The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

I didn't realize they were doing it on purpose

Conductors on the heavy-rail line I take downtown twice a week haven't asked me for my ticket all summer. Apparently they're pissed at Metra, the agency that runs our commuter trains:

Metra, which is struggling financially during the pandemic, said Union Pacific’s refusal to send conductors into the train cars is costing the commuter rail system $1 million a month in lost ticket revenue.

Union Pacific, which operates the UP North, Northwest and West lines, is not allowing conductors back into the aisles to punch tickets, citing coronavirus safety concerns. That has created a “no fare” policy, Metra said, essentially giving passengers on those lines a free ride for the foreseeable future.

“Because UP conductors are neither selling tickets nor validating fares, most riders on their trains have been riding for free, which is hurting the system financially and is not fair to riders on the other lines who are being asked to show their fares,” Metra spokesman Michael Gillis said Tuesday.

Metra and Union Pacific have been in negotiations since last fall to either extend their service agreement or create a new one. One option on the table would be for Metra to take over operations of the commuter trains using its own employees, Gillis said.

For what it's worth, I've "burned" an electronic ticket most times I've ridden on the train. It seems like the right thing to do. But it also seems like the conductors need to do their jobs.

Also, I want to know why, after five years, we still don't have a new inbound station at my stop. They've built all the bridges, and only a couple weeks ago they started laying new track, but at an incredibly slow pace. One morning I see a few dozen ties (sleepers); later in the week, a few more. Then the following week, they plop a single rail down on a few of them. It's maddening, especially as we're going to have yet another winter without shelter on the inbound side.

As the pipeline builds...

I'm waiting for a build to finish so I can sign off work for the day, so I've queued up a few things to read later:

Looks like the build is done, and all the tests passed. (I love green pipelines.)

Busy morning

Just a few things have cropped up in the news since yesterday:

Finally, the Covid-19 mitigation rollback announced yesterday has led to Guthrie's Tavern closing permanently. Guthrie's, which opened in 1986 and featured board games and good beer, will pour its last pint on Thursday.

Then and now, Montrose/Dayton

I found this photo of the 800 West block of Montrose in April 1891 in a Chicago Public Library collection:

Here's the same place yesterday:

A few things have changed. In 1891, Montrose was paved for the half-block between Clarnedon and the Lake, and the apartment developer had built a proper curb from Dayton to Clarendon on the south side. I expect that the city paved the rest of Montrose shortly after this photo.

The park to the left became a hospital in 1957, which closed in 2009 and was demolished in 2016. The high-rise center frame marks the shoreline in the top photo. Lake Michigan is now over a kilometer farther west after the construction of Montrose Harbor in the 1930s.

Wrong kind of hedge fund

A couple on the north side of Chicago planted hedges around a patch of public park land and fought the city's attempts to get the land back for 15 years. Then a local blog got ahold of the story, and the hedges came right out:

About 8:30 a.m., a landscaping crew was at the home in the 3000 block of North Lake Shore Drive West to remove the hedgerow on public land. The politically connected homeowner, businessman Michael Tadin Jr., confirmed he ordered the bushes removed.

As neighbors watched the hedgerow being torn out, one person passing by said, “I can’t tell you how happy this makes me.”

Another walked up, threw an egg at the house and left a bag of dog poop on the lawn.

Block Club revealed Tuesday that Tadin Jr. and his wife, Natalie Tadin, planted hedges around the 3,000 square feet of Chicago Park District land in front of their home, according to an inspector general report issued last week.

The entire block from Wellington to Barry that faces Lake Shore Drive West was previously a convent for a religious order. About 15 years ago, the mansion and chapel on Barry were converted to residential use when the property was sold and the land around it was rezoned.

I have a particular interest in this story because I used to live directly above the property in question. I'll try to find a photo of it from before the convent closed.

Water, water, everywhere, and all is safe to drink

The Midwest has an embarrassment of riches right now as the Lake Michigan-Huron system enters its sixth straight month of record water levels, a mere 12 cm below its all-time high:

The lake is nearly 3 feet higher than usual for early summer and approaching the historical high, set in October 1986, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which maintains the official records for all of the Great Lakes.

As Chicagoans return to the lakefront and the 18-mile Lakefront Trail, which officially reopens in most areas Monday, they will notice waves lapping onto flooded pathways, disappearing beaches, submerged breakwaters and stone revetments unable to hold back the pulsating water.

“If people haven’t been back to the beach or their favorite spot in a while, it may be very different with erosion or a lot less beach,” said John Allis, the Army Corps’ chief of the Great Lakes hydraulics and hydrology office, based out of the Detroit District. “Conditions can be very different on the coastline than people may be used to in the past.”

The high water levels can be seen up and down Chicago’s shoreline. Near Belmont Harbor, the path for walkers and joggers that skirts the inner part of the harbor was partially covered with water on Monday. Runners dodged water or splashed gingerly on their way. Nearby, a section of the trail was blocked with barricades and a bright yellow warning sign: “Caution Undermining Erosion.”

The Belmont Harbor Dog Beach was almost entirely submerged, with only a small spit of sand available for dogs and their owners. “It’s gone,” one woman mentioned to her companion as they walked past, “It’s underwater.”

Scientists say a confluence of factors has contributed to the high water: recent record precipitation complete with drenching downpours, milder winters and warming overall temperatures throughout the Midwest.

Heavy rains in the spring and summer of 2019 raised lake levels, setting the table for the record highs of 2020.

Warmer temperatures mean fewer blasts of cold air, less ice cover and less-than-normal evaporation since cool surface water is a driver of evaporation, said Lauren Fry, a physical scientist with NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.

“Climate factors,” Fry said, “are the primary drivers of water levels.”

The Lake Michigan-Huron system is already the largest freshwater lake in the world, with an area of 117,400 km² and the largest source of fresh water in the hemisphere. It also used to be a lot bigger: only 8,000 years ago, the lake came all the way up to Clark Street, before the ice dam holding it back gave way in what must have been one of the most spectacular hydrologic events in the planet's history. (If I ever get a time machine, that's one of the things I want to see. That, and the moment the Atlantic Ocean breached the Strait of Gibraltar, creating an epic flow of water that may have filled up the Mediterranean Basin in only two years.)

Today in the weird

It's day 88 of my exile from the office, but I recently found out I may get to go in for a day soon. Will this happen before the 24th (day 100)? Who's got the over/under on that?

Meanwhile, outside my bubble:

And just in case you're not scared of everything on earth, here's a list of things in the cosmos that can help you feel even more scared.

A busy day

Last weekend's tsunami continues to ripple:

Just another quiet week in 2020...

Shared streets in Chicago

The city has started adding traffic controls to side streets in an effort to encourage outdoor recreation and social distancing:

Earlier this week, officials said at least six streets are expected to be closed to through traffic and opened to the public. The move comes after weeks of transportation advocates asking the city to open up streets to pedestrians, giving them more room to walk, jog and ride bikes so they can safely social distance while outside during the pandemic.

Advocates have long called for streets to be opened to pedestrians during the pandemic. With the lakefront and popular trails like The 606 closed to prevent overcrowding, people have said they need more room to get outside without having to worry about crowds or packed sidewalks.

Other major cities, including New York and Los Angeles, created open streets weeks ago.

One of the streets announced as the first to switch runs right past my block. Unfortunately for my side of the neighborhood, our alderman threw cold water on the city's announcement in an email to constituents he sent last night:

Unfortunately, a web blog errantly [sic] and preemptively posted this information before the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) had finalized their plans.  The portion of Leland in the 46th Ward, from Clark to Sheridan, was never going to be a part of this plan because Leland already has, or will have, significant construction taking place this summer. So, according to CDOT, this portion of Leland is unsafe for promoting a shared streets concept.

For reference, these projects include: MCI utility installation, resurfacing of the 1200 block of Leland and the 4700 block of Malden, water main installation on Racine that will cross Leland, and the ongoing building construction at Sheridan and Leland for the new Sarah's Circle facility. It is because of all of these conflicts that CDOT is not supporting Leland as a shared street at this time.

Safe open space is critically important for everybody's mental and physical health during these Stay at Home orders, and that is why we continue to advocate for the Lakefront trails to reopen. This is a plea my office hears daily from residents, and I agree that the trails should open in a phased and planned way to provide safe, and equitable social distancing for recreation and transportation throughout the city.

In other words, yes, Leland will become a shared street—right up to the border of my ward and not actually in my ward. Nice to hear he's lobbying the mayor to reopen the lakefront, though Monty and Rose might want to keep it closed.

Also yesterday, the mayor announced that the city will close a few streets to traffic to encourage restaurants to expand outdoor dining. The Tribune said, however, "it was unclear when the program would start."

Saturday afternoon thunderstorm reading

I'm setting these aside to read after I race around my house closing windows in a few minutes:

I'm working on a longer-form entry bringing together some of the more serious books and essays I've read on our current situation.