The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

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.

Thanks, Google

I took the unusual step of driving to work this morning, and regret it profoundly:

The problem was that Google Maps said to turn from Lake Shore Drive onto Jackson. Unfortunately, Jackson and Balbo are closed because of Sunday's Marathon. So from the river down to Roosevelt, the Drive was a parking lot. (That bit took about 25 minutes.) With Roosevelt no help, I drove down to I-55 and then up State, and from there it was a quick half-hour to go the remaining 24 blocks to the office. Keep in mind, I've walked the equivalent of home to work in under 90 minutes.

Can my day get better?

What ship is that?

At work, I typically sit at an east-facing window on the 35th floor of the Sears Willis Tower. Here's my view:

That means I can often see Michigan, Indiana, and everything in between, including very large boats out on the Lake. For the last half-hour I've watched a huge white thing slowly steam South, wondering what it was. It turns out, there's a website for that. And the boat is, in fact, pretty big:

So the 138-meter Glostrander is puttering southward at 19 km/h towards South Chicago. Good to know. (You can see the boat in the photo above just to the left of the Board of Trade building. It's the white horizontal sliver close to the horizon.)

The destruction of interstate highways

Two stories, in two directions. First, a cool interactive history of how the construction of Chicago's Eisenhower Expressway (I-290) displaced thousands of people and destroyed thousands of buildings:

In the late 1940s, the Oak Leaves newspaper in Oak Park predicted that the new superhighway would replace the West Side’s “appalling slums” with “orderly dwellings where orderly people are living in health and comfort.”

Of all the neighborhoods that the expressway sliced through, the Near West Side had the largest population of blacks in 1950. Nearly 40 percent of its people were African-American.

In February 1949, city housing coordinator D.E. Macklemann said some people in the neighborhood simply didn’t believe that the highway would actually get built. “One man forced us to get an eviction order from the court because he said he had been reading about superhighways for years and thought the whole thing was a dream,” Macklemann told the Tribune. “In several instances residents paid no attention until the buildings next door were being torn down.”

Second, a report about how Rochester, N.Y., has followed San Francisco, Boston, and other cities in burying or removing highways that blighted or isolated their downtowns:

Rochester lucked out. The eastern quadrant of the Inner Loop was isolated from the main flow of traffic into the city, and thus, the traffic volume on that segment of highway was never particularly high. As a result, discussions about burying this portion of the Inner Loop weren’t sidetracked by circular debates about what to do with the traffic it would displace. It may have taken decades to move forward, but that’s still more progress than many cities can claim.

Our research at the University of Connecticut shows that cities that transformed their downtowns with freeways, parking, and monolithic developments were flooded with traffic even while they were losing jobs and residents. The few American cities that maintained most of their prewar urban fabric saw much less growth in traffic congestion and have retained their character as vibrant walking cities.

We also know that cities that have removed freeways—usually due to an act of nature—have seen a decrease in traffic congestion. In some cases, the decrease was more than 50 percent.

I hope that someday, years from now but in my lifetime, we'll see the Eisenhower buried as well. There have been proposals to do that in Oak Park almost since it was built. But that would require a commitment to livable spaces that the U.S. doesn't seem likely to make.

Fun commute today

So, this happened on my train line:

A Metra train on the Union Pacific North Line was struck by lightning Tuesday morning in the Rogers Park neighborhood on the North Side.

Outbound train No. 309, scheduled to arrive in Kenosha at 8:18 a.m., was stopped shortly before 7:30 a.m. when it was struck by lightning, causing a mechanical failure near the Rogers Park Station...

Metra spokesman Tom Miller said no injuries were reported.

It actually only added about 15 minutes to my commute. Of course, if I'd known about the problem before seeing two outbound trains copulat--er, coupled together at my station while walking there (in the rain), I'd have taken the El.

At least it wasn't raining hard.

The slow death of Cairo, Illinois

The UK's Daily Mail has a decent explanation and creepy photos of how the southernmost city in Illinois went from a thriving (and historical) port to a nearly-abandoned shell in 50 years:

The town's luck began to fall in 1889 when the Illinois Central Railroad bridge opened over the Ohio River - although much railroad activity was still routed through the town, so its effects were not severe.

The same can't be said for a second bridge that opened around 23 miles up the Mississippi at Thebes, Illinois in 1905. 

The completion of that bridge drained away much railroad activity, reducing the need for the ferries that once carried railroad stock. 

And with steamboats being phased out in favor of barges, Cairo was no longer the essential hub it had once been. The end had begun.

The town was hit again in 1929 and 1937 when bridges were completed across the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, respectively, allowing a route through for US Routes 51, 60 and 62.

As the bridges were built at the town's southern tip, it was easy for traffic to bypass Cairo completely, draining away more money. 

But there was still a little money coming to the town until 1987, when the Interstate 57 bridge opened across the Mississippi, allowing traffic to bypass the town altogether - killing its hotel and restaurant industries.

I visited Cairo in 2003. It was pretty dead then, but judging by the photos in the Daily Mail article, it's even worse now.

Here's the confluence of the rivers, in December 2003: