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Abner Aug 4, 2008 1:48 AM

Well, I think the stations and track on the south branch are generally fine, it's just that the view is really, really depressing. You're of course right that the Olympic committee doesn't seem to have a clue about the real problems involved with their claims that it will be easy to get to the venues via public transit, but that's a separate issue from the sad ride from downtown to Garfield.

Honte, at least a little discussion of the West Side is tolerable if it relates to the Green Line, I think. There has been some redevelopment in Austin west of about Laramie and north of Madison, but the neighborhood is still probably one of the least safe places to ride the train (does anyone have data that are easier to gauge than everyblock.com?). Part of this might have something to do with the fact that the line is used for drug dealing and trafficking a lot. On the West Side, the Blue Line through North Lawndale would definitely look more the part of a bombed-out neighborhood if you could see it from the train. You're probably right that the worst neighborhood along the line is West Garfield Park and eastern Austin, roughly from Central Park to Laramie. Austin is an interesting place because it developed as a middle-class suburban area pleasantly removed from industry and railyards. I've mentioned before that the Lake branch is great infrastructure and ridership has seen huge gains-you'd have to be crazy these days to talk about shutting the line down--but I do wish they could improve safety on it.

honte Aug 4, 2008 2:59 AM

^ Sure. To be fair, I know very little about the green line out there. I only see that neighborhood by car and the limited interaction I have there on foot. But the changes have been tangible.

emathias Aug 4, 2008 2:28 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Chicago3rd (Post 3710313)
So how would you propose we have "smoothly-flowing expressways"? I know this doesn't happen much in the freeways/tollways around Chicago.

First of all, I never said we needed perfectly smoothly-flowing expressways. Expressways are mostly anti-pedestrian and diminish local quality of life in favor of a general increase in regional quality of life. It's a balance - you need some, but usually the number it would take to build your way out of congestion would happen partly because of more capacity, but also partly because people would move out of areas with too many expressways, de-densifying and reducing demand. That's not something I'd want to see.

My point is that building transit next to existing expressways, though usually cheaper than building through neighborhoods, is counter-productive. First, bringing cars and pedestrians together is not a great idea, second, expressways are wide and reduce effective density near the stations nearly always, making them less convenient, and during off-peak times, transit users will be treated to watching cars zip by at 70mph while waiting for a train that probably won't get above 50mpg and will stop frequently. Expressway-aligned transit could work for commuting, but that's really about it. Designing systems only for commuters is a little wasteful - when possible, systems should be designed for all-around use whenever possible. That means putting transit where people live and walk, not where people drive.

I'm glad we have a train to O'Hare, but would it be better-used in general if it were aligned through neighborhoods? I'm glad that 95th on the Red LIne is the highest-used station in the system, but wouldn't the Red Line do better if it were aligned over the rail tracks to the west of the Dan Ryan, an easier walk to most of Bridgeport, instead of the middle of an expressway? It would be less duplicative of the Green Line, and closer to residences and pedestrians. That's my point, not that expressways are the answer, but that putting transit next to expressways is silly for anything except commuter transit.

emathias Aug 4, 2008 2:34 PM

There are patches along the Green Line that are sad and lonely with a lot of empty lots, but I think the Douglas Branch of the Pink Line is just as bad - in places worse.

The vast tracts of now-empty lots that UIC is sitting on is, frankly, disgusting. They certainly don't help the areas on the west part of Douglas Park and Lawndale where there are also blocks with only a couple 3-flats on them.

Green Line south of 35th is sort of a mix, plenty of blocks that could really use some additional development, but also some nice old housing stock that isn't so bad to look at.

The west branch of the Green Line isn't bad to look at, though, with only a few spots of visibly empty blocks.

Abner Aug 4, 2008 5:17 PM

That's right, I was just reminding LA21st that vacancy/abandonment levels don't always predict crime or general neighborhood deterioration perfectly. And something does need to be done with all the land UIC and the Medical District have been sitting on, but I thought that was all east of Douglas Park, am I wrong?

Expressway medians make for unpleasant public transit, but I think you are a little too dire. Aren't the Kennedy stations on the O'Hare branch still highly used? When the Blue Line is revamped to reach 70 mph it should look pretty competitive with cars for most of the day. I'm guessing the lower cost of lines along expressway medians is pretty compelling given that the right-of-way already exists and the tracks can be laid along the ground. Oh well, for better or worse, we already have just about all the median lines we're going to have anyway (except possibly the Red Line expansion).

Chicago3rd Aug 4, 2008 6:33 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by emathias (Post 3713301)
First of all, I never said we needed perfectly smoothly-flowing expressways...

