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Silly Tribune, Speed Cameras Aren’t Just for Kids — They Make Everyone Safer

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Illustration: Rachal Duggan, Chicago Reader

[Today the Chicago Reader launched a new weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership will allow Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We’ll be syndicating a portion of the column on the day it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

There’s a mountain of evidence from around the world that automated traffic enforcement saves lives. For example, a 2012 study in the Journal of Accident Analysis and Prevention credited the widespread use of speed cameras in France with saving more than 15,000 lives over a seven-year period.

However, Chicago’s traffic cameras have been highly contentious. Not only do drivers hate getting tickets, but starting in 2012 a Chicago Tribune seriesuncovered a number of issues with the red light camera program, mostly under the last Mayor Daley. These ranged from dubious cam locations to a bribery scheme by the vendor, Redflex.

Current mayor Rahm Emanuel’s speed camera program, which launched in October 2013 and has installed 150 cameras in 63 “Children’s Safety Zones” around schools and parks, has been less controversial so far. But last week, Trib reporters David Kidwell, who spearheaded the red light coverage, and Abraham Epton went nuclear on the speed cameras.

In four long, mind-numbingly detailed articles, covering the better part of eight pages of newsprint, the reporters described how the cameras have issued roughly $2.4 million in questionable tickets. That represents about 2.6 percent of the roughly $81 million in tickets produced over the last two years.

They quoted a dozen or so drivers who complained that the tickets they received were unfair because they were issued while parks were closed, children weren’t present in school zones, or warning signs were missing, contrary to state law and city ordinance.

“It’s a sneaky thing to do,” north sider Alissa Friedman told the paper.

Kidwell and Epton also attacked the locations of the cameras, which state law dictates can only be installed within eighth-mile zones around schools and parks.

“While it was pitched by the mayor as a way to protect youngsters walking near parks and schools, the most prolific cameras in the two-year-old ‘Children’s Safety Zone’ initiative can be found along major roadways, where crash data shows child pedestrians are least likely to be struck by speeders,” they wrote. They also noted that some of the cams on busy streets are justified by their proximity to small parks with limited foot traffic.

But, as with the paper’s red light coverage, the speed camera articles show a strong bias against automated enforcement in general. Once again, the paper largely ignored the safety benefits of the cams, even though they’re widely documented.

The reporters also chose not to discuss the reasons speed enforcement is crucial, not just for the safety of children, but for everybody. The city’s default speed limit is 30 mph, and for good reason: studies show that pedestrians who are struck at this speed usually survive, while those struck at 40 almost always die.

Read the rest of the story on the Chicago Reader website.

Streetsblog Chicago will resume publication on Monday. Have a great Thanksgiving!



The ‘L’ Reduces Congestion on Highways More Than Widening Would

Blue Line on the Kennedy passing under Austin Ave. pedestrian overpass

A Blue Line train hits 55 mph on the way to O’Hare airport. Photo: Steven Vance

Yesterday, a road construction lobbying group tricked many local publications into promoting their highway expansion agenda.

In what’s become a common strategy for the road-building industry, the American Highway Users Alliance conducted a study called “Unclogging America’s Arteries 2015,” which reported that traffic congestion is really bad and, of course, adding more capacity for cars is the solution. Then they sent out a press release, counting on news outlets to spread the gospel. Since the report found that Chicago’s Kennedy Expressway has the worst bottleneck in the nation, The Tribune, Sun-Times, CBS, and WGN all took the bait and largely regurgitated the press release.

Time Out Chicago, in particular, accepted AHUA’s narrative hook, line, and sinker. Time Out went so far as to blame the CTA Blue Line, which runs down the median of the expressway, for standing in the way of fixing the traffic jam problem:

One immovable feature will force the road to be a bottleneck for the foreseeable future: the Blue Line. It prevents the Kennedy from expanding (the same applies for the Eisenhower Expressway on the West Side), which is a painful result of short-sighted 20th Century urban planning.

Time Out has it backwards. The real myopic urban planning was the decision to bulldoze hundreds of revenue-producing properties, displacing countless residents and businesses, to build the highway. Far from being foolish, the late-Sixties decision by planners and politicians to include a 55 mph rapid transit line in the median of the Kennedy was a savvy use of resources, since it was much cheaper than building a separate subway.

Granted, rapid transit is most useful when stops are located in the center of dense, walkable retail districts, and the middle of a highway isn’t the most pleasant place to wait for a train. But it’s fortunate that the powers that be chose to build new ‘L’ lines in the medians of the Kennedy, the Eisenhower, and the Dan Ryan, rather than not build them at all.

