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Land value taxation as solution for RTA's 2026 "fiscal cliff"

December 4, 2023

The Regional Transportation Authority's public hearing on the 2024 proposed budget is December 7, 2023. It's via Zoom. 4 pm till 6 pm. You'll get 3 minutes to speak.

Or send written testimony in an email message to through December 7.

The RTA budget and Zoom registration link are on this page. 2024 Regional Transit Operating Budget and Capital Program

My concerns are the taxes offered for consideration to the state legislature. RTA is not recommending any of these tax increases, making it entirely the legislature's responsibility.

Federal operating subsidies in pandemic-era legislation run out in 2025. There will be a $730 million operating shortfall in 2026, the "fiscal cliff". Now, the operating shortfall is based on a number of issues. Ridership isn't going to recover to pre-pandemic levels because central business district land use has changed. Loop office workers aren't going back to work 9 to 5 jobs weekdays. The system has failed to adapt to post-pandemic travel patterns. We're still ignoring Metra commuter rail as a solution for transportation within Chicago, something that could solve all problems the Red Line extension from 95th to 130th is intended to address. South Shore once had a station at 130th St. I oppose extending rail to locations at which we don't want new housing built, where potential housing sites are highly likely to be swampy and brownfields.

RTA is the umbrella governing body for CTA, Metra, and Pace. RTA has taxing authority, which is currently the sales tax. In the five collar counties (DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, and Will), a portion of the sales tax is returned to the counties and typically gets spent on highway. There is a state operating subsidy that's largely based on sales taxes. There's also a real estate transfer tax levied by Chicago given to RTA for pensions. CTA, Metra, and Pace lack taxing authority. City of Chicago has a transit capital program that doesn't go through RTA. NICTD (South Shore commuter rail to Hegewisch, Hammond, East Chicago, Gary, Michigan City, and South Bend) has a separate transit capital program as well. The Indiana portion doesn't go through RTA but the Illinois portion does.

RTA is a unit of local government, not a state agency. It's a special district (most special districts are school districts) and does not have home rule power. Any change in taxes it may levy requires the state legislature to amend its authorizing act.

Also, if the state legislature were to eliminate the RTA sales tax levy, it would have to prevent Chicago or a county board from levying higher sales taxes in order for consumers to benefit.

The plan RTA is lobbying the state legislature with is here. Transit is the Answer

About the plan

Figure 7. Top 11 revenue options (taxes and fees) is on page 46. You'll be shocked SHOCKED to learn that neither the property tax nor land value tax were considered.

If the Land Tax Is Such A Good Idea, Why Isn’t It Being Implemented? by Rick Rybeck March 8, 2019

Note that the sales tax is rated low in the field "equitable outcomes".

RTA staff's theory is that the benefits from improved public transportion to, er, persons whom society challenges with inequity are so great that we should just ignore where public transportation gets its tax revenue.

No, it doesn't work like that.

Note in the 10-year Financial Plan memo

Plan resources | Transit is the Answer

2023 Regional Transit Strategic Plan
Memo Summarizing Work of the Ten-Year Financial Plan Technical Working Group
September 2022

on page 19, sales tax increases have a low rating for equitable outcomes due to their regressivity.

The definition of the criterion "Equitable Outcomes" is defined as

The degree to which costs associated with the funding source reduce the share of impacts on historically disadvantaged groups, particularly low-income households and including communities of color, people who possess limited English proficiency, have a disability, and/or are senior citizens

RTA isn't meeting transportation demand, which is why ridership is way down. Infrastructure, especially rail transit, is one place, the population is someplace else. Society directly and indirectly discourages building housing near existing rail stations, even though areas surrounding rail stations that are now depopulation were once largely residential. Job opportunities aren't well served with an easy commute via public transportation.

A land value tax solution would actually address the housing shortage and the market itself should encourage new housing construction near rail stations if building and zoning codes are improved.

Good transportation planning should take care of network design.

But as long as tax policies (among other government policies) act to deter construction of housing where it's possible to serve with public transportation, then public transportation will never be able to do its job.

Fare integration progress!

December 21, 2021, implemented June 20, 2022, and February 20, 2023

I am a member and co-chairman of Pace Citizens Advisory Board. At our meeting this morning, Pace staff reported the most wonderful progress on fare integration.

As you read in the news, CTA implemented a new fare chart effective November 21, 2021. CTA has regular fares, reduced fares, and student fares. The 25 cent/15 cent/15 cent transfer surcharge was eliminated for a CTA to CTA transfer. In addition, promotional prices were changed on CTA-only 1-day $5 (down from $10), 3-day $15 (down from $20), and 7-day $20 (down from $28). The CTA 7-day pass with $5 Pace surcharge became $25 (down from $33). The new fare chart also lowered the CTA-Pace regular 30-day pass to $75 (down from $105), and the CTA-Pace reduced 30-day pass to $35 (down from $50).

Pace implemented the same prices for the pass products it shares with CTA in its fare chart.

There are negotiations with CTA so that Pace will accept the 1-day and 3-day passes and the $5 Pace surcharge on the 7-day pass will be eliminated. The $55 Link-Up surcharge on Metra monthly tickets will be lowered to $30. In addition, CTA would accept Link-Up at all times, rather than weekdays 6:00 am - 9:30 am and 3:30 pm - 7:00 pm. This is not yet a done deal, but it's hopeful. No funding mechanism was identified to make up for revenue foregone. Unfortunately this will not include U-Pass.

Note: The $55 Link-Up Pass and $30 PlusBus passes were sold with Metra monthly tickets. Link-Up was accepted on CTA weekdays only 6:00 am - 9:30 am & 3:30 pm - 7:00 pm during the calendar month. Both Link-Up and PlusBus passes were accepted on Pace at any time during the calendar month. Both passes were replaced with the $30 Regional Connect Pass sold with the Metra monthly ticket, accepted on CTA and Pace at any time during the calendar month. Metra began selling them June 20, 2022, for use with the July monthly pass.

Note: Both CTA and Pace implemented fare charts effective February 20, 2023. The $5 1-Day and $15 3-Day unlimited ride passes for full-fare passengers are being accepted on both CTA and Pace. The $5 Pace surcharge on the 7-Day unlimited ride pass was eliminated, so both CTA and Pace are accepting the $20 7-Day unlimited ride pass. The 30-Day unlimited ride pass, $75 for full-fare passengers and $35 for reduced fare passengers had long been accepted on both CTA and Pace.

CTA and Pace continue to offer separate pass programs for college students, U-Pass and Campus Connection. The $35 30-Day pass for reduced fare permit holders is not sold to elementary and high school students, but the $30 Pace-only 30-Day pass is.

Note about partial elimination of the transfer surcharges: CTA had stopped collecting the transfer surcharge on the second link of a three-ride linked trip if the passenger had used CTA for the first link. With the new fare chart, Pace is no longer collecting the transfer surcharge if the first link was on Pace. But both agencies collect the transfer surcharge if the first trip in the link was provided by the other agency. There is no transfer surcharge on the third link.

In 1975, the RTA transfer was created and sold on suburban buses. On a suburban bus to CTA trip, it was exchanged for a CTA transfer. On a CTA to suburban bus trip, the CTA transfer was accepted. This was the last major implementation of fare integration by RTA. Very little has happened on this policy over the last decades.

I personally introduced a proposal in which Pace and Metra could integrate fares with nominal cooperation from Metra. This assumes the passenger has a Ventra account linked to a Ventra card and the Ventra app. For Metra and Pace trips taken on the same day (3 am till 3 am), the difference between the Metra fare plus 30 cent Pace transfer and the separate fares paid to Metra and Pace would be credited back to the passenger's Ventra account. Metra would share Ventra app ticket purchase information with Pace. Pace would handle crediting back fares in a back office transaction. I don't like the idea which doesn't accomodate cash fare payers but I don't see a scenario in which Metra would allow its conductors to issue Ventra tickets to the bus passenger to handle the transfer, nor for Pace to equip buses with Ventra ticket printers.

Fare revenue should be on a bill-and-keep setup with the revenue foregone from accepting a fare issued by the other agency charged to a separate account, funded by RTA or Cook County or the collar counties.

Please post your thoughts here: Fare policy

CTA will change berthing position of all trains at "L" stations to the far end of the platform without taking passenger needs into account

July 26, 2021

I am a member of an advisory board to Regional Transportation Authority called Transit Access Citizens Advisory Board (RTACAB). At our meeting this morning, the CTA ADA Advisory Committee representative reported that CTA will be changing the berthing position of trains on the "L" system so that the head car always stops at the far end of the station platform regardless of train length. The CTA accessibility staffer confirmed this and stated that the change would take place in August or September.

Right now, CTA operates trains on the "L" system with full-length train consists at all times as a COVID-19 pandemic response. A full-length train consist is 8 cars, with the following exceptions: 6 cars on Evanston Loop and Evanston Shuttle trains, 2 cars on Skokie shuttle trains, and 4 cars on Pink (Douglas) shuttle trains.

Prior to the pandemic, trains could be cut to 4-car or 2-car lengths during off hours, especially late evening and overnight.

The motorman is required to pay attention to signs in the right of way with instructions on where to berth the train. These signs are placed by maintenance of way crews on the instruction of other departments. It's costly to place signs in the right of way, given that crews must obey strict safety measures so they aren't struck by trains.

Typically, an 8-car train is berthed at the far-end of the platform while shorter trains are berthed in various places, depending on the location of the platform canopy and stairs, escalators elevators, or ramps accessing the station platform.

If the train is berthed on the far end of the platform but access to the platform is at the near end, it's a significant extra walking for passengers to board a short train. At times of low patronage, passengers tend to prefer to congregate at the station house or under the canopy where there's shelter and the station is well lit. This provides a sense of safety standing with other passengers.

On parts of the "L" system, there aren't full-length platform canopies that cover the far end of the platform, especially on the Brown Line (Ravenswood). One doesn't wish to stand in the open during inclement weather.

Platforms can be rather long on certain routes, especially the Forest Park branch of the Blue Line (Congress), which generally has long ramps to access bridges over the expressway. At some stations, the ramp at the secondary end was closed decades ago. Of course it makes a great deal more sense to berth the train consist near the open ramp and not the closed ramp.

At many stations on the Dan Ryan "L" (Red Line) and O'Hare "L" (Blue Line), the far end of the platform may not even be served by a point of access and it makes no sense to have the train stopping there.

At numerous stations on the Howard (Red Line), Ravenswood (Brown Line), and Midway (Orange Line), the point of platform access is in the center of the platform and this is the desireable location for shorter trains to berth.

In all my years riding the "L", I have never had the experience that a motorman would berth the train in an unsafe manner so that the rear end of the consist is beyond the platform. This isn't a widespread problem that requires the expense of an operating change nor inconvenience to the travelling pubilc.

One Central plods along, still hoping to win support from Pritzker

March 9, 2021

Metra Electric commuter service became publicly owned May 1, 1987, the date Metra completed its purchase from Illinois Central (still called Illinois Central Gulf at the time). Metra bought an "envelope" within which to operate on a portion of the railroad's lakefront and south suburban right of way. This did not include development air rights nor surface rights. On the Joliet subdivision, Metra operated the service but dispatching and ownership of the right of way remained with the freight railroad.

Metra has avoided doing much permanent work at this location as it's subject to deal-making with the mayor's office thanks to the Lakefront Protection Ordinance, so temporary shop buildings built in preparation for the 1926 electrification are still in use today.

Bob Dunn of Landmark Development is the current owner of development rights at Metra's two adjacent downtown yards, Weldon Yard and 18th MU Yard, and over the main tracks. Weldon is a small yard to the west that receives materiel. 18th is the midday rolling stock storage yard.

It's not cost effective to develop the air rights, so the developer would like the state of Illinois to pay to deck over the railroad at taxpayer expense. Governor Pritzker does not favor a massive subsidy to this developer.

There is an agreement with Metra on relocating yard tracks and I assume permanent shops, if the developer ever gets the massive state subsidy it wants.

