Elevating Chicago

Transportation Archives

Getting to 2040 with Meat AND Pudding

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Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

I got into a twitter argument conversation (ugh, I shudder at that phrase) with Lindsay Banks of CMAP over my post yesterday.  Such is the limit of the 140 character medium that I want to take a moment now to expand a bit, as it's possible there's a big BRT announcement coming up that would otherwise shelve this important discussion.

Here's the situation: GoTo2040's capital projects are broken up into two sections: fiscally constrained and fiscally unconstrained.  Constrained projects are those which CMAP has deemed worthy of funding from the (projected) limited dollars over the next 3 decades, while unconstrained are those other projects which CMAP has decided do not warrant our attention for now.*  I posited that CMAP is being too narrow minded in how they plan to use capital projects to help us reach their vision for the region--a vision I agree with.  As Lindsay said, CMAP revises the study in 5 4 years anyway, so if the fiscal outlook is rosier in 2015, unconstrained projects could edge toward reality.

But, with apologies to Pink Floyd, this is the point I was trying to make: funding the priority projects is almost all meat (higher gas taxes, more tolling, etc.), while the unconstrained projects [pdf] are--or at least in my view should be--the pudding for Chicagoland.  We can't have our pudding--projects like the Heritage Corridor or the Mid-City Transitway (which goes suspiciously missing in the bullet-point list on page 197 because it's listed as part of the Cook-DuPage Corridor) if we don't eat our meat first--fix the system we've got.  But what incentive do we have to eat our meat if there's no pudding at the end?  (This is especially true considering we have politicians who tend to worry about their re-election chances more than the long term health of the region.)

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Mmmmm... Meat and pudding


So what would I like to see in the draft that isn't there now? (Beside the Mid-City Transitway?) Two things.  First, a more complete, prioritized description of the unconstrained projects.  CMAP includes a brief paragraph on the Illiana, Metra Southeast, Metra STAR, and Cook-DuPage Corridor projects.  Are these the top four unconstrained projects or merely four they chose to expand on and itemized in alphabetical order?  Secondly, are the unconstrained projects off the table until every priority project is finished?  If gas prices really spike in the next 2-3 years (to, say, $5.50/gallon), do we really want to add lanes to I-94, I-80, I-88, and managed lanes to I-55 before expanding Metra's reach?  I suppose that's what the 2015 revision is for, but I'd rather see the professionals at CMAP give us even a rough outline of these contingencies than wait and let politicians decide these matters.

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*Note: I'm reserving the right to comment on the inclusion of certain projects over others on the constrained list.  I'm trying to get the numbers to work out and want to take my time and get this right.  It's coming though, and in the meantime I just wanted to make clear that I'm not demanding we do all the unconstrained projects--just that they be given a higher profile in the draft plan.  Hope this makes everything copacetic.

Go To 2040...Better (Part II)

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Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

Sorry for the recent lack of publishing.  There are likely some changes around here on the horizon, but we'll get to that later.  Today, I'd like to post the second part of my review of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning's (CMAP) draft Go To 2040 Plan, available online here.  Today I'm looking at the overall vision of their section on Regional Mobility.  I'll get into the specifics of the projects they include (and some they don't) in part III.

"Symptoms of decline include the dehumanizing effects of ever-worsening traffic congestion, painful cuts to public transit, a backlog of deferred maintenance on roads and bridges, and antiquated buses, trains, and stations. Inadequate investment in transportation infrastructure is partly to blame. But ballooning costs, inefficient investment decisions, and a lack of consensus about priorities are at least equally at fault, and maybe more so."  --Go To 2040 Draft, page 152.

That's about as concise a description of the challenge we as a metropolitan area face as I've ever seen.  The next step is figuring out what to do about it.  There are two fundamental questions driving Chicago's transportation choices in this document, though neither is explicitly stated as such.  One, considering the expected demographic changes to the area, how do we want everyone to get where they're going?  Then, based on the answer to that question, how do we pay for the maintenance, improvement, and creation of the infrastructure necessary to make it happen?

CMAP answers the first question largely by arguing for more of the same investments we've seen in the last few decades.  I understand--and agree with--the current ethos of "fix it first," so it's good to see GOTO2040 make the call to "prioritize efforts to maintain and modernize the existing system."  (p. 152) But I refuse to believe that it'll take 30 years to bring the current system up to a state of good repair.  And even so, I don't see the wisdom in simply reinforcing the system that has brought us to our current combination of crippling congestion and unsustainable sprawl.

In fact, CMAP agrees with this idea.  On page 156, they proclaim: "The region should strive toward fostering an environment...where ease of mobility is ensured and where car ownership is not a requirement for living, working, and recreation."  Currently, car ownership is a necessity in the majority of Chicagoland, including large swaths of the city itself.  Without a bold plan to expand non-auto transportation options, that plainly won't change.

I realize most of the current fiscal situation augurs against bold planning.  The status quo in Illinois currently allocates 55% 45% of transportation funding to Chicagoland, despite the area being an economic engine much greater than this percentage.   Most other funding mechanisms need federal (or at the very least state) backing to be productive.  The federal gas tax has been stuck at 19 cents since 1993, and needs to be increased and pegged to inflation.  As cars become more efficient though, that tax will yield less and less revenue, so finding a replacement is a necessity.

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To that end, CMAP backs a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) fee, though cautions it must be "implemented carefully" so it is not regressive or overly burdensome on the freight industry.  Performance parking (changing metered rates throughout the day with the aim of continually filling 85% of the spots in a particular area) can be implemented locally, but without adequate transit options to help people reach these areas it can cripple nearby businesses.  Most promising though is congestion pricing.  Whether it means turning some expressway lanes into High Occupancy-Toll (HOT) lanes or implementing a central area charge similar to London's, a well-run congestion effort could do wonders for Chicagoland's transportation infrastructure.

Basically, CMAP is using today's bleak economy to hamstring the next 30 years worth of planning  Every demand-side indicator--a growing population, especially of aging boomers and more auto-hesitant millenials, which is inclined toward good transit and other green transportation--says a bold vision would be welcomed.  Instead, we're given "more comfortable and attractive trains, buses and stations, traveler information systems, state of the art pavement materials with longer life spans, signal timing improvements, bus stop improvements, corridor upgrades" (pg 165).

All of these are great ideas, and will certainly help the system.  But every single one (with the exception of info systems and the nebulous "corridor upgrades") is a small-bore, relatively inexpensive change that can be phased in as current infrastructure needs replacing.  If we're going to convince people to elect leaders who will do things like enact congestion pricing, we need to give these politicians a vision they can sell that's greater than "more attractive trains."  There's nothing a politician loves more than ribbon cutting photo-ops.  The question is what's behind the ribbon between now and 2040.

21st Century Mobility for Chicago

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Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

Last night I had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion on "21st Century Mobility" at the Goethe Institute in Washington, DC.  (Note they actually pronounce it 'Ger-te' there, not the real way of 'Go-thee' like we do.)  David Alpert of Greater Greater Washington and Professor Ralph Buehler of Virginia Tech were the speakers, and it was a great way to spend an evening.  They filmed the session, but I haven't yet seen it posted anywhere--I'll update if I find it (let me know if you do!) The discussion mostly focused on activities in DC and throughout Germany, but they touched on a lot of widely applicable ideas.  DC is a mess when it comes to overlapping jurisdictions, and Germany obviously doesn't have the same governmental structure, so only some of them can really be applied to Chicago.




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My Father, Walking the Walk (and Biking the Bike)

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Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

For as long as I've been alive (and I believe longer than that), my Father has practiced what Scott and I have been preaching here for only a few months.  Despite living in Chicago's suburbs, he has transit access comparable to anywhere in the city, and he takes full advantage.  He rides his bike a mile and a half each way to the Metra station.  (Try as he might, he can't convince me it's uphill both ways.)  His briefcase and (if he's working out that day) gym bag fit easily into his saddle bags.  He rides in his work clothes--which sometimes means a suit--and so he usually goes at a comfortable pace.  His reflective vest may look dorky, but the streets near our house aren't lit as well as Chicago's, so it's a necessity, especially in the winter when the sun is only in the sky for a few hours.  He'll ride in the rain and the cold, but tries to avoid the snow--not because he can't, but because he doesn't trust drivers.

He's always worked in the loop, so it's just a quick walk from the train station to his office--again, rain or shine.  Sure, this is all a lifestyle choice for him, though I've never heard him say it in those terms.  He doesn't proselytize about any of it--it's just what he does.  He has a car because not all of his weekend errands can be done on foot or bike--though some can.  It's a hybrid, but that was an economic decision as much as anything else--same goes for upgrading our house's A/C system.

When I was about 11, he patiently explained to me that State & Madison was the center of the universe, and told me the next time I came downtown to visit him at work I was on my own to get to him.  It helped that he drew me the most detailed map I'd ever seen--I think it included cardinal directions, wayfinding landmarks, addresses, and even how many paces it would take, as if I was seeking buried treasure.  I found my way, and realized as time went by that there were a number of different ways to get to him and got to explore a little slice of the city--hooray for a robust street grid!

Do I wish he'd wear a helmet? Yes, but old dog/new tricks and all that.  Does he roll stop signs? Yep.  But fortunately our home town's street design doesn't encourage reckless speeding and aren't so busy that it's dangerous.  Could he convince more people around us to do what he does if he'd stop being so unassuming about it? Probably, but they're all old dogs with their own old tricks, too.  Would it be a better place if more people realized how easy it is to make actions like this a lifetime habit?  Absolutely.

Happy Father's Day, Dad.

The Chicago Brand

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shymen

I've lived all over the country and world, my background is in International Affairs, Political Science, and Economics, and I'm a Chicago boy born and bred.

To our readers' enjoyment, I'm going to argue with Ted some more about the new bike rack plan.  I agree with some of Ted's arguments (I'd have nothing wrong with an initial test run), on other points, however, we don't see eye to eye.

First, the little things.  I do enjoy the classic-ness of the street signs of San Francisco, but if you're going to make the argument that one similar style of street signs equates to a city brand, then you're going to be talking about most cities.  Chicago streets signs, though ugly, are all green and white (except for our honorary street signs, which too can be a brand of the city: honorary streets - go street names of people nobody has heard of).  When it comes down to it, when I think of SF, I think of the Golden Gate Bridge or the Trans Am building, and when tourists think of Chicago they think of the Bean or the Sears Tower.  So even though I think decorative bike racks will bring tourists to Chicago, it's not because of the uniqueness of the brand image it makes on Chicago.


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An Engineer's Aesthetic

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Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

Perhaps I'm in the minority on this issue.  (It wouldn't be the first time.)  Perhaps my stubborn preference for subtle consistency is preventing me from full-throated support of a worthy city program.  Whatever it is, I find myself disagreeing with Scott's post yesterday about the new artsy bike rack program.  I understand that it is a program which combines support for local arts with livable infrastructure at a minimal cost to the city.  I'm just not convinced it's the right thing to do.

I look at this program and don't see Cows on Parade or the city couches.  I see a piece of infrastructure which should be distributed equitably around the city that will instead go only where patrons will finance it.  A bike rack is no different than a car's parking space.  As the city's parking meters have gone the way of the dodo--drastically slashing the available bike parking throughout the city--we're losing a public good and hoping for private funds to pick up the slack.  I know that they will in certain parts of the city, but those aren't the only parts of the city where residents should be able to reach their destination without worrying about finding a secure place to lock their bike up.

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Also, as much as I hate the word, a bike rack is an easy opportunity for branding.  Many cities have a subtle piece of infrastructure which becomes iconic by its ubiquity.  Think of New York City's yellow taxicabs, or San Francisco's black and white street signs, or even suburban Evanston's slender black street lamps.  Each of these is particular to its place, and immediately gives residents and visitors a sense of place--no small feat in today's mass produced world.
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The New C-Pass's Impending Failure, or: Why Federal Policy Matters [UPDATED]

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Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

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The Chicago Transit Board approved a pilot program for a Convention Pass, or C-Pass, at last week's Board Meeting.  It's a simple $3/day pass that will be sold in bulk to convention organizers, who will then pass out the passes to attendees before they arrive.  I have no qualms with the program, and like that the CTA is using a targeted pilot program to get a handle on a revenue source which, judging by the low price, is currently untapped.  Implementing the program in such a way so that convention-goers will have the pass in hand before they arrive at O'Hare or Midway is exactly what has to happen to keep rental cars from clogging McCormick Place's already overused parking lots.

But here's the rub (there's always one in this city): the only way to use the C-Pass to actually get to or from McCormick Place is the 129 bus which only runs during weekday rush hours, and never ventures north of Washington in the loop.  This bus does run by many of the hotels used by convention-goers, but its limited hours gives them little flexibility--the hallmark of useful transitUPDATE: the 3 and 21 buses also run to McCormick Place, my mistake.  I don't believe this undermines my point, but it certainly shows that as the C-Pass gets distributed, the CTA and convention organizers should be sure to point out which bus lines connect attendees' hotels with the convention.

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Trying to Cross the Road, but Kept from Reaching the Other Side

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Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

One of the advantages of the Chicago street grid is that it allows for mixed-use neighborhoods even if individual properties are not mixed-use.  You can see how this works in practice by looking at a typical quarter-mile square like the one on the northwest side bordered by Belmont, Cicero, Diversey, and Laramie below.  On the major streets there are almost exclusively commercial and business uses (zoned in blue and pink, respectively,) while the interior blocks are residential (the tan "RS-3" tag.)  Although not ideal, this still means that with the right mix of stores, a local resident's needs can be taken care of with a quarter-mile walk in any direction.

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Image courtesy Chicago Zoning Map, http://maps.cityofchicago.org/website/zoning/


In practice though, the major streets are not commercial corridors which allow walkability.  Really, Chicago's street design encourages residents not to cross their nearest arterial, no matter how enticing the retail possibilities are on the other side.  The city's stance on arterials completely ignores the existence of the non-driving public in its official Street Design Standards [pdf, emphasis mine]:

"The arterial streets are intended to provide for the movement of large volumes of through traffic and commercial traffic for longer distances, while local streets are intended primarily for the provision of access to adjacent property."

You can see--and have probably felt--the results whenever you've come to an intersection where a local street meets an arterial.

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Fisking Andres Duany

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Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

"The teenagers and young people in Miami come in from the suburbs to the few town centers we have, and they come in like locusts.  They make traffic congestion all night; they come in and take up the parking.  They ruin the retail and they ruin the restaurants, because they have different habits than older folks.  I have seen it.  They're basically eating up the first-rate urbanism.  They have this techno music, and the food cheapens, and they run in packs, great social packs, and they take over a place and ruin it and go somewhere else."

"I've known for 10 years about this destructive monoculture that's condensed in the suburbs.  These people would normally be buying real estate by now.  And we designed for them.  We kept saying 'aha, these kids, between 24 and 35, will be buying real estate." But guess what? They aren't.  Because they can't afford it.  But they're still using the cities--they're renting and so forth.  These gen-Xers also discovered the cities-they're buying in a proper way.  The Millennials are the ones we're talking about.  And they love cities desperately. And they're loving them to death."

Andres Duany is a man whose time has come and gone.  In the 1970s he founded New Urbanism, and helped set the stage for the revitalization of cities we're seeing across America today.  Unfortunately, when asked to survey the current state of affairs to The Atlantic's "Future of the City" project, he gave the two responses you see above. Here he is, complaining that Urbanism has essentially sold out, and the people that like it now and use it and live in it don't get it.  In fact, he sounds an awful lot like the apartment-renting hipsters he hates so much, who sigh that they knew about all the cool bands "before they were big."

If he'd only given the first quote in isolation, I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt.  He's essentially lamenting the bridge-and-tunnel nightlife of Miami, where kids drive into town and don't really heed the culture that's already there.  If he's complaining about teenage mallrats who have chosen to run around in urban neighborhoods instead, that's an argument that might have merit.  Still though, to complain that they congest traffic and take up the parking is to forget what he's worked his whole life for: urbanism that allows people to come from far and wide to enjoy a new part of town entirely without a car.  If these kids require a car to get there it is not their fault--the city has failed to build the infrastructure necessary to sustain Mr. Duany's urbanism.  Even more importantly, to complain that they're ruining things simply by dint of being of a different generation, one that has "different habits than older folks" and enjoys "this techno music" is to engage in petty, get-off-my-lawn-you-darned-kids fogeyism.

Tragically, the second quote makes no mistake about Mr. Duany's misunderstanding of the world as it is.  He's right that a destructive monoculture has condensed in the suburbs--it's exactly why all these people around my age lust for the vibrancy and diversity of cities!  Part of that destructive monoculture though is the direct result of people buying houses on large lots at the end of cul-de-sacs and only coming into the cities for work and the occasional fancy dinner or show.  Instead, our generation has chosen the city for work, for play, for our entire lives.  For the time being--until the supply of walkable urbanism catches up with the demands of our generation--living in cities will be expensive.

Like every generation before us, our lives between college and marriage/children of our own are fluid, and so renting makes more sense.  (Also note that our generation tends to marry and have kids later, so this urbanism-starved age group is growing.)  And besides this fundamental truth about life in your mid-20s, what the hell is "buying in the proper way"?  As best I can tell, mindlessly buying property because it's the "proper" thing to do--whether or not you can really afford it or it makes sense for your station in life--is a direct cause of the housing bubble/crisis we're all enjoying so thoroughly right now.  I'd count our choices in this regard as a net positive for society, and I'm not sure I'd be so eager to celebrate our older Gen X brethren for this.  (I'm also not ready to condemn them, because I haven't seen data that points to whether their home-buying habits are rooted in urbanism or sprawl.)

So, Mr. Duany: welcome to 2010.   When you build walkable urbanism in a dense, diverse city, you don't get despotic control over how it is used and by whom it is used.  That kind of central planning belongs somewhere else you're familiar with: the McMansion-filled subdivisions in the monocultural suburbs and exurbs.  Perhaps you fancy yourself ahead of the curve again and wish to retire there?

Provisional Solutions, not Provisional Leaders

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Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

One of the things I mentioned on Tuesday with regards to Bobby Ware and the direction CDOT needs to take bears explaining a little more.  One of the most important aspects of running a business in the private sector is the notion of "agility."  If a business can't adapt to changing times, they'll go the way of the buggy whip.  Disruptive technologies like the car at the beginning of the 20th century or the internet at the end drove many businesses under and produced new titans of industry.

What does all this have to do with CDOT?  Like businesses, cities have to adapt to changing times.  Cities need diverse economies, a large pool of human capital, and a willingness to try new solutions.  Chicago has the first two and that sets us up to at the very least survive the current upheaval.  But if we want to thrive in the next generation like we're capable of, we're going to have to be creative.

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CDOT's New Chief: A Caretaker When We Need a Leader?

