A CTA wish list for this holiday season

So, I heard today is Black Friday. Well, I’ve got a long wish list for the CTA, but I don’t really have the means to make these happen. But in many cases, the CTA does. So here’s hoping the CTA grants at least some of my wishes.

I wish the CTA would:

  • Fix Train Tracker, quickly.
  • Reinstate service cuts, especially late night bus service.
  • Decrease intervals between train run.
  • Get funding to expand/extend the Red Line and Yellow Line.
  • Rehire all the operators, mechanics and other workers laid off this year.
  • Rescind free rides for seniors and bring back half-fare rides.
  • Repair crumbling viaducts, especially north of Montrose.
  • Make every rail station accessible.

Those are some of my wishes. What are yours?


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  • Bring back the A/B trains

    Forget the Red Line extension, what's needed is a crosstown line that doesn't go through the Loop. Use the Belt Ry. right of way, just east of Cicero, with the abandoned Mayfair cutoff & the Skokie Swift to go from Ford City to Howard.

    An end to the idiocy of sideways seats. We don't want them, only CTA execs with CTA supplied cars want them!

  • Speak for yourself Scooter. I'm a BIG fan of the sideways seats. In my book, fitting more people on a train is always a good thing and a no-brainer policy move.

    And I have no sympathy for whining Chicagoans who oppose the new seats because (a) they're afraid of change, (b) they're afraid of looking at other passengers (the horror!), or (c) they love to complain (I think we all know what bucket you fall into...).

    As for your other point, another North-South line does make a lot of sense, but I'm not sure if the Belt Railway alignment has anywhere near the ridership potential to justify the investment. A new line running through the West Loop (at Clinton or Ashland) probably makes a lot more sense. Denser areas surround it, and that's where the CBD expansion is likely to take place over the decades to come.

  • In reply to aaronjbrown:

    There actually aren't more seats. It's been pointed out repeated here, that because of the stanchions attached to the front to the seats every two person section, many of the second seats will be unusable to so many passengers being enormously obese. With the current seating, even if the window seat person is extremely obese, there's still a part of the seat on the aisle to sit on.

    I would also like a Western Ave, crosstown line, again from Howard & south on Western all the way to 119th St.

    As for the West Loop, what's needed is the elimination of the L on Wells St & move it to Clinton St, so there will finally be direct service to both Union & Northwestern stations.
    That would mean moving the L from the east side of the Merchandise Mart to the west side & then a fixed, high level bridge over both the North Branch of the river & all the railroad tracks leading into both stations. The bridge would be a signature structure due to its length & height. The Wells St. bridge is from 1922 & is in the last years of its life. It's doubtful it will last more than 20 more years & if you're replacing it, go all the way in.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    I never said there will be more seats, I said there will be room for more PEOPLE - I don't think you'll dispute that. I could care less if everybody gets a seat - I want everybody to fit on the train and get where they need to go.

    I also don't think it should be a priority to cater to the obese. About a quarter of Chicagoans are obese, and I'd bet that obesity rate is lower among the public transit-riding population (since they're less likely to own a car). Let's worry about moving the majority of people first, and focus on comfort later.

    I think a Western crosstown line is interesting, especially since there's a rail ROW there right now, but I still think Ashland is a better choice (closer to denser populations). Both would probably need to be BRT as a start, which would work well on those two wide streets.

    As for your West Loop idea, it's interesting, but I don't know if you'd want to eliminate the Wells St. portion of the Loop. It gets fairly high usage today (think Brown Line in the morning), and there are plenty of office buildings along that side of the Loop. The West Loop transportation center should provide the connections you're looking for (if it can be funded/built), and it would then just need to be connected to the rest of the system. Maybe still connect to the Brown Line as you suggested?

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    1. Focus on equipment maintenance. The trains are ridiculously and dangerously noisy (for your hearing at least) and ride roughly, and it's all down to poor maintenance. Keep wheels true. Follow manufacturer-recommended maintenance. If the trains were maintained like on other transit systems, they would not deafen passengers or anyone walking under an 'el bridge, nor would they create NIMBY noise backlash from neighbors, nor would they pound on elevated structures like jackhammers, nor would they have a stressfully bad ride. And keep pushing on bus bunching. It has improved significantly since Bus Tracker, but there's still a long way to go. Train drivers to be more customer-friendly. They earn more than drivers of any other major transit system; they should give more.