Latest plans for megadevelopment One Central meet mounting South Loop community concern

By Madeline Makoul

Clout is key to proposed One Central boondoggle

Gazette Chicago
March 5, 2021

One Central developer says lakefront megaproject on track after deal inked with Metra: Bob Dunn of Landmark Development has an agreement for his project to build on air rights over commuter tracks near Solider Field.

By David Roeder
Chicago Sun-Times
Updated Mar 9, 2021, 6:51pm CST

One Central megaproject gets key support from Metra: The commuter rail agency says the $20 billion development is a "golden opportunity" to boost its operations.

by Greg Hinz, On Politics columnist
Crain's Chicago Business
March 9, 2021 4:00 PM

The headline is a bit of a misnomer. It's entirely possible that the entire project cost could be charged to a state mass transportation grant which would means the monies wouldn't be available for other projects.

The proposal also includes an "L" extension to the site of a replacement for Metra Electric 18th Street station which would require Orange Line trains to head in, then make a reverse move, then pull forward to resume their route to the Loop "L", an operating change that would not be favored by most passengers and increase CTA's costs.

South Shore to lease surplus Nippon-Sharyo cars from Metra

January 25, 2021

Metra has declared the 26 cars purchased in 2003 (received 2004-2006) from Sumitomo/Nippon-Sharyo for Metra Electric service to be surplus and have leased them to NICTD for Chicago South Shore and South Bend Railroad service. The lease at $3.519 million a year for 15 years starts in 2023. Metra will deliver them to NICTD as they go through rehabilitation, to be completed by August 1, 2024.

South Shore to lease double-decker trains from Metra

by Tim Zorn
[Gary] Post-Tribune
January 25, 2021 2:30 pm

IGA for 15 year lease of 26 surplus HL1 cars to NICTD

Recommendation to approve intergovernmental agreement with NICTD to Metra Board of Directors
From Jim Derwinski, Executive Director
January 13, 2021

Blair Kamin, architecture critic, retires from Chicago Tribune

January 13, 2021

Blaim Kamin, famed architecture critic of the Chicago Tribune, has retired after nearly three decades. This is his farewell column.

Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin reflects on 28 years of reviewing Chicago’s wonders and blunders, and why such coverage should continue

January 13, 2021 11:53 AM

Metra seeks injunction to maintain UP service

July 21, 2020

Metra and UP have been in negotiation for a new purchase of service agreement for months, now. UP wants to shift crew payrolls from itself to the public payroll for operating, clerical, and some B&B (building and bridges). B&B building crews maintain structures along the right of way, including stations, that aren't maintained by other maintenance crews. Structures for signaling equipment are maintained by signaling crews.

It appears that UP wants to force a one-time rise in its stock price by demonstrating that it's cutting payroll costs. The cut is artificial as having redundant crews for commuter and freight means redundant crew districts with redundant extra boards. Operating a railroad as a transportation facility for all types of trains, passenger and freight, is actually more cost effective.

UP has filed a number of lawsuits, but in this filing, Metra is requesting an order from the Surface Transportation Board that would force UP to continue providing service to commuter rail. The Metra press release states that it's seeking a preliminary injunction from STB, which is a form of equitable relief, but as a regulatory body, STB wouldn't issue injunctions. I think they meant they're seeking an order.

UP has not proposed turning over right of way to Metra. The taxpayers keep paying for major improvements to the railroad's right of way, such as the recent completion of the triple-tracking project along the UP West. Even if the railroad wanted to sell, the price would be significantly higher now that the right of way has been improved.

Transit Justice Talk: COVID-19 and Beyond!

July 20, 2020

I'm sitting in on yet another Zoom meeting. This time, it was called by Active Transportation Alliance, to hear from Matt Martin, Alderman, 47th Ward (Ravenswood), and Robert Peters, State Senator, 13th district (a narrow strip along the south lakefront from the Indiana state line through the Loop and to the Gold Coast).

Are these guys allies? Possibly. Martin seemed to understand that rents in the ward he represents are high due to good public transportation, at least to the Loop,

Peters, sigh, talked about how the Metra stations in South Shore aren't as nice as Metra stations on the north side. Huh? Every South Chicago branch station was replaced around two decades ago. They have large canopies, fully enclosed shelters, and heat. Stations on other Metra lines in the city are rather spartan compared to these stations. He also said he liked the idea of light rail, but wants it on a lakefront route from Navy Pier to the former U.S. Steel site, an area that's already served by rail.

They were both in favor of bus rapid transit. Martin seemed to understand that there are bus passengers who don't go downtown who should be served. CTA has a number of important bus routes that don't serve downtown.

ATA asked "fair fares": reduced fares for the poor and free fares for young adults. Peters sort of thinks it's a good idea but then talked about subsidizing Metra rides. It sounded like he really wants lower Metra fares.

The alderman has spent "menu money" on improving sidewalks and putting in pads at bus stops to improve boarding. He thinks the condition of bus stops has a tremendous impact on ridership and walkability.

How do we protect the community from the negative impacts of gentrification? The alderman believes future development plans need to be sensitive to displacement concerns and wants the city to have a comprehensive housing plan with an affordable housing strategy. What does it mean to "disincentivize" specific buildings as an affordable housing strategy, and how green can replacement building construction be as construction debris from the demolished building goes to a landfill? Incentives given to developers need to include guarantees that more affordable housing units will result. They want different options in working with folks to bring in more affordability.

Peters: cities chase "hipsterization", trying to "Williamsburg" everything, but pointed out that he's wearing a rose-colored shirt, kidding himself. He thinks gentrification is coming to Garfield near King Drive, opposes development that's not equitable. He wants rental regulations and affordable housing funding.

(Mentions Louisville and Breonna Taylor affordable housing component? No idea what he meant by that.)

One part of mitigating negative aspects of gentrification is preventing people from being forced out, but also wants people to be lifted up.

CTA Red and Purple Modernization Program project update

July 14, 2020

CTA has been holding virtual open meetings to provide project updates on Red and Purple Modernization Program, the capacity improvement and station replacement program that will take the rest of our lives to complete.

The project Web pages are here: Red and Purple Modernization Program - CTA

Two projects are under construction right now. Both recently had virtual town halls via Zoom. Video from each is supposed to be on the Web site but I'm not spotting it. I listened to Lawrence-Bryn Mawr; my question was not answered.

Red-Purple Bypass Project

Lawrence-Bryn Mawr Modernization Project

Walsh-Fluor Design-Build Team is the contractor. Rob Cheeseman represented the contractor at the meeting but said little. For CTA, Jesse Thomas from communications/community outreach led the presentation. Steve Hands and Chris Bushell represented design and engineering.

How will CTA operate during construction? When Wilson was under construction, three mains generally remained in service. During this project, just two mains will remain in service. Each station location will be built one half at a time. Existing stations at Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn and Bryn Mawr will close in 2021. Replacement stations will open in 2024. Bryn Mawr and Argyle will have temporary stations with two platforms each. The platforms at Bryn Mawr will have separate entrances. A closed Toyota dealership adjacent to Bryn Mawr was demolished and will be the location of the temporary station. At Argyle, the entrance will be near the existing station.

They didn't state how connecting bus service would be rerouted to temporary stations.

The platforms at the new stations will be 22 feet wide, which is almost as wide as at Jefferson Park and 95th. There will be elevators at all new platforms, plus escalators and stairs. Where will escalators be? How wide with the staircases be? Those are questions not yet answered. The existing station platforms are ungenerous in width but not inadequately narrow. The staircases are very narrow.

There isn't enough room within the existing retaining wall and fill for such stations. We've heard that the outer tracks will sit upon the retaining wall but I've seen no details. I am rather concerned if it'll be ballasted deck (preferred) or structure (and how transition between structure and ballast will be designed to avoid sun kinks).

There's still not much information about station design available. The artist's rendering shows those canopies that have been built at several extremely expensive "L" stations during the Rahm Emanuel administration, but I still think that the SOM-designed station canopies of the Dan Ryan and Kennedy stations from the late 1960s are the most effective design at protecting passengers from the elements. That's unlikely to be what we'll get.

They stated that the new stations will complement the historic districts near the station sites, but what we got at Wilson was fully modern.

There was no clear answer given on bridge clearance over local streets. Will it be improved for modern trucks or remain the same? There will be fewer columns supporting the bridges.

A new interlocking at Montrose was built in June. One wonders why the interlocking for Wilson construction couldn't have been retained. A new, permanent interlocking at Thorndale will be built over several weekends during July and August. There will be shuttle buses from Loyola to Berwyn; Granville, Thorndale, and Bryn Mawr will not be served by rail during interlocking construction.

Please post your thoughts here: CTA Red and Purple Modernization Program

Mary Wisniewski leaves Chicago Tribune

June 26, 2020

Mary Wisniewski, who covered the transportation beat for Chicago Tribune since March 2016 and wrote the Getting Around column, has left the newspaper to become director of communications for the Office of the Chief Judge of the Cook County Circuit Court.

Support the Cook County long-range public transportation plan because it's about good transportation policy

October 9, 2019

Kyle Whitehead, public affairs director, Active Transportation Alliance, recently wrote this blog post: Leaders should get on board with Metra Electric pilot

While I am pleased that Active Transportation Alliance supports this plan, I don't agree with the following statement that has been offered as a reason to support it.

The Chicago region is on the cusp of a big victory for transportation equity.

Equity is about civil rights. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance. Ineffective public policy is not a civil rights violation under Title VI.

The south side has received equity, for what it's worth. It wasn't cost effective and it didn't lead to a substantial increase in ridership. For the purpose of CTA ridership statistics, boardings are aggregated on the Dan Ryan segment of the "L", defined as Cermak through 95th. 2002 is the last year before reconstruction began. 2007 was a peak travel year on local public transportation, before the recession.

Dan Ryan "L" weekday boardings, selected years
Weekday boardings
2018 average 42,305
December 2007 average 46,946
December 2002 average 46,932

Please note that ridership is below pre-recession boardings.

Let's look at what was spent. There were three major reconstruction projects: Between 2003 and 2006, $192.5 million was spent on stations (including ADA improvements at most stations), bus-only bridge deck replacement and rehabilitation at 69th and 95th, power and third rail, signal and communications, and crossovers. In 2012, the route was shut down for 5 months and $425 million was spent on the subgrade ballast and drainage, power distribution, communications, track and tie, plus additional station upgrades that weren't completed in the previous Dan Ryan "L" spending. 95th Street was an additional $280 million. That's $900 million.

Because $900 million was spent during the Richard M. Daley and Rahm administrations, the city of Chicago could withstand a complaint of a civil rights challenge under Title VI. But was the riding public well served despite receiving equity?

For the first time in its history, the Cook County Department of Transportation and Highways is performing a long-range transportation plan that's more than just building and widening county highways. It includes freight and public transportation. South Cook Mobility Study Final Presentation

The county's plan includes fare integration between Metra Electric, Metra Rock Island, CTA, and Pace on the south side and south suburbs. The goal is a simplified fare zone structure with an expanded Zone A with fares equivalent to CTA rapid transit fares, and the suburban area split into Zone B and Zone C at substantially lower fares than today. University Park on Metra Electric is included, even though it's in Will County,

The physical plant was remarkable. The main line had no public grade crossings from Stuenkel Rd. near Monee to downtown Chicago. There were separate mains for suburban passenger, intercity passenger, and freight trains. At Randolph St., the tightly-confined suburban terminal -- five track lower (with a distant Track 1 berthing position for two-car shuttles to 53rd St.) for IC, five track upper for South Shore -- handled over 230 pairs of trains a day for the two railroads. There were three suburban mains Randolph St to 11th Pl., six suburban mains 11th Pl. to 51st St. (reduced to four mains in 1962), four suburban mains 51st St. to Kensington, and two suburban mains to Matteson with a tail track newly extended to Richton that year. This tail track would be further extended in 1977 to serve University Park. In addition to the suburban mains, there were two intercity passenger mains Stuenkel Rd. to Central Station and two freight mains Stuenkel Rd. to IC's downtown freight yard on the south bank of the Chicago River. There were two branches, one double track to South Chicago and another single track to Blue Island, plus a Washington Park Race Track branch with an event-only train schedule. The South Shore's own double tracks began at Kensington, with trackage rights via the suburban mains Kensington to Randolph.

