I wanted to post this when it came out but life intervened. A couple weeks ago, New Republic reported on the sad tale of exurban town Elwood, Ill., and the "opportunity" they seized on with a giant intermodal freight terminal in 2002:
Fifteen years before Amazon’s HQ2 horserace, Elwood had won the retail lottery. “Nobody envisioned what we have out here,” said Jerry Heinrich, who sat on the board of the planning commission that first apportioned the land for development in the mid-1990s. “It was never anticipated that every major business entity would end up in the area.”
But this corporate valhalla turned out to be hell for the community, which suffered a concentrated dose of the indignities and disappointments of late capitalism in the 21st century. Instead of abundant full-time work, a regime of partial, precarious employment set in. Temp agencies flourished, but no restaurants, hotels, or grocery stores ever came, save for the recent addition of a dollar store. Tens of thousands of semis rumbled through Will County every day, wreaking havoc on the infrastructure. And as the town of Elwood scrambled to pave its potholes, its inability to collect taxes from the facilities plunged it into more than $30 million in debt.
And that was before Big Tech rolled in. Just four years ago Amazon didn’t even have one facility in the region; now, with five fulfillment centers, it’s the county’s largest employer. Growth, once arithmetic, became exponential. Plans were made to build a new facility, this one bigger than the original Intermodal, with room for some 35 million additional square feet of industrial space.
It's astounding, but not surprising, that this would happen. And more than just a cautionary story about getting more than you bargained for, it should remind people that voting in local elections matters a lot.
I didn't have a moment to write any code from 9am until now, so my lunch will include doing the stuff I didn't do in all those meetings. At some point I'll get to these:
Now, back to writing code, as soon as I make yet another vet appointment for my bête noir.
Anyone who has traveled from the US to Canada or Europe notices quickly that their transit systems simply work better. Londoners may moan about the Tube, but one can get from any part of Greater London to any other at almost any time of day using trains or buses.
Writing for Citylab, Jonathan English explains why and how the rest of the world got it right and we got it so very wrong:
[T]o briefly summarize: Transit everywhere suffered serious declines in the postwar years, the cost of cars dropped and new expressways linked cities and fast-growing suburbs. That article pointed to a key problem: The limited transit service available in most American cities means that demand will never materialize—not without some fundamental changes.
Many, though not all, major cities in the U.S. have a number of rail lines radiating out of their centers. Most of them are only used by freight or a few commuter train trips a day. It’s a huge, untapped resource. There’s no reason why those railway lines can’t be turned into what are effectively subway lines—high-capacity routes that allow people to get across the city quickly—without the immense cost of tunneling. In Europe, what we usually call “commuter rail” operates frequently, all day, and cost the same fare as other local transit. That’s the difference between regional rail and commuter rail. A transit system with service that is only useful to 9-to-5 commuters to downtown will never be a useful one for most people.
Fares need to be low enough that people can afford to take transit. New York City will soon join other cities like Tucson and Ann Arbor in having discounted fares for low-income people. That is important to make transit accessible to everyone. But fair fares isn’t just about keeping fares low. It’s also about eliminating arbitrary inequities. People shouldn’t have to pay a transfer penalty or a double fare just because they switch from bus to rail, transfer between agencies, or travel across the city limits. A transfer is an inconvenience—you shouldn’t have to pay extra for it.
Fares should be set for the convenience of riders, not government agencies. A trip of a similar distance should have a similar fare, regardless of whether it’s on a bus or train, or if you have to cross city limits. Commuter rail shouldn’t be a “premium service” that only suburban professionals can afford.This is the kind of unfairness that infuriates people and drives them away from transit.
Chicago, by the way, has contemplated a regional farecard system for decades. Maybe someday...
CityLab's Allan Richarz reports on the techniques Japan uses to get 13 billion passengers through its rail system each year:
Ridership of that volume requires a deft blend of engineering, planning, and psychology. Beneath the bustle, unobtrusive features are designed to unconsciously manipulate passenger behavior, via light, sound, and other means. Japan’s boundless creativity in this realm reflects the deep consideration given to public transportation in the country.
Standing at either end of a platform in Tokyo’s labyrinthine Shinjuku Station, one might detect a small square LED panel emitting a pleasant, deep-blue glow. Nestled among vending machines and safety posters, the panel might be dismissed as a bug zapper. But these simple blue panels are designed to save lives.
Operating on the theory that exposure to blue light has a calming effect on one’s mood, rail stations in Japan began installing these LED panels as a suicide-prevention measure in 2009. They are strategically located at the ends of each platform—typically the most-isolated and least-trafficked area, and accordingly, the point from which most platform jumps occur. Some stations, such as Shin-Koiwa Station in Tokyo, bolster their LED regime with colored roof panels, allowing blue-tinted sunlight to filter down on to platforms.
It is an approach that has proven to be surprisingly effective. According to a study by researchers at the University of Tokyo published in the Journal of Affective Disorders in 2013, data analyzed over a 10-year period shows an 84 percent decline in the number of suicide attempts at stations where blue lights are installed. A subsequent study revealed no corresponding increase in suicide attempts at neighboring stations lacking such lights.
Japan also uses short ditties to let you know your train is leaving (cf. the horrible klaxon they use at O'Hare's Blue Line stop), point-and-call safety checks, and 17 Hz infrasound at busy platforms to shoo away teenagers.
So why haven't we adopted these things here? Maybe if half of Americans commuted by train instead of by car, things might improve. Notably, the UK and other European rail-friendly countries have adopted some of these techniques.
Saturday and Sunday, the Apollo Chorus sang Verdi's "Requiem" three times in its entirety (one dress rehearsal, two performances), not including going back over specific passages before Sunday's performance to clean up some bits. So I'm a little tired.
Here are some of the things I haven't had time to read yet:
Other stuff is going on, which I'll report when I have confirmation.
The European Union will let every 18-year-old citizen travel its railways for free this summer:
This summer, the European Commission is offering 18-year-old European residents a free Interrail ticket—a rail pass that permits travel across 30 European countries for a month. What’s more, they’re not just offering it to one or two teenagers. With a budget of €12 million for this year, the commission plans to fund trips for 20,000 to 30,000 young people, with the possibility of more passes in the years to come. Exact details of how to apply and who will be get an Interrail pass, worth up to €510 ($628), will be released in the next few months. But one thing is already clear: A large town’s worth of European 18-year-olds will be able to travel from Lapland to Gibraltar by train this summer, and the price they will pay is precisely nothing.
Visiting any major European station 25 years ago, you would have found the summer platforms packed with young people using Interrail passes, heading off to pretty much wherever they fancied on a whim. Its price—a then-steep £27.50 ($38) when first launched in 1972—meant that the experience was largely confined to young people who had middle- or upper-income parents, or who had jobs to help them save up. In an era when flights were still an exorbitant luxury and part-time jobs for teenagers more readily available, it was still a great deal. Night trains made it possible to cut accommodation costs, and the sheer range of countries included—all of Western Europe and even much of the Eastern bloc before 1989—was dizzying.
I got a 15-day pass in 1992 for about $300, or about $500 today. I wish I could do that again. Oh to be 18 and European...
I have some free time coming up next Friday, but until then, there's a lot going on. So I have very little time to read, let alone write about, these stories from this week:
Back to project planning...
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.
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.
...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: