The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Why can't we have these things in the U.S.?

I'm on a train hurtling through the English countryside at 200 km/h and using WiFi.

Seriously, why can't we have a train like this back home? I mean, some Amtrak routes have WiFi, and Acela maxes out at 240 km/h between Boston and New Haven, Conn. But that's it. Chicago to Milwaukee trains plod along at half that speed, and the trains to St. Louis are even slower (and frequently delayed by freight traffic).

Where's the President's infrastructure investment plan that we've heard so much about?

What Brexit means to Crossrail

Crossrail, the UK's £14.8bn rail line connecting London's far western suburbs with its eastern ones, either represents the end of an era or the beginning of one, according to today's New York Times:

Before Britain voted last summer to leave the European Union, Crossrail was conceived for a London open to the world and speeding into the future. Now, with Brexit, the nightmare scenario is that this massive project, to provide more trains moving more people more quickly through a growing city, ends up moving fewer people more quickly through a shrinking city.

Extending roughly 110 km, it is built to speed about 200 million passengers a year in a kind of Y from far to the west of the city, in the county of Berkshire, through Heathrow, to the heart of London, forking east to Shenfield in Essex and to the neighborhood called Abbey Wood, on the historically neglected southeast side of the Thames River. Linked with the existing Underground subway network, it will be rechristened the Elizabeth Line, inserting what is in effect a new steel-and-wheels spine into Britain’s capital.

“The danger with Brexit,” [George Iacobescu, Canary Wharf’s longtime chairman said], “is that if Britain gets out of the European Union and doesn’t keep the U.K. an attractive place for financial institutions, they will think twice about growing here. The issue isn’t banks leaving Canary Wharf. Most of them have long-term leases. The issue will be the pace of growth.”

But that’s not quite true. Because of Brexit worries, construction plans for several of Canary Wharf’s new buildings have already been put on hold. And long-term leases can always be broken.

The subway will open to passengers in 2018.

Where did the day go?

Usually when I work from home, I get a lot done. Today...not as much. I've run errands, had two meetings outside the house, and (to Parker's horror) vacuumed.

Now I'm off to another meeting, with half the house un-vacuumed and many emails unread.

Articles also unread:

Now, time for a board meeting.

How the Windy City got its name

By boasting, it turns out. And writing in the New York Times, Mayor Rahm Emanuel carries on the tradition of thumbing New York's eye:

On Thursday, in the wake of a subway derailment and an epidemic of train delays, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York declared a state of emergency for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the busiest mass transit system in America. That same day, the nation’s third-busiest system — the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority — handed out coupons for free coffee to riders stuck in the second year of slowdowns caused by repairs to prevent chronic fires.

Meanwhile, in Chicago, a recent survey found that 85 percent of passengers are satisfied with service on our transit system, the nation’s second most used.

The L, Chicago’s system, turned 125 this year. The elevated railway began as four wooden cars powered by coal and steam. Last year, more than 238 million rides were taken on the system, which, unlike the ones in New York and Washington, has not been troubled by systemic failures, breakdowns and delays. Even during a 28-day stretch of arctic temperatures in 2014, the L was never interrupted.

I mean, hey, it's the one bit of infrastructure Chicago has going for it. Of course, New York City's roads aren't great either.

Monday evening reading

Stuff I didn't get to because I was doing my job today:

Time for a martini, clearly.

Chicago's taxi fleet is dying

USA Today is reporting that Uber and Lyft are destroying the taxi industry here:

About 42% of Chicago’s taxi fleet was not operating in the month of March, and cabbies have seen their revenue slide for their long-beleaguered industry by nearly 40% over the last three years as riders are increasingly ditching cabs for ride-hailing apps Uber, Lyft and Via, according to a study released Monday by the Chicago cab drivers union.

More than 2,900 of Chicago’s nearly 7,000 licensed taxis were inactive in March 2017 — meaning they had not picked up a fare in a month, according to the Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Local 2500 report. The average monthly income per active medallion — the permit that gives cabbies the exclusive right to pick up passengers who hail them on the street — has dipped from $5,276 in January 2014 to $3,206 this year.

The number of riders in Chicago hailing cabs has also plummeted during that same period from 2.3 million monthly riders to about 1.1 million.

The Illinois Transportation Trade Association of Illinois unsuccessfully sued the city of Chicago, arguing that Chicago had unconstitutionally enforced two sets of rules for taxi and ride-sharing industries and made it impossible for cabbies to compete with Uber and Lyft.

But the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ultimately rejected the taxi industry’s argument. Cabs and ride-hailing, the court ruled last October, are distinct services and could thus be regulated differently. In April, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case and the 7th Circuit’s finding stood.

As a consumer of these services, I have switched almost entirely to Lyft. (I hate, hate, hate Uber's business practices and refuse to patronize them.) So though I'm part of the problem, I believe the taxi industry did a lot of this to themselves. How difficult would it have been for the taxi fleet to solve the predictability problem? I mean, if there were an app that would summon a taxi to a specific place and tell you what the fare is to your destination ahead of time, how would Lyft have become so successful?

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.