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Posts from the Beyond Chicagoland Category

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Artist Takes a Crack at Improving Crosswalk Safety With Piñata Bump-Outs

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Krueger-Barber used pinatas on construction bollards to create temporary curb bump-outs at Milwaukee/Drake. Photo: Corner gallery

You might not think that someone from Provo, Utah (population 116,288), would have much to tell Chicagoans about pedestrian safety issues, but artist Susan Krueger-Barber is bringing a fresh approach to tactical urbanism to our city to highlight the dangers to people on foot.

As an MFA student at the Art Institute of Chicago, this month Krueger-Barber is doing residency at Avondale’s Corner gallery, 2912 North Milwaukee, focusing on crosswalk dynamics in cities with a project called “Stripes Aren’t Enough.” She’s studying driver behaviors that endanger pedestrians at the adjacent Milwaukee/Drake intersection, and testing out fun strategies for safety interventions, while dressed in the costume of her comedic alter ego Art Grrrl. At the end of her residency, she’ll present a formal proposal for changes to the intersection to the Chicago Department of Transportation.

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Kreuger-Barber pushes responsible shoveling during an intervention in Provo, Utah. Photo: Susan Krueger-Barber.

Lynn Basa, the owner of Corner gallery, said the residency is a perfect fit. “We’re this friendly neighborhood gallery, but you look out the window and see all this, mean egregious behavior,” referring to drivers who fail to stop for pedestrians in the zebra-striped crosswalk at the southeast leg of the T-shaped Milwaukee/Drake junction. “It’s surprising that people in cars would do that to their fellow citizens in crosswalks.”

According to the Chicago Crash Browser, created by Streetsblog Chicago’s Steven Vance, there were four pedestrian crashes and one bike crash near the intersection between 2009 and 2014. In 2013 Ronald Lee Hubert, 51, was fatally struck by a hit-and-run driver at Milwaukee and Ridgeway, a few blocks northwest of the gallery. Basa is excited to see if Krueger-Barber’s outside-the-box ideas can help improve safety on the corridor.

The artist first became interested in using art to raise awareness of the dangers posed to vulnerable road users after one of one of her Provo neighbors was fatally struck by a driver. Rosa Merino, 42, was crossing a street in the crosswalk with the right of way at 6:30 a.m. when she was run over by a pick-up truck driver who disregarded a red light. Authorities initially blamed the victim for causing the crash because she was wearing dark clothing.

Since then, Krueger-Barber has done several pedestrian- and bike-safety interventions and stunts in Provo. These range from serving as a crossing guard with a gigantic orange flag to creating a PSA against speeding featuring herself in a Sasquatch costume being struck by a driver, in a frighteningly realistic manner. One project, temporarily installing sharrows and traffic diverters on a roadway, proved so successful that city officials plan to create a permanent bike boulevard on the street.

So far in Chicago, Krueger-Barber has created a memorial wall within corner gallery with tributes to the 22 pedestrians and cyclists who have lost their lives to traffic violence in Chicago this year (by CDOT’s count), with info on the incidents and the victims partly based on Streetsblog Chicago’s Fatality Tracker posts. But she’s also created a “Wall of Solutions” to improve safety, including literally wallpapering the gallery with pages from the Chicago Pedestrian Plan.

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Millennial Trains Project Stopped in Chicago to Discuss Affordable TOD Issues

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Logan Square’s Twin Towers TOD development under construction earlier this year. Photo: John Greenfield

Earlier this week the Millennial Trains project stopped in Chicago on its five-city national tour on Amtrak, bringing a group of 26 young people to meet with locals within each city. They discussed how issues of housing affordability and inequality, and transit affect their lives, and talked about ideas for improving conditions in Chicago.

This leg of the westbound tour is also making stops in Pittsburg, Kansas City, Albuquerque, and Los Angeles. Next week another group of Young people will travel eastbound from L.A., stopping in San Francisco, Denver, Milwaukee, and Detroit. The national affordable housing and renters advocacy campaign Make Room is a sponsor.

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Rachel Reilly Carroll. Photo: Millennial Trains Project

I caught up on the phone with Rachel Reilly Carroll, an employee of Enterprise Community Partners, a Maryland-based nonprofit that helps develop affordable housing, who is one of the tour participants, shortly after she arrived in Chicago.

Among other projects, Enterprise’s Chicago office has been involved with efforts to encourage affordable transit-oriented development across the region. According to their website, this year they provided grants to ten community developers working on TOD projects in Chicagoland.

They also launched the Enterprise eTOD Collaborative in partnership with the Center for Neighborhood Technology in an effort to support these projects and organizations. They’ve also been promoting TOD in the south suburbs through the Southland Community Loan Fund, and through technical assistance to developers and municipalities. They hope to work on several south suburban TOD projects in 2016.

The goal of these efforts is create affordable housing with good access to jobs, schools, healthcare, and recreation, while reducing car dependency.

“Equitable TOD is about ensuring that transit access remains available to folks who have lived near transit, and reducing car dependency for others who may currently have long transit or car commutes, so that they can benefit from the time and cost savings,” Carroll said.

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Toolkit Will Help Cities Bring Shared Mobility to Low-Income Neighborhoods

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A screenshot from SUMC’s new mapping tool showing the locations of car-share (blue dots) and Divvy locations downtown, and on the West and Near South sides. The map also shows high (purple) and medium (orange) opportunity areas for shared mobility.

The Chicago-based Shared-Use Mobility Center hopes their new interactive toolkit, released last week, will help cities expand the use of car-sharing, bike-sharing, and other forms of shared mobility, especially in low-income communities with limited transportation options. The toolkit includes a Shared Mobility Benefits Calculator, a Shared Mobility Policy Database, and an Interactive shared Mobility Mapping and Opportunity Analysis Tool.

SUMC executive director Sharon Feigon says the toolkit was developed in partnership with 27 North American cities through the Urban Sustainability Director’s Network. “They wanted to better understand and manage shared-mobility as new technologies emerge,” she said. “We’re hopeful that our toolkit will shed some light on how these technologies are working and shine some light on best practices.” To supplement the toolkit, they’ve also produced a report with an overview of each tool, plus policy recommendations, trends by city, size, and type, and shared mobility growth scenarios for each of the cities.

“Our interest is to really encourage the use of transit along with shared mobility to decrease the use of private cars,” Feigon added. “Our vision sees public transportation as the backbone and shared mobility as something that can enhance the transit system.” For example, services like bike-sharing and one-way car-sharing can facilitate “last mile” trips to and from rapid transit in locations where its difficult to access a station by walking or a fixed-route bus.

One-way car-sharing services like Car2Go, which allow customers to pick up a small car, drive it a short distance and leave it at any number of designated parking spots around town, have been popular in cities like New York, Washington, D.C., and Seattle. But Feigon said the mode hasn’t come to Chicago yet because of the complications caused by our city’s much-reviled parking contract. Mayor Emanuel’s office is currently looking into whether it could be implemented here, she said.

The benefits calculator allows cities to see the potential benefits of adding shared mobility nodes such as car-share and bike-share vehicles. For example, the calculator projects that – based on June 1, 2016 figures — Chicago could eliminate ten percent of private vehicle trips by adding 37,373 transit commuters, 8457 car-share vehicles, 6,908 bike-share cycles, and 18,313 ride-sharers or car-poolers. The result would be 11,167,065,800 fewer vehicle miles traveled, 418,800 fewer metric tons of emissions from personal vehicles, and $411,444,500 saved in personal vehicle transportation costs.

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Amish Paradise: Bicycling With the Pennsylvania Dutch in Northern Indiana

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Amish teens roll deep outside of Nappanee, Indiana. Photo: John Greenfield

[This article runs in this week’s Chicago Reader. It’s a little off-topic for Streetsblog, but I thought our readers would enjoy it. — John]

When I was growing up in central Pennsylvania, there were Amish settlements nearby, so you never had to travel far for some Lebanon bologna (Pennsylvania Dutch-style beef sausage) or a jar of “chow-chow” corn relish. But I never saw those technology-averse folks riding bicycles until I took a recent train-and-bike trip to the Amish country of northern Indiana.

There, I saw lots of folks, young and old, cycling in black hats and bonnets. They were pedaling everything from Spartan black three-speeds to fancy aluminum road bikes to the goofy-looking recumbent bicycles most often associated with a different breed of bearded men: college professors.

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The route, which I rode clockwise. Note that the return trip included a few miles of gravel road. Image: Google Maps

The raison d’etre for my journey was to try out the new bikes-on-board service on the South Shore Line commuter railroad, which runs from Millennium Park to South Bend, Indiana, the home of Notre Dame University. While Metra has accommodated cyclists since 2005, the South Shore Line dragged its feet on the issue for a ridiculously long time. The railroad finally launched a pilot program in April.

For my maiden voyage, I decided to pay a visit to the plain folk in the heavily Amish region east of South Bend, which includes the towns of Goshen, Middlebury, and Shipshewana. I opted for a pilgrimage to Nappanee, a town of 6,648 that’s home to Amish Acres Farm. It’s sort of an Historic Jamestowne for Pennsylvania Dutch culture, located an easy 35-mile pedal southeast from the South Bend Airport rail station.

