Elevating Chicago

Moving on

When I started writing here almost a year ago, I wasn't sure what to expect. I'm just a mechanical engineer living in Washington, DC with an interest in transportation and urban planning trying to write about issues in Chicago. It wouldn't have surprised me if this blog proved to simply be me shouting into the ether, a few thousand words on transit oriented development and bike lanes before going quietly into the night. But I also had an idea for something bigger, something that would prove that while there may not yet be a StreetsblogChicago, it's not for lack on interest on the part of the city's residents. Obviously, Elevating Chicago has been much closer to the former than the latter, and that says more about me than about the community for these ideas. (One of Jane Jacobs' most basic ideas was that the city life--both good and bad--which we seek is everywhere around us all the time, if only we would look. It's hard to get a handle on that life from 800 miles away, and near impossible to advocate for it successfully by writing once a week or less.)

There's certainly an untapped well of interest in--and advocacy for--bringing to Chicago many of the of livable reforms and designs I've talked about here. From groups like the Active Transportation Alliance, to the Center for Neighborhood Technology, to individuals like Mike Payne, Jason Tinkey, Steve Vance, and Lee Crandell, there are plenty of smart, hard-working people in and around Chicago who understand how much greater the city could be. If, by some strange circumstance, you've been reading what I have to say but ignoring them, take it upon yourself to fix that now. (And if you're one of them: thanks for the writing you guys do. It's always smart, informative, and doesn't succumb to the cynicism that's all-too-easy to embrace in Chicago.)


So why am I shutting this down, anyway? Well, I'm starting on the road to doing this professionally. Later this summer, I'll be moving to California to get a Master of Science in Transportation Engineering from UC-Berkeley. Between classes, research, and exploring a new city (both socially and transportationally), this blog would take even more of a backseat than it already does. My plan is to focus on intra-city mass transit, though who knows where my research will take me. And don't worry: I'll do everything I can to avoid becoming any version of this.

Perhaps I'll come back to Chicago when I'm done--that's still a long way off. In the meantime, I'm going to leave this blog up as long as ChicagoNow will let me. I'll still be paying attention to this stuff even if I'm not writing about it, but should events warrant a comment, having a (semi-) established corner of cyberspace could prove useful. If you've been following me on twitter, I think I'm going to shut @ElevChicago down. I'll still be going strong on my personal account, @RedTosenbaum--and that will start to skew more heavily toward urbanism and transportation (and away from sports, quizzo, and beer) in the coming weeks and months. And of course, there's always email, which I suppose passes for formal communication these days: ted [dot] rosenbaum [at] gmail [dot] com.

May all your trains arrive just as your reach the platform, and may your roads be efficiently priced.


Lies, Damn Lies, and Chicago's Congestion "Problem"

The Texas Transportation Institute's Urban Mobility Report is always good for a few screaming headlines, and this year's release doesn't disappoint. Chicago and Washington, DC tied for the longest commuter delays,* totaling 70 hours per commuter per year in 2009 (the most recent year for data). That's pretty awful, especialy when you compare that to the 64 hours per commuter per year we wasted in 2008.  And since 2009 was a worse year economically, this number certainly won't improve as more people (hopefully) get back to work, many of whom will commute by driving themselves.

Except that TTI's rankings are a crock. When a rough draft of this report came out last year, Chicago's own CEOs for Cities responded: their "Driven Apart" report is the most thorough debunking of TTI's methods I've ever seen.  Briefly, TTI has 2 main ranking systems, and both of them have fundamental flaws.

  1. "Delay Time." Chicago ranks #1 in the nation in total delay hours, but what is a delay? Well, anytime you travel on a highway below 60 mph or on an arterial below 30, you're adding to the delay.  Nevermind that most expressways around here have 55 mph speed limits and arterials are often 25 mph!
  2. "Travel Time Index" This is the one that really rankles, because it produces a score which state DOTs can use like a cudgel to convince politicians to waste taxpayer money on highway capacity increases that never solve congestion problems. I'll let David Alpert of Greater Greater Washington (our brethren at #1) take it away:

Consider two hypothetical cities. In Denseopolis, people live within 2 miles of work on average, but the roads are fairly clogged and drivers can only go about 20 miles per hour. However, it only takes an average of 6 minutes to get to work, which isn't bad.

On the other hand, in Sprawlville, people live about 30 miles from work on average, but there are lots and lots of fast-moving freeways, so people can drive 60 mph. That means it takes 30 minutes to get to work.

Which city is more congested? By TTI's methods, it's Denseopolis. But it's the people of Sprawlville who spend more time commuting, and thus have less time to be with their families and for recreation.

Of course, who needs a hypothetical when there's a perfectly good real-world example of this: according to the report, Chicago and Houston have the same Travel Time Index of 1.25 (which ranks us 5th among very large cities, for the record). However, Chicago drivers only need an average of 13.5 miles to reach work, while Houston's average commute distance is 22.1 miles. We are desneopolis, and that's a good thing.

*Really, Jon Hilkevitch? You're gonna fall for TTI's trap too? I know you saw the CEOs for Cities report back in September--you wrote about it very cogently. So why the regurgitation of TTI's press release now? I'll give you credit for not stooping to repeat TTI's claim that "in the end, there's a need for more capacity" and instead pointing out how much worse it would be if Chicago didn't have good public transportation. But why not mention Driven Apart and say that although TTI is (unfortuantely) the standard, there are serious problems with it? Help make us an informed citizenry and all that, right?

Train Tracker Beta is Running

I guess the CTA wasn't joking about releasing the Train Tracker Beta in "early January."  It's available now, here, as well as through the mobile site, here.  So, some initial thoughts from playing around with it for a bit:


  • Mobile vs. Regular: There are several differences between the mobile and regular Train Tracker sites beyond simple aesthetics.  The mobile site doesn't Include the weather (makes sense, you're probably outside in the weather if you're using the mobile site), doesn't list the run number, and says "Due" instead of "Approaching" when a train is less than a minute away.

  • Auto-refresh.  Right now, the Regular site automatically updates every 20-30 seconds, which is fantastic.  The Mobile site not only doesn't do this, it doesn't even let you enable this.  I understand the CTA doesn't want to make this the default (don't want to automatically run up people's data usage on their phones), but it should still be an option.
  • Alerts.  Right now, the Train Tracker lists Customer and Accessibility Alerts above the arrival times.  I understand the choice to prioritize alerts over arrivals, because if the alert affects you, it's more important than when the next train arrives.  But the Alerts aren't all vital: right now on the mobile site (the Regular site is different) there are 3 alerts: 1 for the yellow line being out of service this weekend for construction of the new Oakton station; 1 for the ongoing construction of the new entrance/exit at Cermak-Chinatown, and 1 for the slow zone on the Orange line.  These last two have an ending date of "TBD." In other words, they are facts of the way the system works for the foreseeable future, and I'm really skeptical of including them as "alerts."  If most of the alerts don't reflect anything unusual about the quality of service today/this weekend, it seems to me fewer people will take the time to check if the alerts actually affect them.  (Basically the CTA is crying wolf here.)
  • Time Display.  As I wrote the other day, the CTA could easily cut down the inherent inaccuracy in the system just by displaying the time down to the second.  The beta only displays the time to the minute, so that's a thumbs down.
  • API. The CTA says it will release the API once Train Tracker is out of beta testing.  Can't wait.
Anything else of note I missed?

Train Tracker Thoughts

As you've probably heard by now, the CTA will introduce a Train Tracker pilot program in the next month or so.  This is, undoubtedly, terrific news.  But until we get further details about the system and can play around with it, I'd like to present some ideas/potential pratfalls for the new system.

traintracker screen shot.gif

--Location, location, location.  How the CTA places these screens at stations is vital to their usefulness.  Obviously one at platform level is vital--always good to know how much longer you'll be standing in the cold.  The question is, where should the street-level screen go?

I'd say there are really only two locations to choose from.  One, facing the fare gates (or just outside them) and clearly visible before you pay your fare.  The second is physically outside the station.  For elevated stations, the station entrance is usually directly below the tracks, so a screen that is visible as you approach on the sidewalk would be protected from the elements (and could be protected from birds easily enough).  Similarly, at subway stations, a screen visible before going below ground would be best--though since most stations have multiple entrances, the cost of placing a display at every one may not be worth it.

--Online.  Since this is only a pilot and there won't be displays at every station, making Train Tracker easily available online is the only way most riders will interact with the system.  And most of those people will be checking the site on their mobile phone, so it's even more crucial that the interface be top notch.  Washington, DC does a fantastic job in this regard.  Here's their mobile site.  It's easy to navigate and almost entirely text, so it loads quickly, even on a slow network. The only thing I'd add would be an auto-refresh option--if the arrival times will update every 25 seconds, set the refresh period to 30.

--Open Source.  Considering the success of 3rd party applications (not to mention the manifold uses for the Bus Tracker API), there's no reason not to release the QuickTrak/Train Tracker data similarly.

--Depth of Information.  Looking at the mockup screenshots the CTA includes in their press release, it looks like we'll get 6 pieces of information: time of the last update, current temperature, line, direction, run number, and estimated time of arrival.

I'd push for 2 more pieces of information: one, give the update time down to the second.  I know the ETA isn't necessarily going to be accurate down to the second, but keep in mind: if the "as of" time is only accurate to the minute, and ETAs are accurate to within 30-45 seconds, you're looking at almost a 2 minute margin of error.  The CTA says the displays will update every 20-30 seconds, so why not tell us exactly when it last queried the system, and cut the margin of error in half?

Second, the displays should include the number of cars in the train that's about to arrive.  It may seem like a small thing, but if you know the length of the train, you can figure out whether or not you can spread out from everyone else along the platform, without having to catch up to the final door as it slides by you.  I actually asked the CTA about this over the summer, and here's the crux of their response:

"One of the purposes of the pilot would be to test the different capabilities of the program. At this time there are no plans to display the number of rail cars on an approaching train - some of the LED signs used for the program  pose character limitations for the additional information and adjustments are often made based on special events or circumstances on a particular day on a particular line that requires rail operations to deviate from what is normally put into service."

Ok, some of the signs can't hold that much information.  (Again, I think DC is instructive here: the displays have all the screen resolution of a game of pong, but they still manage to fit the number of cars.)  But why not make sure the system is at least disseminating this data, and then program each display based on its capabilities? The CTA could still include this information online, which is the only way people will get the info anyway if they're not at a pilot station.  Additionally, the CTA wrote:

"We have a schedule that designates how many cars are in each consist on any train based on ridership demands [sic].  However, this plan is subject to change - adjustments are often made based on special events or circumstances on a particular day on a particular line that requires rail operations to deviate from what is normally put into service.  This is not something that we would be able to provide."

Well, that's a relief--the CTA has a schedule, but are willing to deviate from it depending on the day's circumstances.  And when they deviate, they no doubt know the new trainset's length.  So as that train makes its way through the system, this shouldn't be a hard piece of data to include, right?

Additionally, it'll be interesting to see how Train Tracker handles arrivals.  In Washington, DC, there's both an "ARR" notation just before the train enters the station, and then a "BRD" as the train stops and opens its doors.  Whether or not the CTA can give that kind of granularity depends on whether or not there's a sensor at the entrance to the station, but we'll see.

Finally, a bonus for any programmers out there: if and when the API is released, it's screaming for an animation of Tower 18's operations (that's the intersection of Wells & Lake).  I'll take a stab at this, but if you write it, I will pimp the hell out of it here, on twitter, and anywhere else people will listen.

An Open Letter to Gabe Klein

Dear Mr. Klein,

I heard that come January 1, you'll be out of a job.  What a bummer.  But Washington's loss has to be someone's gain, right? Have you thought about Chicago?

First, let me level with you: Yes, we get snow regularly.  But we know better than to proclaim a snowfall as "Snowmageddon" until it's over 2 feet.  We have the infrastructure to clear it--and a populace that isn't afraid to use a shovel (perhaps you remember one of our former residents referring to our "flinty toughness"?)  And yes, as a result, we get enough potholes to make driving more painful than a trip to the dentist.  But we're already the home of Lollapalooza, why not bring your famed (?) Potholepalooza to town?

But!                                      Gabe Klein Dreaming.png

You may not have heard, but we're gonna have a new Mayor here next year.  You joined Mayor Fenty's staff in Washington halfway through his term and accomplished a ton.  Imagine getting in at the start of a new mayor's term (our first new Mayor in over 2 decades!) and having nearly free reign, since the new Mayor's priorities will likely be on reducing crime and improving the school system.

Although actual policy statements have been rare thus far in the campaign, everyone agrees that the Mayor's office needs to become more open.  You helped bring DDOT into the 21st century by actually establishing a twitter presence, opening data sets to the public, and more--CDOT needs that kind of reform badly.

You can be the first great Transportation Commissioner here since... well, it's been a damn long time.  We've had repeated turnover in the job in recent years as Mayor Daley tires of each new placeholder.  While they've all mostly moved the ball forward on incremental reforms, it's only been at the whim of a Mayor whose attention is obviously divided.  So while we have a bike plan (which DC's now almost dwarfs when you consider the disparity in size between the cities themselves), and a Central Area Action Plan, and even a few Streetscape plans, no one has laid out the grand vision that Chicago needs to become a city that works for everyone--not just drivers--once again.

And just think: You won't have to fight anymore turf wars.  The National Parks Service won't claim jurisdiction over every random triangle park or circle and then fail to maintain it.  Though there are certainly NIMBYs here like anywhere else, there's no Committee of 100 to try to thwart you at every turn.  It's all yours.  We only have a few diagonal avenues to break up our lovely street grid, a fantastic slate upon which you can build a shining beacon of Bus Rapid Transit, bicycle infrastructure, and whatever else you want.

Speaking of bike infrastructure, did I mention Chicago's topography? We're flat.  Utterly, completely, incredibly flat.  When you try to push out a bike sharing program (because I'm sure Alta would be more than willing to work with you again to bring their system to America's third largest city), you'll never have to worry about overcrowding at stations at the bottom of hills--there aren't any.

You've worked hard to bridge gaps between the rich and poor areas of DC, promoting capital-intensive projects like the new streetcar lines in the worse-off areas, hoping to spur improvement.  Chicago is one of the most segregated cities in the country, and it's high time our transportation options linked these areas rather than divided them.

So go take your vacation in January (you've clearly earned it).  And when you get back, come by and leave your card with the Mayoral frontrunners.  It'll be one less tough decision for them, and one new fantastic opportunity for you.

More Chicago transit data than you can handle

The folks at the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) have done transit nerds yet another huge favor.  First it was their H+T Index, which was rolled into Abogo, their walkscore-esque tool that helps you measure your carbon footprint.  Now, they've gone and put an enormous collection of data online in an open, easy-to-use Transit-Oriented Development Database.  For lack of a better phrase, this is data porn.  Specifically, transit data.  You can look at every type of data imaginable for the areas within a quarter- or half-mile of any individual train station (what CNT calls the "transit zone" for that station) or collection of stations (the "transit shed").

I'll be rummaging through as much of the data as I can in the coming days and weeks (especially the job density statistics), but for now, here are a few tidbits to hold you over:

-- Based on 2000 population estimates, only about 1.15 million people live within a half-mile of L stations.  For reference: Chicago's population was about 2.9 million in 2000.  But keep in mind those 1.15 million include residents of Cicero, Oak Park, Skokie, and Evanston, where the L extends past Chicago's borders, so in reality an even smaller part of the city's population is transit-oriented.

pop density near Ls.png

-- Although average density can be a very misleading statistic, it's useful in this sense: ideally, the areas near train stations should be significantly more dense than the city as a whole.  (Unless you're dealing with a uniformly-dense place like Manhattan, where even the low-density areas can support transit.)  Chicago's average density is about 13,000 people per square mile.  But as you can see above, nearly half of the 142 L stations have local densities (within 0.5 miles of the stop) under 13,440 people per square mile.  Granted, some of these stops are like O'Hare or Midway, but many of them are not.

-- 26 of the 27 densest stations by population are on the Red/Brown/Purple north side.  The lone outlier is Damen, on the Pink Line.

Much more to come, or add your own findings in the comments.

New Monroe St. Crosswalk: thanks for following the law!

Before the weekend sets in, just a tinge of outrage over something that is so close to being perfect.  Blair Kamin writes about the new crosswalk on Monroe between the Art Institute's Modern Wing and Millenium Park.  It's a great compromise between safely getting pedestrians across the street and unnecessarily impeding traffic with a full-on traffic light.

It's very simple: you press a button, wait for the big flashing yellow lights around the pedestrian signs to alert the cars to your presence, (very handy as daylight gets shorter as we head into winter,) and then cross! Cars continue on their way, you enjoy your day, everybody's happy.

monroe st xwalk sign.jpg

Image courtesy Chicago Tribune

But wait, what's that last note there? "Thank the driver"? Yes, even the mechanical voice that accompanies the signs reminds you, "And remember, thank the driver for stopping as you are crossing the roadway."  I'm all in favor of Nice Midwestern interactions, but as of this summer, all cars must stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk.  Yes, that's right, we're now being instructed to thank people for following a simple, straightforward law.  A law which, if drivers follow it, will mildly inconvenience them--if they ignore it, odds are a pedestrian gets hurt or dies.

So much of the rest of this--from process to final product--was executed well, but this kind of auto-centric urban design is absolutely flabbergasting.  Go enjoy your weekend, and be safe in those crosswalks.

Officially Going to 2040

Yesterday, leaders of the 7 counties that broadly make up Chicagoland voted on the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning's (CMAP) final version of their Go To 2040 regional plan. Not surprisingly, it passed unanimously. Now what? Well, it's now up to the cities and counties in the region to get on with implementing the strategies CMAP has outlined, and funding and building some of the projects Go To 2040 calls for. First though, let's remind ourselves exactly what we're left with.

Because CMAP is regional, Go To 2040 tries to build toward a scenario where all of Chicagoland prospers equally in the next three decades. The plan talks about local municipalities partnering together to create livable communities, where water is preserved, human capital is attracted and retained, and people can get to and from their jobs in a timely fashion. When CMAP discusses competition, it is against other metropolitan regions--both nationally and internationally.

CMAP 2040 Capital projects

Image courtesy CMAP

If CMAP's models prove correct, Chicagoland will add 2.4 million residents by 2040. Many of them will be of working age. However, the plan makes no preference or prediction for where those jobs will be. This leaves us to mull over the likely outcomes: in one scenario, the region experiences a massive decentralization--the jobs move out of the current urban core and, in harmony with the livable communities CMAP advocates, people will live near where they work. In another scenario, jobs continue to accumulate as they have for the previous three decades--mainly near the loop, with suburban office parks (like those near O'Hare) dotting the periphery.

Note that neither of these scenarios is inherently better than the other. They both have their positives and negatives, and recognizing that the relationship between the city and its suburbs is symbiotic--not parasitic--is crucial to any kind of regional success in the next three decades. But in both cases, there will be winners and losers. Yes, a prosperous region is not a zero-sum game, but the past is instructive. The entire post-World War II era has been prosperous for America as a whole and the Chicago region in particular. But it would be foolish to argue that Chicago itself felt that prosperity as thoroughly as its suburbs have.

So how will this growth and prosperity shake out in the next generation? Without either a massive infrastructure change (which CMAP readily admits we don't have the money for) or a sudden, similarly massive change in how people do business (say, a continually growing emphasis on the service industry and a daily telecommuting approaching 50% of the workforce) I don't see any evidence for a fundamental deviation from the status quo. The vast majority of new jobs in the region will be where they are today: inside Chicago's city limits, and mostly in and around the loop. And in order to keep those business functioning (and ideally to attract new ones) people have to reach their jobs efficiently. Perhaps, with a good urban infill program, people will move closer to the dense core (a kind of melding of the two scenarios I outlined above), but for several reasons* that likely won't be enough.

What then, will be enough? Better transportation, simple (and as complicated) as that. Go To 2040 has listed just about every conceivable project Chicago could hope to undertake in the next 30 years here. I'll get into it in the future, but to put it simply: the questions over how our limited funds will be distributed for these projects will determine the shape and prosperity of the region. Will the West Loop Transportation Center add core capacity to the L (as opposed to simply being a high-speed rail hub)? Will the city spur development around the proposed red line expansion, or waste these new stations as park-and-rides? (Or, perhaps go another route all together--Gray Line, anyone?) Will the expansion of IL-53 grow as a real urban boulevard, or just a slightly prettier version of US-41? Will the Mid-City Transitway ever be real? These are the battles that will make a difference.

*the liquidity (or lack thereof) of housing and the state of public schooling in Chicago, just to name two.