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Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

On Friday, Mayor Daley made a sudden move to head off alleged corruption in the Water Department, but leaves the Department of Transportation in a precarious state.  For almost a year, Thomas Powers was CDOT's acting commissioner--the acting title stuck because of a conflict of interest with area engineering firms--but now he is gone to head up the Water Department.  Bobby Ware, who has been managing deputy commissioner since 2007, will replace Thomas, I would think as acting for at least a time, but I haven't seen any details indicating either way.

Now, I've never met Bobby Ware--in fact, until this little shake-up I'd never even heard of him.  I trust that he's a good man who will do right by the city.  But two things about this situation concern me--one specific to Mr. Ware, and one about the larger effect this may have on the city.  First, my concern with Mr. Ware is one of expertise.  He has only been with CDOT for about 6 years, and spent the decade before that as a lawyer.  Meanwhile, the man he replaces--Thomas Powers--is a registered civil engineer who had been working for CDOT since 1996.  Maybe 6 years in the department is enough to learn how to manipulate the bureaucracy--though my professional experience with bureaucracies on this scale says it's not.

Perhaps some part of Mr. Ware's background really proves this promotion to be the right move--maybe he's a very experienced manager and the department needs that more than lots of technical expertise right now--but then CDOT and the Mayor need to be say that they've given this some thought and aren't just promoting the next in line as a short-term band-aid solution that doesn't actually solve anything.

More broadly, the fact that the city has not had a full-time commissioner since early 2009 says something unfortunate about how Chicago views one of the most vital parts of our infrastructure.  

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Completing Our Streets

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shymen

I've lived all over the country and world, my background is in International Affairs, Political Science, and Economics, and I'm a Chicago boy born and bred.

Today I'd like to add to the post I wrote last Thursday regarding safe routes to school.  My previous post was more or less about how the threat of gang violence has made Chicago students' commute to and from school far too dangerous.  In this post I will talk about how making the route to school safer, as well as more walkable and bikable, will help end an equally as dangerous problem as the gang violence threatening our youth: childhood obesity.

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While You're at it, Gov. Quinn...

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Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

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CNT's Housing vs. H+T Indices on the South Side. Click to Enlarge.


The Pedestrian Safety Act isn't the only bill languishing on Governor Quinn's desk right now that could fundamentally change Chicago's livability for the better.  The Housing + Transportation Affordability Index Act will help citizens and civic leaders make more informed decisions housing decisions.

Back in March, Chicago's own Center for Neighborhood Technology came out with the Housing + Transportation Affordability Index, which quantified a basic truth: we spend a lot of money on transportation, and both how we get around and how far we have to go is a direct result of where we've chosen to live.   So if we're going to talk about a city or neighborhood being "affordable" the current method of only looking at the going rental rates or the latest house sale price is truly folly.

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What? I Have to Stop at Crosswalks?

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shymen

I've lived all over the country and world, my background is in International Affairs, Political Science, and Economics, and I'm a Chicago boy born and bred.

I am going to be a little selfish and write this post 95% for me, and only 5% for you, and that is because a new bill has passed in Illinois, and I want to learn about its implications.  Did you know that last month the Illinois Senate passed a bill that requires motorists to come to a complete stop when a pedestrian enters a crosswalk, even if there are no stoplights or stop signs?  I thought this might have been the case, but I wanted to know for sure, so I dug a little deeper.

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Next Stop... Confluence?

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Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

We're #1!  We're #1!  We have the shortest transit stop names of any of the major systems in the US!  Seriously, why aren't we celebrating this?  Ok, not seriously.  But last week Greater Greater Washington contributor Matt Johnson compared station name lengths around the country to make the point that DC's names are too long.  Meanwhile, L stops have the shortest names in the country averaging just 8.3 characters, almost 2 fewer than Philadelphia's second-ranked SEPTA system.  In fact, our margin is so big, I'd argue we have room to grow our station names and actually increase the clarity of our map.

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Securing the RTA's Fiscal Future: A Land Value Tax?

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Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

Right now, the Regional Transit Authority--the organization which oversees the CTA, Metra, and Pace--is mandated by law to collect 50% of its revenue from fares.  The other 50% is a combination of state and federal grants and assistance, investments, and in particular, sales tax revenue from the 6 county area. (That's Cook, McHenry, Lake, Dupage, Will, and Kane counties.)  As we've seen recently though, sales tax revenue is volatile and cyclical with the economy.  When sales tax receipts fall, the RTA is left in the lurch, often for millions of dollars.  Short-term, there's no great way to fix this without pain.  Now is a great time, however, to introduce a measure that could improve the RTA's financial situation long-term: the Land Value Tax.

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City Knows How to Improve L Station Neighborhoods, Chooses Not To

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Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

One of the most effective ways to solve the last mile problem is transit oriented development, or TOD.  Or, if you're the CTA and the City of Chicago and just want to be different, you call it Transit Friendly Development, and you publish a toothless "guide" to improving the immediate vicinity of L stations around the city.  Without a single mention of "last mile" and putting forth only non-binding zoning considerations, the CTA, CDOT, and the Department of Zoning and Planning (DZLUP) have proven they can effectively give lip service to one of the most fundamental aspects of livability.

Leaving aside (for the moment) the issue of what--if any--actions the city will take going forward, it's important to see exactly what the city is advocating for.  First, the seven "typologies" they've outlined are Downtown Core (DC), Major Activity Center (MC), Local Activity Center (LC), Dense Urban Neighborhood (DN), Urban Neighborhood (UN), Service Employment District (SD), and Manufacturing Employment District (MD).  Stations are labeled not as what they are today, but as what the city sees them as becoming.

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How will we make it the "Last-Mile?"

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shymen

I've lived all over the country and world, my background is in International Affairs, Political Science, and Economics, and I'm a Chicago boy born and bred.

In the past I've done a lot of CTA bashing, and even some Chicago bashing.  I don't intend to seem one sided.  I love my city, and think that as a whole it does many things well.  Today I want to talk about something that Chicago transit does better than some, but if they try hard enough, can do better than most; that is the concept of the "last-mile," in terms of transportation.


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TIGER II: Livable Boogaloo?

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Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

One of the best-received aspects of last year's stimulus was the set of grants known as TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) handed out by the US Department of Transportation.  So well-received, in fact, they're gonna do it again.  It's technically known as the National Infrastructure Investments (NII) program, but Congress--like us all--loves a good sequel, so this new round of grants is known as TIGER II.

