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Is the New Oakton Stop Paying Off For Downtown Skokie?

About six weeks have gone by since the grand opening of the new CTA Oakton Stop near downtown Skokie. See how many people are boarding the station daily and hear what local business owners are saying.

The CTA, the Village of Skokie and local businesses are all rating the Oakton Yellow Line station an unqualified success in its first month-plus of operation.

Since opening April 30, the two-entrance station has averaged 689 daily riders, said CTA spokesperson Catherine Hosinski. No figures were available for passengers debarking.

However, anecdotal evidence suggests riders are patronizing downtown Skokie businesses, a key goal of village planners. Skokie spokesman Ann Tennes specifically cited the reopened Skokie Theater - - and the new , 4933 Oakton St., as destinations for Yellow Line patrons.

And Crafty Beaver, adjoining the station to the west, is taking advantage CTA traffic with Tuesday discounts for those presenting their transit cards.

The station is part of an overall growth in Yellow Line ridership, Hosinski said.

“While we cannot speculate as to what increases in ridership will be seen with the addition of the new Oakton Street station, in recent years there has been a steady increase in ridership year-over-year,” she said.

“Prior to groundbreaking for the station in 2010, there was a 5 percent increase in the total number of boardings along the Yellow Line compared to 2009," she added. "And in the past two years, CTA ridership has continued to grow along the Yellow Line and across the entire rail system.”

Boardings better than expected?

Steve Marciani, planning supervisor in Skokie’s community development department, said long-range ridership numbers were run for 2020 and beyond, when the nearby Illinois Science and Technology Park is supposed to be fully occupied. Short-term, the boardings may have exceeded expectations.

“I’m very happy with the number,” Marciani  said. “I was telling people after the first year there would be 800 to 1,000 boardings (daily). I was really surprised it was that high (nearly 700) from opening day. That’s a good starting number. We’re seeing new riders (not formerly boarding at the Dempster terminal)."

“To be within 100 boardings of that (800) number is excellent,” said Tennes.

Skokie will have an official celebration of the new station on site from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, June 24.

The station opening was perfect timing for the May 5 start of business for Aw Yeah Comics. Store manager Marc Hammond and employee Charles Bowman said “dozens” of customers have specifically used the station to come to the store from Chicago’s North Side.

“Some have said they’re using the train instead of driving because of parking issues in downtown,” said Bowman. No other comic book store is known to exist on the far North Side or in Evanston. Although there is a comic shop in downtown Winettka near the Metra station.

What people are saying -

The station is especially convenient for Skokie Park District employee Eric Robinson, who was visiting Aw Yeah Comics recently.

A resident of the near-Southwest Side Pilsen neighborhood, Robinson takes three El lines to his job at the park facility adjoining Oakton Pool, across Skokie Boulevard from the station. In the past, Robinson would get off at Dempster and use his skateboard, which he toted in the store, to finish his commute to Oakton.

“It’s absolutely more convenient,” Robinson said. “I used to ‘roll’ (for five minutes) from Dempster.  Taking the bus was a bit of a wait.”

Hammond, who lives near Loyola University in Rogers Park, also formerly got off at Dempster Street. The new station eliminates his 20-minute walk to Aw Yeah to stock the store before its opening.

With a sign next to one plugging the June 24 village event near the station entrance, Crafty Beaver promoted a 10-percent off program on all purchases up to $100 each Tuesday for customers showing their transit cards.

The CTA knows the long-term growth potential for the Oakton station is enormous.

“This steady increase in ridership combined with the fact that new station would be located adjacent to the Illinois Science and Technology Park ... indicated that there would be a continued growing need for access to reliable public transit,” said Hosinski.

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Lori Lippitz June 20, 2012 at 12:59 AM
This is a very upbeat article. I'd be interested in two things: 1) If there will be any plan to make it possible to park and ride from this stop. 2) If the Skokie Police have witnessed any uptick in crime in the vicinity since the station opened. I noticed three crimes so far in the blotter, but I don't know if that's within the average range.
Michael Patrick June 20, 2012 at 02:38 AM
In case you didn't notice, the new Yellow Line stop is for a CTA train. It exists so the CTA can collect money from the riders when they BOARD the train. That alone is what opened the stop. They know how many riders usually get on at Dempster and how many usually get on at Howard. If the total number of riders getting on doesn't go up at one of them whileat least staying level at the other, the new station will be a failure. The CTA cares not a whit about how many riders get off the train at Oakton. Their ball, their bat, their rules.
David Zornig June 20, 2012 at 04:00 AM
@Michael Patrick, the numbers of riders exiting at Oakton was never something I expected from the CTA. It is something I expected from the Village, who fought for 5+ years to get the station built after multiple delays. Built on the specific premise of it's boost to downtown area. Coincidentally the focus of the article. Exit numbers could easily be attainable by posting Summer Youth workers with clicker counters outside of each of the exits during the day. The CTA need not be involved. The resulting numbers would then help prove up the success of the stations impact on the downtown area. As well as arming the Village with data, if the CTA ever threatened to close it down, again. Which it could, since there was originally a station there that was closed due to decreased ridership. By the CTA's own numbers, way back then. Shoppers coming TO Downtown Skokie is what matters, more than those taking the train out of here. I doubt the CTA would have moved forward, if they didn't think it would eventually prove profitable versus their other stops. And that of the parallel bus traffic it partially replaces. (Riders staying on instead of grabbing the 97 bus at Howard.) Hypothetically, if 1000 people exit from the Oakton stop into the downtown area during the day, we'll never know the comparison to the 689 who left. Do you see the logic now?
Michael Patrick June 20, 2012 at 04:18 AM
David, we are actually talking about the same thing. WE care about people getting OFF to patronize Skokie establishments. The CTA (who operates the Yellow Line) cares about people paying fares. In order to keep the station alive, on which should we focus?
David Zornig June 20, 2012 at 12:10 PM
Yes Michael, we are. The Village should make the effort to specifically document the number of exiting riders from the new station into downtown. At least for the 1st few months. That data can then be used to help promote the downtown to potential businesses. Without it, only the paid fare numbers exist. If the exiting numbers are much higher, we'll never know it and can't use it to our advantage. I closed my store on Oakton after 2 years. Lack of foot traffic was one of many factors. Were I to look to reopen in downtown, I would want to know those numbers. Other businesses will too. It seems like such a critical aspect that has been overlooked. And so easy to collect. The comparison to those existing on the Skokie Blvd. side would also be helpful. That could help determine residential users versus visiting shoppers. P.S. @Mike Reid, Pat's Place didn't close due to mediocre food. The food was actually better and more affordable than Annie's. Pat was essentially forced out due to increased rent, and needed repairs that were unattended too. She intends to reopen, but it won't be in Skokie.

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