it to Burns Commons.

The Hop waiting at Burns Commons
The Hop streetcar at Burns Commons

After getting off the streetcar, I walked over to Veterans Park again. This time I did not forget my tripod, so I was able to get some good long-exposure shots. This was probably my best one:

Milwaukee skyline at night from Veterans Park
Downtown Milwaukee skyline at night from Veterans Park

Then, pretty exhausted from all the walking, I headed back to the hotel and called it a night.

The next day I hit the ground running, so to speak. Due to COVID measures, the hotel wasn’t serving breakfast, so I went to the Canary Coffee Bar and got a muffin and chai tea, both of which were great. The weather indicated it was going to be sunny in the morning but cloud over later in the day, so I took the morning for some more photography. Importantly, all my photos from the lakeshore needed to be in the morning anyway so the sun would be behind me. Naturally, I started with photographing the streetcar:

Train at Wisconsin Avenue Southbound
The Hop streetcar at Wisconsin Avenue southbound

I took it to Burns Commons again and got a daytime photo from Veterans Park again.

Milwaukee skyline from Veterans Park
Milwaukee skyline from Veterans Park during the day

I then walked down to Discovery World and got some photos from there.

Milwaukee skyline from Lakeshore State Park
Milwaukee skyline from Discovery World

I explored Downtown Milwaukee some more for a while, then figured I’d head up to Glendale to get frozen custard at Kopp’s. I took the bus up to Glendale and from there got Kopp’s. I’m finally old enough that if I say I’m having frozen custard for lunch, I’m having frozen custard for lunch. Kopp’s only has four flavors: chocolate, vanilla, and two rotating flavors (apparently there was only one rotating flavor at a time in the past). One of the rotating flavors when I was there was “grasshopper fudge,” which is a mint base with fudge chunks. I got a cup of that, which was also delicious.

Sign in front of Kopp’s

After having enjoyed my Kopp’s frozen custard, I caught the bus back downtown. It was starting to cloud over, so I figured that would be a good chance to check out the Grohmann museum, a museum about art related to labor and industry (and one of the only museums open on a Tuesday). The museum was pretty cool, featuring a rooftop sculpture garden and a massive amount of paintings. The paintings dated from the 17th century (that’s the earliest I remember anyway) to 2020 and featured all sorts of industries. Pretty cool museum, worth a visit.

After leaving the museum, I walked around downtown a bit. One particularly interesting detail is that The Hop isn’t electrified for its entire length, operating on battery power for one stretch. I caught a video of a streetcar raising its pantograph:

The Hop streetcar raising its pantograph at City Hall
Eastbound train at Historic Third Ward
The Hop streetcar at Historic Third Ward

Eventually, for dinner, I headed to the Milwaukee Public Market for dinner and got dinner at the Foltz Family Market, a BBQ cheddar burger with fries. Also amazing; I definitely ate well on this trip. After dinner, I walked around downtown for a while longer and photographed some more stuff.

Wells Street Bridge raised
Raised bridge at Wells Street
Milwaukee City Hall tower
Milwaukee City Hall

For my third and final day, I headed to Discovery World in the morning. I first visited it within a year of it opening, in the winter of 2006. It was interesting seeing it from the perspective of an adult vs. a kid and also what’s changed vs. what hasn’t changed. It’s still definitely a cool museum, featuring a bunch of different exhibits about science, technology, and engineering as well as an aquarium and an old restored ship. Also definitely a worthwhile trip for anyone traveling to Milwaukee.

After leaving Discovery World, I headed south to photograph the Allen-Bradley clock tower.

Allen-Bradley clock tower from the east
Allen-Bradley clock tower

It was cloudy so the colors were a bit dull, but I can only ask for so much. With that photo in the bag I started heading back downtown, only to be interrupted by a sudden onset of rain. Of course of all things I forgot to pack, I forgot my umbrella. I stood under a bridge for a while hoping to wait out the rain.

The underside of a bridge where I tried to wait out the rain

After about an hour under the bridge and the rain giving no signs of letting up, I figured I had to leave somehow. I ended up timing it so I was able to get to a nearby bus stop only about two minutes before the bus arrived, so I avoided being totally drenched. Once I got back downtown, I got dinner at Smoke Shack.

Smoke Shack

Being originally from North Carolina, I wanted to see what sort of barbecue game they had in Milwaukee. The building was clearly supposed to mimic the shacks you see down south, but unlike those this was definitely a well-constructed modern building, as opposed to an actual shack. This was definitely a more upscale place trying to pull off a “casual southern” vibe. All that aside, the food there (I got a pulled pork sandwich) was also excellent (as a former North Carolinian, I approve). I also got a “pecan pie in a glass” cocktail to go with my food:

“Pecan pie in a glass” cocktail

After finishing dinner, I waited out the rain a bit longer in the public market seating area, then headed back to the Amtrak station to catch the train home. Unlike the journey north, the journey south was pretty quiet. Very few people on the train. I guess that’s what happens with an evening train on a Wednesday.

Almost empty railcar

We pulled into Chicago Union Station right on time, but interestingly came in on one of the run-through tracks and unloaded on the southern side of the station.

Hiawatha and another Amtrak train at Chicago Union Station
Hiawatha (left) on the southern tracks of Chicago Union Station

My guess is that since this was the last run of the night, they were going to take it to the Amtrak yard, which is located south of Union Station. Anyway, I headed back home. Walking through downtown Chicago was a bit of a shock though, since I headed through several blocks surrounded by skyscrapers. While Milwaukee definitely had tall buildings, they are nowhere near as tall and there are nowhere near as many as in Chicago. Anyway, I made it to Monroe and caught the Red Line home.

Overall, a fun trip! This was my first major vacation in the past year, and it was nice to get out for a bit. Milwaukee is also a pretty cool city and while this wasn’t my first time there, it was my first time really experiencing the city itself rather than the city just being a meeting place.