What with a triple-island platform at 12th St. (Roosevelt Rd.) and double-island platforms in Hyde Park and Woodlawn, and pocket tracks for turnback at 53rd and 72nd, and towers at 43rd St., 51st St., 67th St., and Kensington, the four and six track territory could accommodate turnbacks at any number of locations with ease. Transfer stations were 53rd (also intercity), 63rd, 67th, and Kensington.

There were nearly 200 pairs of IC trains each weekday serving Randolph St., supplemented by a few Blue Island and South Chicago shuttles overnight. Blue Island branch had a 3 hour gap in service overnight, but there were no service gaps for main line and South Chicago branch trains. There were Saturday-only departures from Randolph St. in the early afternoon to accommodate the half day of work. Sunday had a full schedule of trains as many trains ran 7 days a week, although service on the two branches was often handled with shuttles. Midday service was typically 20 minute headways to Kensington. Schedules to Matteson and Blue Island were a bit irregular, around 40 minutes apart, sometimes more closely spaced than that. South Chicago branch trains were generally 10 minutes apart midday and rush hour, 15 to 20 minutes late evening, with hourly shuttles overnight and early morning.

There was Express and Special service, with Specials making fewer stops than Expresses. Blue Island Expresses were coordinated with Matteson & Blue Island Specials, allowing the passenger for Blue Island to leave Randolph St. 15 minutes later on the Special if he were willing to transfer to the Express at Kensington.

Blue Island Express and Matteson & Blue Island Specials were coordinated to allow Blue Island passengers to depart from Randolph St. 15 minutes later on the Limited if they were willing to transfer to the Express at Kensington.

Many, but not all, Matteson trains served the new Richton terminal.

The South Shore had 37 departures from Randolph St. and 35 arrivals. There were 19 pairs of trains Randolph St. to South Bend, allowing for an hourly service except late evening and overnight. There were 30 minute midday headways to Gary, with some instances of 15-minute headways during rush hours. There were cuts and adds of cars at Gary and Michigan City. This willingness to cut and add cars allowed for a limited stop section to continue to South Bend, followed by a local to Michigan City. Some service to South Bend was handled with a cut of a single through car beyond Michigan City.

This was the level of service the Illinois Central once provided on its suburban mains and branch lines, and the physical plant was capable of even more than that.

1946 Illinois Central suburban schedule, 1959 South Shore schedule

June 16, 2019

Recently, a friend provided me with historic schedules for Illinois Central suburban service (September 29, 1946) and the South Shore (April 26, 1959). Both schedules were representative of service levels offered at mid century, before significant cutbacks on the IC (mid 1950s) and CSS&SB (early 1960s) reduced service frequencies.

The physical plant was remarkable. The main line had no public grade crossings from Stuenkel Rd. near Monee to downtown Chicago. There were separate mains for suburban passenger, intercity passenger, and freight trains. At Randolph St., the tightly-confined suburban terminal -- five track lower (with a distant Track 1 berthing position for two-car shuttles to 53rd St.) for IC, five track upper for South Shore -- handled over 230 pairs of trains a day for the two railroads. There were three suburban mains Randolph St to 11th Pl., six suburban mains 11th Pl. to 51st St. (reduced to four mains in 1962), four suburban mains 51st St. to Kensington, and two suburban mains to Matteson with a tail track newly extended to Richton that year. This tail track would be further extended in 1977 to serve University Park. In addition to the suburban mains, there were two intercity passenger mains Stuenkel Rd. to Central Station and two freight mains Stuenkel Rd. to IC's downtown freight yard on the south bank of the Chicago River. There were two branches, one double track to South Chicago and another single track to Blue Island, plus a Washington Park Race Track branch with an event-only train schedule. The South Shore's own double tracks began at Kensington, with trackage rights via the suburban mains Kensington to Randolph.

What with a triple-island platform at 12th St. (Roosevelt Rd.) and double-island platforms in Hyde Park and Woodlawn, and pocket tracks for turnback at 53rd and 72nd, and towers at 43rd St., 51st St., 67th St., and Kensington, the four and six track territory could accommodate turnbacks at any number of locations with ease. Transfer stations were 53rd (also intercity), 63rd, 67th, and Kensington.

There were nearly 200 pairs of IC trains each weekday serving Randolph St., supplemented by a few Blue Island and South Chicago shuttles overnight. Blue Island branch had a 3 hour gap in service overnight, but there were no service gaps for main line and South Chicago branch trains. There were Saturday-only departures from Randolph St. in the early afternoon to accommodate the half day of work. Sunday had a full schedule of trains as many trains ran 7 days a week, although service on the two branches was often handled with shuttles. Midday service was typically 20 minute headways to Kensington. Schedules to Matteson and Blue Island were a bit irregular, around 40 minutes apart, sometimes more closely spaced than that. South Chicago branch trains were generally 10 minutes apart midday and rush hour, 15 to 20 minutes late evening, with hourly shuttles overnight and early morning.

There was Express and Special service, with Specials making fewer stops than Expresses. Blue Island Expresses were coordinated with Matteson & Blue Island Specials, allowing the passenger for Blue Island to leave Randolph St. 15 minutes later on the Special if he were willing to transfer to the Express at Kensington.

Blue Island Express and Matteson & Blue Island Specials were coordinated to allow Blue Island passengers to depart from Randolph St. 15 minutes later on the Limited if they were willing to transfer to the Express at Kensington.

Many, but not all, Matteson trains served the new Richton terminal.

The South Shore had 37 departures from Randolph St. and 35 arrivals. There were 19 pairs of trains Randolph St. to South Bend, allowing for an hourly service except late evening and overnight. There were 30 minute midday headways to Gary, with some instances of 15-minute headways during rush hours. There were cuts and adds of cars at Gary and Michigan City. This willingness to cut and add cars allowed for a limited stop section to continue to South Bend, followed by a local to Michigan City. Some service to South Bend was handled with a cut of a single through car beyond Michigan City.

This was the level of service the Illinois Central once provided on its suburban mains and branch lines, and the physical plant was capable of even more than that.

New Wilson "L" station, commentary on Blair Kamin's column

November 13, 2017

The new $203 million Wilson "L" station opened Monday, October 23, 2017, serving the Uptown neighborhood. The project was announced in 2011. The auxiliary entrance at Sunnyside, one block south of Wilson, is not yet open. The main entrance, fully accessible, is on the south side of Wilson, just west of Broadway. There's a farecard-only entrance on the north side of Wilson. The facade of the former station house building at Uptown Station, now called the Gerber Building, was preserved, but much of its interior was not restored and missing decorations weren't replaced. The original roof was demolished and replaced. Brand-new "L" structure and new bridges over Broadway were built to the west of the existing structure, preventing this building from continuing to be used as a train station.

Please post your thoughts here: New Wilson "L" station

Graham Garfield's history page Stations - Wilson

Commentary on "New Wilson station shows CTA's Red-Purple Line modernization is on track" by Blair Kamin, Cityscapes columnist, Chicago Tribune, November 10, 2017 1:50 PM

I was disappointed in Blair Kamin's column reviewing the new CTA Wilson station. I was appalled by the statement, "The project also is restoring the beaux-arts Gerber Building, once the station's main entrance and still one of Uptown's architectural gems."

This statement is not true. The Gerber Building, the new name of the closed station house, is not being restored. Missing interior decorations were not replaced. The roof was demolished and replaced. All that remains is the facade, with a brand new auxilliary station house behind part of it.

Arthur U. Gerber designed the station house with both lovely and practical touches. The station house was built under and to the east of the "L" structure in 1923. Wilson was now called Uptown Station. It was a significant station house because Uptown was a growing neighborhood with an important business center, a major stop for passengers for both the rapid transit to the Loop and the interurban to Milwaukee. Baggage was handled for long-distance passengers and there was an elevator to the platform.

It featured a grand staircase with brass handrails to a mezzanine. There were separate restrooms for male and female passengers, lounges, telephone booths, even a barber shop.

The station house interior had terrazzo flooring and art marble wainscoting. Please note that some of these architectural features were in place until the project began. Because terrazzo flooring is an ideal product for buildings with heavy foot traffic like railroad stations, the floor was still in excellent shape despite years of neglect. Some of the wainscoting was cracked, of course.

Mr. Kamin stated that the old station was "cramped and antiquated", but clearly, given that it was built to handle large numbers of both local and intercity passengers, this hadn't been the case at all. Unfortunately, CTA had cut it up into retail spaces in unkind ways. The leases of the retail tenants all ran out over the years; none were replaced in the last decade.

At track level, the station had a 24 foot wide center-island boarding platform, as wide as platforms built at modern CTA terminal stations like Jefferson Park (which was a terminal from its opening in 1970 until the route was extended in 1982) and 95th Street. This was wider than boarding platforms at Chicago Union Station. As the platform was originally served by an elevator, there would have been room to put it back in place to accommodate passengers in wheelchairs, a station that would have been easy to modify to comply with the federal Americans With Disabilities Act. A wide platform allows ample room for passengers and to get passengers in wheelchairs around obstacles. Note that on the new platforms, wheelchair clearance around obstacles like stairways is just a few feet wide, minimal clearance.

The old station was dirty and lacked adequate maintenance. Because CTA had wanted to do a major project here for close to three decades, maintenance had largely stopped, not that CTA hadn't been deferring maintenance already. Nevertheless, the boarding platform received new canopies in 2014, which were in pristine condition when it was demolished for this project.

The station house roof, undoubtedly, required replacement. The station house's interior, particularly the floor, did not. It required cleaning. The decorative elements should have been repaired and/or recreated as necessary. The generously wide staircase should have remained with an elevator added.

Mr. Kamin stated that there's a farecard-only entrance on the north side of Wilson through the Gerber Building. Well, not exactly. The entrance incorporates the southwest corner of the building facade, but nearly all of it is brand new exterior and the interior is also entirely new. Mr. Kamin might have criticized the exterior walls of the secondary station, unornamented concrete block that makes no attempt to match the old station's decorative facade. The building has to be new and to the west, dictated by the very expensive decision to build all-new structure west of the existing "L" structure.

Please note that at other important "L" stations that were replaced and enlarged, like Addison, Belmont, and Fullerton, the "L" structure is a mix of old and new. Half of the structure is original (one hopes with all failed steel replaced) and half new with the station projects. Instead of making this choice, which would have allowed the Gerber Building to remain in use as a station house to an island platform serving the two northbound tracks, CTA made the decision to spend another $100 million or so.

It's only taxpayers' money.

Wilson is an example of typical CTA excess that grabs huge amounts of money for one project and starves the rest of the region's mass transit system of capital monies. This project by itself is more costly than Metra's entire 2018 capital budget.

I am excited by transit projects that make incremental improvements, not massive architectural statements. I'm also excited by transit agencies that live within ungenerous means, prioritizing capital spending where operating costs can be reduced and more passengers can be served.

The massive canopy at Wilson not only doesn't impress me but I have concerns about its ability to cut down on wind on unpleasant winter days. I'd rather have doors at the top of stairs (which we once had at every single Howard "L" station on the embankment north of Wilson) as doors provide an actual break from the wind. I like human-scale canopies, like those that remain on the old Met stations at California and Damen on the O'Hare line, although canopies should have extended the full length of the trains. The SOM-designed stations for the Kennedy and Dan Ryan projects in the late 1960s are simple yet effective, practical modern station design.

Mr. Kamin praised the Wilson project for combining engineering with urban planning. What urban planning? Wilson College is immediately to the west, which had replaced typical Chicago low-rise housing, choosing a site intending that transit and not automobiles would bring students and faculty to its campus. Well, it wasn't too long that parking was deemed inadequate. Recall the era in which tennis courts were turned into additional parking. CTA property, the former Wilson lower yard, was also used for college parking.

Today, we've largely surrendered to the automobile, even in a north side neighborhood as well served by transit as Uptown. The "L" is flanked by multi-story parking decks for shopping and for the college. I find this to be a failure of urban planning, not a success.