    2. While we're talking about improving customer experience, what about working with CDOT to make sure bus routes are better maintained? State Street and Michigan Avenue are falling apart. As is a good chunk of North Lake Shore Drive. It has to be brutal on the buses, never mind the passengers. Converting some LSD lanes to peak hour HOV might also help speed the buses. Here's another one. How about reducing noise in the freeway median stations? One of the worst examples is the 33rd Street exit at Sox/35 on the Red Line, where one side of this long walkway is glassed in but the other is completely open to the traffic noise and the elements. Whose idea was that?

    3. Focus on making services faster so more people use them. Bus Rapid Transit, straightening out curves on el lines, rationalizing and upgrading track layouts (e.g. poorly designed Red Line junction at north end of Cermak; poorly designed Green Line junctions just south of Roosevelt), rationalizing station layouts (e.g. Sheridan and its horrible S-bends), or combining neighboring stations (e.g. Argyle-Lawrence), or improving the handling of closing doors on the trains (either giving drivers a better view back or bringing back the guards), would all reduce transit times. Maybe even restoring A/B trains if you can boost overall frequency of service.

    4. Join the dots with Metra and Amtrak. If we're going to be thinking of new expansions, that should be the priority. Shouldn't the Green Line be reconnected with Metra Electric at Stony Island/63rd? How about connecting Union Station to anything at all -- ideally a new subway route, and as a stopgap, a frequent bus rapid transit service that could drive into the station using the former taxicab access? If we're going to do a Yellow Line extension at all, shouldn't it connect with Amtrak and Metra on the Milwaukee District line, either directly or via BRT? How about extending the #55 Garfield bus from Midway to the Amtrak/Metra at Summit? What about connections between 'el and Metra at O'Hare and/or Rosemont? Perhaps a more frequent Metra Electric with CTA farecard privileges? There are tons of other possibilities too.

    5. Wherever possible increase frequency, but focus on quality first (e.g. bus bunching, train noise and ride) as this will at least make the service more pleasant and predictable. Quality, then more ridership, then more frequency, then yet more ridership. Hopefully.

    6. Don't offer your employees lavish pay increases using money you don't have to put their wages even farther ahead of every other transit system in the country.

    7. Do something about your management, as without reform in this department, your employee buy-in for any kind of reform is going to be minimal.

    8. Look at the bus route structure again. East-West services and diagonal services in much of the South Side are awful. People on the far south side, e.g. 130th, shouldn't have to wait for Red Line extension to get decent transit -- they should get express bus now. Clybourn and Elston were discontinued years ago, yet haven't been reinstated even with the emergence of both streets as retail centers. And why is there no express bus service from the North Side to downtown that stays on Lake Shore Drive until Grant Park, forcing everyone to crawl up Michigan? On the other hand, do buses need to stop every block? If express services are restored, should there be an X and a local, or should everything on those streets simply stop every other block rather than every block?

    9. Lobby the state for sales tax reform. Unless Illinois starts making services subject to the sales tax, your revenue from sales taxes is doomed to go down, as the trend in shopping everywhere, not just Illinois, is fewer goods and more services. Broaden the base and lower the rates, as they say -- it will make the revenue more predictable and more stable, and less prone to mass shopper defections from local retailers to Amazon.

    10. Go to London, try first buying and then using Oyster cards for a week, consider the discounts and customer service Oyster card users get, and then ask yourself what you've done wrong with the Chicago Card and how to fix it.

    11. End the free rides for seniors. Half fare is fine.

  • In reply to dblissmn:

    Well said - I think the vast majority of your suggestions are excellent. My only qualms would be your complaints about noise (definitely not a top concern for me) and your suggestion for a CTA-Metra connection at 63rd/Stony (that WOULD be possible, were it not for the Woodlawn power brokers who lobbied to tear down much of the East 63rd Street tracks).

    I really think BRT is a key near-term solution for the CTA. It's cheap, would definitely improve service on non-Loop routes, and could be a precursor to future rail expansion if the ridership justifies it.

    I know I've said it before, but Ashland seems like the perfect place to start - high ridership, dense neighborhoods, close enough to the West Loop for CBD expansion, and a wide street that could bear losing a couple lanes for transit-only service.

  • In reply to aaronjbrown:

    See my comment here
    for a seconding of your Ashland BRT thoughts.

  • In reply to dblissmn:

    I dislike sitting sideways, but I'll deal with the sideways seats. I hate standing in a train that's so crowded my nose is flattened against someone's back.

  • In reply to dblissmn:

    Implement CTA Gray Line 'L' service on the South Side: http://bit.ly/GrayLineInfo

  • In reply to mikep621:

    Any more news on this Mike? Last I heard you were discussing the possibility of another forum at the U of C on the Gray Line's future.

