On a rainy day, you can smell the Sheridan station on the Red Line before the train doors open.
The smell is of wet wood and soggy corn chips, mixed with pigeon guano. Don't let it overpower you — or it will add to your vertigo as you look down those steep, narrow stairs.
Now that the Wilson station on the Red Line is getting a $203 million makeover, "Getting Around" readers picked Sheridan in Lakeview as the grungiest stop on the CTA.
"It's old, and while old doesn't mean BAD, it's not old in that charming sort of vintage way, but old in the 'how is this thing still standing' way," said Kristie Lauborough of the Sheridan stop.
Brenda Butler, who has used the stop for 30 years, tells of trash dropped into the dark spaces along the steps and never retrieved. "The same trash has been there for years," Butler said.
The Wilson station north of Sheridan is scheduled to be finished by the end of this year, while the Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn and Bryn Mawr stations are slated for rebuilding as part of the $2.1 billion first phase of Red and Purple Modernization, set to start in late 2018.
All of these stations are over a century old, so why isn't Sheridan getting rehabilitated, too? It has not had a major renovation since 1930. CTA spokesman Brian Steele said Sheridan would most likely be part of the second phase of the Red-Purple Line modernization, which is not yet funded.
Rebuilding Sheridan will be a "challenge," he said, because it is hemmed in tightly by buildings, and because it is built on an "S" curve.
The runner-up for cruddiest station is Division on the Blue Line in West Town. The Division station looks like a set for a gangster movie showdown — dingy and dank, with pools of standing water caused by leaks in the ceiling, and black water stains on the walls.
Steele said the Division stop will be rehabilitated as part of an upcoming stage of the "Your New Blue" project. The phase will include the Grand and Chicago stations, for a total cost of about $40 million. The CTA promises repairs to the walls, escalators, lighting and furniture, among other improvements. Design will begin in 2018, and construction will start in early 2019, Steele said.
Readers also had opinions about the smelliest, prettiest and rudest stations on our "L" system. Below are the picks — some chosen by readers, some by "Getting Around."
Smelliest — O'Hare on the Blue Line
Several readers complained that this stop often smells of urine. I smelled disinfectant. "It's the busiest station along the branch, and we do have crews that regularly maintain it," Steele said. This stop, designed by the architecture firm of Murphy/Jahn, is lovely in a modern way, with curving, glass block walls lit from behind by colored lights.
Prettiest — Conservatory-Central Park Drive on the Green Line
This station was reconstructed in 2001 from architectural components of the old Homan station, built in 1893. The style is Queen Anne, with Victorian gothic elements, painted in greens and white. It is a beautiful station all around, as even the bases of the pillars on the street are decorated with glass-tile flowers. It also has the best view, with the Garfield Park Conservatory to the north and the Golden Dome field house to the south.
Coolest ceiling — California on the Blue Line
The ceiling of the California Blue Line station is covered in resin mosaic tiles depicting water lilies. Called "Harmony of the World" by artist Patrick McGee, the blue, white and golden design makes riders look up, instead of at their feet. The 2015 installation is one of more than 60 pieces of sculpture, painting, tile and other artworks around the system.
Most clueless riders — Damen on the Blue; Addison on the Red
Last week, I noted that if people are behaving badly on the Blue Line — taking up two seats, talking too loudly on the phone — it's a good bet they're getting off at Damen. Several readers agreed, and also suggested the Addison stop on the Red Line, and some Lakeview stops on the Brown.
It may be that some riders at these stops are new to city living, and do not know that good public transit manners include moving away from doors and putting your backpack at your feet if the train is crowded.
Last week, I spotted a group of young women standing in front of the open doors of a train at Addison, all looking at their phones and not getting on. A harried commuter shooed them onto the train as though they were geese.
Chattiest riders — Illinois Medical District on the Blue and Polk on the Pink
Both of these stops let off near large hospitals, including Rush University Medical Center, so you see many riders wearing scrubs who seem to know each other. You hear a lot of conversations at these stops, and large groups leaving or entering the trains at once.
Busiest spot for pigeons — Irving Park on the Blue Line
Set under the Kennedy Expressway, this station is a huge gathering spot for what some city dwellers call "rats with wings." The number of pigeons perched on and above the sidewalk at this station can cause Hitchcockian paranoia, even among bird-lovers.
Best spot for earplugs — Montrose on the Blue Line
All "L" stops set along expressways are noisy, but reader Jon Osada nominated Montrose on the Blue as the worst, because of its location right where the Kennedy Expressway breaks off into Edens Expressway. He's right — the "whoosh" of traffic is unbearable after five minutes. I tried asking a fellow commuter how she stands it, but she couldn't hear me.
Coolest artwork — 18th Street on the Pink Line
Set in the Pilsen neighborhood, the 18th Street station on the Pink Line is covered with colorful, Mexican-themed murals — temples and gods, farmers in fields, musicians, skeletons and a mourning Madonna. Even the stair risers are painted. The 1998 work is credited to artist Francisco Mendoza, Gallery 37 students and the Mexican Museum of National Art. It is free of graffiti — the neighborhood takes pride in the station and does not mess with the art. You can buy a warm churro at the entrance, to eat as you enjoy the murals.
Most potential, Part 1 — 95th Street on the Red Line
The CTA is spending $280 million on reconstructing the 95th Street terminal, expected to be completed in 2018. It will include the largest public art project in the agency's history by internationally famous Theaster Gates.
The new station will provide better access to buses and could also be the starting point of a new branch of the Red Line — a 5.3-mile extension from 95th Street to 130th Street, to carry the "L" into an area community advocates call a transit desert. The $2.3 billion project is in the planning phases and does not have a funding source. The Trump administration's 2018 budget proposal does not favor spending federal money for new transit projects.
Most potential, Part 2 — Garfield on the Green
One of the oldest on the system, the Garfield station on the Green Line was first built as part of South Side Rapid Transit's extension to the World's Columbian Exposition in 1892. A $50 million project will restore the original brick station house on the south side of Garfield Boulevard, and add other station improvements, such as extensions to the platform canopies. Construction will start next year and be completed at the end of 2019, with art by Nick Cave, according to Steele.
Start each day with Chicago Tribune editors' top story picks, delivered to your inbox.
Most pleasant — Francisco on the Brown Line
There's a mosaic of hand-cut marble called "Carpet" by artist Ellen Harvey on the walkway into this ground-level station. Set in the bucolic Ravenswood Manor neighborhood, it feels like a stop in a small town.
Station with a unicorn — Forest Park on the Blue Line
It's not the fanciest station, but it's friendly and comfortable, with blue tile on the walls, and wide wooden benches. There's an urban version of a unicorn here — two pay phones that actually work. There's no phone booth, so Clark Kent can't change into Superman, but you can't have everything.
I also got recommendations for best and worst Metra stops, which will be the subject of another column.
Image 1 of 16
Twopassengers pause April 7, 2017, on their way out of the 18th Street Pink Line "L" station, home to colorfulMexican-themed murals credited to artist Francisco Mendoza, Gallery 37 students and the Mexican Museum of National Art. (Abel Uribe / Chicago Tribune)