Elevating Chicago

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Labor Day Weekend Food for Thought

Ted Rosenbaum

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

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.)

Serendipity City

Ted Rosenbaum

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

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. 

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