In the modern era, it’s short-sighted to think we can solve the traffic jam problem on urban highways by adding capacity, even though the road lobbyists would like us to believe otherwise. Time Out argued that the $420 million Jane Byrne Interchange expansion project and the $3.4 billion Elgin-O’Hare Expressway extension “will go a long way in reducing traffic on the North Side highway.”

On the contrary, highway expansion projects don’t reduce congestion in the long run. They provide temporary relief, but studies show that the extra capacity tends to encourage more car trips, a phenomenon known as induced demand, so the new lanes are soon filled with vehicles again.

The Blue Line deserves more far credit for fighting congestion than those costly road expansion projects because it provides commuters with an alternative to driving to and from downtown. That’s good for reducing traffic jams, good for the environment, and much healthier than a long, daily car commute.

Update 11/25/15 10:00 a.m.: After we pointed out the absurdity of the original Time Out post, they added the following text:

The Blue Line is a better option than a car for people traveling across the city. Chicago is one of three cities across the country where public transit to the airport is faster than driving. So if you can’t handle any more traffic on the Kennedy, consider trading in your car keys for a Ventra card.

Thanks to Streetsblog Chicago reader “objectathand” for alerting us.

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Could Longer Rental Times Help Divvy Appeal to More Chicagoans?


Vienna’s CityBike Wien system givers users twice as much rental time as Divvy. Photo: Michael Podgers

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

While visiting Vienna, Austria, I gave their CityBike Wien bike-share system a spin and found it has a couple of advantages over Chicago’s Divvy system. CityBike Wien is dirt cheap, with a one-time registration fee of only one euro, about a dollar, compared to $9.95 for a Divvy day pass. And the first hour of every ride on CityBike Wien is free, while Divvy users start racking up late fees after the first 30 minutes. That means you can practically ride across the entire city of Vienna without having to re-dock your bike.

My experience with CityBike Wien made me think about what Divvy could do to improve user experience and encourage more ridership. Offering a longer period before late fees kick in might make the system more convenient to use, and there are several other possibilities for making the system more user-friendly.

Bike-share is generally designed for short trips and errands, especially “last-mile trips” between transit stations and other destinations. When Divvy bikes are used this way, 30 minutes is plenty of time. Moreover, customers can take longer rides without accruing late fees by “dock surfing,” briefly checking in the bike at a station every half hour. If you have a membership key, this usually adds only a dozen seconds or so to your trip time.

On the other hand, there are other systems besides Vienna’s that offer a longer free rental period than Divvy. For example, New York’s Citi Bike and Paris’ Vélib’ allow annual members to use bikes for 45 minutes without late fees, although day pass holders can only use them for 30 minutes without extra fees.

So would it make sense to extend the Divvy rental period? Michelle Stenzel, co-leader of the grassroots group Bike Walk Lincoln Park, isn’t convinced that’s necessary.

“Although I don’t want to diminish the needs of users who truly want to ride a Divvy for 45 minutes…I have to ask whether those people have actually tried riding a Divvy for that long,” Stenzel said. “Those bikes are heavy!” She added that she avoids using Divvy for more than 20-25 minutes at a time, but that’s plenty of time for the kind of trips the system is intended for.

However, as the Divvy coverage area grows, customer may wish to take longer rides. This year the network expanded to 476 stations, covering 476 stations and 33 of Chicago’s 50 wards, making it the largest system in North America based on the number of stations and the geographic area served. Next year, Divvy is adding 70 new stations in Chicago, Evanston and Oak Park next year, so the the coverage area will grow significantly.

But Jim Merrell, a campaign director at the Active Transportation Alliance doesn’t think the larger service area will lead to a demand for a longer rental period. “Divvy’s great for the shorter trips, but I have a hard time seeing people using Divvy [for longer trips],” he said. He added that Divvy seems to be most useful for rides within neighborhoods, or when combined with transit. Still, longer rental times could make using Divvy a more relaxing experience by reducing the need to watch the clock and dock surf.

Read more…


Eyes on the Street: Roosevelt Raised Bike Lane Is Almost Ready to Ride

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

It seems like it has taken an eternity, but the Roosevelt Road raised bikeway is finally getting the green paint and bike symbols that will turn it into a functional cycling route. This Chicago Department of Transportation initiative is part of a streetscaping project that involved widening the sidewalk along Roosevelt between State Street and Michigan Avenue to make room for the two-way bike lane.