Quote:

Originally Posted by emathias (Post 3713301)
No "L" or subway style line will ever compete with a smoothly-flowing expressway. It's not possible for a train that tops out at even 70mph, but only between widely-spaced stops to beat a car going 70mph with no stops. Then when you count the walk from the Loop to Streeterville, it's a no-brainer that driving from Oak Park to Streeterville in all but the worst traffic congestion is going to be faster, when they can just drive to Congress, take Wacker to Columbus and be right where they need to be.

Why did you even bring up “expressway flows smoothly” then?

A train flowing smoothly with no stops going at 70 mph = a car flowing smoothly with no stops going at 70 mph.

I think having the trains going down the express ways is great. We need to be more TBD's at the stations....creating urban villages at each stop. For neighborhoods like Jefferson Park who don't want TBD's to be built then they need to be accessed more taxes for the loss or revenue that the City and Transit authority will lose to keep things the way they are.....their own private CTA/Metra Station.

Same goes for all the cities on the Metra who don't want traffice to come in for Park and Rides. Charge those cities taxes to cover the fare loss/parking loss/revenue loss from not building a TBD in order for them to maintain their own little private Metra station.

Alliance Aug 4, 2008 6:36 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Chicago3rd (Post 3713766)
Why did you even bring up “expressway flows smoothly” then?

A train flowing smoothly with no stops going at 70 mph = a car flowing smoothly with no stops going at 70 mph.

Except a train caries about 100x more people.

VivaLFuego Aug 4, 2008 6:58 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by emathias (Post 3713309)
The vast tracts of now-empty lots that UIC is sitting on is, frankly, disgusting.

I believe these are actually state-owned, acquired via eminent domain as part of the Illinois Medical District PD. Being held for eventual institutional expansion, in theory.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Abner (Post 3713608)
Expressway medians make for unpleasant public transit, but I think you are a little too dire. Aren't the Kennedy stations on the O'Hare branch still highly used? When the Blue Line is revamped to reach 70 mph it should look pretty competitive with cars for most of the day. I'm guessing the lower cost of lines along expressway medians is pretty compelling given that the right-of-way already exists and the tracks can be laid along the ground. Oh well, for better or worse, we already have just about all the median lines we're going to have anyway (except possibly the Red Line expansion).

The expressway median stations on both the O'Hare and Dan Ryan branch have decent ridership numbers, but the wide station spacing means the riders-per-route-mile (a very rough metric of system efficiency) on these branches is quite low. One equitable solution of which I am a proponent is to charge fare premiums (e.g. an extra quarter) to people boarding at the outer reaches of these expressway lines (e.g. O'Hare - Harlem, Forest Park - Austin, 79th - 95th) but CTA would be running into a fire with all the social justice people for raising fares anywhere remotely near a poor neighborhood. Might be better off just putting in an O'Hare Airport surcharge (unpaid by monthly pass users, i.e. employees) and calling it a day. That said, you're right that the lower initial capital cost of using existing transportation right-of-way is very significant as compared to acquisition costs elsewhere, particularly since the environmental impact statement and community vetting process mean new elevated lines through neighborhoods are basically a non-starter these days.

rgolch Aug 4, 2008 7:37 PM

What ever happened to the west loop transportation center? Is that idea dead, or was it always just visionary? I remember seeing something about it in the Chicago 2020 plan.

emathias Aug 4, 2008 8:47 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Chicago3rd (Post 3713766)
...
A train flowing smoothly with no stops going at 70 mph = a car flowing smoothly with no stops going at 70 mph.

A train that doesn't have stops is kinda useless and a pointless comparison ... but no, they don't equate, because a car can take you to your final destination, a train can only take you to a (small) subset of possible final destinations. I'm a big transit and rail fan, but denying the obvious isn't any way to mount an effective transit argument.

Quote:

I think having the trains going down the express ways is great. We need to be more TBD's at the stations....creating urban villages at each stop. For neighborhoods like Jefferson Park who don't want TBD's to be built then they need to be accessed more taxes for the loss or revenue that the City and Transit authority will lose to keep things the way they are.....their own private CTA/Metra Station.
I'm glad that you enjoy walking across the access road plus six lanes of wind-whipped, exhaust-spewing traffic to get to a rail station, and then standing in the breezy exhaust, but not all of us are such nature-lovers ...