Proposed revisions to Metra Electric schedule; 60th Street entrance; changes in Metra fare policies

June 1, 2017

At Metra, in which the period between changes can be measured in multiple decades, things are evolving.

Metra Electric schedule proposes 20 minute midday headways to Hyde Park, more service to 63rd, hourly service to main line stations 75th to 111th, while sharply curtailing service on the Blue Island and South Chicago branches

Metra is to be complimented for presenting the proposed Metra Electric schedule change to the public in advance and for scheduling four community meetings. Meetings will be held June 19-22, 2017. The meeting schedule and proposed Metra Electric schedule can be found here:

Metra proposes revised Metra Electric schedule

We want to hear your thoughts on the proposed changes to the Metra Electric schedule. Please post them here: Metra proposes changes to Metra Electric schedule

Major changes have been proposed to the Metra Electric schedule: More train service to Hyde Park, more midday and Saturday train service to main line stations 75th Street to 111th Street, with adverse changes to the Saturday schedule for south suburban passengers and to service on the South Chicago and Blue Island branches. All Blue Island branch service would be eliminated on Saturday. It's death by a thousand cuts to service on the two branches.

The schedule has existed in its present form since 1987. At that time, Blue Island branch service was eliminated on Sunday. Middays on weekdays and Saturdays, through train service to the Blue Island branch was restored but put on a two hour headway that also stopped at main line stations 63rd to Kensington. South suburban main line trains ran express in the city, stopping only at 55th-56th-57th and Kensington middays and Saturdays, made all stops on Sundays. The previous schedule change in 1981 eliminated half hourly midday service on the main line to the south suburbs and the South Chicago branch and midday through service to downtown on the Blue Island branch. All midday weekday and Saturday south suburban main lines trains made all stops.

More frequent midday service to Hyde Park and 63rd; more trains would stop at 51st-53rd and 59th

Trains would stop at Hyde Park stations — 51st-53rd, 55th-56th-57th, 59th — every 20 minutes on weekday middays. Because Metra is thinking about providing some service to the future location of the Obama library, four trains every two hours weekdays would stop at 63rd on an uneven headway. On Saturday, between south suburban main line trains, South Chicago branch trains, and a new class of main line train to Kensington only, there would be four trains in two hours on an uneven headway to Hyde Park and 63rd. No significant improvement is proposed for Sunday.

Right now, during midday on weekdays and Saturday, south suburban main line express trains are timed to make connections with South Chicago branch trains at 55th-56th-57th to allow transfers. Blue Island branch trains, on two-hour headways, also stop at Hyde Park stations. On Sunday, both main line trains and South Chicago branch trains make all stops, giving Hyde Park stations two trains in two hours on an irregular headway.

Main line service changes

In the proposed schedule, a new class of train making local stops downtown to Kensington is introduced that would run midday on weekdays and Saturday, timed to make connections at Kensington for travel between the south side and south suburbs. Off peak south suburban main line express trains will also stop at 51st-53rd and 59th, in addition to 55th-56th-57th. During midday on weekdays and Saturday, stations from 75th Street to 111th Street would receive service every hour because Metra would like to better serve the Pullman historic district. There would be no significant improvement on Sunday. Main line express trains from the south suburbs could serve 111th Street if crossovers were installed, but Metra hasn't proposed that.

Every other south suburban main line train on Saturday would make all local stops, increasing travel time for south suburban passengers. The number of inbound and outbound trains south suburban main line trains on Saturday is reduced from 23 to 20.

In the current schedule, during midday on weekdays and Saturday, stations from 75th Street to 111th receive service every two hours. South suburban main line midday weekday and Saturday express trains do not stop at 51st-53rd nor 59th.

South Chicago branch to have shorter span of service, fewer trains

In the proposed schedule, all shuttles have been eliminated on South Chicago branch, although through service would run later Monday through Saturday. Nine trains would be eliminated weekdays and Saturday, ending early morning and late evening service weekdays and Saturday.

Weekday outbound, the span of service departing Millennium Station would be 5:30 am until 8:50 pm. Saturday and Sunday outbound, 5 am until 11 pm. In the current schedule, the span of service Monday through Saturday is 5:15 am until 12:50 am next day, no change in span of service on Sunday.

Weekday inbound, the span of service to departing 93rd Street would be 5:40 am until 9:40 pm. Saturday and Sunday outbound, 5:59 am until 11:59 pm. In the current schedule, the span of service Monday through Saturday is 4:53 am until 12:09 am next day, 5:49 am until 11:49 pm on Sunday.

Blue Island branch to have shorter span of service including elimination of most evening trains and all Saturday service

In the proposed schedule, all Blue Island branch shuttles but one evening round-trip would be eliminated, ending early morning and evening service. Nine trains would be eliminated weekdays. All Blue Island service would be eliminated on Saturday.

Weekday outbound, the span of service departing Millennium Station would be 6:38 am to 7:20 pm and no service on Saturday or Sunday. In the current schedule, the span of service Monday through Saturday is 5:15 am until 11:20 pm, with no service on Sunday.

Weekday inbound, the span of service departing Blue Island would be 5 am until 7:41 pm and no service on Saturday or Sunday. In the current schedule, the span of service Monday through Saturday is 4:39 am until 11:43 pm.

Discussion of Metra Electric proposed schedule changes

Metra is sacrificing branch line service to improve service to Hyde Park and 63rd. There's no reason to make such a choice. If more service is warranted in Hyde Park, just add trains.

The branches should be looked at as an opportunity to encourage development in the city neighborhoods and Blue Island along the routes, given that underutilized infrastructure exists. Bus service should be coordinated to feed train service and not compete with it. We should consider whether it's cheaper to serve these areas with more train service than bus service. As a start, this requires fare integration and service coordination.

Without fare integration and service coordination, branch line passengers simply lose service. If only there were through fares, buses could meet main line trains to replace branch line service. There's plenty of CTA bus service in the south lakefront area served by the South Chicago branch. Pace 359 and CTA 119 could replace Blue Island branch service if bus service were rerouted to meet main line trains at Kensington.

We want to hear your thoughts on the proposed changes to the Metra Electric schedule. Please post them here: Metra proposes changes to Metra Electric schedule

Reopening the 60th Street entrance at 59th

In discussion with Metra, I asked if the 60th Street stationhouse and entrance to 59th Street could be re-opened, given the proposal to add service. I also pointed out that 59th should be made accessible and if 60th were re-opened first, it would make it easier to install elevators at 59th. The Metra staff member said they're discussing it with the city but they are required to make 60th accessible per FTA regulations.

Given the fact that numerous Metra Electric stations aren't yet accessible, it doesn't make sense to create a situation in which 59th would have two accessible entrances. If there was one project to re-open 60th Street entrance and make 59th accessible rather than separate projects at 59th and 60th, we'd have a logical result.

Metra ends ticket-by-mail program

The ticket-by-mail program has ended. This began at C&NW under Heinemann around 1960 and spread to most of the other railroads. UP maintained a separate ticket-by-mail program until 2016, when it was merged into the Metra ticket-by-mail program. The passenger could set up a recurring order for a monthly pass and had till the 10th of the month to pay by in order to remain in good standing. It was the only ticketing program we ever had that gave the passenger a short period of credit.

Metra had set up a separately-staffed pre-paid ticket ordering program through a Web interface that also sold monthly passes and 10-ride tickets, but they are slow fulfilling orders, which is absurd. That program remains. It's pre-pay and doesn't accept checks. Why it wasn't an expansion of the existing program...

Metra Electric cash vending machines eliminated

The cash vending machines on Metra Electric have been turned off. Metra complained about lack of parts; Cubic last rehabbed them in the 1990s. Also, Metra had to stock them and maintain them. However, if a passenger paid with cash, he could purchase any full-fare ticket--one way, 10-ride, monthly, or weekend. Now, cash fare payers will have the option of buying one-way fares on board and nothing else.

IC/ICG had modernized cash fare collection in the early 1970s. In 2017, Metra has reverted to manual cash handling.

You make things convenient for new passengers and they might ride more often. You certainly want them buying 10-ride tickets and not one-ways, but that option has been taken away.

"L" stations being made accessible, including two stations with three accessible entrances each

April 18, 2017

Regional Transportation Authority, the umbrella agency for Chicago Transit Authority, Metra, and Pace, has an advisory board, now combined of the regional accessibility advisory board and the general advisory board. No one showed up at meetings of the latter board, so they were merged.

The person from the CTA advisory board made a report about upcoming work:

Quincy/Wells (Loop "L", the station in the Loop closest to Union Station) is getting two elevators, directly from street to platform. Fare collection has always been in the station houses at platform level, never moved to the mezzanine as it had been at other stations. Now, the station houses are relatively tiny. The cheap way to do it would be elevators directly to platform with separate fare gates. I'm sure CTA will do major modifications to the station houses because that's the expensive way to do it (and blame passengers in wheelchairs for excessive costs).

I'm going to make some historical comments: The Metropolitan West Side "L" left the Loop "L" at a junction at Wells and Van Buren and also had a three-track stub terminal at Wells Street, typically used by the CA&E but some rapid transit trains also originated here. It split into three branches at Marshfield Junction, Douglas to the southwest, Garfield to the west, and the Northwest branch. Garfield became the CA&E main line (ownership changed at Laramie) and rapid transit trains served the Westchester branch. The Northwest branch further split into Humboldt Park and Logan Square branches. Today, Douglas "L" is the Pink Line, the former Congress "L" (which replaced the Met main, Garfield Park branch, and CA&E as far west as Des Plaines Ave) is now the Forest Park branch of the Blue Line, and Logan Square branch and Damen station of Northwest branch are incorporated into the O'Hare Blue Line. Humboldt Park, the rest of the Northwest branch, and Westchester branch were abandoned.

Medical Center (Forest Park ex-Congress Blue Line). This is on the portion of the Congress "L" that ended up sharing right of way with the expressway as CTA had volunteered the right of way of the Garfield Park branch and Met main and the homes of everyone who rode that route for the new expressway in the late 1940s. Most of these stations were built with long ramps without landings and are very lengthy. Most were built with multiple entrances at streets that once had Garfield Park branch and Metropolitan West Side Elevated main line stations.

Ogden entrance of Medical Center is the main entrance. It has stairway access to the platform. Ogden had been a Garfield "L" station. Its eastern entrance is at Paulina (there had been a transfer station serving the various branches of the Met at Marshfield nearby) and the western entrance at Damen (Hoyne Street had a Garfield station).

Medical Center opened in 1958. Like the other ramp stations, the platforms were 600 feet long, more than double the length required to berth 6-car consists typical of operations at the time. With Chicago's 8 blocks to the mile street grid, the platform itself is nearly a full block long.

In a few instances, like Damen entrance to Medical Center, the ramps were close enough to meeting modern standards for slope and length between landings that (shockingly) CTA added landings and made accessible stations cost effectively. Making Damen the accessible entrance forced CTA to reopen exit-only Damen as a full-time entrance in 1998. Both Paulina and Damen had been closed as entrances (remaining exits) in 1973 when CTA was purging ticket agents. (After 1973, Paulina was a part-time entrance afternoon rush hours between 1988 and 1992 when more ticket agencies were purged.) Also in 1998, Paulina re-opened as an entrance with high barrier fare gates but no vending machines. In typical CTA cost-saving fashion, regular maintenance activities on the Paulina station house were ended, which got noticeably decrepit within a few years.

Paulina was closed for 10 days in January, 2017, to make the station house accessible. The high barrier fare gates were removed and replaced with two wheelchair-accessible fare gates. I haven't yet looked to see how the ramp was modified, one of the longest in the system. I guess it received more than one landing.

Damen is closed right now but is supposed to re-open in a month.

Finally, Ogden station house will be gutted and an elevator added.

For $23 million, CTA will have a second station with three, yes, three accessible entrances. This will serve the needs of wheelchair passengers boarding at one end of the station and using another end of the station to exit without having to ride the train at all. This is a major achievement in accessibility. Meanwhile, there are almost four dozen stations without wheelchair access. All "L" stations will be made accessible within two decades (CTA promises) but you know, there's just no funding, because the priority is additional accessible entrances at already accessible stations.

