The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Still waiting for tiles? Really?

I got an update today from Metra about the Ravenswood Union Pacific North station, after sending an inquiry last week. Before I get to that, let's take a look at photographic evidence that we've had to use the "temporary" platform north of Lawrence Avenue for just under 12 years now:

That's the Google Street View from July 2011 showing that Metra has already closed the 1950s-era inbound platform (on the left) and opened the "temporary" platform (on the right).

I took these two photos a week ago, but I could have taken them last September with only one minor change (the new "temporary" fence by the entrance to the new platform):

OK, so now that we've established that (a) we haven't had even a semi-permanent inbound platform since the middle of President Obama's first term, and (b) neither Metra nor the UPRR has done any noticeable work on the new new-but-unfinished platform since I last posted news seven months ago, here is what a Metra spokesperson told me this afternoon:

Per our station project Construction Team, a late July 2023 completion is anticipated. There are a few items remaining that need to be addressed to complete the project.

  1. Structural tiles, which the manufacturer has delayed delivery of. Our Team has 3 other options to address this issue that they are looking into and are actively progressing a tile alternative.
  2. The waterproofing along the edge of the platform and the bridge abutment (Lawrence & Leland) that requires the removal of track and ballast by Union Pacific Railroad will be scheduled by UP forces. Ballast work could not be performed during winter months when ground is frozen.
  3. Guardrail fencing change work at Leland Bridge is proceeding through redesign to accommodate a conduit system. Contractor estimates work end of May/early June.
  4. A solution to the hairline cracks in the platform surface has been determined. A coating to address this issue cannot be applied until weather conditions permit.
  5. Additional CDOT crossing work required along with the asphalt overlay patching in the street cannot occur until the asphalt plants reopen next month.

With a project of this magnitude that entailed the replacement of 22 bridges on the UPN Line, as well as a complete station project, its impact on the community was/is unavoidable and cannot be understated. Metra is making every attempt possible to improve the dates on the remaining items and complete the work, as soon as possible.

I knew about #3, and previously reported about #1. The rest just frustrates me to no end.

The UPRR and Metra should have completed this project in 2018. I will remind everyone that four years of the delay happened because former Illinois governor Bruce Rauner (R) cut funding to everything based solely on his extreme anti-government ideology. (Makes you wonder why he wanted to govern, right?) And once again, I will remind everyone that if I had the power, I would sentence the former governor to stand on the platform for two hours a day, every day, for a duration equal to the entire delay to the project that he caused. Even that sentence seems lenient.

I hope that my contact at Metra has accurate information, because I'm really tired of standing in the rain just 20 meters from what appears to be a perfectly serviceable but inaccessible shelter.

Rails to trails

Freelance writer John Carpenter (a "husky man of 60, with the approximate flexibility of a rusty old tractor") explores some of the abandoned railroads that now have bike paths on them in the Chicago area:

Chicago is teeming with them — rail trails, I mean. Once extolled by the poet Carl Sandburg as the “player with railroads and the nation’s freight handler,” it remains a national railroad hub. That means there are bike paths along existing lines, like the Green Bay Trail beside Metra’s North Line, and trails along the roadbed of long-abandoned lines, like the west suburban Illinois Prairie Path and the city’s Bloomingdale Trail, also known as The 606.

Chicago is also home to a stretch of the Great American Rail Trail, a 6,000-km bike path from coast to coast that passes through northwest Indiana and the south suburbs. Though supported by the national Rails to Trails Conservancy, it is really a network of more than 125 locally backed trails that is still filling out some gaps in the run from Washington, D.C., to the Pacific Ocean west of Seattle. I did a relatively short stretch in Indiana, and it left me wanting to ride more.

The magic of rail trails is rooted in the laws of physics. Massively heavy freight and passenger trains simply cannot handle steep grades up and down. That’s why tracks are built up on bridges and artificial berms in some places, and carved into the land in others, leveling out elevation changes to allow trains to move up and down at a gentle rate.

The result is that riders can easily get into a comfortable cruise. One can maintain a pleasant speed with a steady churn in the higher gears, pushing hard enough to get the heart beating, without the extreme strains of steep uphill slogs. There is also the satisfaction of feeling the miles click away.

He identifies the North Shore trail as "along" a right-of-way, but in fact it covers the old North Shore Line, abandoned in 1964. I used to ride that trail a lot when I was a kid. These days, I sometimes walk a long stretch of it.

Time for a transit tech update?

WBEZ reporter Michael Gerstein went out to the IKEA in Schaumburg, Ill., to test our transit system and its navigation apps. It went fine, but Gerstein had an unusual experience:

Major construction projects have snarled the Kennedy Expressway and the Blue Line’s weekend service, so my editor sent me on a 29-mile odyssey to Schaumburg. The idea was to test how Chicago’s regional transit agencies (CTA, PACE, Metra) work with each other and how many apps, trackers and planning devices I’d need to use to get there.

We were trying to see firsthand how accurate the region’s tracking technology is and why apps often promise buses and trains that don’t show up when they’re supposed to. All this comes at a time when public officials are encouraging more drivers to take public transit to and from downtown.