Quote:

Same goes for all the cities on the Metra who don't want traffice to come in for Park and Rides. Charge those cities taxes to cover the fare loss/parking loss/revenue loss from not building a TBD in order for them to maintain their own little private Metra station.
Actually, a lot of cities with Metra are doing a lot more with TOD near their stations than the City of Chicago is doing with TOD near CTA stations. And that will probably remain the case while alermanic privilege remains in effect. Naperville near the rail station is better than many of the "L" stations in Chicago - maybe even better than the majority not counting downtown stations.

ardecila Aug 4, 2008 9:41 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by emathias (Post 3714032)
Naperville near the rail station is better than many of the "L" stations in Chicago - maybe even better than the majority not counting downtown stations.

Not really. Sure, you can walk from the train station to plenty of shopping, eating, and entertainment, but residential density in downtown Naperville isn't much higher than any other historic town center along a Metra line. In fact, the density is probably less due to people combining residential lots in teardowns, and the removal of housing for parking and shops.

Outlying neighborhoods in the city, although they aren't really adding retail or residents, are still denser than the historic sections of commuter suburbs because the lots and homes are smaller, and multi-family housing has always existed alongside the homes.

A better example is Arlington Heights. It doesn't have the level of retail that Naperville does, but it has lots more people. The last 20 years has seen Arlington Heights be incredibly friendly to density in their downtown - so much so that NIMBYs can no longer claim high-rises as being out of character. There hasn't been any new development for about 7 or 8 years now, but there's little room remaining. Meanwhile, Des Plaines and Park Ridge have taken up the torch, each adding several 6-story or taller buildings recently. Even Palatine has gotten in on the act, although they're still far behind the other three. Mount Prospect and my town, Barrington, still aren't sure if they want development.

Chicago3rd Aug 4, 2008 11:27 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by emathias (Post 3714032)
A train that doesn't have stops is kinda useless and a pointless comparison ... but no, they don't equate, because a car can take you to your final destination, a train can only take you to a (small) subset of possible final destinations. I'm a big transit and rail fan, but denying the obvious isn't any way to mount an effective transit argument.

Thus the question....where in Chicago Metro is there an ideal car situation? Where traveling smoothly from Oak Park to the loop happens the majority of time? Sorry...we spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday going back and forth to Naperville...and traffic was always around Oak Park and into the city. We agree...but I feel the having two lines from CTA and the Metra and still choosing to drive into the loop/michigan ave are is not supportive of public transit.

Quote:

I'm glad that you enjoy walking across the access road plus six lanes of wind-whipped, exhaust-spewing traffic to get to a rail station, and then standing in the breezy exhaust, but not all of us are such nature-lovers ...
I stated I supported them being in the middle of the freeways/tollways but noted we need to change the station environment and area around the stations.



Quote:

Actually, a lot of cities with Metra are doing a lot more with TOD near their stations than the City of Chicago is doing with TOD near CTA stations.
I have heard 5-9 years at some stations.....to wait for parking so someone can take Public Transportation.



Quote:

And that will probably remain the case while alermanic privilege remains in effect. Naperville near the rail station is better than many of the "L" stations in Chicago - maybe even better than the majority not counting downtown stations.
Naperville station area is VERY weak. That huge parking lot on the north side...the fricken ugly desert waste of that surface parking lot.....it screams more parking, residential and retail.

Abner Aug 5, 2008 2:04 AM

I think the bottom line is it's rarely a question of a transit line in the expressway median vs. an elevated or subway line through a neighborhood. More likely it's a choice between a transit line in the expressway median and no transit line at all, or between a new expressway with a transit line and a new expressway without one. In that case, the choice is pretty clear.

ardecila Aug 5, 2008 2:49 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Abner (Post 3713608)
Oh well, for better or worse, we already have just about all the median lines we're going to have anyway (except possibly the Red Line expansion).

Don't forget the long-term plans that RTA has to extend the Blue Line out to Downers Grove in the median of I-88.

Also, we're not the only city to build median transit lines. DC took the idea and built their Orange Line in the median of I-66, and the plans for the Silver Line out to Dulles Airport take it along the median of the Dulles Toll Road (which was built extra-wide for that purpose years ago). Also, Atlanta built their North Line in the median of GA-400. I'm sure there are others. It is worth noting, though, that in both the DC and Atlanta examples, the rail line deviates from the highway at certain points to encourage development (Arlington/Tysons Corner in DC and Perimeter in ATL).

VivaLFuego Aug 5, 2008 3:21 AM

There's a good deal that can be done to make the expressway median experience better for transit riders. The big Dan Ryan rehab was a mixed bag:

Pedestrian facilities at street level were drastically improved. Overhead canopies over the crosswalks, and shelters at bus waiting areas. Bravo.