Why ask if putting an elevator at the third entrance to Medical Center is a priority over adding elevators to stations with no accessible entrances?

UofI-Halsted also received a lot of work. The Met main line had a station at Halsted. The current station opened in 1958 with the Congress "L" with a secondary entrance to the west at Morgan, with long ramps from each end to the platform. In 1965, with the opening of University of Illinois Chicago Circle campus (now just University of Illinois at Chicago; "Circle" was named for the massive expressway interchange to the east), another entrance was added in the middle at Peoria Street, with the station house built on the bridge and the bridge becoming pedestrian only. It's much larger than the station houses built in 1958 and could be used as a waiting room. Platform access was via stairs and escalator. Both secondary station entrances were part time, with Morgan entrance closing in 1981 (later briefly reopened), although Peoria would get longer hours. CTA is very slow to notice when there could be demand for transit.

In 2000, the Morgan station house was made accessible and the ramp modified for wheelchairs. Also, stairways at platform level from Peoria Street were modified to allow wheelchairs to pass. Later that year, the main entrance at Halsted became accessible, both station house and ramp. In 2001, they got rid of the escalator at Peoria Street.

Expressway construction in 2014 required partial or full replacement of the three street bridges, including supporting columns to accommodate major new expressway ramps. As part of this work, the Peoria Street station house was partially demolished, not retaining the part on the street bridge (which I believe was entirely demolished and replaced). The new, smaller station house now has an elevator down to platform level in a $16 million project. This station was CTA's first station with three accessible entrances.

Please offer your thoughts on Making "L" stations accessible

Long-time resident complains about adverse impact of gentrification from The 606

March 31, 2017

A letter to the editor from a long-time resident near The 606 complains about the loss of long-time residents small shops in the area as an adverse impact of gentrification. I can't but help noting that she observed that her property is now worth four times what her family bought it for. Wow.

"Logan Square gentrifiers have a choice: Help longtime residents or push them out" by Melissa Torres

My previous discussion of The 606 is here: Opening of The 606, abandoned Bloomingdale Line of the Milwaukee Road. Please offer your thoughts on The 606 Bloomingdale Trail here.

Pedestrian bridges over CN-IC lakefront freight route, Metra Electric, and Lake Shore Drive to reach Burnham Park, re-opening passenger stations

March 9, 2017

I wrote these comments after reading "Rauner-Emanuel dispute over $2M halts 41st Street pedestrian bridge project" in March 9, 2017, Chicago Tribune.

There's no need to make every pedestrian bridge an architectural masterpiece. There's nothing wrong with utilitarian. The problem is that Burnham Park has always lacked easy access from adjacent neighborhoods. I'd rather have a practical but inexpensive bridge today than an engineering and architectural marvel decades from now, or not within my lifetime.

One critical issue that the city of Chicago invariably overlooks is that Metra Electric is a passenger railroad with massive amounts of underutilized capacity, perfectly suited to supporting the transportation needs of high density development along the south lakefront, but an amenity that the city has always ignored as a transportation solution.

Those utilitarian bridges over the railroad exist because there were once passenger stations there, at 31st, 35th, 39th (Oakwood Blvd), and 43rd, with no street bridges at 35th and 43rd. Those two provided part of the pedestrian route to the lakefront for decades after the railroad stations closed.

Why can't civic improvements be designed in such a way as to incorporate other adjacent civic improvements as part of a master plan? Most expensive example along the lakefront: Relocating southbound South Lake Shore Drive into the railroad r-o-w and building the Roosevelt Road viaduct but failing to make adequate pedestrian improvements on Roosevelt Road to connect it to the museums. The 11th Street improvements came years later. The Metra Electric station should have been part of the Lake Shore Drive project. To this day, the new Metra Electric platforms aren't connected to Roosevelt Road nor the adjacent new neighborhood.

18th Street: Absurd switch-back ramps without stairway access make for significant extra walking. After spending all that money on a handicapped- accessible pedestrian bridge, no provision was made to make the 18th Street railroad platform accessible; there's plenty of room for an elevator. Instead, they kept a small portion of the previous pedestrian bridge and connected it to the new bridge with more stairs.

Burnham Park has always been largely cut off from adjacent areas by lack of provisions for bridging the railroad and the expressway. The current expressway portion of South Lake Shore Drive was built in the 1950s through ball fields in Burnham Park west of the earlier carriage ways that had become heavily-trafficked local roads. Essentially the park and highway swapped sides. Portions of the old carriage ways still exist.

I'd love to see four points of access to the lakefront each mile from the neighborhoods, and I'd like railroad stations restored at about 1/2 mile intervals, eventually supporting higher density housing. But we have to think about how handicapped-accessible railroad platforms can be connected to the pedestrian bridges so there's room for ramps.

Look at the new 35th Street pedestrian bridge. Is there any evidence that any thought was given to the possibility of re-opening the railroad station?

"New South Side pedestrian bridge spanning Lake Shore Drive a striking design"

"New 35th Street bridge between Bronzeville and Chicago’s lakefront opens: The serpentine white suspension bridge has been in the works for a long time"

Please give us your thoughts on South lakefront, access to Burnham Park, Metra Electric stations

Don Orseno and Mike Noland talk on Metra Electric and South Shore

June 9, 2016

Don Orseno and Mike Noland (Metra and NICTD executive directors) spoke at a Northwestern University event actually held at DePaul.

Various Chicago South Shore & South Bend projects

West Lake (extension via the out of service portion of Monon through Hammond)

It's now up to a whopping $571 million and they're no longer discussing the possibility of putting passenger service back on the Canadian National-Grand Trunk Western (CN-GTW) to Valparaiso. The state of Indiana has committed to fund the local share, which just boggles the mind, given the poor relationship between the state legislature and the post-industrial suburbs in the northwest part of the state.

The previous commuter rail service to Valpo was via Pennsy PFtW&C (historic Broadway Limited route), foisted off on Amtrak as part of Conrail being allowed to shed its remaining passenger operations. After the Erie and Pennsy Panhandle were abandoned and Pennsy PFtW&C was downgraded to a secondary main and threatened with abandonment (which never happened; instead, it's been fixed up nicely), ex NYC LS&MS received all the freight traffic from three other railroads plus passenger trains and is overloaded. Amtrak used Conrail's proposed abandonment of portions of the Ft.W to abandon the remaining Valpo train, together with Indiana's refusal to kick in subsidy. The train was abandoned in 1991. Amtrak had abandoned the other Valpo train a few years earlier, after which ridership went to hell on the route.

Unlike in the East, in which significant portions of various railroad rights of way were taken over or transferred to the states, no such thing happened in Indiana, which lost more railroad right of way than any other state. Illinois and Ohio received no right of way in the Conrail plan either. The Northeast Corridor was created for the states along the Atlantic Seaboard but there was no national plan to continue all passenger service in the Midwest on ex-NYC, Pennsy, and the other railroads, let alone create corridors of service.

My usual comment: This part of the Monon, between CN-GTW (Maynard interlocking in Munster, Indiana) and Hohman Avenue interlocking (in Hammond) was abandoned FOR CAUSE. While the Monon was a pioneer railroad across Indiana, it was built toward Michigan City (1854), anticipated to become a major lake port, in lieu of Chicago, a mistake that had to be corrected. In 1881, when it became one of the owners of Chicago & Western Indiana Railroad (owner of Dearborn Station); the route toward Chicago splits off at Monon, Indiana, its namesake city. In early planning discussions for C&WI, the Monon would have come in on a different route: via Thornton Junction, through Yard Center, and via the Dolton branch of C&WI, which would have avoided crossing other major railroads senior to the Monon at Hohman Avenue interlocking. Interestingly, this is the route used today.

In modern history, Hohman Avenue is now on a viaduct above the interlocking, so any grade separation here is difficult, although allegedly possible.

Now, NICTD and city of Hammond are considering building an elevated railroad along Sheffield Avenue to reach the South Shore directly, instead of picking from three other less than ideal choices.

The yard might be in this area where the new connection would be built. They can't use the old Monon Yard site as Hammond has spearheaded this project to redevelop that site. The proposed yard location is in a poorly used former industrial area that's not being redeveloped any time soon.

The trouble is that it must cross major freight railroads including IHB, EJ&E, and Nickel Plate and it's got to be grade separated, so most of the capital cost is just getting it to the reserved right of way. The other trouble is NICTD just refused to consider coming in at LaSalle Street Station, which would have saved all sorts of headaches and wouldn't have required electrification. The earlier plan to use CN-GTW past Munster to reach Valpo would have required dual-mode locomotives (twice the cost for half the reliability) as CN-GTW wasn't proposed to be electrified.

If the Sheffield Avenue viaduct is build, then they'd build a joint station on CSS&SB for Hammond, which would replace the brand new Hammond station. All this infrastructure is to be built for five pairs of trains a day to downtown Chicago. With the joint station, they're now discussing off peak shuttle service. Why not build a turnout toward the east so the shuttles may serve the existing Hammond station?

The three new stations would have lots of parking. In other contexts, Noland spoke of transit oriented development though.

On the South Shore, double tracking ends at Tennessee Avenue, Gary. Noland himself talked about a 1961 South Shore timetable he found in which they ran 75 passenger trains a day, plus many more freight trains than what is run today, plus street running in East Chicago (which was double track).

The double tracking is estimated to cost $210 million. This includes double tracking through the streets of Michigan City. Unlike what I'd reported a couple of years ago, they're now thinking of getting off 10th Street entirely and using a private right of way; I have no idea where. 11th Street would still be double tracked.

They have no local match for this.

A couple of other points: Two state highways, US 12 and 20, are concurrent through part of Gary. They propose to make them concurrent further east, putting US 12 onto 20 and putting the railroad onto US 12 to improve the route through the east side of Gary.

The Gary "plugs" (short turns back to the Loop) go to Gary-Broadway Avenue. They'd turn these back at Miller on the east side of Gary. The east side of Gary is still decent.

They want to expand parking at Ogden Dunes, so they'd put it on the opposite side of US 12 and build a pedestrian overpass.

Noland spoke of making Michigan City 60 minutes from Chicago and putting it well within the commuter shed, which right now ends at about Dune Park.

Vacancies on Pace Citizens Advisory Board

April 25, 2016

As you know, yours truly (Adam Kerman) is a long-time member of the Pace Citizens Advisory Board. We're supposed to have 10 members by law, but we're down to 5 members and haven't met for over two years. We're meeting on April 26, 2016, at 10 am at Pace headquarters.

If you're interested in suburban bus transportation issues, we'd love to have you join us as a member. We're particularly interested in people with real world business experience and personnel/human resources experience. Transit agencies can be rather insular, so someone with common sense who can discuss the business implications of various proposals would be more than welcome. The reason we're looking for someone with personnel experience is that we'd like to address the issue of how to get more employers to offer the pre-tax commuter benefit (qualified transportation fringe benefit) and how to make the program easier for employers to take advantage of.

Contact me: Adam Kerman ahk [at] transit [dot] chicago [dot] il [dot] us or 312 725-0872

Chicago Tribune fills transportation beat

Mary Wisniewski, transportation reporter

March 13, 2016

Mary Wisniewski returns to the transportation beat after a five year absence. The long-time Chicago Sun-Times reporter had been working for the Reuters wire service covering news in 14 states. With the transportation beat at the Trib unfilled after the retirement of Jon Hilkevitch (city transportation beat) and Richard Wronski (suburban transportation and Metra beat) in December, 2015, and Greg Karp (business columnist and airline industry beat) in November, 2015, she fills a big vacuum. She's covering the transportation beat, including Metra, herself. We'll see if Trib hires any other reporters.

She started working at the Trib in March, 2016. Welcome back, Mary.

Chicago Transportation Journal

February 1, 2016

Richard Wronski has begun writing for his own Web site, Chicago Transportation Journal. A long-time reporter for Chicago Tribune, he covered the suburban transportation beat, Metra, and the tollway system for many years until he retired in 2015. We're glad to see he's still in journalism.

