quick hits

Every once in a while, I try to remember that currency is the currency of the internet — and therefore that quick blog posts are just as worthy as detailed thoughts — but I still get hung up on doing justice to good ideas. Anyhow.

1. Good riddance, Olympic mania. A prime example of the worst possible “project planning” (to use Roberta Brandes Gratz‘s term) — for a temporary event, no less. What annoyed me most was that the organizers not only suckered local corporations and foundations out of millions of dollars (which did not, btw, fall from heaven but was ultimately taken from the pockets of other local charities), but that they sold some magical expectation that the Olympics would somehow magically solve the CTA’s woes. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Not only did the Bid Book explicitly state* that no transit improvements were planned (and you can’t get what you don’t ask for!), but even the most optimistic figures about what sort of money could indeed fall from the sky (i.e., the feds) fell far, far short of the region’s eye-popping $50 billion in unfunded transit capital needs. (If the broad outlines of what’s being discussed in Congress for TEA4 happen, we might have a good start on getting that funded — without the hassles of the Olympics.) Besides, if there really is money falling from the skies, let it fall upon Brazil — they need it more than we do.

* the comments on that story are actually pretty on-topic. Too bad that disillusionment didn’t spread as far as the implied lies did.

2. Proposition 13 really is a tax on newcomers and the young, according to research by Dowell Myers. Senior homeowners get an average of $1,000 a year, paid for by homeowners under 45.

3. Daimler’s car2go offers one-way car sharing, which sounds like an intriguing concept. That’s possible for bike sharing systems only due to their ubiquity; is that also the intent here?

4. Phoenix wants to be carbon neutral? “Dementia.”

5. Most of the examples of “circle lines” (circumferential rapid transit lines) that I’ve seen distribute passengers through sprawling downtowns from commuter rail terminals that, due to imperial dictate, have been located outside the CBD. (This is the pattern in Buenos Aires, London, Moscow, Paris, and Tokyo.) As I’ve argued before, the proposed CTA Circle line does not fit this model, and thus becomes “an expensive solution in search of a problem.” Even the Illinois Medical District isn’t that focused an employment center (the Longwood Medical Area packs twice the employees into half the space, and the Boston Urban Ring is projected to be a BRT project. It also won’t work as a Metra connector, since most Metra trains will never stop at the Circle Line — most Metra customers will continue to the downtown terminals. (The line also has limited TOD potential since it runs through many built-out neighborhoods; arguably, the Clinton subway has greater TOD bang for the buck.) The line also wouldn’t serve many circumferential trips well; changing from a single bus-rail transfer (or a single rail-rail transfer one mile down the line) to a double rail-rail-rail transfer wipes out any potential time savings.

One exception I found: in Santiago, L4/L4A (which require a transfer) link the Providencia-Las Condes business district, via a peripheral freeway median line, to the high-density southern suburbs — laden with Pinochet-era public housing. Not a great example.

6. Two impressions that I gathered from a quick look at Dallas:
– Ample illustrations of the problem with putting the right thing in the wrong place. Victory and West Village might have looked fine on the drawing boards, but in practice they’re difficult to reach from anywhere else (except by driving, of course). West Village, in particular, would be exactly the sort of development to place next to DART — not a few blocks away.
– The boom/bust cycle of Texas development results in some interesting half-built stuff. Local developers hitch on to the latest planning fads with great enthusiasm (and the local “BEAN: Build Everything, Anywhere, Now” planning culture encourages it), but the market collapses before anything actually gets completed. With proper phasing, you could have a few good blocks here and there, but no.

7. A scale comparison: HOPE VI spent $6 billion in total. The Livable Communities Act bill introduced by Sen. Dodd authorizes over $4 billion over the next 3-4 years. This could have a significant impact.

8. Filed under “fun endeavors that I wish I’d thought of”: Will Cycle For Charity, creators of events that exercise people and brains, while building goodwill for cycling and raising charitable donations.


4 thoughts on “quick hits

  1. You should send item number 5 to the CTA before the comment period ends.
    I’m satisfied with the current Locally Preferred Alternative mainly because it’s “doable.”
    But I also thought the premise of the Circle Line was to connect with Metra stations outside of the 4 terminals. This LPA doesn’t connect with a single line.

  2. I’m rather surprised and disheartened at your dour attitude towards the CTA Circle Line. You seem to be arguing that urban transformation is not possible so why bother. I infer that you assume it is somewhere predetermined that Chicago will always and only have a hyper-concentrated core and doing anything to spread this core concentration over a larger area is futile (and/or undesirable?).

    For example your comparison of LMA vs IMD suggests that we simply throw in the towel for the future of IMD. Am I to infer from your comments that there’s apparently no way possible for it to learn from LMA and get bigger and denser? Hence, why bother — and for certain don’t build a major transit connection that could really supercharge city and regional access to IMD (not to mention all of the other under-developed land along Ashland between Archer and North — and there is far more TOD-ripe under-developed land along Ashland than there is along the Clinton Subway corridor, despite your assertion to the contrary).

    Likewise, you state that “Metra trains will never stop at the Circle Line” (despite that being one of the core premises of the Circle Line concept). This type of statement is in direct contradiction to your own critique of the 2016 plans, where you argue “you can’t get what you don’t ask for” in relation to transit investments. CTA’s asking for it. Yes, Metra always says no to just about anything that means making their service more user-friendly. But building the Circle Line is a necessary, if not sufficient, condition to getting Metra to connect to it. Never is a very long time. Why say “never”?