My two-hour sojourn to IKEA was unremarkable and pretty much on time (barring some initial inaccurate estimates from every app I tried except the city’s Ventra app). Still, other riders have experienced inaccuracies with trackers, and it’s hard to get to the bottom of why. In a recent WBEZ survey of nearly 2,000 CTA riders, about 9 in 10 survey takers said they’d experienced a delay taking a bus or train in the past 30 days.

Chicago, which used to be a leader in transit technology, now has some catching up to do with the broader tech world. “Our train and bus tracker were among the first tools of its time among any U.S. transit agency,” Brian Steele, CTA’s chief spokesman, said in an interview. But predictive algorithms have evolved, Steele acknowledged, and Chicago needs an upgrade that would give it the ability to automatically update the position of a bus that goes off a route or a train that falls behind.

Real-time information is only available after a train or bus leaves the terminal – and only if that bus or train is on its scheduled route, Steele said.

I also learned that I really don’t like being in IKEA. Some people prefer navigating a maze-like furniture store where you can’t find anything, that’s about 5 degrees too warm, and where every aisle and bathroom stall is packed.

I do like living 400 meters from the Metra station that takes me to downtown Chicago in 14 minutes, though. From dropping Cassie at doggy day care to sitting at my desk, my commute usually takes about 30-35 minutes. I would not take any job that had me drive out to the suburbs again, unless they paid me for travel time.

Layout frustrations

I'm arguing with the Blazorise framework right now because their documentation on how to make a layout work doesn't actually work. Because this requires repeated build/test cycles, I have almost no time to read all of this:

Finally, a group of Chicago aldermen have proposed that the city clear sidewalks of snow and ice when property owners don't. Apparently the $500 fines, which don't happen often, don't work often either.

Greenwood Brewing, Phoenix

Welcome to an extra stop on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Greenwood Brewing, 922 N. 5th St., Phoenix
Train line: Valley Metro Rail, Roosevelt/Central
Time from Chicago: 3½ hours by air
Distance from station: 350 m

I walked just a couple of blocks from Pedal Haus and found the kind of taproom where Cassie and I would hang out often: the woman-owned Greenwood Brewing. I enjoyed all the beers and found their space comfortable and inviting.

Once again, I had a flight and took notes.

Emera Easy Hazy IPA (3.6%): fruity, hoppy, bitterness comes around the back, nice low-alcohol beer. Herstory Pale (5.5%): bursting with hops, long finish, well-balanced. Warrior Hazy IPA (6.5%): grapefruit, blackberry, Citra, balanced, nice flavor. Rosemary IPA (7.2%): wow, lots of complexity, depth, the rosemary adds something interesting, strong, lingering finish. On second tasting, even better. Yum.

The next evening, one of the partners in my company organized a brewery tour that included both Pedal Haus and Greenwood. I tagged along but didn't drink anything except for one Rosemary IPA. That would probably be my go-to beer in Phoenix if I were exiled there.

Beer garden? Yes
Dogs OK? Yes
Televisions? No
Serves food? No; BYOF
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Pedal Haus Brewery, Phoenix

Welcome to an extra stop on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Pedal Haus Brewery, 214 E. Roosevelt St., Phoenix
Train line: Valley Metro Rail, Roosevelt/Central
Time from Chicago: 3½ hours by air
Distance from station: 350 m

I discovered last week that Phoenix built a light-rail system between my visits in 2015 and 2023. And it goes past a bunch of breweries. So when I had a few hours between my flight landing and the conference welcome dinner, I went to two of them.

Pedal Haus Brewery has multiple locations, including a production facility in Tempe. The downtown Phoenix location has two levels, most of which are outside. (They don't get a lot of snow or rain in central Arizona.) I found my way to the roof and ordered a flight and took notes on my phone.

I started with the Kölsch (4.7%, 19 IBU): light, crisp, honey, pear, lingering finish. Not too bad. Next, the White Rabbit wheat WCIPA (6.5%, 48.6 IBU): subtle, some fruit, much lighter than expected. On to the Desert Classic APA (5.9%, 36 IBU): malt, apple, light banana notes, very drinkable. Finally, the Haus IPA (6.4%, 58 IBU): hoppy, nice balance, long finish. 

I also had just a taste of the Day Drinker Light lager (3.46%, 11.9 IBU) and wrote: "nose is like a Bud Light or Old Style, as is the taste, but with some complexity and flavor. Not for me, but could be life-changing to a Miller Lite drinker."

In all, not too bad, though the unavoidable TVs put a damper on my enjoyment.

Oh, and they clearly like dogs, even if fully a third of their rules concern pee:

Beer garden? Yes
Dogs OK? Yes
Televisions? Yes, ubiquitous
Serves food? Full menu
Would hang out with a book? Maybe
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Maybe

Art History Brewing, Geneva

Welcome to stop #82 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Art History Brewing, 649 W. State St., Geneva
Train line: Union Pacific West, Geneva
Time from Chicago: 72 minutes (Zone H)
Distance from station: 1.0 km

Art History Brewing opened in the summer of 2020, a few months after their planned March 15th opening (oops). They got through the pandemic in part by brewing for Hopleaf, the excellent Belgian-inspired restaurant less than a kilometer from my house. But for whatever reason, none of their beers exactly knocked my socks off. Plus, I really didn't like the brewery's location in a strip mall along the stroad that cuts through one of the cutest small cities in Illinois.