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Loading bikes on a South Shore train. Photo: John Greenfield

I pedaled to Chicago’s Millennium Station early one Saturday morning and rolled my bike onto the South Shore platform, where a conductor cheerfully showed me to the two bike cars. Half of the seats had been removed to make room for the bike racks, with space for a total of 40 bicycles.

During the two-and-a-half-hour trip, I boned up on the origins of the Indiana Amish. They are believed to have emigrated from Germany to the American colonies in 1727, seeking religious freedom. Due to a mispronunciation of the word “Deutsch,” they became known as the Pennsylvania Dutch. The first Amish migrated to northern Indiana in the 1840s, eventually making their way to Nappanee.

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“Summer by Rail” Train and Bike Blogger Checks Out Chicago Infrastructure

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“Summer by Rail” blogger Elena Studier on Northerly Island, a rustic park on a peninsula that used to be an air strip. Photo: Mariah Morales

National Association of Railroad Passengers intern Elena Studier is taking a 38-day-trip around the country on Amtrak with her bicycle to document the current state of the U.S. passenger rail system and its connectivity with cycling. It’s a timely journey, since we’re now living in an era when an increasing number of Americans are interested in getting around without having to rely on driving.

Her 10,000-mile trip launched on Sunday in New York City, and Chicago was her first destination – a fitting one, since our city is the railroad hub of the nation. After she arrived here on Monday, staffers from Amtrak and the Active Transportation Alliance gave her a grand tour of the highlights of our local rail, path, and parks networks on two wheels.

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An Amtrak worker hands Studier her bike at Chicago’s Union Station. Photo: Mariah Morales

Studier, a second-year international affairs and geography major at George Washington University in D.C., got the idea for the project, dubbed “Summer by Rail,” while brainstorming ideas for an epic journey using an Amtrak USA Rail Pass. She’s using a 45-day pass, which allows you to take a voyage around the country with up to 18 different segments for $899 ($440.50 for children 2-12). 15- and 30-day passes are also available.

After she started her internship with NARP, which advocates for improving and expanding passenger rail service, she pitched the idea of riding the Amtrak system to highlight how it connects communities and provides access to local transportation networks. The folks at NARP thought it was a great idea, so they agreed to sponsor her travels and worked with Amtrak to coordinate the trip.

Studier will be documenting her adventures on the Summer by Rail blog, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. From Chicago, she’ll be taking the Empire Builder to Seattle, and then heading down the West Coast to Los Angeles, east to New Orleans, and then up the East Coast to D.C., with lots of stops and side trips along the way. For example, on Tuesday she rode Amtrak’s Lincoln Service to Normal, Illinois, to check out the town’s new multi-modal transit center and bikeways.

She brought her Vilano hybrid bike “Stevie” along with her not only to facilitate touring and travel within cities and national parks, but also to showcase how Amtrak and other rail systems have become increasingly bike-friendly in recent years. She’s also helping Amtrak test out roll-on service on lines where cyclists are currently required to box their bikes.

For her trip from NYC on the Lakeshore Limited train, which doesn’t yet have roll-on service, Studier was allowed to bring her cycle to the baggage car, where a worker hung in on a vertical bike rack. It’s the same convenient amenity that Amtrak debuted earlier this month on the Chicago-to-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service and the Chicago-to-Grand Rapids Pere Marquette Service. Amtrak hopes to offer roll-on service for the Lakeshore Limited to the public in late summer or early fall.

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It’s a Lobby-palooza! Join MPC’s 43 Minutes for $43 Billion Infrastructure Push

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MPC says Investing $43 billion over the next years could help get the CTA system, and other Illinois infrastructure, in good working order. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers

Are you ready for (almost three-quarters of) an hour of power?

That’s what the Metropolitan Planning Council has planned for Wednesday, May 18, at 11 a.m., when they’ll hold the 43 Minutes for $43 Billion transportation infrastructure lobbying jam session. They’re asking Chicagoland residents to call their legislators and contact leaders in Springfield to ask them to commit to investing $43 billion over the next ten years to fund repairs and improvements to transit, bridges, and roads. They’re also asking citizens to tweet about the fact that we’re sick and tired of the shoddy state of Illinois’ transportation network.

The action is timed to coincide with Infrastructure Week, which Washington, D.C. infrastructure advocates have organized over the last few years, as well as the May 31 adjournment date for the Illinois state legislature. According to MPC executive vice president Peter Skosey, there appears to be plenty of interest on both sides of the aisle for a new transportation funding bill, but the general consensus is that the initiative won’t move forward until the state budget, which has been mired in partisan deadlock, moves forward.

