Welcome Back Carter: New Transit Chief Has CTA, USDOT Experience

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Carter at yesterday’s press event at the 74th Street bus garage. Photo: John Greenfield

Several of the last few Chicago Transit Authority presidents have had little or no background running a public transportation agency. However, Mayor Emanuel’s new pick to run the agency, Dorval R. Carter, Jr. has over 30 years of experience in transit at the city and federal levels.

In 2009, he spent a few months as an acting CTA president, and recently, he has served as an assistant to progressive U.S. Department of Transportation heads Ray LaHood and Anthony Foxx. He’ll start the job on May 18, and will be the first African-American CTA president in the agency’s 68-year history.

Carter, who has a law degree from Howard University, started working at the CTA in 1984 as a staff attorney. Next, he worked as a lawyer for the Federal Transportation Administrations’ Midwestern regional office. After that, he worked in Washington, D.C. as the FTA’s Assistant Chief Council for Legislation and Regulation.

Carter returned to the CTA in 2000, eventually becoming Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer, managing the $1 billion operating budget and five-year capital improvement program. After then-CTA president Ron Huberman stepped down in January 2009 to lead the Chicago Public Schools, Carter served as acting president for four months.

When President Obama appointed LaHood to lead the USDOT that year, LaHood brought Carter back to Washington. Most recently, Carter served as Acting Chief of Staff to current USDOT secretary Foxx, who endorsed him for the new CTA job. “He possesses the experience and passion for transit that will make him highly effective,” Foxx said in a statement. “Mayor Emanuel has made an excellent choice.”

At a press event yesterday, Emanuel praised the accomplishments of outgoing CTA President Forrest Claypool, who is leaving to serve as the mayor’s chief of staff, including rehabs of the Red and Blue lines, numerous station reconstructions, and launching the Loop Link bus rapid transit project. Emanuel also noted that there have been no fare raises under Claypool, and the agency has not raided its infrastructure budget to pay operating expenses, as has happened under past CTA chiefs.

Emanuel noted that Carter has received promotions at every position he’s held at the CTA and the USDOT. The mayor listed Carter’s qualifications for the new job as “his capacity to manage, set a vision, execute that vision, and literally keep the trains running on time.”

The mayor also said Carter’s D.C. connections will be valuable for winning federal funding for local transit projects. “I now have an ally who can work his Rolodex like mine, and we can actually now have a tag team to go get that money.”

In turn, Carter lauded Emanuel and Claypool’s work to improve Chicago’s public transportation system, and promised to build on those achievements. “During the course of my 30-year career, I have devoted myself to supporting transit,” he said. “I will do my best to bring forth the funding necessary to make the CTA a first-class transit system.” He later clarified his remark, saying that he feels the system is already first-class, and he wants to keep it that way.

Asked about his agenda for the CTA, Carter noted that he is still currently working at the DOT, and it will take him some time to get his bearings in the position. When I asked for his thoughts on the Ashland BRT proposal, Emanuel fielded the question, reiterating that after the Loop Link system is running, the city will evaluate its success and then make a decision about Ashland.

Later, Carter told me he is well acquainted with bus rapid transit via his work at the USDOT. “I have been involved with BRT projects from a funding standpoint. These projects are all over the country.”

Active Transportation Alliance director Ron Burke told me he’s confident that Carter will be able to run the agency competently, but he hopes the new chief will also push the envelopment by implementing bold initiatives like the Ashland BRT. “Mr. Carter is clearly capable of managing CTA, but Chicago needs more than a day-to-day manager. We need a visionary who can seize upon the growing demand for more and better transit to create a transit network that serves more people and generates more jobs. The status quo of slow buses and outdated hub-and-spoke rapid transit is not the answer.”

  • Anne A

    We need to push for at least one fast efficient bypass route around the Loop. A an outer loop train line would be ideal (but costly). BRT could help somewhat. Major events in the Loop (such as last Saturday – NFL Draft plus Polish Constitution Day parade, any festival, any major parade or sporting event, etc.), it put a stranglehold on our transit systems with the current hub and spoke configuration. This makes it very difficult for someone in an outer neighborhood or suburb who needs to get across the city, especially if they are forced to make transit connections in the Loop. The city and suburbs could support so much more social and economic activity if people weren’t prevented from being able to easily make transit trips on big event days (most summer weekends).

