The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Why did this take so long?

A group of Chicagoans has initiated a class-action lawsuit against the company that has the lease on our parking meters:

Three Chicago drivers are suing Chicago Parking Meters, alleging the private company’s exclusive contract to operate street parking represents a “75-year monopoly” granted by the city.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Chicago federal court, seeks class-action status on behalf of drivers who have fed the ubiquitous ParkChicago machines lining city streets, alleging the 75-year agreement has led to higher parking rates, too many meters and restrictions on alternative transportation such as bicycles and ride-sharing.

“The city of Chicago granted CPM, a private party, monopoly control over the city’s parking meter system for an astonishing 75-year-long period, without regard for the changes in technology and innovations in transportation taking place now and for the rest of the century,” the lawsuit alleges.

By the end of 2019, Chicago Parking Meters had already earned $500 million more than the $1.16 billion it paid the city 10 years earlier through increased parking rates, the lawsuit alleges.

As a member of the class, and a long-time critic of the deal, I would like them to succeed.

Hotels on Rails from Paris in 2024

French start-up Midnight Trains plans a set of overnight train routes of 800-1,500 km in length, from Paris to Edinburgh, Madrid, Copenhagen, and Rome:

The founders say the aim is not to match the famous – and expensive – luxury of the Orient Express but offer an alternative to the basic, state-run SNCF sleepers and short-haul flights.

Key to the service will be “hotel-style” rooms offering privacy and security, and an onboard restaurant and bar.

Midnight Trains is the latest arrival in what is becoming a crowded market. Across Europe, state-run railways are facing new competition from private operators looking to introduce night trains. Fans of rail travel have waited some time for new night train routes to come along … only to find, a bit like buses, several turning up at the same time.

Since 2016, Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) has introduced six new overnight routes under the Nightjet brand that was already operating nine night routes. Private operators in the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Belgium have announced new overnight services.

In December last year, ÖBB, the German rail company Deutsche Bahn, SNCF and Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) announced the signing of an agreement to launch new night train services in Europe. This is the first step in developing the Trans-Europe Express (TEE) 2.0 network, proposed by the German presidency of the Council of the European Union. This partnership plans to launch four new services to 13 of Europe’s largest cities in the coming years.

Sign me up!

All work and dog play

Oh, to be a dog. Cassie is sleeping comfortably on her bed in my office after having over an hour of walks (including 20 minutes at the dog park) so far today. Meanwhile, at work we resumed using a bit of code that we put on ice for a while, and I promptly discovered four bugs. I've spent the afternoon listening to Cassie snore and swatting the first one.

Meanwhile, in the outside world, life continues:

And right by my house, TimeLine Theater plans to renovate a dilapidated warehouse to create a new theater space and cultural center, while a 98-year-old hardware store by Wrigley Field will soon become apartments.

Metra highballs towards the 21st Century

Work continues on the Ravenswood Metra station, letting us commuters believe that finally! we might not have to stand in the rain waiting for an inbound train sometime this autumn. Until then, we still have to wait on a rickety wooden platform that now extends four meters from the original rickety wooden platform, meaning we have a worse station experience than our great-grandparents would have when the station opened in the 1890s. Of course, once we board the trains, our overall travel experience on Metra more resembles our grandparents': some of the rail cars (carriages) that Metra operates date back to the 1950s, though the Union Pacific routes mostly seem to have cars built in the 1980s and early 2000s.

So imagine my glee when I read this press release from French manufacturer Alstom:

Alstom has received an initial order from Metra, the commuter rail system in the Chicago metropolitan area serving the city of Chicago and surrounding suburbs, to supply 200 push-pull commuter rail cars. This follows Metra Board of Directors’ approval in January 2021 to award Alstom a vehicle procurement contract for up to 500 rail cars. This initial order of 200 rail cars is worth approximately €650 million.

The multilevel cars incorporate new design features to improve passenger experience, including: a streamlined, modern and welcoming interior, equipped with USB plugs and boasting large windows and a layout to improve passenger flow and traveller comfort; seating and spacing to allow for additional ridership and physical distancing; touchless doors; improved bogie design for improved ride quality; and multiple wide doors on each side of the cars to reduce passenger boarding times and improve access to passenger areas.

They even have a slick video, which I would expect as part of a $800m contract.

The combination of the new Ravenswood inbound platform and the slick new French cars will make parts of Metra's network almost as good as London's was in 1990. All Metra needs to do to get us into the 2000s is to get rid of their mobile soot factories diesel locomotives, but I fear that kind of infrastructure modernization would require the replacement of one of the country's main political parties with an real one.

Wednesday afternoon

I spent the morning unsuccessfully trying to get a .NET 5 Blazor WebAssembly app to behave with an Azure App Registration, and part of the afternoon doing a friend's taxes. Yes, I preferred doing the taxes, because I got my friend a pile of good news without having to read sixty contradictory pages of documentation.

I also became aware of the following:

Tomorrow morning, I promise to make my WebAssembly app talk to our Azure Active Directory. Right now, I think someone needs a walk.

Removing highways

About two weeks ago I told a relative newcomer to San Francisco about the Embarcadero Freeway, which used to cover the Embarcadero from Fisherman's Wharf down to the Bay Bridge. From its construction in 1959 to its destruction (with the help of the Loma Prieta earthquake) in 1991, it stood, without question, as the biggest urban planning mistake west of the Rockies. Looking at it photos today makes me angry.

Removing I-480 showed other cities how their lives might improve if they also removed or buried freeways. Boston's Big Dig reconnected the North End with the Common; removing the eastern section of Rochester's Inner Loop has made that city more livable.

The New York Times reports on the other cities that have followed:

As midcentury highways reach the end of their life spans, cities across the country are having to choose whether to rebuild or reconsider them. And a growing number, like Rochester, are choosing to take them down.

In order to accommodate cars and commuters, many cities “basically destroyed themselves,” said Norman Garrick, a professor at the University of Connecticut who studies how transportation projects have reshaped American cities.

“Rochester has shown what can be done in terms of reconnecting the city and restoring a sense of place,” he said. “That’s really the underlying goal of highway removal.”

In recent years, more cities have started to seriously rethink some of their highways. The Congress for the New Urbanism, a group that tracks highway removals, counted 33 proposed projects in 28 American cities. And the idea is being discussed in many others.

Among the proposed removal plans: getting rid of the BQE in New York, the Buffalo Skyway, and New Orleans' Claiborne Expressway—all of them ugly roads that destroyed neighborhoods and made lives demonstrably worse. (See, for example, the Eisenhower Expressway in Chicago.)

Not under consideration? Burying I-90/94 in downtown Chicago. Maybe someday.

Good morning!

Two travel stories arrived in my mailbox overnight. First, China has landed a probe on Mars, becoming the third country in history to do so:

The touchdown makes China the second country in history to deposit a rover on the surface of Mars. After months in orbit around the red planet, the Tianwen-1 spacecraft released the Zhurong rover for a landing in Utopia Planitia, a vast plain that may once have been covered by an ancient Martian ocean. The 529-pound rover survived a perilous descent to the surface, including atmospheric entry, slowing from supersonic speeds with a parachute, and finally using retrorockets to safely alight on the ground.

China will openly share the data from Tianwen-1 and Zhurong the same way it has shared data from its lunar exploration missions, Long says, benefiting planetary scientists around the world.

The mission will also set the stage for China’s next planned voyage to Mars—an audacious sample-return attempt scheduled to launch around 2028. Beyond Mars, the country has plans to launch a Jupiter probe, including a possible landing on the moon Callisto, to collect samples from a near-Earth asteroid, and to send a pair of Voyager-like spacecraft toward the edges of the solar system.

Closer to home, after suspending service last year because of the pandemic, Greyhound Canada announced this week that it has decided to completely end all Canadian services:

The bus company says all of its remaining routes will cease operations as of midnight Thursday.

The iconic bus carrier pulled out of Western Canada in 2018

It then put its remaining routes in Ontario and Quebec on pause when COVID-19 hit in 2020, but now it is pulling out of domestic Canadian service permanently.

The federal [New Democratic Party] also laid blame on the government. "The loss of all remaining Greyhound bus routes leaves many communities without affordable, safe passenger transportation," Transportation Critic Taylor Bachrach said in a release. "And it disproportionately affects the most marginalized residents, including Indigenous people and seniors."

Rural areas will suffer the most, as since Greyhound's suspension last year left many without any long-distance transportation services.

All the news that fits

Spring has gone on spring break this week, so while I find the weather pleasant and enjoyable, it still feels like mid-March. That makes it more palatable to remain indoors for lunch and catch up on these stories:

And finally, via Bruce Schneier, Australia has proposed starting cyber-security training in Kindergartens.

Lunchtime reading

Travel in the US just got slightly easier now that the Department of Homeland Security has extended the deadline to get REAL ID cards to May 2023. Illinois just started making them a year ago, but you have to go to a Secretary of State office in person to get one. Due to Covid-19, the lines at those facilities often stretch to the next facility a few kilometers away.

Reading that made me happier than reading most of the following:

And finally, Ravinia has announced its schedule for this summer, starting on June 4th.

Thanks, Bruce!

After languishing for four years while former Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner (R-of course) refused to govern, Metra's Peterson/Ridge station project...has stalled again:

Crews for Metra were slated to break ground in May on the train station at Peterson and Ravenswood avenues. Due to a permitting issue with the city, work will be delayed by roughly three to five months, said Joe Ott, director of Metra’s construction department.

If the permits take any longer to secure, major construction on the new station could be pushed to spring 2022, he said.

The problem is that the ground beneath the station holds city water mains, and the city’s Department of Water Management was worried about groundwater from the station leaking into the water mains, he said. The city agency said the project’s groundwater system needs revision before a permit will be granted.

It is just the latest setback for a project first announced in 2012.

The project fell by the wayside during the state’s years-long budget impasse. Local officials said in 2017 funding for the project was nearly secured, but a $1 billion fund earmarked for Metra was slashed in half that year.

At least they've cleared the vacant lot connecting where the station will go. Apparently they've also put up a sign. It's a start, I suppose.

In tangential news, Amtrak announced that it will offer tickets up to 50% off to celebrate its 50th anniversary this year. I wish my travel plans would allow me to take a long train trip somewhere.