Labor Day Weekend Food for Thought

A few items to ponder over the long weekend, which I hope to expand on next week.

More on Street Signs
I've been thinking more about street signs--and especially numbering on street signs.  What strikes me is how infrequently block numbers are posted at all.  Every quarter or eighth of a mile on arterial streets is ok when you're driving, because if you miss your turn or turn the wrong way, it doesn't take much effort to double back to where you want to go.  But suppose you're on foot or on bike.  Suddenly making the wrong turn becomes a larger issue.  It's an issue both because of the effort you have to expend to correct it, but also because it will likely take longer to realize you've made a mistake in the first place.  So many of Chicago's residential neighborhoods have zoning requirements for setbacks that, without well-lit front doors, you can walk a full block without being able to make out an address.  In the loop, where many buildings are known simply by their address, it isn't a big as big a deal that the street signs almost universally do not include block numbers.  But if the loop is all we're concerned with, we're doing something wrong.

Frequent Network Maps
Building off a discussion from Jarret Walker at Human Transit, Jeff Wegerson at Prairie State Blue has mapped out a rough version of Chicago's Frequent Network Map.  His includes both bus and rail, and a few things jump out at me. First and foremost is how the canal carves up South Side transit options.  From 18th to (what looks like) 55th, there's no good east-west transit. These maps also really drive home how dense the loop is compared to the rest of the city, and how dramatically that skews our transit.  If you look at the 11 minute map in particular (below), you can start to see the skeleton of a corridor-based growth pattern that, if developed correctly, could help make Chicago more poly-centric, which would both ease the burden on the L and very likely lower total miles per vehicle in the city.  This is an idea I really want to get into in more depth, so if anyone knows of any studies about VMT and polycentricity, I'd love some light reading for this weekend.

Jeff Wegerson 11min FNM.png

Jeff Wegerson's 11-minute CTA Frequent Network Map

Circles and Circumference
Also at Human Transit (what can I say, he's got a lot of good stuff going on over there), Walker talks about how the Moscow circle line is probably a bit too small with a diameter just under 4 miles.  Now, clearly both the urban and transit geography of Chicago and Moscow are very different, but the planned Circle Line here would suffer from a more extreme case of the same problem Moscow's line faces.  There, there's no reason to ride more than half the line.  Here, because there's nothing (from a transit standpoint) east of the loop, you'd never ride for more than a quarter of the line.  I'm not going to say that this is proof that the Circle Line is a waste of money as-designed--the need for any kind of inter-line connection that doesn't force riders all the way into the loop is desperately needed--but I think we as a city need to think long and hard about our current and future geometry. (I'd hate to turn it into a buzzword, but polycentricity is a big part of this, too.)

Where you are vs. Where you're going

Suppose you're driving west on North Avenue.  You cross the river, scoot under the Kennedy, and come to the light at Ashland.  You look up at the street sign and notice: you're at 1600 West.  That's great.  Your friend lives on Sawyer, which you know is just past Kedzie.  Just over two miles to go, no sweat.  When you approach the light at Kedzie though, you double check your friend's address--in the 1800 block.  Quick: which lane do you get into?  Like a good Chicagoan, you know that North Avenue is 1600 North, and you'll be making a right onto Sawyer to head north a couple blocks.   Easy. (Sawyer's also one way north, so it was really your only choice.)

Thumbnail image for North Ave sign.png

But what about everyone else?  The ones that don't know the names and numbers of every east-west arterial from Howard to 130th.   Well, they've got two options.  One is to try and crane their neck as they pass through one of the major intersections and hope to make out what the sign for North Avenue says--this is more than a little dangerous, and you've probably sworn at an out-of-towner who slowed down through an intersection to try this.  The other option is trial and error--but with one-way streets, that's a recipe for disaster.  Chicago has made a subtle value judgment here; it's more important to know the addresses on the street you're on than the ones on the street you're about to cross--or turn onto.  In our example above, it was nice to know that you were 2 miles from Kedzie, but was that bit of knowledge more important than knowing which way to turn on Sawyer?

If you've ever navigated in another city that consistently puts block numbers on its street signs, you've probably noticed that they do it differently.  In fact, Seattle is the only other major city I could find which numbers the Chicago way. In Philadelphia, Washington, DC, San Francisco, and many others, the system is exactly reversed.

Kater st Philly - Edu-Tourist.jpg

Turn left for the 2000 block of Kater St. in Philadelphia, right for the 2100 block. Photo courtesy of Edu-Tourist on Flickr.

Taking our original example, every street sign you'd see on North avenue would, in one way or another, tell you that turning left (as you head west) will take you down the 1500 block, while if you turn right, you'll be on the 1600 block.   There's an assumption here that once you're on the same street as your destination, you either know what hundred you turned onto it (and so can count blocks until you're on the right one) or you can catch the address of any building as it passes by.

Having navigated extensively in both systems, I still can't decide which I like better--and which I think is better for the city as a whole, which is a different question.  I think Chicago's system is better for locals, but the other way is more straightforward for tourists and new residents--especially because these cities tend to put numbers on street signs at more than just major intersections. Anyone have a strong preference one way or another? And more interestingly, does anyone know the how/when/why behind this decision?

Sure, call it a comeback

After huddling in the studio for over a month, Elevating Chicago is here to announce a reboot, with some changes.  Before we go forward though, it's important to straighten out how we got here.  So full disclosure: I don't live in Chicago.  I grew up there here (I'm going to keep writing with the local voice.  So sue me) but I now live in Washington, DC--hence posts like this.  This worked out mostly ok, because Scott was still in the city and was a great help for me to get the details right, not to mention his own terrific posts.

In July, Scott moved away.  We were left without an anchor, and unsure of what to do.  He's pressed for time now and so most likely his byline won't appear in these parts anymore.  I, however, still can sneak in some time for this corner of the internet.  And I still love Chicago, so I'm going to keep writing.  Because for every good idea the city tries (rebuilt L stations, the upcoming BRT pilot) there are half-measures (the bike sharing pilot) and utter failures (how about a CDOT commissioner that sticks around for a while?)  So, although I won't be able to experience a lot of what happens first-hand, I'll be keeping a watchful eye on things (and talking to the friends and family I still have in Chicago) and offer my two cents.

So this post is also a bleg: if you see something that I might miss by not walking, driving, and riding around, tell me.  Email, twitter, carrier pigeon, whatever.  And if I miss details, correct me.  It won't be the first time I've been wrong, and the most important thing I can do here--elevating the conversation about making Chicago more livable for all of us--will never work if I'm inaccurate.

And now, on with the show...

A Few words on Krywin v. CTA

I'd like to get in a few words on today's Illinois Supreme Court Case, essentially holding that the CTA is not responsible for shoveling or salting its platforms until whatever snow/sleet/hail/dreck is done falling from the skies in winter.  A lot of the court's decision [pdf] revolves around "natural accumulations" which, if you're like me, you'd think snow on the platform is always a natural accumulation.  And it is! Right up until it stops snowing and the wind starts to whip it around into drifts or the temperature changes and you get ice/slush.
CTA Icicles.jpg

As a "common carrier" the CTA has special responsibilities toward its riders.  For instance, when buses pull up to the curb, they can't pull right up to the 4-foot high bank where all the plows pushed the snow (this is an unnatural accumulation) but instead must find a place where it's safer for passengers to get on and off.  A train obviously can't do this because it's on a fixed rail, and if it doesn't let passengers off at the platform, it can't let them off at all.

To me, the sensible extension of this logic is that the same standard should apply to every CTA mode--specifically the imperative to get passengers on and off safely. For the L, since they can't move the location of the stop to a safer one, they have to change the environment of the stop to make it safe--i.e. shovel or salt the platform at regular (but not onerous) intervals. But I'm not a judge, and instead the CTA is basically absolved of responsibility.

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Serendipity City

Sometimes my life can be terribly mundane.  Eat, sleep, work, blog, repeat.  Sure, there are some days when work is pretty interesting, or I'll make an amazing dinner (I'm a great chef, just ask me), but most of what I do on a day-to-day basis is something I've done countless times before.

And then there are weekends like the one I just had that reminds me why I choose to live in a city--and why, regardless of the environmental benefits or the aggregation of economic talent, it's the fun and serendipity that makes a dense city so livable.

Saturday morning my friend and I saw the nice weather and decided to put it to good use by mostly staying inside.  I walked over to the farmer's market down the block from me, grabbed some Italian sausage, and rode the bus over to his new apartment; we grilled it, drank some beer, and watched the Germany-Uruguay World Cup consolation match.  One of our college friends was visiting some family in town this weekend, but he joined us after the game and we played Risk.  (You laugh, but drinking and trying to take over the world are incredibly fun. Word of advice though: grab hold of South America early.)


Ultimately, we got tired of wasting time inside.  Fortunately, his new apartment looks out on a park where we saw people out and about, so we dug out a soccer ball and headed over.  We started kicking it around a little, which drew a few strangers over.  In short order, we had an impromptu 4-on-4 barefoot game that kept going until darkness sent us scrambling to the nearest watering hole.

Sunday I rolled over to a pickup roller hockey game with a bunch of people who I know almost exclusively by first names or nicknames.  I almost certainly never would've met them were it not for this game, and we all get along swimmingly, even if we rarely hang out separately from these games.  I played long enough to sweat out Saturday night's shenanigans, but returned home in time to shower and ride my bike over to another friend's place for the Netherlands-Spain final.

As I rode back home I totaled up what I'd done this weekend: I'd had a good time seeing a large chunk of my friends and acquaintances, run around a lot despite almost none of it being organized or sanctioned in any way, drank my fair share, and didn't have to drive once.  Maybe one day my priorities in life will change and I'll want to make it easier to avoid other people, but that day certainly hasn't arrived yet. 

(Asian) Carpe Diem

The Asian carp are all the buzz in Chicago these days.  Everyone, including myself, is paranoid that these massive fish will destroy the ecosystem of Lake Michigan, and possibly even the entire Great Lakes region.  To put things into perspective, the destruction of this ecosystem could destroy our drinking supply and kill the many multi-million dollar industries of the Great Lakes.  These fish are a dreadfully invasive species that eat everything in their sight, from other fish to plants, and are coming into Lake Michigan via the Mississippi River.  As I've discussed before, one potential fix for this problem, which is a big debate during the Illinois Senatorial race, is the re-reversal of the Chicago River, thus cutting off all Great Lake ties with the Mississippi.  Because our waterways (and water in general) are very essential to livability in Chicago, I want to talk about the debate over the Chicago River and the Asian carp.


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Getting to 2040 with Meat AND Pudding

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.)

Cropped 2040 Capital Projects.jpg

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.

*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)

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.

CMAP Transpo Funding.jpg

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.

Drunk Drivers are Dumb

Drunk drivers are dumb.  Drunk drivers who purposely try to hit cyclists are even dumber.  Not sure if you know where I'm going with this, but last year in Brookfield this actually happened.  On May 31, 2009, Erik Fabian and Armando Reza got drunk, went behind the wheel, and played the game "hit the cyclist;" they were sentenced to two years probation, and ten days in jail, respectively.  This relatively light sentence has caused a great deal of outrage in the Chicago cycling community (led by the Active Transportation Alliance's effort), sparking debate all across the country.  (Streetsblog wrote an informative write-up, check it out.)


I think there should be penalties for hitting a cyclist, drunk or sober, and I think these two boys should have received graver penalties.  Thankfully, neither "hunted" cyclist was injured, but it brings up the question, how do these bike related accidents keep happening?  And why are the punishments so light?  First, the 2 girls killed down state, and now this case, how can we stop it?

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21st Century Mobility for Chicago

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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Kirk, do you have any real ideas?

With midterm elections a mere 4.5 months away, the race to re-fill Obama's Senate seat is vamping up.  On Tuesday, the Metropolitan Planning Commission sponsored an event, which hosted a non-debate style discussion between the three main candidates: Giannoulias (Democrat), Kirk (Republican), and Jones (Green).  Lynn Sweet of the Sun Times asked each candidate the same 4 questions, and gave them all time to answer.  Today I want to respond to the candidates' responses.  To read what they had to say, go here.


Question 1: Would you direct federal funds consistent with adopted priorities of regional planning organizations, such as the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning?

This round was a wash.  Giannoulias made a point so as not to seem as if he'll raise government spending too much.  Besides that, no candidate in his right mind would claim not to support Chicago-based planning agencies, especially while in Chicago.

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

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.

Go To 2040... Better (Part I)

As one of the United States' major metropolitan areas, Chicago is required by law to have a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO).  In the past, the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission (NIPC) along with the Chicago Area Transportation Study (CATS) were responsible for this planning.  They merged in 2006 to form the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), which is responsible for the next 30-year plan, known as Go To 2040.  CMAP came out with their draft plan last week, and it will be formally accepted by the city CMAP Board of Directors and Policy Committee in October.  In the meantime there will be ten open houses where you can share your comments, starting this past Tuesday in DuPage County, and finishing in Chicago on August 3 at the CMAP office at 233 S. Wacker Drive, Suite 800.  If you can't make any of the meetings, you can also submit written comments to them via email.

There's a lot to go over, so I'm going to break down my thoughts into a few installments over the next week or so.  They've split it up into 5 sections: Livable communities, Regional Mobility, Human Capital, Efficient Governance, and Context and Best Practices.  Although vital to the ongoing success of the entire Chicagoland area, the last 3 are less germane to what we're doing here, and so I'll address them together later on.  First up though: Livable Communities.

Although this is a regional plan, you can see right off the bat Chicago's imprint on it in the definition CMAP uses for livability: a "healthy, safe, and walkable" community that has "a sense of place."  (Page 5) I'll drink to that.

CMAP Regional Development.jpg

And don't let it be said that CMAP doesn't understand the land use problems facing the region.  There's the chart above, showing how much we've spread out as a region, especially over the last 50 years.  And though they don't call it out in very strong language, CMAP tells us we can't continue that way: "'Greenfield' development is, in the long run, more costly by many measures."  (Page 49) That's a pretty sharp--and true!--statement, but this draft then spends most of its time softening that blow.

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You drink, you ride, you lose.

I've previously written about how we need more regulation along the lakefront bike path because of all the avoidable crashes; it seems as if someone listened.  Since Memorial Day, the Chicago PD has heavily increased their numbers along the path, especially in between Fullerton Ave. and Ohio St.  Even though I don't know if people necessarily feel safer when more cops are present, I like the fact that the police department is trying new things to crack down on the problems we have on the path.

When friends come visit me in Chicago, one of the first questions I tend to get is, "Where are all the Cops?"  I usually respond with, "Where they need to be," and until recently, they didn't need to be on the lakefront path; however, I'm glad they are now.  First, they're there because North Ave Beach has supposedly become the meeting place for a lot of suburban and north side gangs (see Daley's comments here).  Not sure why they picked that spot, but apparently they did.  Lately, if you go by the beach, there are cops in regular uniforms, obvious undercover uniforms, and even some in jeans.


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News and Notes

Audi Soccer.jpg

Car companies have to find something to promote during Bike to Work Week, right? Photo by the author.

It's Tuesday.  Ivory Coast plays Portugal at 9am, and if this doesn't get you psyched for the match, then I can't really help you.  Here are some news and notes that'll fill your morning while you wait for kickoff.

  • It's Bike To Work Week!  It looks like there might be a few showers today, but then it'll clear up for the rest of the week.  Go enjoy it, stop at any of the pit stops that'll be all around the city.  The Active Transportation Alliance is all over it, as is Bike Chicago.

  • Oooooh, pretty trains go fast

  • The Trib had a few transportation items yesterday with decidedly mixed results.  First is Dan Simmons' "Reverse Commute Takes Their Time" which ignores the basic fact that commuting in any direction takes time.  I think the bigger story here is that reverse commuting exclusively on transit is possible in Chicago at all.  Let's not forget how good we sometimes have it: many cities don't have anywhere near the robust suburban transit options that Pace and Metra provide.  One of the examples Simmons uses is Carmen Cartegena's Elmwood Park-to-Schaumburg commute.  I'm not convinced that's a true reverse commute, but let's say it is: is it any faster in the other direction?  Can it be done from Schaumburg's residential areas anywhere near as easily as the denser Elmwood Park?  And couldn't the headline just as easily be "Reverse Commute Saves Their Money"?

  • Next up is Jon Hilkevitch's pretty balanced piece (though I'm not enamored with the chip-on-our-shoulder headline) "Chicago on the Low-end of High Speed Rail." He makes the case that as many benefits as HSR may bring to Chicago, it won't be as big a boon for us as it will for other regions, including the planned Florida, California, and upstate New York lines.  He notes that this is partly because Chicago is already a remarkably connected city, especially with two major airports serving the city.  This is also something to keep in mind as the US DOT parcels out HSR funding: as worthwhile an investment as Midwest HSR may be, it's going to be tough for us to make the argument that we're the best place for those limited dollars to go.

  • Finally, last Friday the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) published their draft GoTo 2040 Plan.  You have about 6 weeks to comment on the report, and there will be an open house at their office on South Wacker on August 3.  I'm still digesting all of it and hope to have some preliminary thoughts up later this week.

The Chicago Brand

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

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.

Evanston Streetlamp.JPG
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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Bike Racks on Parade

Why can't Chicago be more like Louisville?  I bet you think about that all the time, don't you? Well, good news, now we can be.  As of earlier this week, Chicago will soon unveil a project, partially adapted from our friends down in Louisville, KY, to install a series of around 10,000 artistically designed usable bike racks throughout the city.  Read about it here.  What an awesome idea.  This program was approved by the City Council Transportation Committee on Sunday, and will hopefully show results in only a few months time.

Lville Rack.jpeg
Photo courtesy of the City of Louisville

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The New C-Pass's Impending Failure, or: Why Federal Policy Matters [UPDATED]

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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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500 Acres of Beautiful Brownfield Redevelopment

One of the items on the docket yesterday for the City Council Zoning Committee was the first step toward changing the face of the South Shore for generations to come.  McCaffery Interests is trying to develop the nearly 500 acre site of the old US Steel South Works site along the lake between 79th and 87th.  As the Tribune first reported, the Zoning Committee approved both a development proposal for the first 77 acres in the northwest corner of the property, as well as an overall zoning plan for the entire development.

South Shore Plan.jpg

The first phase of the development covers the northwest corner of the now vacant land. Copyright McCaffery Interests.

This is an incredible chance for the city to transform an entire area into a local hub--not to mention add to the string of lake front parks that already covers most of the shoreline.  The first 77 acres alone will add a million square feet of retail space plus plenty of residential units.  When finally completed (maybe before I die?) the 500-acre project calls for 17,000 dwellings--potentially a density of over 30,000 people per square mile, or roughly the same as Lake View.

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Forget 'Swimming in the Potomac,' Let's Learn from the Anacostia

News surfaced in the Tribune on Tuesday that the Environmental Protection Agency is calling on the city to clean up the Chicago River to the point of making it not only safe for boats but for swimmers as well.  Mayor Daley had a simple retort to the feds: "Go Swim in the Potomac."

Where the Feds won't swim: DC's Anacostia River before the recent cleanup. Photo Courtesy of the Anacostia Watershed Society.

My sympathies are with the Mayor on this one.  The city has made great strides in improving not just the river but the land surrounding it.  They continue to work every day, and have plans in place with the help of CMAP's Waterway Management guidance.  Whether or not the EPA passed this statement along to the Illinois Pollution Control Board, Chicago was going to keep on working toward the Chicago River becoming "swimmable." (There's a separate issue here about the necessity of making the river truly "swimmable."  I'd happily go kayaking along the river if I knew it was safe to occasionally fall overboard to cool myself off.  But I have a feeling that when it comes to swimming in natural waters, Lake Michigan does the trick for most Chicagoans.)

But let's take the Mayor's retort for more than the glib sound bite that it is.

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Give it up for the Little Guys

Last Friday, several dozen cyclists rode to the US Department of Transportation's headquarters in Washington with a signed letter by hundreds of local bike-ped advocacy organizations, showing their love for Secretary of Transportation LaHood's commitment to their causes.  Read about it here.  Many organizations that Ted and I routinely promote, such as: Safe Routes to School National Partnership, Transportation for America, and the National Complete Streets Coalition, were among the advocates in attendance.  Whether they'd admit it or not, their trip to US DOT's headquarters was in essence sucking up to LaHood and lauding him for his commitment to what these organizations are fighting for.  I have nothing wrong with this, especially because no money was involved, and I support these advocacy organizations in their fight to get their voices heard - today I want to talk about these organizations and how we can all help in their fight.

Lahood w/ Obama

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