South Connect Proposal

Fare integration and service coordination between Metra Electric and Pace South

January 12, 2016

The Transit Riders' Authority will be having a planning session for the South Connect Proposal. South Connect is an integrated rail and bus transit proposal that builds on the most marvelous piece of rail infrastructure, the four-track fully grade separated Metra Electric, with its branches to South Chicago and Blue Island and also incorporating service to Hegewisch on the South Shore. Fares between bus and rail would be fully integrated; perhaps zone fares would be eliminated. Buses would make connections with specific trains. The purpose would be to eliminate very long shuttle bus rides, some as long as six miles, from the south suburbs to the Dan Ryan "L" Red Line at 95th and State. Passengers to the Loop, Hyde Park, and other areas closer to the south lakefront would be served with well-coordinated transit service between bus and "L".

Event: Planning session for South Connect Proposal
Date: January 18, 2016
Time: 1 pm till 3 pm
Location: The Henry George School of Social Science, Chicago, Illinois
30 E Adams St Ste 1207

To confirm your attendance, please call 312 725-0872 or send email to tra [at] transit [dot] chicago [dot] il [dot] us

Retail development at Chicago Union Station

June 29, 2015

Jon Hilkevitch was conducted on a nice tour of Chicago Union Station, which he wrote about in Getting Around. "Amtrak plans Union Station makeover" I'm glad to hear about some of these developments, especially fixing up for rental enormous long-closed spaces on the Clinton side of the main waiting room that once had restaurants and lounges. The Canal Street entrance to the main waiting room will close for two months starting July 15 as the two grand staircases will be replaced. Metro Deli bar and restaurant, in the space underneath the north grand staircase, had closed June 19 in preparation for this work. I'm especially pleased to hear that the long-closed Adams Street entrance to the main waiting room will be re-opened.

Amtrak's plans to get 25,000 square feet of retail space leased out are ambitious. Let's hope it's done right. As a friend commented, retail space unrented since the 1970s doesn't generate any income.

The worst aspects of Chicago Union Station have yet to be addressed. These are:

  1. Lack of washrooms

    Two small washrooms opened in the south hallway to Clinton, but it's simply not enough. CUS was built with enormous washrooms that haven't been available to the travelling public in decades. In the lower level, there were separate men's and women's washrooms, complete with showers for use by intercity travelers. The roped-off stairway in what's now the Legacy Club led to the enormous men's room. There was another staircase from the women's and children's lounge (the large closed room with murals, northwest corner of the main waiting room) to the enormous women's restroom.

  2. Inadequate ticket offices, especially the Amtrak office

    The original ticket office was in the enormous space under the south grand staircase. The now closed Metro Deli space, under the north grand staircase, had been a full-service drug store. Ticket counters were shared with intercity and commuter passengers. Intercity travelers making more complicated travel arrangements involving transfers to trains of other railroads would have used the passenger agent's office elsewhere.

  3. Security-theater idiocy that forces passengers to board taxis outside the train station on Canal Street, instead of out of the weather in the station's own taxi courts

    Passengers would have enclosed boarding areas for taxis inside the train station if Amtrak would re-open the taxi courts. There is unnecessary congestion on Canal Street due to boarding taxis in a location with inadequate space. The post 9/11 claims of "danger" if the taxi courts were still in use are specious, given that the Canal Street is above important public parts of the train station, so who's kidding whom. The city's plan to rebuild Canal Street for taxi boarding is wasteful of the taxpayers' money and entirely unnecessary.

  4. Those narrow boarding platforms under the leaky Adams and Jackson viaducts interrupted by columns

    I don't like the proposal to get rid of the baggage platforms. The baggage platforms are higher than standard-height platforms, so using them for boarding would make things easier for passengers. Eight inches above top of rail as a standard platform height had been insisted upon by the railroad industry forever. It allows brakemen and switchmen to hang from the outside of railcars, which hasn't been railroad practice for a long time.

A lot of what's wrong with Chicago Union Station is easily fixable by putting it back to its original design. "Noteworthy Passenger Terminal Completed at Chicago: Union station provided for Pennsylvania, Burlington, St. Paul and Alton roads" by Walter S. Lacher Railway Age July 4, 1925

Discuss your ideas for Chicago Union State here.

Opening of The 606, abandoned Bloomingdale Line of the Milwaukee Road

June 10, 2015

Chicago Reader June 4, 2015 "Is the Bloomingdale Trail a path to displacement?"

The 606, which opened June 6, 2015, is a new jogging path/bike trail in an abandoned railroad right of way, the Bloomingdale Line of the Milwaukee Road. The railroad once served an important industrial area. Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail

Good infrastructure that increases land value is affordable

The Chicago Reader article laments gentrification and the resulting horror that long-time property owners will pay higher property taxes, but not mentioning that they'll cash out upon selling, receiving fabulous free monies from rising land values that they themselves did nothing to create. We should all be "adversely" impacted like this. The article mentions that before the Bloomingdale Trail project became a reality, developers converting nearby properties to condos couldn't sell all the units.

This transportation infrastructure project, although it was just for cyclists and pedestrians, still created fabulous wealth as reflected in rising land values. One wonders if the project had been built as a passenger railroad instead if land values would have risen even higher. Was the project entirely charged to land? Why, no, it was mainly financed with a federal grant, private donations, and a little city money. The project had a budget of $95 million.

The area around the Bloomingdale Line was underpopulated and considered undesirable, although there wasn't any significant housing loss. It took a long time to recover from the loss of nearby industrial jobs.

Please offer your thoughts on The 606 Bloomingdale Trail here.

Historic loss of "L" service through the Humboldt Park neighborhood; opening of Dearborn subway

One more point: Before the area along the Bloomingdale Trail went into decline, it had been served by the "L". In 1895, the Northwest Branch of The Metropolitan West Side Elevated Railroad Company opened. It ran along Paulina St. with stations at Madison, Lake, Grand, Chicago, and Division, then turned to run along Milwaukee Avenue with a station at Damen. Beyond Damen, it split into two branches: the branch to Logan Square terminal on Kedzie Blvd. continued along Milwaukee with stations at Western and California, and the Humboldt Park branch along North Ave. with stations at Western, California, Humboldt Park, Kedzie, and St. Louis to a "temporary" terminal at Lawndale. Humboldt Park trains ran downtown in rush hours (to the Loop "L" or Wells Street Terminal or Franklin Terminal, depending on the era). During off peak, there were cuts and adds to Logan Square trains at Damen; passengers from both branches had one-seat rides at all times.

The Met would never complete the Humboldt Park branch; it had no storage and no maintenance facility. It would never be extended west to Harlem Ave. as intended. Lawndale station was incomplete, just a single platform. It was built at an elevation intending to cross the Milwaukee Road. Bankruptcy of the rapid transit system prevented any extension. Competing services discouraged extension: The Elgin line of the Milwaukee Road itself had local stations, and there was a car line on North Avenue.

In the post-war era, CTA planned to abandon the Humboldt Park branch even though ridership was comparable to the Logan Square branch being retained. In 1948, CTA decided that cuts and adds at Damen that were convenient for passengers were inconvenient to operations. CTA downgraded the Humboldt Park branch to a shuttle during off peak. During rush hours, Humboldt Park continued to run downtown to Wells Street terminal. Logan Square trains served the Loop "L" at all times. A Humboldt Park shuttle would arrive at the inbound Damen platform ahead of a Loop-bound Logan Square train. The shuttle would change ends then cross onto the outbound track then onto the branch; the outbound transfer required changing platforms.

In 1951, Logan Square trains were rerouted into the brand-new Dearborn subway. The Dearborn subway was a Depression-era PWA project begun in 1939. Construction embargoes during WWII delayed its completion. The subway's temporary terminal downtown was LaSalle/Congress. Logan Square had been re-equipped with brand-new all-steel PCCs in 1950 as the city had passed an ordinance requiring the use of all-steel cars in subway. This alleged safety measure was one of the excuses that would lead to the eventual abandonment of all streetcar lines, as one series of PCCs for the "L" system was cannibalized from barely-used PCC streetcars.

The Humboldt Park branch wasn't re-equipped with all-steel cars, given that CTA intended to abandon it instead of rerouting it into the Dearborn subway. In 1950, CTA drastically cut hours of operation, eliminating late evening and overnight service. Upon opening the subway in 1951, CTA eliminated revenue service on the Paulina alignment of the Northwest branch, but didn't yet abandon the Humboldt Park branch due to neighborhood pressure. At that point, Humboldt Park became a shuttle at all times prior to final abandonment in 1952.

I've been told that the 1951 Humboldt Park shuttle operation was incredibly inconvenient for transferring passengers. A temporary platform was built over the eastbound main immediately west of Damen tower. Passengers walked from this platform through a room at track level in the tower, then onto a narrow walkway connecting with the inbound Damen platform. Needless to say, ridership was horrid after that.

Later in 1951, the former Met routes Garfield Park and Douglas Park stopped using Wells Street terminal and all trains served the Loop "L". Wells Street terminal remained in revenue service for Chicago, Aurora, & Elgin trains until 1953, when CA&E was cut back to Des Plaines Avenue in Forest Park. Wells Street terminal was demolished in 1955 so that a temporary connection to the Loop "L" could be built for Garfield Park trains, to replace the connector demolished to double deck Wacker Drive (Market Street). Garfield Park trains used the temporary connection until 1958 when the route was replaced by the new Congress "L" (Blue Line Forest Park branch), now connected to the Dearborn subway.

Portions of the Met still exist. The Milwaukee alignment of the Northwest branch and Logan Square branch are incorporated into today's Blue Line to O'Hare. The Pink Line incorporates the former Douglas Park branch and a portion of the Northwest branch along Paulina.

In the post-war era, CTA didn't intend to retain the entire rapid transit system. CTA's decision-making about which "L" services to retain led to winners and losers among city neighborhoods. Parts of the near west side and northwest side that lost "L" service with the opening of the Dearborn subway in 1951 went into decline, some of which might have been avoided if rapid transit service had been retained.

The North Avenue car line was converted to trolley coach in 1949. A limited stop service, rush hours only, ran between 1952 and 1973, as a substitute for the abandoned Humboldt Park branch. The bus transfer at the Damen station was inconvenient. A narrow walkway extending from the outbound Damen platform and a bridge crossing North Avenue to transfer to the bus were constructed. The inbound transfer required bus passengers to walk around the corner on Milwaukee and Damen to enter the "L" station. The limited stop service was eliminated in the 1973 purge; diesel buses replaced trolley coaches. The transfer I described is still in effect today. CTA spent $13.6 million on Damen in 2014; the bridge to the North Avenue bus stop was replaced. Despite the generous construction budget, no elevators were added.

Chicago Transit Authority Red and Purple Modernization Program brief description
Red-Purple Bypass Project (Flyover at Clark Junction) Environmental Assessment documents

June 4, 2015

CTA held a public hearing on the environmental assessment of Red-Purple Bypass Project on June 3, 2015. The project includes construction of a flyover at Clark Junction and straightening two tight double curves just north of the junction. Clark Junction is just north of Belmont station; Ravenswood "L" branches off from Howard (Red Line).

Construction is estimated to cost $570 million. CTA would apply for a grant under Section 5309 (49 U.S.C. 5309) core capacity improvement project. The grantee must demonstrate that capacity would improve by at least 10%. These grants are competitively awarded.

Despite the cost of the project, the environmental assessment (which includes the alternatives analysis) doesn't include a cost-benefit analysis. CTA asserts that Red Line trains will avoid being delayed by up to two minutes waiting for outbound Ravenswood trains to clear the interlocking such movements cross three mains. But CTA didn't calculate any saving in operating costs. In summarizing the rejection of various alternatives, CTA didn't calculate their costs and benefits either.

There are alternatives that haven't been considered.

