The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Evening reading

I was pretty busy today, with most of my brain trying to figure out how to re-architect something that I didn't realize needed it until recently. So a few things piled up in my inbox:

And finally, Whisky Advocate has four recipes that balance whisky and Luxardo Maraschino cherries. I plan to try them all, but not in one sitting.

Union Pacific gets court permission to stop operating Metra trains

The Union Pacific Railroad, which currently operates about 35% of all Chicago commuter trains, has won a major ruling from a Federal judge that clears the way for it to stop operating those trains:

UP wants out of the commuter business, saying it wants to focus on its its freight service. It has noted that almost all other Metra service now is operated by the commuter rail agency itself, sometimes on tracks it owns itself and at other times on track leased from freight railroads. 

Metra’s position is that in the absence of a discontinuance agreement, UP had to continue to run the trains and ancillary services, such as ticket collection, under “common carrier” provisions that governed railroads nationally for more than a century.

Both sides asked Judge Jorge Alonso for summary judgement. Last week he ruled against Metra.

Effectively, Alonso held, common-carrier rules were substantially eased after the creation of Amtrak, the national passenger carrier, and other deregulation actions by Congress in recent decades. Any remaining common-carrier question that requires federal approval would under the law cover only freight, not passenger, service, he added, but UP is moving to stop only commuter service, not freight.

In a statement, Metra said only that “We are reviewing the ruling and our options.”

UP in its own statement promised not to do anything abrupt that would interfere with service.

Well, that's fun. In 2019, the three Metra lines UP operates had about 27 million of the entire network's 74 million passenger trips, including (I estimate) about 300 of mine, so there is no way the lines will simply shut down. Metra will almost certainly take over operations and pay UP for track and signal use, just like they do on other lines. We'll see how this plays out.

Monday lunchtime reading

Just a couple today, but they seem interesting:

And wow, did the Chicago Bears have a bad game yesterday.

Beautiful autumn morning

I've opened nearly every window in my house to let in the 15°C breeze and really experience the first real fall morning in a while. Chicago will get above-normal temperatures for the next 10 days or so, but in the beginning of October that means highs in the mid-20s and lows in the mid-teens. Even Cassie likes the change.

Since I plan to spend nearly every moment of daylight outside for the rest of this weekend, I want to note a few things to read this evening when I come back inside:

Finally, if you really want to dig into some cool stuff in C# 10, Scott Hanselman explains implicit namespace support.

What happened to public transit in the US?

In a CityLab article from this summer (which for some reason they put on today's newsletter, and not the one from June 25th), Tony Frangie Mawad examines the decline in American public transit since the late 20th century:

Back in 1970, 77 million Americans commuted to work every day, and 9% of them took a bus or a train. By 2019, the number of U.S. workers had nearly doubled, to more than 150 million. But the vast majority of these new workers chose to drive: The number of public transit riders increased by only around 1 million during those years, and their share of the country’s overall commuters collapsed to 5%.

“In a number of other countries, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development are combined in one entity,” [said Yonah Freemark, a senior research associate with the Urban Institute]. “In the United States, we ended up with two different entities.” As a result, housing and mobility needs have been poorly aligned; the landscape is laden with housing that lacks access to public transportation, light rail lines that course through sparsely settled areas, and too many cities whose transit networks can’t connect riders with jobs.

But as Freemark’s new analysis of commuting data shows, based on his database of long-term trends in U.S. metros, regional patterns reveal a more complex story. Some cities have bucked national trends and gained transit commuters over the last 50 years. Coastal cities like New York City, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Seattle, and Boston saw an increase of hundreds of thousands of transit commuters between 1970 and 2019. Pre-pandemic, 3 million New Yorkers commuted by bus, subway and train daily — 500,000 more than in 1970 — and the region’s share of transit commuters held relatively steady.

Cities where transit use has seen massive reductions tend to be those that have endured deindustrialization and suburbanization during the last 50 years, with a concurrent rise in investments in highways designed to shuttle car-driving commuters in and out of town. “These used to be places that had really successful downtowns, but now most of their workforce has suburbanized,” says Freemark.

Here in Chicago, former Illinois Governors Bruce Rauner (R) and James Thompson (R) starved the Regional Transit Authority of funds—Rauner going so far as to halt almost all infrastructure improvements throughout the Chicago transit area.