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Street layout from State to Wabash, where the bikeway will exist as on-street lanes, to the left of bus lanes.

The new lane extends a block or so past Michigan on the north sidewalk of Roosevelt, ending near the trunkless metal legs of the “Agora” installation and the Grant Park skate park. From there, cyclists can head north a block to the 11th Street bike and pedestrian bridge over Metra and South Shore tracks. From there a multi-use path leads under Columbus Drive and Lake Shore Drive to the Museum Campus.

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CDOT rendering of Roosevelt streetscape, looking east from Wabash. Note the separation between the blue crosswalks and the green “crossbikes.”

The streetscape project also includes new metal benches and decorative pavers inscribed with various words that are meant to be thought-provoking, or evoke the cultural facilities of the Museum Campus. Near the CTA ‘L’ station at Roosevelt and State, which serves the Red, Orange, and Green Lines, CDOT has installed extra-long bus shelters that will have ad panels.


A crew member applies adhesive to the lane for attaching the thermoplastic bike symbol segments. Photo: John Greenfield

Between State and Wabash Avenue, the bikeway will exist as a pair of one-way bike lanes located in the street and marked with green paint. Eastbound bicyclists will use a special “crossbike” – a crosswalk for bikes – to move to the bi-directional raised bike lane on the north side of Roosevelt east of Wabash. Westbound cyclists will be shepherded from the raised lane to the westbound on-street via a green-marked lane that will slant from the sidewalk to the bike lane.

Read more…


Eyes on the Street: New Section of Lakefront Trail at Fullerton Is Half Open


The new section of trail north of Fullerton. Photo: John Greenfield

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

About a year ago, the Chicago Department of Transportation and the Chicago Park District kicked off the Fullerton Revetment project, which is building 5.8 acres of new parkland along the lake. The main goal of the $31.5 million endeavor was to to replace the crumbling seawall. But it’s also making room for the partial separation of pedestrian and bike routes on a section of the Lakefront Trail that’s currently a bottleneck. Infill and revetment construction is wrapping up this fall, and landscaping should be done by next summer.

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A plan view of the project.

North of Fullerton Avenue, a section of the new path is already open, although the separate pedestrian walkway will only exist south of the avenue, west of the bike path. The soft-surface footpath will run for about 600 feet before ending at a turnaround at Fullerton. Workers have ripped out the old stretch of the trail north of Fullerton that hugged the Theater on the Lake, and walkers, joggers, and cyclists are now directed to the brand-new path segment.


The old section of the path by the Theater on the Lake is now closed. Photo: John Greenfield

The initiative includes widening the strip of parkland along the trail by as much as several hundred feet via infill, creating a brand-new hump of land that’s sure to be a hit with sunbathers. Last summer, that area resembled a milky turquoise tropical lagoon, contained by a wavy wall of corrugated steel pilings. Crews have since filled in the lagoon with rocks and dirt, and are currently covering the area with sod.

Read more…

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Miami’s “Underline” — The Vision for a 10-Mile Greenway Beneath the Rails

Miami's "Underline" proposes making the derelict space under Miami's Metrorail into a "10-mile linear park." Image:

The “Underline” would remake the leftover space beneath Miami’s Metrorail as a 10-mile greenway. Image: The Underline

The idea for Miami’s “Underline” came to Meg Daly after she broke both her arms in 2013.

Unable to drive, Daly, who lives in Coral Gables, started taking Miami’s Metrorail to physical therapy. When she got off at her stop, she would walk the last mile under the shade of the elevated rail platform.

“I just kind of had this moment of discovery,” she told Streetsblog. “I ended up walking beneath the train tracks. I was like, ‘There’s so much space here.'” She thought the neglected but nicely shaded area could make for great walking and biking.

Now, just a few years later, a real plan for a 10-mile linear park called the Underline is moving forward. Daly heads the nonprofit group Friends of the Underline, which is finishing up the master plan for the project. The group received $650,000 for planning and design, funded by the city of Miami, the Knight Foundation, the Miami Foundation, and others.

The Underline would run 10 miles from South Miami, through Coral Gables and on to Miami's Brickell neighborhood under the elevated Metrorail platform by U.S. 1. Map: The Underline

The Underline would run 10 miles from South Miami, through Coral Gables and on to Miami’s Brickell neighborhood under the elevated Metrorail platform by U.S. 1. Map: The Underline

The Friends of the Underline vision is to create an inviting place for active transportation running through one of the most densely populated urban areas in the American South.

