The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Happy birthday, El

Chicago opened its first elevated train 125 years ago tomorrow, on 6 June 1892:

On June 6, 1892, 125 years ago this week, the first elevated line called the "Alley L" opened for business, running from Congress Parkway and State Street to 39th Street, along the alley, behind and around buildings and through backyards, said Graham Garfield, CTA general manager of customer information and unofficial agency historian.

It was a novel way to travel — above the streets and eye-level to people's second- and third-floor windows. Garfield said some residents along the path may have forgotten that the train was coming that first day and had to quickly draw the curtains to protect their privacy, while others gathered on back porches to watch the smoky, steam-powered "L" go by.

The wooden train, run by the private Chicago and South Side Rapid Transit Railroad Co. along what is now the Green Line, was popular and crowded from the start. And along with other north, south and west sections of the "L" built over the next 10 years, it helped to both expand the city and create its character... The combined subway and elevated system now has 224.1 miles of track and sees more than a million riders daily.

The first elevated train anywhere—which still exists, to some extent—ran from London Bridge to Greenwich and opened in 1836.

Is my local CTA station worth $200 million?

Despite his initial skepticism, Crain's Greg Hinz sees the value:

Ponder for a moment what $200 million can accomplish, even in government, and even at a time when money isn't worth what it used to be.

Two hundred million dollars would pretty much fill the hole in the Chicago Public Schools budget, the one that had officials threatening to end school three weeks early. Two hundred million dollars would completely pay for the budget of the city Department of Streets & Sanitation for a year (with $50 million left over), or provide not one but two years of subsidies to keep Cook County's hospital and health clinics up and running.

So is the Chicago Transit Authority doing the right thing by spending $203 million, to be exact, to rebuild just one el stop, the hoary Wilson Avenue station on the Red Line in Uptown? Are taxpayers really getting a good deal?

"It's not a station—it's a station with a bridge," replies Chris Bushell, the CTA's chief technology officer. And the century-old bridge, which runs a half-mile, not only had to be replaced from the ground up, it had to be kept in operation while hundreds of Red and Purple Line trains trundled by with more than 75 million people a year.

The project should be finished this fall, just as another huge infrastructure project gets underway on the other side of Uptown.

If anyone wants to get me a nice birthday present...

...this will do splendidly:

A new long-distance train, the East Japan Railway Company’s Shiki-Shima, launched this week, and it’s already earning praise as perhaps the most luxurious train in the world. Its 10 cars hold 17 spacious suites, some kitted out with cypress bathtubs and lofts. And that’s not the only thing that makes it feel like a five-star hotel: This train also sports a piano bar, two glass-walled observatory cars, and even a Michelin-accredited restaurant.

It holds up to 34 passengers, who are squired around eastern Japan for two to four days, paying anywhere between $3,000 and $10,000 for a round-trip ticket.

CGTN has a video review:

Documentary to see

Matt Tyranauer directs Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, a documentary about my hero Jane Jacobs.

From CityLab:

Jane Jacobs moved to Toronto in 1968 after being arrested during her ultimately successful battle against Robert Moses and his plans for a Lower Manhattan Expressway. In her new city, where she stayed until her death in 2006, Jacobs fought off yet another planned expressway, consulted on occasional development projects, spoke out against amalgamation, and continued to write books.

But in 2017, the story of how she helped defeat the world’s most infamous urban planning villain still generates inspiration from old and new audiences in New York and afar. A new film by Matt Tyrnauer, Citizen Jane: Battle For The City, packages that story around the damage felt across so many American cities in the 20th century through urban renewal. But it also reminds viewers that today’s urbanizing world has no lack of bad ideas worth fighting against right now.

Citizen Jane doesn’t necessarily shed new light on the main characters or the plot, but it does serve as a concise and approachable lens into what Jacobs stood for. It also shows just how she was able to hand Moses a rare loss in a career that allowed him to easily bulldoze—literally and figuratively—through the five boroughs.