Declines in transit use, therefore, come from policy decisions that we can reverse. Let's start by adequately funding the existing transit networks, and de-funding highway expansions, for example.

Two big wins for all of us

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his resignation this morning:

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said Tuesday he would resign from office, succumbing to a ballooning sexual harassment scandal that fueled an astonishing reversal of fortune for one of the nation’s best-known leaders.

Mr. Cuomo said his resignation would take effect in 14 days. Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, will be sworn in to replace him.

“Given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing,” Mr. Cuomo said from his office in Manhattan. “And therefore that’s what I’ll do.”

The resignation of Mr. Cuomo, a three-term Democrat, came a week after a report from the New York State attorney general concluded that the governor sexually harassed nearly a dozen women, including current and former government workers, by engaging in unwanted touching and making inappropriate comments. The 165-page report also found that Mr. Cuomo and his aides unlawfully retaliated against at least one of the women for making her complaints public and fostered a toxic work environment.

Good. He needs to go. And yes, I am happy that my party threw the book at one of our own. We hold ourselves accountable, unlike the other guys.

But that's not all the Democratic Party did today. We also passed a $1 trillion infrastructure bill in the Senate with the support of nine Republicans:

The 69-to-30 vote follows weeks of turbulent private talks and fierce public debates that sometimes teetered on collapse, as the White House labored alongside Democrats and Republicans to achieve the sort of deal that had eluded them for years. Even though the proposal must still clear the House, where some Democrats recently have raised concerns the measure falls short of what they seek, the Senate outcome moves the bill one step closer to delivering President Biden his first major bipartisan win.

The bill proposes more than $110 billion to replace and repair roads, bridges and highways, and $66 billion to boost passenger and freight rail. That transit investment marks the most significant infusion of cash in the country’s railways since the creation of Amtrak about half a century ago, the White House said.

The infrastructure plan includes an additional $55 billion to address lingering issues in the U.S. water supply, such as an effort to replace every lead pipe in the nation. It allocates $65 billion to modernize the country’s power grid. And it devotes billions in additional sums to rehabilitating waterways, improving airports and expanding broadband Internet service, particularly after a pandemic that forced Americans to conduct much of their lives online.

If this bill becomes law, it's possible that within my lifetime the United States could have the same quality of roads, bridges, and trains that Western Europe has today. (NB: I expect to live at least another 50 years.)

Meanwhile, as if to underscore this week's IPCC report, the dewpoint outside my window right now has almost reached 26°C, giving us a delightful heat index of 38.7°C. Even Cassie didn't want to be outside for her lunchtime walk.

Update: the 2pm readings at O'Hare show even lovelier weather: temperature 33°, dewpoint 25°C, heat index 40.4°C. Bleah.

Vaccines, climate change, and trains

Those topics led this afternoon's news roundup:

  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its 6th periodic report on the state of the planet, and it's pretty grim. But as Josh Marshall points out, "Worried about life on earth? Don’t be. Life’s resilient and has a many hundreds of millions of years track record robust enough to handle and adapt to anything we throw at it. But the player at the top of the heap is the first to go."
  • Charles Blow has almost run out of empathy for people who haven't gotten a Covid-19 jab. Author John Scalzi takes a more nuanced view, at least distinguishing between the people who peddle the lie and those who merely buy it.
  • A research group has discovered how they can own your locked-down computer in about 30 minutes with a few tools, but at least they also tell you how to lock it down better.
  • Almost half of Amtrak's $66 billion cash infusion will go to making New York City more navigable. I want my HSR to Milwaukee, dammit!
  • Sometime last week, a Russian capsule accidentally fired a thruster, sending the International Space Station into a 540-degree roll.

Finally, long-time police reporter Radley Balko exposes the lie that keeps innocent people in jail.

BLM mural, one year later

Last August 6th I took some drone photos and video of the Black Lives Matter mural on Clifton Street in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood. Here is 6 August 2020:

And here is today:

It's had some weathering, but overall, it looks OK.

My primary goal of today's flights was to document the CTA RPM Project. Crews have removed the two east-side tracks between Lawrence and Bryn Mawr, and have started removing the embankment as well. As the project goes on, I'll document more of it, and assemble a video. This is what the Lawrence El station looked like today: