Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: Training for the Big Game

Checkerboard City, Green, Transit, West Loop No Comments »
The United Center, as seen from the Pink Line. Photo: John Greenfield

The United Center, as seen from a Pink Line car. Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Every time I take the Pink Line to Pilsen and gaze out the window at the United Center, I’m struck by the apparent stupidity of train service that goes right past Chicago’s largest sports and music arena, but doesn’t stop there. The nearest existing stations, the Blue Line’s Illinois Medical District stop to the south, and the Pink and Green lines’ Ashland-Lake stop to the northeast, are both roughly twelve-minute walks to the stadium, long enough to discourage train use. But a new Pink station near Madison and Paulina would be a four-minute hop, skip and jump to the front doors.

As it is, the land use around the arena encourages driving to Bulls, Blackhawks and Bruce Springsteen events. While Wrigley Field, next door to the Addison Red stop, is surrounded by bars and restaurants where fans can spend money after games, the House That Jordan Built sits in a vast moat of parking lots. Read the rest of this entry »

Chasing Temporary Anonymity: Find the Courage to Be a Nobody

Education/Training, Essays & Commentary, Hyde Park 2 Comments »
Harper Library/Photo: Tom Rossiter

Harper Library/Photo: Tom Rossiter

By Greg Langen, MA ’13

Welcome to the University of Chicago. If the manicured quadrangles did not tip you off, you have arrived at one of the most intellectually rigorous and prestigious research universities in the world. But I’m sure you already know this. I’m sure you’ve already looked up the rankings of the school and your particular programs, crosschecked them with the schools that rejected you, compared them with the school that that one kid from your high school got into. If you are an incoming First Year, I’m sure you’re a bit anxious about starting classes, a bit uneasy about those things that you saw on your roommate’s Facebook page. And I know some of you are rapidly wondering where you can buy fresh goji berries or coconut water in Chicago. Don’t worry. I’m sure they’re here somewhere.

However, before you allow the pomp to confer upon you either a sense of accomplishment and/or an obligation to be unendingly brilliant, I kindly ask you to find the courage this year to be an absolute nobody.

Last year, before setting foot on campus, I made the mistake of Googling the notable University of Chicago alumni, assuming that in some absurd and distant way me and say, Philip Glass, were now somehow connected. We aren’t. At all. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Train in Vain

Checkerboard City, Green, Transit No Comments »
Danny Resner by the decorative spire at Ashland/63rd / Photo: John Greenfield

Danny Resner by the decorative spire at Ashland/63rd/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

On Saturday, National Train Day, my El-racing brother-in-arms Danny Resner and I tried to write a new chapter in the saga of competitive CTA riding. The rules are simple: you must stop at and/or depart from every station by train, although it’s not necessary to ride every inch of track, and you can only travel by El, bus or shoe leather.

Several people, including Danny and me, have worn the CTA racing crown at various times. In October, ad men Chris Aubin and Garrett Sorrels set the current record for 145 stations: 9:12:39. We hoped to snag the title before the five-month shutdown of the south Red Line for a $425 million track rehab and station enhancement project, which starts this Sunday. Here’s how our day went down:

10am We begin our journey in Wilmette at the Purple Line’s Linden station, a stone’s throw from the Bahá’í temple. Last week a seven-month, $2 million slow-zone-elimination project started on the line north of Howard and we see yellow construction vehicles parked along the track as we roll south. Just before we reach Howard to transfer to the Yellow Line there’s an excruciating twenty-minute delay. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: A Holiday Express Gift Guide

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Holidays, Transit No Comments »

By John Greenfield_MG_9912

A true Chicago sustainable transportation blackbelt is never late, unless it’s the CTA’s fault. But if you’re running a little behind in your winter gift shopping, here are a few last-minute ideas for the walking, biking and transit enthusiasts in your life. Most of these nifty items are locally made and available at independent stores, which means a minimum of gasoline was burned getting the products to market, and by purchasing them you’ll be supporting the local economy. Plus, these presents will encourage your friends’ and family members’ healthy commuting habits. Can’t get much more politically correct than that. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: A Great Leap Forward?

Checkerboard City, Green, Loop, South Shore, Transit No Comments »

Photo:John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

7:58am After waking up at an ungodly hour, cycling to the CTA’s Fullerton stop, riding the Red Line south to 95th Street and pedaling a few more miles to the 103rd Street & Stony Island garage terminal, I board a shiny blue J14 Jeffery Jump express bus. As I load my cruiser onto the front bike rack, the driver calls out the open door, “Could you hurry up please? I gotta go.”

Launched on November 5, the Jump is a new service that’s the transit agency’s first venture into bus rapid transit (BRT), systems that create subway-like speeds for buses via car-free lanes and other timesavers. The Jump, funded with an $11 million Federal Transportation Administration grant, isn’t full-blown BRT. But it does include several pioneering features that will hopefully pave the way for bolder bus corridors downtown and on Ashland and Western avenues later this decade. I’m here to ride the entire sixteen-mile route from the Far South Side to the Loop, to see how these elements are working out. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Life in the Bus Lane

Checkerboard City, City Life, Green, Humboldt Park, Loop, News etc., Politics, Transit 1 Comment »

Proposed BRT configuration/Image courtesy of CTA

By John Greenfield

“It comes down to: how do Chicagoans want their streets?” said Chris Ziemann, the city’s bus-rapid-transit project manager, as we drank coffee downstairs from the Chicago Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) downtown headquarters last week. “Do they want them to be congested every day at rush hour with gridlocked vehicles? Or do they want fast, reliable bus service and nice, comfortable conditions for walking?”