Miami’s Metrorail corridor runs 10 miles between South Miami, Coral Gables, and Miami, terminating in the walkable Brickell neighborhood. The corridor roughly parallels US-1, a traffic-clogged urban highway that runs up the eastern coast of Florida.

About 100,000 people live within a 10-minute walk, Daly says. But active transportation options are limited, largely because of South Florida’s notoriously wide, dangerous roads.

Read more…


Eyes on the Street: A Roundup of New Bike Lanes, Part I


New buffered lanes on Lawrence in Albany Park. Photo: John Greenfield

We’ve done write-ups of many bikeways the city installed this year as part of their effort to reach 100 miles of buffered and protected lane, including facilities on South Sacramento, South State, Vincennes, Clybourn, Milwaukee, and Washington. However, there were a few more new lanes I’d been meaning to check out, and some others that weren’t on my radar because the Chicago Department of Transportation hadn’t announced them on the bike program’s Facebook page. Recently, however, CDOT provided this list of bikeways they built this year:


Yesterday, I took advantage of the gorgeous weather to check out some of the new lanes on the Northwest Side. In the near future, I’ll provide a roundup of the new South and West Side bikeways we haven’t already covered.

It’s worth noting that most of the bikeway mileage installed this year was simply upgrades to existing facilities — usually turning conventional bike lanes into buffered lanes. While these upgrades helped CDOT to reach their goal of installing 100 miles of buffered and protected lanes within the last four years, they didn’t actually expand the bike network or improve connectivity. On the other hand, buffered lanes are more comfortable to ride in than conventional ones, so it’s nice that non-buffered lanes are going the way of the dinosaur.

Moreover, CDOT has halved their mileage goal for the next four years to only 50 miles. Since there will be less pressure to quickly rack up mileage, maybe there will be more emphasis on building brand new bikeways, rather than simply upgrading old ones.

And perhaps a higher percentage of the new lanes will be physically protected – only 19.5 of the 103 miles of lanes installed under Mayor Rahm Emanuel have been protected. In addition, CDOT has stated that they plan to focus on improving connectivity and making intersections safer, which is good to hear.


New buffered lane by the Copernicus Center, near Lawrence and Milwaukee. Photo: John Greenfield

Yesterday, I started out by riding the 2.50-mile stretch of buffered lanes, upgraded from conventional ones, between Central Park and Central in the communities of Albany Park and Mayfair. It’s always fun to check out this strip, a melting pot of Latin American, Eastern European, Middle Eastern, and Korean businesses. As is usually the case with new bikeways nowadays in Chicago, the lanes are generally marked through intersections, and the project also included new high-visibility, zebra-stripe crosswalks.

Read more…


Eyes on the Street: The Loop Link BRT Corridor Continues to Take Shape


Washington Street west of Franklin Street. Photo: John Greenfield

The Loop Link bus rapid transit route, slated to be largely complete by New Year’s Day, seems to be moving along nicely.

As I’ve discussed, some of the project’s features have been reduced, modified, or delayed. We’re not getting transit signal priority, truly level boarding, or enclosed bus stations, and the pilot of prepaid boarding will be delayed until next year. But we are getting limited stops, dedicated bus lanes, queue jumps, near-level boarding, and extra-long shelters with lots of seating, and we’ll eventually be getting prepaid boarding at all stations. As such, Loop Link should demonstrate some of the benefits of BRT and help build support for a more robust BRT system on Ashland Avenue.

Recently, crews installed green thermoplastic and bike symbols in the eastbound curbside protected bike lane that has been constructed on Washington Street along with the island bus stops and giant bus shelters, each averaging about 90 feet long and 14 feet high. A two-way, north-south PBL is largely complete on Clinton Street, and a westbound protected lane will eventually be installed on Randolph Street.


A crew installs pavers on the platform of a bus stop on Washington east of State. Photo: John Greenfield

When I stopped by yesterday, I saw that the platforms are also taking shape, as workers install pavers and tactile warning strips at the edge of the platforms — similar to those at ‘L’ stations. Underneath the pavers are electric heating coils, which will help keep the bus stops clear of snow this winter.


Tactile warning strips are being added to the edge of the bus platforms. Photo: John Greenfield

Seating will run almost the entire length of the shelters, so just about everyone who wants to will be able to take a load off. Wooden benches are already in at some of the stops, with metal dividers to discourage people from sleeping or skateboarding on them.