    In recent years, there have been many times when I wanted to go from Beverly to the north side or Evanston or Oak Park using transit, but trains were so crowded that the trips were miserable or I didn’t go at all. To get to Oak Park on many summer weekends, the most efficient trip for me is often to ride my bike from Beverly to Englewood and ride the green line.

  • We haven’t heard about the Circle Line in, maybe, all of Claypool’s years?

  • Anne A

    Shameful.

  • This guy has the right idea IMO (I think this a freshened up version of an older map). We need a nested series of circle lines:

    http://www.gapersblock.com/detour/a_cta_map_for_2055/

  • Anne A

    Now THAT would be the way to go. It could make a huge impact in reducing congestion, boosting many neighborhoods that are poorly served by transit now (in terms of *efficient* transit), etc.

  • DanielKH

    The Circle Line wouldn’t actually be all that useful. So I’m glad about that.

  • R.A. Stewart

    I saw what you did with the title there, John. :-)

    Of course, now I’ve got John Sebastian’s song living between my ears for a while. Ah, memories.

  • simple

    I guess that all depends upon what your definition of useful is. The Circle Line might not be that useful for you, just as the Brown Line may not be all that useful for me. But it would be useful for a lot of other people who live, work, and play in the rapidly growing ring of the city 2-4 miles out from downtown, as well as people who don’t want to have to go through downtown for all radial-to-radial CTA rail trips. And it would usefully free-up transit capacity downtown by providing another way for transit riders who wouldn’t need to be there if there was a convenient and high capacity alternative route. Dozens of other cities around the world have built circumferential rail transit lines a few miles out from their city centers, and you would be hard pressed to find transit riders in any of those cities who do not consider those services to be “all that useful.” Chicago’s Circle Line would also provide Loop-like access to the near west side by directly connecting it with the entire region’s network of high capacity transit lines, L and Metra alike. This would encourage much more intensive development of thousands of acres of land on the near west side that’s woefully underdeveloped now and at risk of never reaching its development potential due to lack of high capacity transit access from all over the region. To me that all seems very useful, and I would be very glad if it happened.

  • R.A. Stewart

    I wanted to upvote both your replies Chicago-style (early and often) but restrained myself. There are so many neighborhoods that could be transformed with better transit (there is no rail transit at all in my entire ward, for instance, and I know there are many wards even worse off for transit). Add some reasonably fast and frequent east-west buses to Craig Berman’s map, and on the transit front at least we could start calling ourselves a world-class city.

  • Anne A

    One of its potential uses could be helping people in many outer neighborhoods make faster trips to/from O’Hare and Midway, because they wouldn’t have to go all the way into the Loop to connect to the blue or orange lines.

  • Anne A

    I hear you and I’ve seen the effects on train-less neighborhoods. However, if a circle line brought faster transit closer to a train-less neighborhood (within a short bike or bus ride instead of a long stop & go bus ride), wouldn’t that be a significant improvement?

  • R.A. Stewart

    Oh, absolutely! I’d love to see a real network of rapid transit, but would welcome any improvement.

  • trufe

    and if they actually paired it with meaningful zoning changes, the change could be truly transformative

  • chris1jt

    “‘…to make the CTA a first-class transit system.’ He later clarified his remark, saying that he feels the system is already first-class, and he wants to keep it that way.”

    What’s wrong with a little honesty? Would be refreshing to see someone dealing with our CTA issues from the standpoint that our system is severely outdated and under-performs…

  • chris1jt

    Circle Line is a no brainer… Faster connections to those outside of the loop… Let the mayor truly show that he’s “Serving the neighborhoods” as much as downtown… Walk the walk Rahmbo.

  • mkyner

    Given the current outcry over the proposed flyover just north of Belmont, can you imagine the hellstorm this plan would raise?

  • Most of the Circle Line or West Side Transitway plans don’t involve condemning any residential properties, which the flyover does, though.

  • JoeySixPack

    IMHO, I think TRACK improvement should be where all CTA dollars should be spent. While this will be a welcome improvement, there is no point in improving stations if the trains cannot run at proper speeds.Thirty years ago the trains moved at twice the current speeds with little “slow zones” between stops. I have watched a continual degradation of train speed and efficiency over this time and it is my understanding this is due to poor track conditions. Compared to BART, Washington DC, NYC, London, Paris etc. the CTA is a third-rate train system.You cannot build a house on a poor foundation and the CTA is unwilling or unable to deal with the real problem.

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