Archive for the ‘Chicago’ Category

No designated drivers needed on transit

August 20, 2009

(hat tip to Matt Johnson)

Budweiser has a great ad (not sure how it relates to beer really, but that’s for the ad men to decide – and then convince me) with a nice little tour of Chicago from the El:

It’s always interesting to me reading the history of various legacy transit systems and the push to remove old elevated railways.  While they’re far from perfect, the El just is Chicago.  And riding it gives you a unique view of the city – good neighborhoods and bad, industrial areas, expressways, downtown – everything.

Zach Schrag notes that initial concepts for DC’s then-undefined rapid transit systems included proposals for elevated systems as a means to see the sights and monuments.  I’m not convinced that’s the reason to pick elevated, but it’s certainly a fringe benefit.

The only thing that would make this ad more ‘Chicago’ would be if they were pushing Old Style instead of Bud.



July 8, 2009

Wonder Woman wants streetcarsAwesome.

Unintended Consequences. Discovering Urbanism (cross posted on GGW) notes how well-intentioned regulations on reducing stormwater runoff can have some seriously counter-productive consequences.

Sometimes genuinely smart and well-intentioned people err by focusing intently on the piece of the puzzle they have been commissioned to solve, thereby missing the larger system within which their problem is embedded. It’s the classic widen-the-freeway-to-reduce-congestion scenario. It may solve the technical problem at hand, but it exacerbates the Real Problem.

It’s Gold, Jerry!  Gold! The Transport Politic notes an interesting conversation about upgrading part of the current Metra Electric line to better integrate with the CTA’s rail facilities.  This line would then be dubbed the “Gold Line,” a not-so-subtle nod to future events in the area,  given the line’s proximity to a number of the planned Olympic facilities for Chicago’s 2016 bid.  Regardless of Olympic facilities, this seems like a great idea – quite frankly, something that should have been done a long time ago.

The Gold Line plan would attempt to solve some of those problems by converting parts of the Metra Electric line, which runs from Millenium Station downtown south along the waterfront, to CTA operation at a cost of $160 million. This would require new faregates, 26 more train cars, and several track and station upgrades. The project would also include the creation of a new station at 35th Street in Bronzeville. While the service would continue to be operated by Metra, customers would ride the trains as if they were CTA-owned, and they would be able to transfer without extra cost to CTA buses and rapid transit.

Most importantly for people living along the lakefront, trains would now run at maximum 10-minute frequencies from 6 am to midnight, ensuring that the system is reliable at most hours. Trains on the Electric Line currently run once an hour during off-peak times, making it hardly an option for people who need to get around the city during the day. The same service options are offered on most of the Metra network.

Those familiar with the Metra Electric line know that it’s already got a more rapid-transit like structure through the south side, with stations spaced much closer together.  This is the perfect case to show what integration of the rider experience across modes could do.  My one question is why limit it to just a portion of the Metra Electric line?  Why not pursue this kind of upgrade to the entirety of the line?

STEEM Powered Streetcars? Alstom has yet another entry into the catenary-free streetcar operations.  Such technology would be great for DC, given DC’s ban on overhead wires.  Still, it’s not easy to be an early adopter of these kinds of things.

If implemented, Alstom’s new STEEM system*, on the other hand, will require less catenary wire and no underground construction; it simply requires the upgrading of existing tram vehicles. Trains will be equipped with large batteries connected to their motors that will be charged each time the vehicle brakes, much like the way a Toyota Prius hybrid refills its battery. In addition, the trams will be able to benefit from charging during 20-second station dwell times, where trains will benefit from a catenary; theoretically, the system wouldn’t require the use of the catenary between stations.

There’s also one big sticking point:

Alstom’s technology is not yet advanced yet to work on fast-moving American light rail systems, which typically have station stops up to a mile apart, likely too far for its battery capacity to handle. Whether the system can handle the incredible wastefulness of air conditioning — something not present in Paris — is a different question. But it could be particularly useful for streetcar networks, such as the one planned in Washington, D.C., where a congressional ban on overhead wires is still in effect — something that could likely be circumvented if the wires were only present at stations. In cities like Portland where light rail stations downtown are just blocks apart, the technology could mean the ability to get rid of overhead wires in central sections of the network.

Yeah, such a system better be able to handle A/C.  I like to keep my transit usage and sauna visits separate.

Parking Shmarking. Richard Layman was in attendance at a recent meeting on keeping 7th St SE near the newly-reopened Eastern Market closed during the weekends.  This is a great idea, only opposed by a few merchants who overvalue the parking spaces in the area – and don’t have a great understanding of the value of a space versus the turnover of that space.   Those parking spaces don’t do your business any good if someone’s car is just sitting in it all day.  That’s not going to get you more customers.

For Sale.  CHEAP. If you can find it.

Political FAIL. The answer is staring us in the face.

BeyondDC  is considering a new career editing articles for clarity and accuracy.

Links – Harumph.

July 7, 2009

The Urbanophile makes no little plans with a nice review and synopsis of transportation’s role in Daniel Burnham’s famous Plan of Chicago.   As someone born and raised in the Midwest, I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for Chicago.

His “City Beautiful” movement can also easily be read as a precursor to urban renewal. Indeed, a good chunk of his plan consists of Robert Moses like street building and street widening projects, many of which were in fact carried out. And he drew direct inspiration, and even claimed inspiration in the document itself, from Hausmann’s bulldozing of the Paris to construct the grand boulevards there.