  • In reply to aaronjbrown:

    I have been talking (harassing) to CTA and Metra, and amazingly they are both willing to have a preliminary meeting together, to discuss the idea early next year.

    Also early next year will be the beginning of the RTA/CDOT South Lakefront Corridor Transit Study, to which both Metra and CTA have committed to sending representatives (also the FTA and IDOT).

    Please join the Gray Line Coalition AB (and all) and stay updated on upcoming events: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Gray_Line_Coalition/

  • In reply to mikep621:

    I've known about the idea since I started grad school when I moved here but this was the first time I truly looked into it and its nice to know that someone agrees with me! I am against the idea of a red line extension when the Electric District/ Rock Island District trains serve the very area where the CTA is proposing to extend the Red Line at a cost of over $1 billion dollars. I am also a realist and unless the state intervenes, the extension will happen. HOWEVER, according to the Trib (http://www.chicagobreakingnews.com/2010/11/lawmakers-target-transit-agencies.html) there is some talk about eliminating the boards/ hiring competent people to run the regional system. If that does happen, the Red Extension could be scrapped and the South Side District lines could run like they're supposed to. After spending time in Paris, its a shame that the Electric District doesn't operate like the RER.

  • In reply to ibright05:

    Reading all the things all these people are saying about trying to get CTA (and the other local transit agencies) to add more cars at times; bus routings and frequencies, stop locations, etc., etc.

    It clearly demonstrates why there should be people with transit knowledge and experience at the helm of all of these agencies; rather than Mayor Daley's technique of placing administrators with N O experience in a particular field - in charge of a citywide agency. Brain Surgeons are obviously VERY smart people - but most of them can't fly Airbus A380's; and vice-versa for A380 Pilots.

    If they do manage to pass a bill in Springfield letting Transit Board members be elected instead of appointed; I will run to be elected to the RTA or CTA Board.

    I would base my campaign on the fact that I am the only Private Citizen in the State of Illinois, who has worked and succeeded in getting a Major Capital Project included in Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning's (our NE Illinois Regional Metropolitan Planning Organization) Regional Transportation Plan GoTo 2040 as an Unconstrained Project.

    N O N E of the present Officials of ANY of the local Transit Agencies/Operators have PERSONALLY (as a Private Citizen) submitted a Transit Project for funding.

    I think that would make a great Election Platform, what do you think??

  • In reply to mikep621:

    So true. And funny enough, if I didn't feel a potential conflict of interest (I'm a transit planner for a private company), I'd do it too.

  • In reply to ibright05:

    Late to the party here Oh Well.

    First this test.

  • In reply to wegerje:

    OK so no images.

    I did some work with CTA data and produced a series of maps with the goal of creating a map of frequent lines, both bus and el.

    Here is a version which is not frequency but rather service volume. Volume is not the same as frequency since there can be lots of trips during rush hour and few at other times.

    Here is a series of true frequency maps at different times.

    What I took away from the effort was that 79th street, imho, desperately needs BRT. Being a northsider I was surprised at the number and frequency of buses on 79th street.

    My other surprise was Ashland. I came to the conclusion that it too needs BRT. I concluded too, again imho, that Ashland should go to Howard and that Clark should end with a connection to Ashland rather than the other way around. But as I looked further I see that Ashland is a very long route now that is not broken up like Western into multiple segments.

    In reading about the wish for the return to Express bus service, I had an unsatisfactory experience on the Western X49 Express. I rode it between Irving and the Blue Line one day around 9am. It barely beat the local bus. Not worth it for me in that instance.

    Coming back to Ashland and BRT I think that is the direction to go. If the trip one Ashland could be done faster than it could go longer to Howard. But if express buses do go faster enough, especially during rush hour than that doesn't work.

    I used to drive Ashland every day for several years from Peterson to Division. The diagonals - Lincoln, Clybourn, and Elston were the big killers. So what if partial BRT were installed at those points. Or say pseudo-BRT. Dedicated lanes for two or three blocks leading into the intersection and reverting back to none after. Give the bus signal priority at the light and very likely up to five minutes of time could be saved. (Especially at Clybourn where the backup in the morning was easily 5 minutes for two to three blocks of backed up traffic.)

    That's out-of-the-box suggestion (imho again).

    Here's out-of-the-box suggestion two. Cameras on Express Buses so they can give tickets to cars parked in no rush hour parking exclusive bus lanes and LSD Bus lanes.

    With the LSD lanes cars could be in the bus lane but would be required to move to the side to allow an approaching bus to move through rush hour traffic quickly. That idea could create some wacky driving styles on the lane where a bus could be coming at any moment and if you were too close for too long you would get a camera ticket. Hoo-boy imagine that one!

  • In reply to wegerje:


    In reading the desires of others here for a return to Express bus services...

    If the trip ON Ashland could go faster...

    But if express buses do NOT go faster enough, especially during rush hour than that doesn't work.

  • In reply to mikep621:

    I wish too that people would stop trying to beat the trains in or out of the stations where the tracks are at ground level. I don't particularly care if someone that stupid is hurt, but I feel bad for the motormen involved in such accidents. Also, I never, never want to be a witness.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    I like ALL of your wishes.

    I'd add: do whatever needs to be done to create a more stable bed for the tracks on the red line south of 35th. We've been suffering from rough rides and slow zones for years. Some operators try running at full speed, only to have the ride get so rough that riders are getting bounced off the walls or thrown out of their seats. Any repairs made on the tracks down here don't seem to last long, then we're back to the rough ride again.

    Better connections with Metra and Amtrak are a must. And how about running more 145 buses on at least a partial northbound run in the a.m. so there's a decent connection between the LaSalle St. Metra station and N. Michigan Ave. I had a nightmare commute for a while that could have been reasonable if the 145 bus ran more often. Adding some short runs (covering the Loop and Mag Mile) could make life easier for a lot of people who are poorly served now.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    A new, transit savy and oriented CTA president would be nice too....

  • In reply to aaronjbrown:

    I'm all for the side seats. I just wish that they would have a gap between every two seats. Side seats are better for rush hour so more people can squeeze onto trains. I love how people complain about seats when most people dont get one now. Only in Chicago would people rather keep older, more inefficient trains just so they can attempt to get a seat. Now, I love to sit but realistically speaking, 1) you dont pay for a seat, you pay to ride, 2) again, the increase in capacity will ease crowding 3) they're new flipping cars. And knowing CTA operations, these cars are especially needed to reinstate 6 car off peak trains on the blue because 4 cars ain't cutting it.

    However, I will say that the CTA Brass should've learned from NYC and just went for bench seating instead of trying to install individual seats because Chicago has a lot of big people. That is a concern for the forward facing seats now and will continue.

    I have to disagree with Kevin, the rush hour intervals are what they were on the red, blue, brown and purple lines. Now I know for the blue, the fringe of rush hour was cut back by a headway but its still carrying reasonably well. I don't *like* the midday headways but in the grand scheme of things, they work. And honestly, the blue line is almost perfectly predictable nowadays during the midday that I rarely wait more than a few minutes for a train (I time my travel to the train schedule...and it actually works!)

    My wish list does include:
    Train tracker- cuz cmon, we need it.
    Reinstated X service- not necessarily along the same corridors but there's routes that need 'em.
    more fare media options.
    A more aggressive (and knowledgeable) executive team to combat the union.
    Plans for upgrading switches to full blown automated crossovers so we can actually short turn trains so they don't run empty and waste money (I'm looking at you Forest Park).
    And finally, an educated public- I know its never gonna happen but this is a wish list, right?

  • A festive train for every major holiday!! :D

  • I completely agree with your statement. The CTA had some useless X routes (X4, X20, X55) and desperately needed ones (X9, X28, X49, X54, X80). The cuts should have been made by the planners who *actually know* how a route is doing instead of a blanket systemwide cut. Granted, I have a planner's bias since I am a planner (Not CTA) but it was a mistake to cut the X9 and X49.

    If I had a X route wishlist, it would be:

    X9- Ashland
    X49- Western
    X53- Pulaski
    X54- Cicero

    X95- 95th
    X79- 79th
    X63- 63rd
    X66- Chicago
    X74- Fullerton
    X80- Irving Park
    X81- Lawrence (assuming the city is done widening Lawrence)

    I know people are screaming about a North or Belmont X but the streets frankly aren't wide enough to support X routes as they too would get bogged down in traffic.

    I'd also like to add X routes onto Clybourn and Elston, stopping only at transfer locations and major destinations. I don't own a car and would like to shop on Elston but I'm not walking with bags to reach the first bus.

  • Cheryl, I totally agree. The accident at Kedzie yesterday morning is just another example of this. I wish people wouldn't be so stupid as to inconvenience the commuters and shake-up motormen and passengers.

    Instead of the Brown Line running all the way through the Loop, I think it would be interesting if the Orange Line and Brown Lines were consolidated, similar to how they were consolidated during Loop construction. Is it really necessary for the Brown, Purple, and Pink Lines to go all the way around the Loop?

    Bring back the X's. I miss the X49.

    Get rid of free rides for seniors. We have a program in place, it is called the Circuit Breaker Program.