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The original TIGER program was a $1.5 billion slice of the $787 billion American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, better known as the stimulus.  Unlike most federal transportation funding, which is earmarked for projects in the home district of influential congressmen, TIGER grants are assigned by a competitive process overseen by the US DOT.  This process tends to favor big city transit projects because they tend to affect more people, whereas normally federal money gets siphoned off through state DOTs, who spend on rural projects to win votes.  TIGER II should be especially be a boon to urban projects in light of the DOT's new "6 Principles of Livability" and the recent repeal of the Bush Administration's rule on cost effectiveness that hamstrung a lot of otherwise worthy transit projects.

During the first TIGER process, more than 1,400 applications were sent in, with 51 receiving funding.  IDOT requested over $2.4 billion, but the only winner in the Chicago area was $100 million (out of a requested $300 million) for the CREATE freight rail decongestion program.  This time, the total pot is only $600 million--$140 million of which must go to rural areas--and any locality would have to match 20% of the federal funds.  This still leaves plenty of room for Chicago's worthy projects to grab its piece of the pie (BRT? Union Station? Almost anything...)

There's also a new wrinkle in TIGER II: it comes connected to the Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) $40 million land-use aid grant program.  DOT and HUD plan on coordinating their efforts so that new projects will connect well to the areas around them.  This seems to bode well for cities like Chicago whose inherent density will mean most transportation projects will connect to commercial, residential, or commercial centers, and where there's plenty of space for new housing developments--especially ones including affordable housing--near multi-mode transportation options.

Applications have to be in by August 23, and winners will be named September 15.  Chicago has plenty of worthy applicants, and hopefully CDOT, the IDOT, and the other relevant authorities will put their best foot forward and bring some of this money home.

Tonight! Capital Improvement Program Public Meeting

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Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

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In 1990 Mayor Daley established the Capital Improvement Program, an annual document that lays out in great detail the next five years of infrastructure projects.  The 2010 plan--which covers 2010-2014--has been drafted by the Capital Improvement Advisory Committee, and invites public comment beginning tonight.  The city says "representatives from the Office of Budget and Management and various City infrastructure departments" will be present at these meetings to discuss the draft with constituents.  After the jump, I'll get into a few of my thoughts on the draft, but here are the dates and locations for the four public meetings.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010:  10th District Police Station, 3315 W. Ogden Avenue
Thursday, April 29, 2010:  Woodson Regional Library, 9525 S. Halsted Street
Tuesday, May 4, 2010:  Southwest Regional Center, 6117 S. Kedzie Avenue
Thursday, May 6, 2010:  16th District Police Station, 5151 N. Milwaukee Avenue 

If you have the time to make it to one of these meetings, it's a great chance to make your voice heard.  So take a look at the document, and help positively impact the built environment of your neighborhood.

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The Idaho Way

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shymen

I've lived all over the country and world, my background is in International Affairs, Political Science, and Economics, and I'm a Chicago boy born and bred.

I've written in the past that bikes need to be considered a form of transportation, but because of this they also need to be regulated like other forms of transportation. Fines and penalties do not necessarily need to be the same values for bikes and cars, but there needs to be more of a deterrent for disobeying traffic signs on a bike.  Portland, Oregon has imposed an interesting idea, which I want to discuss today.

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Bikes, Trains, and not Automobiles

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shymen

I've lived all over the country and world, my background is in International Affairs, Political Science, and Economics, and I'm a Chicago boy born and bred.

I've talked in the past about encouraging more bikers to commute to work, but I've failed to integrate one type of bike commuter; the type that only bikes for part of their commute.  Many people live too far from work to bike the entire distance and instead need to incorporate both their bike and the train as a means of getting to the office.  The Metra and the CTA say they are bike-friendly, but let's fact it, they really aren't.  In this post I will discuss a few ways that both the CTA and Metra can improve the commute for their distance commuters.


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A New Idea: the North Side Connector

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Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

Lately I've been looking over the city's old and new plans for potential bus rapid transit lines.  There's one corridor I haven't seen the city or CTA explore in any studies or plans--an east-west connection on the Far North Side.  Just as a 79th street BRT line -or the Mid-City Transitway (MCT) alignment along a rail right-of-way near 75th--would connect the Far South Side to Midway, a North Side Connector (NSC) could connect the Rogers Park-Loyola area to O'Hare efficiently.

The isolation of Rogers Park is a quirk of land use and political boundaries.  First, the land use: the mile-wide swath of land east of the Edens between Foster and Peterson features a Nature Preserve (the LaBaugh Woods Forest Preserve,) 5 cemeteries (St. Boniface, Bethel, St. Luke, Bohemia National and the enormous Rosehill,) 2 university campuses (Northeastern Illinois and North Park,) and is split almost in half by the North Shore Channel.  Then, there's the quirk of Chicago's border with Lincolnwood, which dives south from Howard all the way to Devon along the canal.

The result is striking: the normally robust Chicago street grid hits all sorts of dead ends, and transit access suffers as a result.  The northernmost bus line that connects the lakefront to the Blue Line is the 92 along Foster.  The 84 along Peterson jogs northwest along Caldwell and never crosses the North Branch of the Chicago River, and the 155 along Devon ends at Kedzie, rather than cross the Canal into Lincolnwood.

There's a solution to this mess, and it lies in abandoned railways, just like the MCT.  In among the weaving highways at the Junction is the old Chicago & Northwestern Railway.  From its merger with the current Union Pacific lines running northwest/southeast at Montrose, it curves north and east with foundations visible as far north as Emerson St. in Evanston.  In order to connect Rogers Park, we'd only need the right-of-way between Lawrence and Devon.  This works very well, as the line makes its southernmost at-grade crossing at Devon just east of Pulaski.



View North Side Connector in a larger map

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(Re-)introducing the Mid-City Transitway

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Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

Abandoned rail rights-of-way stripe the Chicago landscape, mostly outside the loop.  Some of these have been reclaimed for use as walking and biking trails--like the Skokie Valley Line.  Others have groups devoted to reclamation projects which have not yet come to pass--like the Bloomingdale Trail.  And still others lie dormant and mostly ignored, except for the occasional study suggestion from long-term planning organizations or a state legislator looking for a pet project.  This last area is where the Mid-City Transitway sits right now.