    Plans like the Circle Line have the ability to be transformative and allow futures dramatically different from what would occur otherwise. Whether this is desirable or not is debatable, but as I read your post all I come away with is not a debate about what the future should be but rather the sense of “why bother”. That is very dispiriting. Pessimism does not make for good plans.

  3. Yes, there’s more land along Ashland, but it isn’t, and due to NIMBY pressures, will never be developed at the same intensities as land along Clinton, so I’d suggest that the total potential (in square feet of new buildings) is higher along the Clinton corridor. The Clinton corridor also serves the terminal-distribution function that keeps Circle Lines elsewhere packed, and can relieve operational constraints on the existing N-S lines through downtown. (The Circle Line LPA actually increases such constraints, by relying on the State and Lake lines. How much additional capacity exists there at rush hour?)

    In the past, I’ve argued for expanding the CBD incrementally southward and westward through transit investments. Immense development capacity (and demand) exists right outside the Loop, without overrunning great existing neighborhoods like Ukrainian Village, Pilsen, and Chinatown with inappropriately scaled development. And, as argued above, the Circle Line by itself results in minimal new accessibility for households and jobs even within its market area. It’s too far out to be a CBD extender — two miles out from the core when the CBD extends for just one mile — and too close in to really capture many circumferential trips.

    It’s not Metra’s fault that there will never be sufficient demand to stop its trains at the Circle Line. Their customers will want to get to the terminals two minutes earlier, because that’s where their jobs will be and that’s where the greatest number of transit connections to elsewhere are available.

  4. I didn’t mean to imply that I think a Clinton Street subway is a bad idea. I think it’s a very good idea and that the Circle Line and Clinton Subway would complement each other well. A full circle operation could indeed push State Street subway capacity to its limit during peak periods, and a Red Line “bypass” via Clinton would solve that problem and create enough north-south CTA rail capacity to last many, many decades into the future.

    However, completing the Circle Line (either in part, as described in CTA’s LPA, or in whole) need not nececessarily create an immediate State Street subway capacity crisis. First, the capacity issue will only be a factor during the peak period. Second, at peak times the demand for north side mainline (Red/Purple) service is sufficiently stronger (18-20 trains per hour) than that on the Dan Ryan corridor (12-15 tph), so that all north side trains need not go all the way to 95th. Six (or more) peak trains per hour from the north side could loop up and around via the circle route without creating any passenger capacity problems on the Dan Ryan branch, all the while keeping State Street subway trains per hour well under the 23-25 tph level where track congestion can start to cause delays. The desire to run full circle during the peak can then be used as another benefit to support securing funding for a Clinton Subway. I believe the city will be better off with both lines, and the strategy works better with Circle first, then Clinton. (Also, although we appear to disagree about the extent to which the Circle Line would actually benefit neighborhood travel, a Clinton Subway megaproject would clearly benefit downtown much more than the neighborhoods — which is another reason for doing Circle first, to prioritize joint neighborhood-downtown benefits over mostly-downtown benefits)

    As for neighborhood development, I agree that existing neighborhoods like Ukrainian Village, Pilsen, and Chinatown are not where expanded CBD-level density should be encouraged. But those aren’t the only stops on the Circle Line. Much of the area around the United Center and in the vast expanses of IMD’s property could support very intensive development with minimal (if any) negative impacts on the surrounding neighborhood (most of which in these particular areas is now vacant land — and there’s far more vacant land in these two areas alone than there is along Clinton). Beyond that, the areas around North/Elston, Division/Milwaukee, Cermak/Blue Island, Archer/Ashland, Archer/Halsted, and Clark/18th could all support strategic high density in-fill development without “overrunning” any “great existing neighborhoods.”

    Fundamentally, the Circle Line could be a strong, positive tool for transit-supportive city-building. It can also help to break Chicago out of its history of hyper-concentration in the Loop which I don’t think serves the city so well. Yes the Loop proper should (arguably must) remain the city and region’s dominant center, but I think that the “all roads lead to one point” type of transportation planning that this hyper-concentration encourages makes it all to easy to make decisions that are counter to vibrant regional transit. For one, it encourages the prioritization of extreme levels of peak service above all other types of service. Second, it allows ideas like complete abandonment of some radial transit lines to continue to have currency among otherwise rational decison-makers (they argue that traffic can simply concentrate on another radial, as they all end up going the same place — neighborhoods along the abandoned line be damned!). The Circle Line could allow each of the new transfer connections to begin to function as its own nucleus for development, strengthening transit demand along both the radials as well as the circle, in a positively reinforcing manner. As these station areas develop, so to will non-Loop centered travel demand. Most of the travel demand along the Circle Line will come not from two-transfer (i.e., in on Blue, over on Circle, and out on Orange) trips, but rather one-transfer or single-seat trips originating and/or destined for one of the Circle Line stops itself (in on Pink Line, shortcut to Division/Milwaukee; in on Orange Line, shortcut to United Center; live at Roosevelt/State or Clark/Division, work at IMD with a one-seat ride; etc.).

    Yes, it’s a vision. But that’s what planning is all about. Good planning should not be proclaiming “there will never be sufficient demand for Metra to stop its trains at the Circle Line.” (Especially not when even today there are more than a few existing or prospective IMD employees or visitors who live along Metra’s BNSF, UP-W, MD, or NCS Lines and would clearly have a shorter and more comfortable transit trip via the Circle Line — not to mention the increased travel demand that could come from more intensive development.)

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