“It’s problematic that we don’t already have a transportation bill,” Skosey said. “In [MPC’s] opinion, it needs to be done immediately, but it also needs to be done adequately.” He noted that if, say, lawmakers agreed to budget $1 billion a year for infrastructure, many Illinoisans would think that’s a big expenditure. “But that wouldn’t be sufficient,” he said. “A billion a year would only make us fall behind farther. It has to be $4.3 billion to get us up to par.”

While MPC hopes a bill can be passed before legislators adjourn at the end of the month, Skosey said there are other windows of opportunity for getting it approved. It could also happen during the November vetoe session (when the governor signs or vetoes legislation the general assembly has passed), or else it could take place during the lame duck session following the November elections, when Illinoisans will vote on every House seat and some Senate seats.

However, it would be much more difficult to pass a bill after May 31 because a two-thirds majority of the assembly would be needed. After January 1, only a simple majority of 51 percent would be required.

At any rate, it makes sense to get the word out to leaders sooner than later that we’re fed up with slow, unreliable train and bus service, potholed roads, and increasingly unsafe bridges. Skosey said MPC came up with the idea for 43 Minutes for $43 Billion as an alternative to organizing a lobbying day in which representatives from the 43 local companies and nonprofits who’ve endorsed the Accelerate Illinois infrastructure funding campaign would have to schlep down to Springfield. “We figured that calls, emails, and social media would be a fast, effective way to send a message,” Skosey said. Here’s how you can get involved.

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Trying Out New Roll-on Bike Service on the Hiawatha Line to Milwaukee

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Maybe “Hoist-on service” would be more accurate, but simply handing your bike to an Amtrak worker is much more convenient than boxing and checking it. Photo: John Greenfield

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This morning as officials cut the ribbon for roll-on bike service on Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service trains, a whole new set of destinations that can easily be accessed without a car opened up for Chicago and Milwaukee residents.

While the Hiawatha line has allowed passengers to check boxed bikes as luggage for years, it’s a relatively expensive and cumbersome affair. There’s a $10 surcharge each way, the boxes are $15 if you purchase them from the railway, and then you have to dissemble your bike and box it up on each leg of the trip.

Now passengers can pay a mere $5 surcharge each way and simply roll their bikes up to the baggage car, where a staffer will hang it on a vertical bike rack. The one-way adult fare for the Hiawatha Service is $25, with discounts available for ten-ride tickets and monthly passes.

Reservations are required for the roll-on service. To reserve a space for your bike, select “add bike” when booking your trip online, on the phone at 800-USA-RAIL, or when using the ticket counters or the Quik-Trak SM kiosks at both stations. Only standard-size bikes are permitted.

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Bikes in the baggage car — some were more festive than others. Photo: John Greenfield

Yesterday I rode Metra to Kenosha, Wisconsin, with my bicycle (one-way weekday fare from the Ravenswood stop was $9) and then pedaled some 40 miles to Milwaukee for the ribbon-cutting ceremony, which was attended by a dozen or two local bike advocates.

“We have worked with [the Wisconsin Department of Transportation] by thinking ‘out of the box’ and mounting 15 bike racks in the [baggage car] on each of the Hiawatha trains,” said Jim Brzezinski, Amtrak’s senior regional director for state corridors. “This will make bringing your bike along on these trips more welcoming and get you on your wheels and pedaling away immediately after arrival.”

“No assembly required, starting now for bicyclists,” said John Alley, WisDOT’s transit, local roads, railroads & harbors manager. “This saves our bicycling passengers money and makes their everyday journeys or vacation trips to explore Milwaukee and Chicago so much easier.”

When the folks with bikes approached the baggage car, Amtrak employees cheerfully hauled their cycles onboard. I was asked to remove my panniers beforehand.

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Amtrak’s Hiawatha Line to Milwaukee Is Launching Roll-On Bike Service

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Biking into Milwaukee on the scenic Oak Leaf Trail is fun, but it will be great to have the option of easily taking a bike on Amtrak. Photo: John Greenfield

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

It just keeps getting easier to combine bike and train trips in Chicago. Last month, after years of lobbying by advocates (including Streetsblog’s Steven Vance) the South Shore Line, which runs between Chicago and South Bend, Indiana, finally launched a bikes-on-board pilot.

Now Amtrak, which already allows unboxed bikes on all routes within Illinois (reservations required, $10 surcharge), is introducing roll-on service on its Hiawatha Servicee between Chicago and Milwaukee with a mere $5 charge. The service starts this Wednesday.

