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Brown Line Closure in Hispanic Nabe: All CTA Outreach in English

(Although thousands of Brown Line riders are Hispanics who speak little English, the CTA’s Brown Line Capacity Expansion Project website includes no Spanish content whatsoever).

As it said it would, the CTA on Monday implemented the first of its long-term Brown Line station closures in support of the current Brown Line Capacity Expansion Project. You’re well familiar with these closures, I’m sure. They’re the ones that the CTA repeatedly promised local communities and Aldermen wouldn’t happen– until the agency discovered it had royally screwed up the project’s cost estimates and never really had the money to keep the stations open during the project to begin with.

Well, it gets better. One of the first stations to be temporarily shuttered: Kedzie, in the heart of Chicago’s Albany Park Hispanic community. The language spoken by 40% of Kedzie’s L riders: Spanish. The language that 100% of the CTA’s informational flyers, brochures, and on-board and station posters were printed in: English.

According to a Chicago Tribune article from Monday, on the first day of the closures a steady stream of Spanish-speaking riders approached the Kedzie L stop, completely unaware of the long-term closure. Although the CTA had created Spanish translations of its outreach documents, none were ever actually distributed or posted on the CTA.

Instead, Spanish-language documents were distributed to local community groups and Spanish-language newspapers–a claim flatly disputed by the editors at Hoy. Assuming for a moment that CTA did contact the major Spanish dailies, this sounds like a great supplemental outreach strategy to me. But it’s a pretty poor replacement for the most obvious and probably most useful approach–putting materials in stations and L cars where riders would be guaranteed to see them in the languages that riders at those stations speak.

Not only is this not rocket science, but according to the Trib, prior to the closings the CTA’s own Inspector General told the agency that many Spanish-speaking riders were still unaware of the impending closure at Kedzie, where more than 40% of riders speak Spanish. Hmm. Hispanics account for slightly more than 30% of Chicago residents, yet the CTA saw fit to distribute information about last January’s fare increase in Spanish. Does it take a genius to realize that a station where almost half of your ridership speaks Spanish deserves at least one flyer in Spanish, too?

Just last week, CTA President Frank Kruesi announced a sweeping reorganization of West Side service by crowing about how his agency used NYC Transit best practices for planning the new service. Here’s a hint for Mr. Kruesi: check out NYC Transit’s best practices for community outreach, while you’re at it. Because there isn’t one station closure that has been implemented in New York City in the past 10 years without a full court press of multi-lingual outreach materials showing up in affected lines and stations.

As a designated representative of NYC transit riders, for four years I sat in on the community focus groups that tested these materials and it was astounding how seriously NYC Transit took its responsibility to ensure that riders with little English were informed in their native languages about planned service disruptions. All types of planned service disruptions from occasional weekend station closures to years-long rebuilding projects are supported by outreach documents in the languages spoken by the majority of affected riders.

And it all happens without the MTA Inspector General having to point out to NYC Transit President Larry Reuter that 40% of his affected riders can’t read the flyers.

Categories: Chicago Transit Authority TRANSIT

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Michael Thaddeus Doyle

I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.

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1 reply

  1. As a former New Yorker, you should remember that public transportation in big cities is a take it or leave it proposition with little or no debate on issues favoring passenger comfort or support. Heck, the fact that the CTA had to go all the way to Wisconsin to find an articulate enough voice for all their automated announcements should tell you just how poorly the CTA communicates. The CTA can’t think outside the box for anything.

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