  1. CTA asserts that Clark Junction is the major bottleneck on the Red Line, without providing information on typical delays at Howard and 95th terminal that also constrain capacity. Can CTA add trains by addressing constraints at the terminals?
  2. Before cab signals but with automated block signals in the State Street subway, in peak of the peak, CTA trains departed Howard Street every 90 seconds. What will it cost to improve the current signaling system to handle trains operating more frequently?
  3. Single-story buildings are adjacent to the "L" structure at curves on either side of Sheridan "L" station. Should improving these curves be a priority and would it improve capacity? Would it allow CTA to consider using cars with larger dimension?

Discuss your ideas for the Red and Purple Modernization Program here.

Skokie Swift closure due to destabilized embankment from construction at sewage treatment plant reminds us of a historic lesson on paying for infrastructure

May 18, 2015, updated June 19, 2015, June 22, 2015, June 30, 2015

On the night of Sunday, May 17, 2015, construction of the disinfection facility at North Side Sewage Treatment Plant of Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago destabilized the Skokie Swift (CTA Yellow Line) embankment. There's no support under one track at all and inadequate support under the other track. "Yellow Line collapse" "Yellow Line to Skokie out of service indefinitely"

On Friday, June 19, 2015, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District announced that service won't be restored until October. "After month without Yellow Line, news gets worse in Skokie" by Mike Isaacs Skokie Review June 19, 2015. The construction accident cut off Skokie Shops from the rest of the system; rail cars are trucked back and forth. "Yellow Line closure creates rail car repair headache for CTA" by Jon Hilkevitch Chicago Tribune June 22, 2015

According to transit historian Bruce Moffat, the rapid transit line runs on air rights across sanitary district property.

Existing wastewater treatment lines were damaged and will have to be repaired. The sanitary district decided to complete all construction and repair work under the embankment before reconstructing the embankment and allowing CTA to restore tracks and other damaged systems in the right of way. "Yellow Line repairs more complicated than thought, CTA says" by Jon Hilkevitch Chicago Tribune June 30, 2015

For those of you familiar with the construction of the Skokie Valley subdivision of Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee, this is just west of the massive structure that carried the railroad on an unusual deck truss over North Shore Channel, McCormick Blvd, and the abandoned Weber subdivision of C&NW, just west of the famous series of trusses. Yellow Line Bridge (Skokie Swift Bridge)

McCormick Blvd is, of course, named for the Colonel, who was a public official on the board of what was then Sanitary District of Chicago. He owned swampy land in south Evanston that wasn't developable.

North Shore Channel and North Side Treatment Plant were major drainage and sewage treatment projects built over several decades. The Channel replaced an earlier poorly-engineered drainage ditch, a failed attempt to drain parts of Evanston. It was also built to supply more water to the north branch of the Chicago River so that barges with deeper drafts could serve industries. Sewage treatment plants are also part of the drainage system given Chicago's combined sewers. No one calculated how problematic draining the swamps would be in future years as more and more land would get paved over.

The Colonel was no dummy and benefited directly from this project. To this day, parts of Evanston and most of Skokie flood, addressed with ever more expensive flood control projects, because we messed with Mother Nature.

These are examples of badly planned infrastructure requiring ever more expensive solutions today and cost-shifting within society to pay for it.

  1. Industries along the north branch didn't pay for the North Shore Channel and re-channeled north branch. Part of this project created a short shipping channel parallel to the north branch, resulting in Goose Island.
  2. The developers of Evanston and Skokie didn't pay for the water project that drained the swampy, unbuildable areas.
  3. I'm sure the project at North Side is some combination of replacing worn out infrastructure and expansion of water retention. Is it necessary? Undoubtedly. Is it a good project? Not the way it's getting paid for.
  4. Doesn't do society any good if new infrastructure construction ruins something else because bad assumptions were made about stability of the embankment. The article suggests that the destabilization was due to ruining an open-cut trench, but that doesn't explain much. I'm not saying anything controversial here by being in favor of avoiding carelessness. This could have been deadly if a train were passing over; fortunately it wasn't.
  5. If the American Society of Civil Engineers wants to impress me with their grading system "2013 Report Card for America's Infrastructure", then they'll start linking costs and benefits and stop leaving out the business analysis.

Criticize my comments here.

IDOT Listening Tour testimony
TRA president Chuck Metalitz testified at the Illinois Department of Transportation Infrastructure Listening Tour event in East Hazel Crest on Thursday, May 7, 2015.

May 7, 2015

It was very crowded, and I had to stand part of the time, finally sitting next to an operating engineer. It is structured as about 10 minutes for Randy Blankenhorn (Transportation secretary), a guy from the state Capital Development Board, and local notables or two to talk about their concerns, then the rest of the hour everyone is welcome to raise her/his hand and have his/her suggestions "listened" to. While there's no timekeeper, folks are encouraged to be brief, and most were. Of course there were comments about the need for more and better, or at least more expensive, infrastructure, and, given the location, quite a bit about the south suburban airport. A UTU representative pointed out that wages paid to Amtrak and Metra workers help boost the local economy quite a bit. Don Orseno (Metra executive director) talked about how Metra needs a lot of money, noting also that when stable capital funding is assured he can get better prices on rolling stock. A bridge contractor talked about how bridges could be better built. As Randy Blankenhorn mentioned his desire for more revenue, I made two revenue suggestions and two saving money suggestions:

A: Revenue

  1. Collect at least part of the land value increase which transit creates.
  2. Stop giving property tax favors to absentee farmland owners, in order to better fund local government needs.

B: Saving money

  1. Instead of expensive projects like Red Line Extension, find cheaper and faster ways, like more service, schedule coordination and fare reduction for trips involving Metra. Gray Line is another example.
  2. Get transit users involved in transit governance, as they will focus on better service rather than spending more money.

Randy expressed sympathy with collecting something from the land value increase transit brings ("collect some, but not all of it")

There was no possibility to read my written statement, but I did drop a copy in the suggestion box, and it is attached here.

The vast majority of the 80 or so people did not ask to speak.

Discuss your ideas for infrastructure funding here.

South Commuter Trunk and Commuter-Freight Conflict Elimination Proposal (CWI Proposal)

January 22, 2003

All maps and schematics by Thomas A. White, Rail Operations Consultant, VTD Rail Consulting.

For answers to questions about this proposal, please contact the proponent, Adam H. Kerman, at ahk [at] transit [dot] chicago [dot] il [dot] us, or call The Transit Riders' Authority on 312 725-0872.

Reference: Transportation proposals submitted to Chicago Area Transportation Study Regional Transportation Plan (Shared Path 2030) Proposal 07-02-9012, "CWI To South Side And South Suburbs", on page 71 of list dated 1-22-2003 in South Council of Mayors - Capital Addition section

The Transit Riders' Authority has submitted for consideration in the 2030 Regional Transportation Plan the South Commuter Trunk and Commuter-Freight Conflict Elimination Proposal.

The purpose of the plan is to eliminate all major points of conflict between passenger and freight routes on the south side of Chicago. The result will be a greatly improved commuter rail and freight rail network.

The commuter rail service improvements are the core benefit of the plan. For an incremental cost, a rapid transit route (operated as commuter rail) could share the same right-of-way and new infrastructure. Because they'd be developed together, the two different kinds of service would be coordinated so that they complement each other to serve the greatest number of riders.

The plan has these major infrastructure elements:

  1. A north-south passenger railroad between LaSalle Street Station and Dolton. The route would be grade separated from all major points of freight conflict.

  2. A grade separation near 41st Street to avoid conflict with freight at CP 518. Construction of this facility would improve SouthWest Service in its present alignment without building a 1/4 mile connection to the Rock through the Hamilton Park neighborhood in 75th Street.

  3. Rerouting Rock Island service at 79th Street to avoid conflict with freight at Englewood Junction.

  4. Improvements in the 75th Street corridor to eliminate freight conflict, including:

  5. An improved east-west freight railroad using the Chicago Junction and Chicago River and Indiana between Root Street (40th on the Rock) and Ogden Junction (Ogden at 14th and Campbell) grade separated from most major points of passenger conflict. The improvements include:

  6. Re-installing the Nickel Plate connection at Grand Crossing.

  7. Improving the turnout in the northeast quadrant at Englewood between the Rock and NS Chicago Line for a second route free from passenger conflict to the Chicago Junction and Ashland Avenue Yard. This route avoids 51st and 55th Street yards.

  8. A better entrance into Chicago for Amtrak from the east, between South Chicago and 81st Street via the 94th Street corridor, avoiding conflict with NS 51st and 55th Street yards.

  9. A new connection near Wildwood between CN/IC Chicago subdivision and the South Commuter Trunk for Amtrak from the south.

Description of the South Commuter Trunk

The South Commuter Trunk is a four-track passenger railroad, two express tracks and two local tracks, generally in the alignment of the main line and Dolton branch of the former Chicago and Western Indiana (Metra SouthWest subdistrict, UP Villa Grove division). The trunk route would serve a network of commuter rail passenger routes with branches to Oak Lawn and Orland Park, Blue Island via Beverly, Joliet via Rock Island main line, and brand-new service to Roseland and Dolton. Proposed Southeast Service to South Holland, Chicago Heights, and Crete would also use the South Commuter Trunk. Amtrak from the southeast uses this route today.

The route begins at LaSalle Street Station. The route then diverges from the Rock Island north of 16th/Clark Junction, remaining at grade below the Saint Charles Air Line to head southwest to 21st Street adjacent to the Midway "L" (Orange Line). There are four tracks in this vicinity. At 21st Street, the route turns south and crosses under the Orange Line. Between 21st Street and 41st Street, it is a six-track railroad in Stewart Avenue (400 West) joint right-of-way of the CWI and ex Pennsy Fort Wayne (NS Chicago Line); the two freight tracks are on the west. To avoid conflict with freight at CP 518, the passenger route is grade separated over NS Chicago Line. The South Commuter Trunk stays in the CWI alignment as it separates from the FtW alignment at 47th Street to head southwest. The CWI alignment is in Wallace Street (600 West) between 49th and 79th Streets.

There are five tracks between 47th and 74th Streets; the freight track is on the west. The new Rock Island route begins south of 74th Street, diverging to the east side of the alignment, then grade separated over the South Commuter Trunk and adjacent Belt Railway at 79th Street. The Rock has four tracks between 74th and Gresham Junction. The South Commuter Trunk has two passenger tracks south of 74th Street. The route uses the existing grade separation over the Belt Railway at 86th Street. There are four tracks between 87th Street and Dolton, two freight to the west, two passenger to the east.

SouthWest Service branches off the South Commuter Trunk at 74th, as it does today. It shares the 75th Street alignment with the Belt Railway, which handles traffic to Clearing Yard and NS traffic to Landers Yard. In the present configuration, SouthWest Service and the Belt cross each other at Belt Junction. East of the junction, SouthWest Service is on the north half of the right-of-way; the Belt on the South. West of the junction, the Belt is on the north half and SouthWest Service is on the south. NS traffic to Landers remains on the south half along the corridor. It is proposed to eliminate Belt Junction by keeping SouthWest Service on the north half of the right-of-way and Belt and NS on the south half. Traffic to Clearing and traffic to Landers would diverge at Forest Hill. SouthWest Service would be grade separated above Forest Hill, allowing it to cross both the Belt and CSX Blue Island subdivision without conflict.

Commuter Service and Transit Service on the South Trunk

There would be two classes of service:

  1. Traditional commuter service to the suburbs on hourly headways base period running express on the south side to downtown.

  2. Transit service running locally on the south side, making stops every 1/2 to 3/4 mile and terminating on the far south side.

On the Rock Island, all service from Joliet would be via the main line for a faster trip to downtown. 99th (station still exists) and Givins would be re-opened. The Beverly Branch would have 15- or 20-minute base headways.

On the SouthWest, service from Oak Lawn and Orland Park would have hourly base headways, running express from Oak Lawn. Western, Ashland, Racine, and Halsted (all in the 75th Street corridor) would be re-opened. There'd be local service on 30-minute base headways within the city.

To Dolton, local trains would run on 20-30 minute base headways.

On the proposed Southeast Service to Chicago Heights and Crete, trains would run on hourly base headways, express to downtown from Dolton.

Certain local trains would meet express trains at transfer stations. Possible transfer stations are Englewood and Gresham.