I wound up trying five beers, because I actually couldn't finish one of the ones you see above. The Gravitace Pils (5.1%, 38 IBU) was pretty good: not too malty, good hop balance, clean and refreshing, something I would order again. I also liked the ESB (5.3%), which tasted like it came straight from London. But the Isla New England IPA (7.2%, 18 IBU) just didn't work for me. It was way too sweet, with a bizarre banana note thanks to the isoamyl acetate left over from the brewing process. The Ceres American Pale (7.3%, 65 IBU) was like whiplash after the Isla, with huge hops and a bitter finish that I liked, but wouldn't make it my go-to. I tried one more, the Lincoln Highway IPA (5.8%, 40 IBU), that had a good vanilla-malt flavor over a strong hoppy foundation.

I think Geneva is worth the trip, especially the historic district just north of the train station. And I guess I'd go back to Art History, but I probably wouldn't make it past Stockholm's on my way there.

Beer garden? Yes
Dogs OK? Outside only
Televisions? Yes, unavoidable
Serves food? Pretzels, but BYOF allowed
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Maybe

Obscurity Brewing, Elburn

Welcome to stop #81 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Obscurity Brewing, 113 W. North St., Elburn
Train line: Union Pacific West, Elburn
Time from Chicago: 85 minutes (Zone I)
Distance from station: 1.2 km

Elburn, Ill., is the end of the line for the Union Pacific West line. The station opened in 2006, extending the line past Geneva for the first time since the Chicago & North Western ceased intercity train service in 1971. In fact, when the last C&NW train pulled into Elburn 51 years ago, it stopped right at what is now the Obscurity Brewing Co.

Obscurity opened in the summer of 2020, after I'd already visited Penrose Brewing, at that point the farthest western Brews & Choos stop. They have two notable features: really good BBQ, and lots of honey, which makes sense as they have a sister location just across Main St. that makes mead and honeyed ciders. (Unfortunately, the mead hall only opens after 5pm on Fridays, so I'll have to stop back in Elburn some Saturday or Sunday when the train schedules work out better.)

I ordered a flight of four very different styles and a brisket sandwich. Starting at the top left, I tried the Train with Square Wheels milk stout (5%), a smooth, subtle, chocolatey pour with a clean finish. The American Pilsner (bottom left, 5.2%) would refresh me on a hot day, with its nice balance of malt and hops. The Good Kiss Braggot IPA (top right, 6.5%) had a sweetness I didn't expect and pretty subtle hop notes for an IPA, but I learned that "braggot" means they brewed it with honey. The Launch Juice hazy IPA (bottom right, 6.7%) was my favorite of the four, with nice Citra notes of grapefruit and pear, with a lingering finish and delicious mouthfeel.

I also sampled the Nemesis Cider (not pictured, 5%), which had lots of flavor: honeycrisp apple, pear, and a few other notes, sweet without cloying.

I would go back for the brisket, too.

And I love that they lean into the Metra theme:

Beer garden? Yes
Dogs OK? Outside only
Televisions? Yes, unavoidable
Serves food? Really good BBQ
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes


Photo: The Elburn Metra station with its one train waiting to head back to Chicago.

Quiet Saturday morning

The storm predicted to drop 100 mm of snow on Chicago yesterday missed us completely. That made my Brews & Choos research a lot more pleasant, though I did tromp all over the place in heavy boots that I apparently didn't need. Of course, had I not worn them, I would now be writing about my cold, wet socks.

So while I'm getting two reviews together for later this week, go ahead and read this:

Finally, author John Scalzi celebrates the 25th anniversary of his domain name scalzi.com, exactly one month before I registered my own. But as I will point out again in a couple of posts later this spring, The Daily Parker started (as braverman.org) well before his blog. Still, 25 years is a long time for a domain to have a single owner.

Use-it-or-lose-it PTO, plus the oncoming storm

My company distributes each employee's paid time off (PTO) by distributing a certain number of hours of per half-month pay period. The hours accumulate in a bank that the employee can tap into at any time. Salaried employees can spend it in half-day increments, making it a straightforward arithmetic problem to see how much time off one has available.

There is, of course, a catch: At some point, you hit your maximum number of PTO hours, and it stops accruing. I will be at that point on the 31st of this month.

So, today, I'm taking a day off, and will use it to perform necessary research for the Brews & Choos Project.

There is, of course, a catch:

Yeah. That crap is slowly moving northeast and looks likely to hit Chicago in a couple of hours.

Well, I'll be on trains for a while, and the places I'm visiting are pretty close to the stations. And I can always adjust the plan on the fly. But it does look like I'll get a bit of snow.

Anyway, look for a couple of Brews & Choos entries this weekend.