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BRT vs. Street Parking: a fight to the death.

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shymen

I've lived all over the country and world, my background is in International Affairs, Political Science, and Economics, and I'm a Chicago boy born and bred.

Besides the fact that street parking spots are making it difficult to create a bike lane system in Chicago (see last week's post), they are also making it difficult to create a viable BRT system. Recently, Ted noted the importance of starting the discussion on BRT in Chicago; I want to add to his post today.


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Do you want to hit a parked car while riding your bike? I don't.

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shymen

I've lived all over the country and world, my background is in International Affairs, Political Science, and Economics, and I'm a Chicago boy born and bred.

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My first alteration to the street-parking nightmare in Chicago was simple: raise prices.  As I wrote on Monday, not everyone will like this idea, but you can't make everyone happy.  Today, I want to talk about something that I don't necessarily know the solution for (maybe you do, so please share), but I want to discuss nonetheless.  With parking spaces lining the streets of every main road throughout Chicago's neighborhoods, it eliminates potential for a much needed revamp and addition to our bike lane system.


Chicago has started to create bike lanes, but in my opinion, the work they've done to this point, is mediocre at best.  (Check out the Chicago Bike Map)  It would be great to have more bike lanes, safer bike lanes, and even a potential stopping zone at intersections (like Portland has).  One unfortunate rationale as to why these options can't and won't happen in the short term, is because there are too many street-parking spots.  It's hard to create a bike lane when there are cars parked on the entire right side of the street.  Also, when there are so many slow moving cars looking for parking, it makes it difficult for bikes to move freely.  Even if the city does make bike lanes just left of the parking spots, it won't be a very safe bike lane; not having to worry about getting hit by (parking) cars, is the reason bike lanes were created in the first place.


One potential fix is something that many European cities have started to do: put the bike lane right of the on-street parkers (and sometimes left of the cars parked on the left side, thus creating two bike lanes per road).  If we did this on both sides of the street, it is true that it may cut down a lane for cars, but if they're built on roads like Columbus or Wacker that have more than one or two lanes in each direction, it wouldn't be the end of the world.  Plus, it will enable the Chicago Bike Map and the new bike trip-planner on Google Maps, more options for planning bike routes.  Often times with bike trip-planners, it's necessary to go out of the way to avoid the major streets with no bike lines.  However, bike lanes on the curb-side of parked cars along major streets could fix this.


Chicago, like most major cities, doesn't have a ton of money.  Daley thought that giving a private company control of our street parking system would make us money.  Who knows if this will be a good idea in the long haul, and who knows if he hadn't done this that the system would be better off.  But no matter who is running the system, they need to start thinking long term solutions for Chicago.  In the short term we want money, in the long term we want more bike lanes and a BRT system second-to-none (my next post will discuss BRT and street-parking).  I know there must be a way to accomplish all of these goals simultaneously, and I hope as a city, we think of one soon.

 

Raise the Parking Price...it will help.

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shymen

I've lived all over the country and world, my background is in International Affairs, Political Science, and Economics, and I'm a Chicago boy born and bred.

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I want to start the discussion about parking in Chicago (mainly street parking).  Those of you who lived in Chicago last summer are well aware of the day that Chicago gave a private company control of our street parking.  It was a joyous day when all the electric meters/pay-boxes broke and remained broken for weeks.  It made me so happy to drive to the beach and attempt to pay the meter, but instead have to write a note on my windshield asking the meter maid to spare my car a ticket because the pay-box was out of order.  These types of annoyances, however, are the least of our worries regarding parking.  The Chicago street parking system is a mess and needs major modification.


The main issue I want to discuss in our first post about parking is the need to raise prices.  Many Chicagoans' first response to this idea is that parking is expensive enough, and in this economy it will be detrimental to make us pay more.  Yes, parking is expensive, but raising prices will be very helpful for Chicago and its economy in the long run.  We saw in 2008 that when gas prices rose, driving (and thus parking) was more elastic than Americans initially expected.  As a country, we drove less, used public transportation more, and rode our bikes.  This was great for political reasons because we were becoming less reliant on countries and people who hate us.  It was great for environmental reasons because less carbon dioxide was emitted into the atmosphere.  But it was also great because it limited congestion in our cities.


Congestion is a huge problem.  When there are more drivers, there are more people on the streets.  I believe that if it costs more money to park, there will be fewer drivers and freer streets.  Freer streets will enable us to share-the-road more, allow for faster/more-reliable public transportation, and potentially decrease the number of accidents.  In fact, street parking rates in Chicago have risen recently.  However, I don't believe this is enough.  Another option for revamping parking-payment is to do what New York has started to do, install a performance parking system.  Performance parking enables the electric meters to increase and decrease parking rates at peak times and to manage demand, to ensure that there will always be about 15% of parking spaces available.  The primary purpose of this is to eliminate all of the drivers that constantly circle the block looking for parking.


I'm a driver, and for my own financial reasons I don't want to pay more out of my pocket, but it's time for us to stop thinking about ourselves and instead think about the greater good for all Chicagoans.  Raising prices will not fix the entire problem, but it will be the first step of many more to come 


Getting Bus Rapid Transit Right the First Time

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Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

The Metropolitan Planning Council made a big fuss earlier this week over its renewed interest in studying Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in Chicago.  They say they'll be releasing their study's results this summer, and I look forward to it.  For now, I'd like to focus on one of the little details that is so easy for cities to get wrong, but which it appears the MPC has gotten correct.  Namely, its definition of BRT:

"BRT is defined as a transit service operating along its own right-of-way with signal prioritization technology in place and prepaid boarding at stations. The study is examining true BRT services, not an express bus with elements of BRT."

There is, however, a wrinkle in this I hope they'll take note of, because it can make or break a BRT system.  In September 2008, the CTA had a presentation about their four pilot BRT routes: Chicago Ave from LSD to Cicero, Halsted from North Ave. to the River, 79th St from Jefferey Blvd to Western, and Jefferey Blvd from about 63rd to 87th.  In this presentation, they said these BRT routes would be "Integrated with but not replacing local bus services."  The devil will be in the details of how this integration works.  They say BRT will be given its own right-of-way.  Where BRT is mapped onto a city street, this usually means giving the buses the curbside lane, and setting up some type of physical separation--or at least an emphatic paint job and lane striping.  But if local bus service continues, it will have to make curbside stops as well.  Without spending huge sums on grade-separated rights of way or drastically widening the street to put a busway with bus shelters in the median, there are two ways of ensuring that local bus does not impede BRT: giving local buses curb cuts for their stops so that BRT can pass, or giving over the street to buses completely.  Curb cuts into already crowded sidewalks can ruin an area for pedestrians, and since any program vying for FTA funds must meet its 6 livability standards this won't fly.  Alternatively, since many of the BRT routes CDOT/CTA are studying are arterials, I'm skeptical that they would even try to kick cars off the road.  (I'm not saying it wouldn't work--I'm the guy who wrote this with my tongue only partly in cheek, after all.)

I'll hold off on hard criticism until the full results of the study are released in a few months.  But if CDOT and the CTA are going to convince the city of Bus Rapid Transit's potential, they need to get these details right the first time.

Want High Speed Rail to Fail? Don't Fund Local Transit

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Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

On March 18, the Illinois State Senate approved the formation of a High Speed Rail Commission for Illinois.  While the bill still has to be passed by the State House and signed by Gov. Quinn, the bipartisan vote in the Senate seems to make its eventual passage a foregone conclusion.  This is great news for a number of reasons.  One of the biggest in my view is the proscription for studying and designing truly high-speed trains, that is, trains that top out over 200 mph.  Let's be completely clear: current rail travel between Chicago and St. Louis, even when the enhancements funded by the US Department of Transportation's $1.13 billion stimulus infusion earlier this year are complete, will only speed trains up to 110 mph.  That's not high speed rail, and the ridership levels on the current line flounder because of it.  Really, that's regional rail at a regional scale that's too large for the train to gain any market share.

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A true HSR line would serve a market with similar demographics to the outstanding Paris-Lyon TGV line.  It would serve more than 3 million riders annually and help grow the regional economy.  The next step will be to integrate the planned Milwaukee-to-Madison HSR line into a full Midwest Line running from St. Louis through Chicago and Milwaukee to the Twin Cities in Minnesota.

There are, however two fundamental problems with a high speed rail proposal like the Chicago-St. Louis line, though both are entirely solvable.  The first, of course, is the price tag: on the order of $12 billion to fully build out the line.  Whether it's through a Public-Private Partnership (hopefully more artfully executed than the Chicago parking meter debacle,) taxes, bonds, or some combination of all three, the people of Illinois--and Chicago in particular--will have to decide if we have the will to bear a cost that may take a generation to be repaid.  I believe there is, or at least should be.*

The second, more fundamental problem is what all these people will do when they arrive in Chicago--and especially how they will get there.  Part of the case for HSR is that, unlike an airport, it can bring people directly to the center of the city.  They'll arrive at Union Station ready to work, ready to spend, ready to enjoy and add to Chicago's vibrant city life.  At least, that's the idea.  But that supposes that everything they want to do in and around Chicago is accessible without a car.  Put bluntly, Chicago must be a livable city, or else high-speed rail will fail.  The CTA and Metra must meet their--and our--needs.  Walkable, mixed-use development around stations means that whether people are coming to Chicago to re-unite with their friends and family or seal a business deal, they won't need a car.  Dense, beautiful architecture will keep them coming back.  Otherwise, all these people will take the high-speed line to its proposed terminus at O'Hare, rent a car, and add to our congestion and pollution more than our economy.

*UPDATE: I originally wrote this last weekend, before the fine citizens of St. Louis recognized the crucial impact local transit can have on the success of high speed rail, and voted Tuesday to increase their sales tax by ½ cent to pay for it.  What are we waiting for?

Convenient, I think not.

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shymen

I've lived all over the country and world, my background is in International Affairs, Political Science, and Economics, and I'm a Chicago boy born and bred.


We all have problems with the CTA.  Bus and train service cuts have affected our lives more than expected, the El cars smell like urine far too often, and the El bridges, especially those in the suburbs, look as if they might fall at any moment.  Through all of their many problems, however, the convenience factor of the CTA is the worst, and based on their current management, looks as if that convenience level may continue to decrease.


I'm not an economist, but the recent moves made by the CTA seem faulty.  As the CTA began to lose money, they decided to make service cuts and will soon raise prices.  As this happens, consumers such as I will use the CTA less frequently, thus decreasing their profits.  Soon the CTA will have to make even more service cuts and raise prices once again.  This seems to be a never-ending cycle of "death," and these illogical moves made by the CTA could eventually lead to their bankruptcy.


In my opinion, if the CTA wants to increase profits and end the cycle of "death," they must think of ways to increase riders, not decrease them.  Improving their convenience level is one way to do so.  I understand that with less capital, it is harder to pay the bus drivers, and thus harder to keep the same number of routes.  But if I have to wait a half-hour for a bus or train, I would much rather walk, ride my bike, or even pay for a cab.  Even if it means borrowing money, it is imperative that the CTA bring back the same level of service as a year ago.


Another way that the CTA is a perfect example of inconvenient public transportation is in regards to their monthly passes.  The CTA currently offers a 30-day pass for $86.  For some riders, this is a good deal.  Let's say these riders want to buy a pass, can they get it at any El station?  No, they can only buy online, at select Jewel or Dominick's, or at currency exchanges.  New York's MTA offers a monthly pass that you can buy at any station.  Boston's MBTA also offers a monthly pass that you can buy at any station.  San Francisco's MUNI offers a monthly pass that can be bought at 80% of their stations.  Why is the CTA lacking in this department?  If I rode the CTA enough to warrant buying a monthly pass, I wouldn't want to go to a currency exchange to buy one.  Little things like this, discourage riders and therefore make the CTA less profitable.  In addition, I guarantee you that most Chicagoans don't even know that the CTA offers a 30-day pass.  If they marketed their pass and sold it at every station, I'd put money down that they'd sell more.


Livable cities need efficient, profitable, and most importantly, convenient public transportation.  At this point, the CTA is none of the above.  If they don't get their act together soon, Chicago could become the next Los Angeles: the land of many cars and of 10 hour traffic.


The Straight Dope: Crooked on Transit

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Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

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I've long been an avid reader of the Chicago Reader's Straight Dope.  Cecil Adams and his minions generally do an admirable job of laying out the facts of the matter on issues large and small.  However, unless it was some kind of extended April Fool's joke whose punch line I missed, he (they?) really punted on the issue of transit vs. car efficiency.  It started back in January when Cecil was asked about mass transit energy consumption.  He started his response with two seemingly contradicting quotes--one from the American Public Transportation Association, and one from Randal O'Toole from the Cato Institute--and argues toward an unsatisfying middle by focusing on BTUs (British Thermal Units, a measure of energy) per passenger mile.  His straightforward argument is "true" as far as the numbers go, but completely ignores the problem with point source pollution (i.e. we can achieve economies of scale today via electrification of rapid transit and reduce pollution generally by powering transit with renewable sources, while the infrastructure necessary to do the same with private automobiles is still several years away at best.)

The Straight Dope barely redeems himself by mentioning that the pro-transit argument includes the idea that "transit promotes densely built-up cities, which we know will work from a transportation standpoint. (If all else fails, you can just walk or ride your bike.)" But he ultimately lets his "inner Ayn Rand" effectively side with O'Toole while ignoring the fact that there is no such thing as a free market when it comes to land use.

The ignorance continued on April 1, when he compared the L's energy usage to other mass transit systems around the nation, and then broke down the system by individual line.  First, the comparisons to several of the other systems are unfair and misleading.  New Jersey's PATH system, Boston's T, Philadelphia's SETPA, and LA's LACMTA have a combined 94.2 miles of track, while the L alone has 107.5 miles--this is an order of magnitude difference that wildly overestimates the efficiency of cities that have limited, (albeit high-ridership) transit options at the expense of the CTA's wider coverage area.  DC's Metro Rail numbers are also inflated for a reason I can't quite discern--its single-day ridership record of 1.12 million rides the day of Obama's Inauguration is the only day that system has ever had above their alleged "weekday average ridership" of 935,200.  Plus, all five of Metro's lines run to some pretty-far flung suburbs, so they should all work to drag the system down in the same way Cecil alleges the Purple Line does.  And yet, Metro survives--and at least by ridership metrics, it's thriving.

Finally, I'll be the first to admit that the L does not match the efficiency of New York's Subway--few systems in the world do.  But if we're trying to make the L more efficient, isn't the Chicago-New York disparity an argument for building out the system and encouraging density near stations to reach levels approaching the Big Apple's, not giving everyone a car to commute in by themselves as O'Toole would suggest?

Even more generally, Cecil makes a common and fatal flaw in his argument: he assumes the raison d'être for transit is the environmental advantage it yields over private motorized commuting.  The point of transit--and the entire concept of urbansim/livability/whatever you want to call it--is about fundamentally changing the geometry of how we live our lives.*  If we only take into account travel on an average weekday, we fail to appreciate transit for how it improves our lives 7 days a week, 365 days a year, throughout our lives.  It lets kids who can't yet drive get around without relying on their parents to drive them.  It lets seniors maintain a high standard of living even after they lose the ability to drive themselves around.  Transit lets the rest of us leave the car snugly snowed into a parking spot when the lake effect snow piles up--if we own a car at all.  It keeps drunk drivers from tragically taking lives on the weekends.   And as smart phones and other devices make us more productive during transit, transit gives parents more time to spend with their kids.

If Cecil Adams and Randal O'Toole won't think of the kids, I certainly will (mostly because I still think of myself as one, and I'm selfish that way.)

* Through all this, I haven't even gotten into the fact that paving over all of god's creation just so we can drive and park anywhere at any time is not a sustainable idea.

Share the Road...you too Cyclists

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shymen

I've lived all over the country and world, my background is in International Affairs, Political Science, and Economics, and I'm a Chicago boy born and bred.


Share The Road


If a livable city is one where cars are not essential, then a livable city is also one where bikes become more the norm.  The bike community is big in Chicago, but some in the current bike community are not helping it to get bigger.  I fully support all the "Share the Road" stickers I see around Chicago, but I do not think those flaunting their stickers always understand the meaning of the word "share."  As we learned in kindergarten, sharing means the desired "thing" is to be fairly used by all parties involved.  Both drivers and cyclists use the city streets, yet both parties act as if they deserve the right of way.  As much as I wish it were different, the angrier the bikers get that the roads aren't shared, and the more they try to disregard the cars, the less likely that their goals of a more bike friendly city will be accomplished.


I am a cyclist.  I ride to work, I have worked with bikes, and I support biking in Chicago.  However, a few things need to take place before this city is truly a great biking city, and that starts with strengthening the rapport between cars and bikes.  Drivers in Chicago hate the cyclists, and vise versa.  The first way to fix this, which won't make me many friends, is to eliminate Critical Mass.  As much fun as it may be, I don't think it's helping the cause.  Every time I've participated in this ride, I see physical fights break out between a cyclist and a driver who is forced to wait fifteen minutes for the "critical mass" to pass.  Cops see these fights and take note, but more importantly the alderman to whom the driver complains, also takes note.  Angering cops is never a good idea, but angering aldermen, who have relationships with Chicago legislators, is even worse.  


The percentage of commuters on bikes is also important to discuss; let's use the example of Portland, OR, voted as one of the top bike cities in the country.  Even in Portland, only about 6 percent of the population commutes by bike (here is an Oregonian article that discusses bike commuting in Portland).  This number grows every year, but even if it quadruples in the next 5 years to 24 percent, cyclists are still the minority.  While this concept might not resonate well with cyclists, it needs to.  The majority always wins, and while I am not suggesting that the bike community backs off and stops fighting for their cause (far from it), I just think they need to pick their battles.  The fight that I speak of needs to be the fight for rights, recognition, more bike lanes, etc., instead of a fight specifically against the drivers.


In addition, if cyclists want to "share the road" and get recognition as a means of transportation, then the city needs to begin regulating bikes like other forms of transportation.  Just as when a car disobeys a traffic law it receives a fine, bikes must be held to the same principle. The ticket prices do not need to equal those of cars, but the threat of a ticket might deter cyclists from their aggressive riding style of running red lights, and weaving in and out of traffic.


I believe that if the cycling community sees more enforcement and regulation, and if we cut Critical Mass, the drivers will not purposely try to hit them.  If bikes no longer play the roll of daredevil on the streets, the drivers will be more understanding, more responsive, and more tolerant of them.  This is a win-win for the bike community.  It's all about relationship building.  The better the relationship between drivers and cyclists, the less often drivers complain, and the greater the likelihood that the roads really will be shared.  Daley is eager to make this a better city for bikes, but until he gets more approval from the driving majority, it's only the cyclists who will suffer. 


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