There would be new stations at the best locations to serve neighborhoods and to ease transfers from connecting bus service. The railroad is immediately west of 35th and Shields. Previously, the commuter rail service had stations at 47th, Garfield Blvd. (5500 South), 59th, 63rd (platform and canopy still exist; immediately east of Englewood business district), Normal Park (6900 South), Hamilton Park (7200 South), Auburn Park (7900 South), Oakdale (9000 South), Euclid Park (9700 South), Fernwood (10300 South), North Roseland (10700 South), Roseland (11100 South), Sheldon Park (11400 South), Kensington (116th/Michigan), 134th, and Dolton (at Lincoln Avenue, 13900 South). Other locations to consider for stations: Cermak Road, 26th Street, 32nd-33rd Street.

Station Environs

There is much potential in the South Trunk corridor for new urban development. Because the rail line is by itself, away from the influence of the Dan Ryan Expressway and doesn't run adjacent to a major arterial street, there is potential to stimulate nodal development evoking a village or small town ambience, as the Beverly and Morgan Park neighborhoods enjoy. The areas around the stations should be "pedestrian pockets" Construction of stations along the way should be synchronized with announcements that the lands at the favored location is being redeveloped, so that developers and Metra can work together. Stations that are a mile or less apart will naturally stimulate nodal development, in lieu of strip or main-street (linear) development, Such a development might be designed well enough (including a full range of shops and services to meet residents' needs) so that the presence of cars can be greatly reduced.

By bringing back transit and walking (a matched pair), land values increases.

Integrated Fares; Coordinated Services

To get the biggest bang for the buck, to draw in users from several miles around the stations, fares between bus and rail must be fully integrated and riders must expect to make a real-time transfer within minutes on a regular basis. We need to reverse a century-old trend in which riders could obtain a transfer between routes on the surface system (later, including the "L" system as well), but the railroads were left out of the scheme. This has led to today's anomalies in which express bus routes to the Loop run within a few blocks of Metra service, in which riders on the south side and in the south suburbs pass one or several Metra stations on their way to the Red Line terminal at 95th and State.

This system is inefficient, redundant, and time consuming. It costs more to operate, yet it hurts ridership.

The bus route network needs to be redesigned so that it feeds into Metra services instead of competing with it. Metra must accept and issue bus transfers at all fare levels as part of the regular commuter fare.

Stations should be designed so that there is as short a walk to the street as possible. The bus stop should be on the street but out of traffic to ease brief layovers that will need to be built into the schedules to affect service coordination. If the rider will need to cross the street to reach the bus stop (because it's not possible to have stairs on both sides of the street), then the street must be narrowed to improve pedestrian safety.

Chicago Transportation forum on chinet

Here's a transportation forum to discuss issues in and around Chicago. Discussion of traffic, transportation, and transit is most welcome. Consumer advocates and riders and drivers will raise concerns, suggest solutions, and discuss the history of what led us to this point. Occasionally, members of government agencies will join us to either defend current policy or to broadcast their opinions of what should have been done had they ranked higher in the bureaucracy.

You may lurk without logging in. But to post a reply, you'll need to register and log in. Accept the cookie so you can be informed of new items and replies since your last visit.

The Web BBS on chinet uses the Simple Machines Forum open source conference system. Chinet itself was founded by the original BOFH himself, Randy Suess (1945-2019).

Consumer organizations and advocacy

The Transit Riders' Authority

The Transit Riders' Authority is the premiere consumer organization of transit riders in the Chicago area. Our purpose is to promote the benefits of safe, clean, comfortable, rapid, and reliable transit that goes where riders want, when they want, at a reasonable fare.

The Transit Riders' Authority
PO Box 529
Chicago, IL 60690
312 725-0872
tra [at] transit [dot] chicago [dot] il [dot] us

Do you support our purpose? Then, join TRA!

Make a donation to support public transportation passenger advocacy

Other consumer and advocacy organizations

Active Transportation Alliance, formerly Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, are excellent advocates on issues for bicycle riders. Randy Neufeld, their past executive director, has been around for years and is well respected by transportation policy makers. They tend to set the city's policy on bicycle traffic. They broadened their mission beyond cycling a number of years ago to advocate for transit and pedestrian issues, but aren't very effective.

The Civic Federation is the voice of the establishment in Chicago. While unlikely to take controversial positions on transportation policy, they are capable of producing neutral research results. They are respected by the media, the government, and the business community. It's worth following what they are up to.

Tri-State Transportation Campaign is an advocate for transportation policy in the New York metropolitan area. They pay particular attention to suburban issues on Long Island, the suburbs to the north of the city and the New Jersey suburbs. They don't seem to track Connecticut issues as widely. They promote more economical movement of freight within New York by ship, rail, and truck than the overburdened local road system. "Mobilizing the Region" is their informative weekly newsletter, which you might find interesting. It's distributed by e-mail.

Southern California Transit Advocates is a nonprofit consumer organization for the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

The National Motorists Association promotes speed limits based on driving conditions and lobbied to eliminate the federal 55 mph limit.

Perils for Pedestrians is a monthly television program on pedestrian issues. This site has some good links on research concerning walking.

What are others doing?

Aaron M. Renn wrote The Urbanophile until July 2020, about transportation and urban affairs of Midwestern cities, when he changed to a subscription model with some free content called Heartland Intelligence. Between 1998 and 2000, he had written The Weekly Breakdown, a series of articles on transportation issues.

Bill Vandervoort's site, Chicago Transit & Railfan, has a historical perspective on the Chicago transit system, including a nice list of locations of former bus and streetcar barns! There are also railroad maps and past and present routings of intercity trains approaching Chicago.

Graham Garfield's site, Chicago "L".org, has an easy-to-use history of the "L" (Chicago rapid transit system), current operations, news headlines, and a list of proposed additions to the system from historical plans.

John Greenfield writes Streetsblog Chicago and is the On Transportation columnist for the Chicago Reader. His writing partner Steven Vance is the developer of Chicago Cityscape, a site filled with demographic information emphasizing public transportation.

Yonah Freemark writes The Transport Politic and maintains Transit Explorer GIS tool, which lists current and planned fixed-guideway transit in North America, Africa, and parts of Europe. He also maintains Transport Databook, summarizing United States travel data.

For a comprehensive history of the New York subway and el system, read

Transit agencies

Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) This site has schedules for buses and the "L" and general information about the system. If you are extremely patient, you may view the system map.

Metra Commuter Rail Schedule and fare information for commuter rail, except the South Shore

Pace Suburban Bus Service Suburban bus schedules and system information.

Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD) (South Shore Line) Convenient Train Service to Chicago and Northwest Indiana

Regional Transportation Authority

Defunct special district:

Chicago South Suburban Mass Transit District
Jim McCabe, former executive director
Yulonda Duncan, executive director for brief period
19815 Governors Hwy Ste 2A
PO Box 280
Flossmoor, IL 60422
708 957-5232
708 955-5232 (cell phone)

Owns and operates commuter rail parking lots along Metra Electric (former Illinois Central/Illinois Central Gulf) at Homewood, Olympia Fields, and University Park; funding mechanism for 1971 purchase and additional orders of 165 Highliner cars; funding mechanism for 2.2-mile extension from Richton Park to Park Forest South (renamed University Park) which opened on November 20, 1977; funding mechanism for purchase of 55 buses for South Suburban Safeway early 1970s

Article about legislation to dissolve district effective January 1, 2022, introduced by State Rep. Will Davis, HB2413. The bill passed both Houses of the General Assembly and was signed by the Governor to become Public Act 102-0428.

Bill seeks to dissolve south suburban transit district, transfer Metra Electric commuter lots to towns

By Ted Slowik
Daily Southtown
May 26, 2021 at 2:28 PM

Henry George and site-value taxation

Why did cities develop as they did? Why did they start out compact and contiguous, well served by street cars, and turn into the sprawled messes we have today?

Who gains, who loses from today's system of taxation and distribution of governmental benefits?

For a better discussion of these issues, and an effective way of charging those who benefit, take a look at Henry George.

The Henry George School of Social Science, Chicago, Illinois
Understanding Economics; Henry George Institute
Earthsharing Australia
Land Value Taxation Campaign [UK]
The International Union For Land Taxation

Transit news reports

  1. Taiwan On the Gravy Train: Anger over mass-transit troubles and the new cabinet

Other interesting items

This article discusses the Railway Post Office and has the recollections of an old RPO clerk in Sacramento.

Transportation reference links

  1. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, US DOT Research and Innovative Technology Administration
  2. Transportation Research Board
  3. American Public Works Association (APWA)
  4. Community Transportation Association of America
  5. Constitutions, Statutes, and Codes
  6. Code of Federal Regulations
  7. LawGuru Legal Research
  8. Substantive Law
  10. ATIS
  11. Northwestern University Infrastructure Technology Institute
  12. Intermodal Passenger Terminal Facilities Project Summaries
  13. Internet Sources in Transportation
  14. Association of American Railroads Transportation Technology Center
  15. Association of American Railroads
  16. DIRT search engine
  17. On-Line Libraries
  18. link to transportation images
  19. Transport Chicago
  20. US Government Printing Office
  21. Highway bill reauthorization
  22. ISTEA legislative updates
  23. Government Finance Officers Association
  24. Complete World Rail Transit List
  25. railroad abandonment notices
  26. Innovative Transportation Technologies
  27. traffic and capacity
  28. US public transport 1985 to 1995 data by state
  29. ATRA Newsletter
  30. United States Government Manual
  31. Grade Crossing Safety Information: FHwA OMC
  32. Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century
  33. Municipal Codes Online
  34. Tax links
  35. Are Compact Cities a Desirable Planning Goal?

To sort reference links

Last updated May 9, 2020

  1. National transportation statistics
  2. Texas Transportation Institute
  3. Transportation Policy Program.
  4. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  5. U.S. Department of Transportation.
  6. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
  7. Amtrak
  8. Washington State Ferries
  9. Public Transportation and Rail Division
  10. Intelligent Transportation Systems
  11. Rail Server
  12. PRT
  13. Current PRT and Related Systems Development Efforts
  14. Bridge Server
  15. Bridge Information Page
  16. American Public Works Association (APWA)
  17. Roads and Bridges Page
  18. Structural Engineers Association of California
  19. Illinois Railway Museum
  20. Chicago Sun-Times
  21. Chicago Tribune
  22. alt-transp
  23. comp.infosystems.www.authoring
  24. DIRT
  25. DIRT search engine
  26. Constitutions, Statutes, and Codes
  27. transit discussion, Puget Sound
  28. BART, MBTA, Santa Cruz Metro, Riderlink
  29. New York City subway route map
  30. Track diagrams
  31. Track diagrams, other information
  32. Code of Federal Regulations
  33. LawGuru Legal Research
  34. Substantive Law
  35. Institute for Economic Democracy
  36. AASHTO
  37. ATIS
  38. Bureau of Transportation Statistics
  39. DOT Bureau of Transportation Statistics
  40. NWU Infrastructure Technology Institute
  41. Intermodal Passenger Terminal Facilities Project Summaries
  42. Internet Sources in Transportation
  43. Association of American Railroads Transportation Technology Center
  44. Association of American Railroads
  45. On-Line Libraries
  46. link to transportation images
  47. Transport Chicago (Metropolitan Conference on Public Transportation Research)
  48. US Government Printing Office
  49. Highway bill reauthorization
  50. ISTEA legislative updates
  51. Government Financial Officers Association
  52. Government Financial Officers Association
  53. Complete World Rail Transit List
  54. railroad abandonment notices
  55. Innovative Transportation Technologies
  56. traffic and capacity
  59. US public transport 1985 to 1995 data by state
  60. All Aboard - USA
  61. ATRA Newsletter
  62. United States Government Manual
  63. Grade Crossing Safety Information: FHwA OMC
  64. Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century
  65. North American Commuter Railroad Schedules
  66. Municipal Codes Online
  67. Tax links
  68. Are Compact Cities a Desirable Planning Goal? Gordon, Peter; Richardson, Harry W American Planning Association. Journal of the American Planning Association; Winter 1997; 63, 1
  69. Wisconsin Department of Transportation

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