The Hiawatha Service is the busiest Amtrak corridor in the Midwest, with about 800,000 passengers in 2015. It offers seven round-trips a day Monday through Saturday, with six on Sundays. This relatively frequent service is partly funded by the Wisconsin and Illinois departments of transportation.

The news is a welcome surprise, and the resolution of a longtime pet peeve of mine. Boxing a bike for the short Amtrak trip to Cream City has always seemed like an unnecessary hassle. Not only did you have to drag a bike box to Union Station or purchase one at from the ticket agent, you had to take an elevator to the basement, dissemble your bike, box it, and check it as baggage, reversing the steps in Milwaukee.

I’m reminded of a particularly aggravating bike-and-transit experience I had after I pedaled across the Cheddar Curtain with New Belgium Brewing Company staffers after they staged the Tour de Fat in Chicago’s Palmer Square. After we caught a show at Milwaukee’s Summerfest, it was too late for me to catch the Hiawatha back to Chicago, so I tried to buy a bike box from an Amtrak agent in order to take a midnight Megabus run. He refused to sell me a box to use for a competing transit service.

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Indiana Will Fund Rewriting Faulty Illiana Environmental Impact Statement

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The Illiana’s high tolls would have driven motorists to use other routes instead. Photo: Tim Messer

The Illiana Tollway, a proposed highway boondoggle that would run through land south of the Chicago metro area, is the project that just won’t die. The tollway would be a joint project of the Illinois and Indiana transportation departments and cost Illinois taxpayers a minimum of $500 million. That’s $500 million that might otherwise be spent on necessary and financially viable projects like rebuilding the North Red Line, constructing the Ashland bus rapid transit route, and building Pace’s transitways.

Greg Hinz recently eported in Crain’s that it appears the two states have reached an agreement that Indiana will spend money to rewrite the project’s Environmental Impact Statement, which a federal judge ruled invalid last June. This federally-required document was supposed to explain why the tollway is needed, and how all impacts – to people and their property, flora and fauna – would be mitigated. Since the Illinois still hasn’t passed a state budget, it’s unable to pay for updating the EIS. We don’t know how much Indiana would spend on this.

Last year, the Environmental Law & Policy Center represented Openlands and the Midewin Heritage Association in a lawsuit against the Illiana and won by pointing out that the original EIS used circular logic. The document argued the tollway was needed in order to provide transportation access new residential and industrial development. However, its projections were based on the assumption that the tollway would be built, and would therefore induce new development in an area of farmland and nature preserves.

There are many reasons why building the Illiana would be a bad idea. For starters, most American roads don’t even pay for their own maintenance, let alone construction. Illinois’ transportation infrastructure network already has a $43 billion maintenance backlog.

Additionally, construction of the tollway would be funded through an extremely dubious public-private partnership scheme, requiring the state to compensate the concessionaire if the highway doesn’t generate a certain amount of profits. Since the plan calls for high tolls, many motorists were predicted to use alternative routes, so the Illiana would see relatively little traffic and not be a money-maker, leaving taxpayers on the hook for the revenue shortfall.

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What Could Chicagoans Learn About Rail Transportation From a Trip to Japan?

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A Streetcar in Hiroshima. Photo: Rick Harnish

The Midwest High Speed Rail Association is hosting a train-focused tour of Japan that should offer Chicago residents a fascinating window on what’s like to live with truly world-class transit and railroad service. The trip, which takes place between September 27 and October 9, is an opportunity to check out how fast, frequent, and dependable trains help create vibrant communities.

MHSRA president Rick Harnish has previously led rail-focused tours of Spain, France, Germany and China. Highlights of the Japan trip will include riding the Shinkansen bullet train between Tokyo and Osaka – the world’s first and busiest high-speed line. Participants will tour a maintenance facility for JR Central, which runs the line.

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The Nagoya Railway Museum. Photo: Rick Harnish

They’ll also check out a Nippon Sharyo railcar factory – In 2012 the company opened a branch in Roselle, Illinois, to fulfill a contract for 160 “Highliner” railcars for Metra Electric Line service, plus orders for other American rail lines. The group will travel to a number of other Japanese cities by rail, including Kyoto, Hakodate, Nagoya, and Hiroshima, visiting various rail museums and cultural attractions and, of course, riding the local Metro systems.

Through out the trip, there will be opportunities for rail experts and enthusiasts to discuss what they’re seeing and relate them to potential American high-speed rail systems, such as proposed lines from Chicago to St. Louis and Detroit. “Every time I have ridden high-speed trains in other cities, I’ve gone, ‘Oh, I get it,’” Harnish says. “So we’re trying to get more people to see these things up close and see how they can work.”

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