    I believe train trackers are in place at many stations, so riders can know when to expect the next train, but this should be implemented in all stations.

    Fix the weird scraping noises when the train leaves the Western Brown Line station. It makes me nervous.

    How about some knowledgeable CTA employees working in the stations? That would be nice. Know your routes and stations. It's not that hard.

    I wish that they could fix the speakers on some of the trains--it gets so loud sometimes, it hurts my ears.Also, I wish that Mr. CTA would be quiet. Do we need him to announce 7 different things when you board the train? "Please keep personal belongings off the seat next to you..." Do we really need that reminder? In Paris, they announce the train station twice--in route to the station, and when the train arrives at the station.

    And I wish CTA riders would be more considerate. I don't need to hear your music blasting from your headphones. This is not a dance party.

  • Better connections with the Amtrak station is a dream of mine. Hell, I'd take up-and-down escalators at Quincy as a start.

  • In reply to elllveee:

    Quincy is a historical landmarked station thus elevators and escalators will never happen there, because they weren't there originally.

  • In reply to elllveee:

    I'd like CTA to realize that the red line is packed during late nights and reducing the number of cars is the opposite of helpful. When all 4 cars on a train are completely packed it's time to add more cars. They'd know this if they ever actually traveled by CTA

  • In reply to mitruth:

    This is an issue between operations and planning. Running longer trains doesn't cost more to operate (still one operator) but the additional wear and tear costs are a factor. Planning juggles the cost of putting out too many cars (which leads to capacity increases) versus cost. So for example, running a 4 car train every 15 minutes holds say 400 people packed so 1,600 people every hour in one direction. If you make it an 8 car train every 15 minutes, you double that to 3,200 per hour at the max load point and that is way too much capacity. So to balance it, you'd get 8 cars every 20 minutes, carrying 2,400 people. However, you have worse service. Some would say that the red line does carry 2,400 riders but I think everyone knows that a 20 minute headway is too long for the line. So we're stuck at 4 cars every 15 minutes. And honestly, not every red line train is filled to the brim between 1a and 4a.

    HOWEVER, rail ops does cut the trains too early at times. There needs to be a unified time for when trains go from 8 to 4. I can't speak for normal cut times for the Red Line since I'm a blue line rider but sometimes the trains are reduced to 4 cars as early as 7p coming from Forest Park and conversely, there's times when there's 8 cars all night long. But again, planning may set the specs but its up to rail ops to follow them. And that, my friend, is a whole 'nother issue.

  • In reply to ibright05:

    Aren't six-car trains possible, so that CTA's only choices aren't four or eight cars?

  • In reply to jbredin:

    Good luck with that. It's been rail op's preference to only have 4 or 8 car trains for the Blue, Brown, Orange and Red Lines. Their reasoning? It's easier to cut. Let alone provide the correct amount of cars for service. The Green and Purple get six car trains because some platforms can only hold 7 cars max.

    Its funny when you hear the logic.

  • In reply to mitruth:

    Have the rush hour purple line stop at Sheridan!

    There's a lot of Lakeview people who commute to Evanston, with no simple way to get up there. One option, while waiting the requisite 10-20 minutes for the purple line, there are about 4 brown line trains between each purple. The brown line trains are generally empty heading north, so why not turn one into a purple?

  • I will bow to your superior knowledge about the recent cuts to service. I agree that federal money should cater to local knowledge. And if locals are going to accept federal money and if that money comes with strings then by all means they should not use the money and strings as an excuse to make bad decisions in other areas.

    I am new to the BRT notion. So since it is a new tool in my thinking I find myself looking for relevant "nails" for this new "hammer". I likely fall into the trap of "if the only tool you have is a hammer then everything looks like a nail" syndrome sometimes.

    Still one of the beauties of BRT is that it can be done in pieces. Unfortunately, as you point out, it's likely that federal money is only available for entire systems and not for pieces.

    So my thinking is to begin to use BRT pieces within the current CTA bus system. You don't have to create an extire "Express" bus infrastructure in order to speed up travel times. You can eliminate one bus stop in a quarter mile stretch, add a two block bus only curb lane at a critically slow intersection and viola you save two to four minutes in a rush hour schedule. The only thing lost is some rush hour parking, likely on a street in an area where there is off-street parking anyway.

    One big catch is illegal parking. That's where the bus-ticketing-camera comes in. The fine can be small, say five or ten dollars at the start. Later the fine can be five dollars for every bus inconvenienced.

    Those things require some cooperation with CDOT or whomever. As long as we are there lets start getting some control over traffic lights for buses. That's another BRT piece that can be implemented bit by bit.

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