On the other hand, writing in 1909 he can perhaps be forgiven feeling overly optimistic about the automobile, and the more humane side Burnham shows through in many places as well. So let’s take a look.

Given DC’s abundance of very wide streets, widening them isn’t reason alone for a bad plan.  Indeed, many of Burnham’s widened streets, even if the goal was to better accommodate the car, function today as grand avenues.  Michigan Avenue in particular comes to mind.  Moses, on the other hand, brought in expressways.  What a difference 30-40 years makes in both the evolution of the automobile, as well as the evolution of road design.

Lake Shore Drive has a more mixed legacy – it’s definitely more in the “parkway” mold of Moses’ freeways, but other elements of the plan (such as the double decker streets downtown) are functional for both cars and pedestrians alike.  Wacker Drive not only provides great backdrops for the Blues Brothers and Batman, but it’s a fine public space as well.

Another relevant note and similarity Chicago shares with DC:

“The greatest disfigurement of the residence street is found in the varied assortment of poles which crowd out the trees along the space between the curb and the sidewalk.”

One thing that cannot help but strike any visitor to Chicago is the near complete absence of utility poles apart from street light standards on streets. And not just residential streets, but commercial streets. This is extremely rare in the United States. Chicago has more alleys than any city in America, and its power, telephone, and cable lines are located there. (As is its trash – take that, New York!).

Amen.  It’s just too bad that DC’s overly restrictive legislation against overhead wires inhibits development of streetcar networks, etc.

Chicago is a huge city, but it often doesn’t feel that way. Get out of the core and you find streets full of mature trees and greenery exceeding that found in much smaller places. This is no concrete jungle. It is a city for people.

As someone who grew up in the Midwest, Chicago always felt like the “big city,” but was definitely still Midwestern in vibe.  It’s a truly remarkable city, and this observation is spot on.  The neighborhoods feel welcoming and fit in to the larger city like lock and key.  It’s a similar feeling I got upon arriving in DC.  My previous experience had been almost totally federal, without any real exploration of DC’s neighborhoods.

The only real parallel is that DC never has (to me) that same kind of Big City feel that Chicago does – but much of that is due to Chicago’s dominance over its region.  Nevertheless, it’s a great place to visit.

Thank you sir, may I have another! Randal O’Toole continues to get lambasted amongst the pro-urban bloggers.  The Overhead Wire weighs in on Ed Glaeser’s op-ed piece – comparing it to O’Toole’s work (for someone of Glaeser’s accomplishment, that’s not a compliment), and Ryan Avent takes a shot at O’Toole’s recent testimony before Congress:

The performance earned dismal reviews. One by one, the other witnesses pointed out that failure to adequately examine land use effects rendered O’Toole’s analyses worthless.

Mode choice isn’t just about direct energy use, they explained; it’s about how increased driving or transit use affects development patterns and broader economic activity. Moreover, increased transit use improves the efficiency of driving by reducing congestion.

It’s great to see O’Toole’s ‘analysis’ get this kind of treatment not just from bloggers but from the fellow panelists as well (and even a Senator or two).

O’Toole was without friends in a room of leaders that finally seemed to grasp how planning had gone wrong in the last half century. At this moment — with vehicle miles traveled falling, with central city population growth rates increasing as suburban growth rates fall, and with central city housing prices showing resilience as exurban neighborhoods continue to experience rapid decline — Cato’s myth of sprawl as the American dream seems more hollow than ever.

Happily, legislators — at least those who attended today’s hearing — increasingly seem disposed to acknowledge reality.

That’s great.  Now, about turning that thought into action…

Maps. GGW and BDC have a couple of posts on GGW’s publication of several MWCOG maps of home locations of employees based on where they work.  The patterns are quite interesting, showing how people tend to cluster their homes nearby their place of employment, regardless of transport mode.  Thus, for employees in DC’s downtown Federal buildings, their home choices are located around Metro.  NIH employees tend to congregate on the Wisconsin Ave/Rockville Pike corridor, etc. Similarly, suburban job centers like Reston still show a great deal of concentration, but not nearly as tight as the transit-oriented locations.

BDC’s policy takeaway:

Think those downtown workers are the ones clogging I-66 and I-95? Not likely. The situation could not be more clear: If you want to foster Smart Growth and multi-modalism, put your jobs in the city. If you want to foster sprawl and congestion, put them far away. End of story.

I would add that within our current framework of transit corridors and job centers, continuing to try and transform an area like Tysons Corner into more of a city is worthwhile.  However, consider the rest of Tyson’s Silver Line neighbors – transforming the Dulles Corridor into something more like Rosslyn-Ballston well after the fact is going to be easier said than done.  We don’t have much choice but to try, but running a subway down the median of a freeway isn’t going to produce the best results.

Random Stuff:

  • Austin Contrarian looks at the relationship between the skill level of employees in cities and the density of that city.  Bottom line – more dense, more skilled – and the relationship is particularly strong when you look more at the weighted density of an area.
  • Housing Complex looks at the plans for Rhode Island Ave, starting with some woefully underutilized land near one of the original 1976 Metro stations.   Fun facts to know and tell – Brentwood has the highest elevation of any station in the system.
  • Metro operators probably shouldn’t be texting while driving.