As car-dominated transportation systems become increasingly dysfunctional, more U.S. cities are looking to bus rapid transit (BRT) as a solution. BRT delivers subway-like speed and efficiency at relatively low costs through upgrades to existing streets rather than new rail lines. These improvements can include dedicated bus lanes, pre-paid boarding at stations in the road median, bus-priority stoplights and more. BRT is already common in Latin America, Europe and Asia, and it’s currently being piloted in dozens of American cities. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Red All Over

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Roseland, Transit No Comments »

95th Street Red Line station/Photo:  John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

After sprinting east down Fullerton Avenue on my bicycle, I make it to the turnstiles of the eponymous Red Line stop just before the 4pm bike-and-ride cutoff. As I relax onboard with my wheels, the train passes through the near North Side, the Loop and the near South Side, then decreases in speed as we pass through slow zones, sometimes decelerating to walking pace. In all, the fifteen-mile rail trip takes forty-five minutes, with an average speed of merely twenty miles-per-hour.

When we reach the end of the line at 95th Street, the roar of traffic assaults my ears, since the platform sits in the median of the Dan Ryan Expressway. I’m on my way to a CTA open house at the Palmer Park fieldhouse to learn about the 95th Street Terminal Improvement Project. It’s estimated to cost $240 million in federal, state and CTA funds, about half the total bill for Millennium Park. The formal design process is slated for later this year, with construction in late 2014, after the Red Line South Track Rehabilitation Project is completed. Read the rest of this entry »

Rough Ride: The region’s transit agencies tighten their belts

Transit No Comments »

Photo: Gilbert Feliciano

On an icy Monday night, a handful of citizens braved the cold to visit the Loop office of the Regional Transit Authority, which sets the budgets and provides oversight for CTA, Metra and Pace. They’re here for the last of several public hearings on the RTA’s 2011 financial plan. Several of the attendees are transit activists who show up regularly for these kind of meetings. There are also a few people with disabilities here, and there’s a sign-language interpreter at the front of the room.

Joseph Costello, the RTA’s mild-mannered executive director, starts the hearing by explaining how the sour economy has impacted the three transit agencies. Reduced consumer spending means the RTA’s largest source of public funding, a 1.5 percent share of Cook County sales-tax receipts plus .5 percent of receipts from the five collar counties, dropped from about $750 million in 2007 to roughly $650 in 2010. Meanwhile, the cash-strapped state government has been delaying its payments to the RTA, making it tough for the transit oversight body to pay its own bills. Read the rest of this entry »

Trains of Thought: Riders sound off on the CTA’s budget

Politics No Comments »

Tuesday evening at the Chicago Transit Authority’s headquarters, 567 West Lake, and a few dozen citizens file through the lobby with its life-sized cow sculpture, plastered with photos of CTA stations, then up the stairs and past a 3D neon rendition of an “L” train zooming by skyscrapers. They’re here to offer their two cents on the agency’s proposed $1.337 billion budget for 2011 at one of four public hearings being held across the city.

Last winter, the transit authority tightened its belt by cutting nine express buses, reducing service hours on forty-one bus routes, and providing less-frequent service on 119 buses and seven of the eight rail lines. The goal for 2011 is to hold the line on fare increases and service reductions, despite the bleak economic picture.

This new budget is actually 5.2 percent larger than last year, partly due to pay raises, healthcare and pension costs required by the agency’s contract with its union workers, according to management. “Balancing the budget was very challenging this year,” says CTA president Richard L. Rodriguez in a press release. “Nevertheless, the CTA expects to accomplish a great deal in 2011 and it will do so by being resourceful and innovative.” On the plus side, next year the agency will be adding new, smoother-running rail cars to the system and debuting a “Train Tracker” service. Read the rest of this entry »

Train in Vain: The new dynamic of CTA intimacy

Essays & Commentary No Comments »

Common Sense for Chicago 2010

The CTA started introducing its new breed of trains this spring, bringing jarring changes to the typical morning commute. Passengers got to experience a much shinier and cleaner, smoother trip. But what changed most notably was that special type of cozy awkwardness that tends to accompany the ride.

The train follows a New York subway-style layout, which is said to allow for more standing room. Instead of the two-to-a-row layout, you’re lined up longitudinally. Now, you don’t have to sit next to someone you don’t know, intimately rubbing elbows, or experiencing terrifyingly loud snoring, with the potential that your shoulder could soon become your neighbor’s pillow.

But then again, not experiencing that is almost like not riding the El at all. The traditional seating arrangements allow for a special, albeit bizarre adventure. But with this new design, you’re sharing your discomfort with the person on the other side. And you’re doubly discomforted, sandwiched between your fellow passengers. Read the rest of this entry »