Tyrnauer’s documentary is popping up in select theaters across the country this spring.

It's on my list. But unfortunately not scheduled to open in Chicago this spring.

Stuff to read after After Hours

Now that we're four days from Apollo After Hours, of which I'm the committee chair, and given that I still have work to do at work, the articles I need to catch up on keep piling up:

OK, back to the mines...

Not posting much lately

Since December I've been the technical lead on an 18-person project at work, which has tanked my blogging frequency. I may return to my previous 3-posts-in-two-days velocity at some point. For now, here are some articles to read:

That's all for now.

Thanks, Obama!

The outgoing president has authorized $1.1 billion in Federal transportation funds to modernize the northern half of the CTA's Red Line:

City Hall has received the parting gift it wanted from the Obama administration: just under $1.1 billion in federal grants to rebuild a key stretch of the Chicago Transit Authority's Red Line north.

The city and U.S. Department of Transportation officials are scheduled to sign a contract tomorrow, known as a full-funding grant agreement, committing the DOT's Federal Transit Agency to provide $957 million in "core capacity" funds and another $125 million in anti-congestion money for the CTA's Phase One Red/Purple Modernization project.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, in a phone interview, called the Red Line "the central nerve" of the CTA system.

The federal money "means 6,000 (construction) jobs, and it means decades of neighborhood improvements," he said, crediting U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and state officials for taking the necessary preliminary steps to make it happen.

"Forty percent of the people who take the CTA take that line," he added.

Some of the track, embankments, and stations in the affected zone are 117 years old.

Things I queued up to read on my last day in the office this year

From the Intertubes:

I'll also have some blog entries in January. December seems to have been pretty light.

Two tales of bad Republican policies hurting ordinary people

First, from Crain's, an exploration of the ghost town inside Naperville, Ill., where millions of dollars evaporated when the housing bubble burst in 2008:

At the height of the building boom, Novack estimates, there were 88 homebuilders working in Naperville. "Everyone was building homes then," he says. "It was the best business to be in." The bust took that figure down to "maybe a dozen," Novack says, though in recent years it's grown back to around 30. Homebuilding has been in a trough throughout the region, not only in Naperville. Builders sold 25,105 new homes in the Chicago area in 2006, according to Schaumburg-based industry tracker Tracy Cross & Associates, and in 2015 sold less than 15 percent of that.

If only Alan Greenspan had taken an economic view instead of an ideological one in the mid-2000s and put the brakes on runaway lending. Oh, and if we'd had financial oversight. But Republicans believe in everyone making it on their own: i.e., the richest making it on their own by not having to deal with the protections we put in place in the 1930s and 1940s, the last time this happened.

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, the incoming Christie administration moved money around the state budget to cut taxes, and he cancelled an enormous Hudson River tunnel project ostensibly to protect the state from cost overruns. The effects of his policies (which are consistent with Republican ideology) were calamitous for public transport. The New York Times explains in detail the effects on New Jersey Transit in particular:

Under the administration of Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, the state subsidy for the railroad has plunged by more than 90 percent. Gaping holes in the agency’s past two budgets were filled by fare increases and service reductions or other cuts. And plans for a new tunnel under the Hudson River — one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects in the country — were torpedoed by Mr. Christie, who pushed for some of the money to be diverted to road-building projects. 

The result can be felt by commuters daily. So far this year, the railroad has racked up at least 125 major train delays, about one every two days. Its record for punctuality is declining, and its trains are breaking down more often — evidence that maintenance is suffering.

Midway through Mr. Christie’s first year as governor, New Jersey Transit was spending about $1.35 billion on projects to maintain and improve service. By the middle of last year, that figure had fallen by more than half, to about $600 million.

Again, Republican low-tax, low-service policies benefit the rich (who don't care about public services but do care about taxes) at the expense of everyone else (who pay much less in taxes to begin with but do care about public services).

With 26 days until the election, maybe we should pay attention to down-ballot races and their consequences. You want to make America great again? Quit electing people who don't care about you.