At track level, however, they didn't rebuild the trackbed retaining wall to be higher (even about 3-4 feet higher would have done it). This would have accomplished the very major goal of substantially impeding the direct path for sound waves to travel from truck engines to the poor ears of waiting transit customers. In stations where with higher retaining walls (e.g. Cumberland Blue Line, if memory serves) the waiting experience is notably less awful. I suppose one could possibly figure out some sort of semi-transparent sound absorbing screens to put up, but it would have to allow for air circulation and light, while being very low maintenance and sturdy.

There is very little that can be done about the air quality issue, though, I see a good deal of potential in the Eisenhower. At least from Pulaski to the Halsted subway portals, the 4-track right of way could allow for the Ike to actually be sort-of converted to a real Congress Parkway; median greenery would both improve air quality and absorb noise, aside from looking better than ballast. Combine this with improvements to pedestrian facilities at street level, and you've come a long way.

The other big thing is upgrading the tracks for 70mph operation. Even though you usually won't beat the cars due to the station stops, and even though your trip time might only be cut down by a minute, there's something psychologically important about going as fast as or faster than the cars on the road beside you. Otherwise, you sort of know subconsciously you're second class for being stuck on the slow train like a sucker. Despite only a minute of travel time savings, many people would experience an increase in their overall perceived trip value by more than just their time-value of 1 minute.

honte Aug 5, 2008 3:23 AM

^ Denver is doing expressway median transit on I-25 I believe.

Has anyone ever considered building transit along the side of the expressway instead of in the Median? Obviously, it's easier to have it in the median, but on the side at least it could be physically a part of some neighborhood and hopefully trigger some urban-style development there. I'm thinking of a situation like Oak Park's, where there are commercial buildings along the highway at times. For me, the biggest issue about the transit in the median has to do not with noise and pollution, but with the fact that the transit is usually nowhere near anything attractive for use on foot.

For example, due to the way the trains run, Bridgeport will probably never be as cool as Wicker Park, despite similar proximity to downtown and despite the fact that Bridgeport has more train service.

lalucedm Aug 5, 2008 3:25 AM

Most cities realize that, as great as it would be to build rail lines through neighborhoods, in reality that would require a lot of eminent domain, especially for CTA lines that would run through densely-built up areas....so, probably anything new that is built will be on some sort of pre-determined path...expressway median, or in the case of the Orange Line, a pre-existing rail right-of-way. A sad reality of our times. At costs of $100 million a mile (at the extreme low end) just for creating a metro line on a pre-existing right-of-way, this is likely all that transit agencies will pony up for in these times when governments are too cheap to build anything truly nice in the United States.

the urban politician Aug 5, 2008 3:55 AM

Just out of curiosity, does anybody know why Chicago didn't redevelop its elevated trains into underground subways in the early 1900's like New York did?

Mr Downtown Aug 5, 2008 4:12 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by honte (Post 3714700)
Has anyone ever considered building transit along the side of the expressway instead of in the Median?

Part of Portland's original MAX line is beside the Banfield Freeway (the cut was widened to accommodate the light-rail line). Generally, though, there's a problem with on- and off-ramps and side-of-road transit unless you put it up on a viaduct.

I spent part of last week in Vancouver, whose automated ALRT I have long considered an underappreciated technology. Sections of the existing lines and long portions of the new Canada line are on elevated guideways alongside arterial roads (Vancouver has no freeways). I am unclear whether the municipality had reserved right of way (only about 12 feet is really necessary) or whether it had been squeezed out of existing setbacks and public ROW.

Incidentally, though I usually say that Chicago "pioneered" freeway median transit lines, the first was actually in Los Angeles. When Cahuenga Blvd, precursor to the Hollywood Freeway, was built in the 1940s, it included a median strip for the Pacific Electric. By the time the full freeway opened, this had been replaced with pullouts for express bus lines. Of course, median transit like New Orleans's St. Charles line and Chicago's Stony Island carline go back much further.

honte Aug 5, 2008 4:23 AM

^ Interesting... The on and off ramps seem to be the biggest challenge, obviously. Is the development pattern near this MAX line trending toward something more urban than Chicago's median strips?

Quote:

Originally Posted by the urban politician (Post 3714772)
Just out of curiosity, does anybody know why Chicago didn't redevelop its elevated trains into underground subways in the early 1900's like New York did?

There is a very good book out there called "Chicago Transit" that details this. But as I understand it, the basic answer is that the lines were privately operated and the system was not coordinated toward producing a unified whole. Throw in a good dose of typical Chicago corruption, and there you have it.


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