The view from inside a shelter. Photo: John Greenfield

Read more…


UIC Bike/Walk Project Didn’t Get the $17 Million in Federal Funds It Needs

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UIC has proposed eliminating the cul-de-sacs to create a pedestrian plaza, streamlined walking path, and a bike path at Morgan Street and Vernon Park Place between the library and Behavioral Sciences Building.

Unfortunately, a transportation project that has the potential to positively transform the University of Illinois at Chicago’s campus was passed over for federal funding. The $29.3 million initiative, called Crossroads & Connections, would make significant changes to campus streets in order to make walking and biking safer and more convenient.

The university was seeking $17.2 million in Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery funding. This discretionary grant program from the U.S. Department of Transportation finances “transformative” projects that would have at least a citywide impact on safety. The remaining funds would have come from UIC’s parking revenue, because the project would have included replacing asphalt in some parking lots with permeable pavers to reduce the amount of runoff sent to the city’s sewer system.

The only Chicagoland TIGER application to win funding this year was a railroad bridge over the Fox River near Elgin used by Metra trains. A new pedestrian bridge at 35th Street over railroad tracks and Lake Shore Drive that’s currently under construction is also funded by TIGER.

Crossroads & Connections would have addressed many dangerous and annoying situations for people walking and bicycling on the UIC campus, including several pet peeves I accumulated while studying there for four years. It would create smoother cycling connections, build new pedestrian plazas, and legitimize walking routes that weren’t being accommodated before.

The university also wants to reduce crashes and injuries by modifying high-risk intersection and crossing points. The plan notes that that 252 people were injured in crashes with people walking and bicycling, from 2008-2012 on the eastern and western portions of the campus, and while making their way between the two areas.

Ever since the Student Recreation Facility opened at Halsted and Polk Streets in the mid-2000s, people have been crossing the streets diagonally and mid-block to access dorms or student center buildings. Some of them walk over planted medians to do so.

The C & C plan calls for creating a wide mid-block crosswalk on Halsted by cutting a gap into the median and adding a “High-Intensity Activated Crosswalk Beacon,” aka a HAWK signal. When pedestrians press a button on the signal, drivers would get a red light. While this is a “beg button” of sorts, it would make mid-block crossing here safer and more convenient.

Read more…


The Yellow Line’s Revival Was Anything But (Skokie) Swift


The maiden voyage of the resurrected Yellow Line featured circa-1976 rail cars. Photo: Jeff Zoline

The CTA Yellow Line, aka the Skokie Swift, and its “Swift Bird” logo, have finally rose from the ashes this morning, following an embankment collapse last May. Getting the rail line back in operation posed plenty of challenges for both the public and the CTA.

The Yellow Line runs between the Howard Street, at the Chicago / Evanston border, and Dempster Street in nort-suburban Skokie, with an intermediate stop at Oakton Street in Skokie. The trip takes an average of about 10 minutes. According to the April 2015 CTA ridership report, published just before the embankment collapse, the line had served 299,365 ride so far in 2015. That represents an average of 2,271 riders a day on weekdays, 1,533 riders on Saturdays and 1,301 riders on Sundays.

The collapse occurred on May 17 as a result of construction on adjacent property owned by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. Contractors were building an underground pipeline from the MWRD’s O’Brien Water Treatment Plant at Howard and McCormick Boulevard to a new disinfectant plant at Oakton Street and McCormick, just north of the Yellow Line embankmen The tunneling caused the collapse of the section of embankment just west of McCormick.

While the ‘L’ line was shut down, the CTA ran free shuttle buses on the same schedule as the train service. The buses traveled between the three stations via Dempster Street, Skokie Boulelvard and Howard, which generally took 30 minutes per trip instead of the usual ten, since the buses got stuck in traffic. The Village of Skokie offered free parking at Dempster during the outage in an effort to make up for the inconvenience.

Repairs to the embankment and rail line were a long and painstaking process. The CTA originally estimated that Yellow service would resume within a month, but the work and the coordination between the different involved parties proved to be more difficult than expected.

The CTA, MWRD, Village of Skokie and Walsh Construction, the contractor, eventually agreed that the pipeline work should be completed first before restoring train service, in order to ensure that there wouldn’t be a second service-disrupting collapse. Once the pipeline work was done, the CTA began performing repairs to the tracks and infrastructure. Once that work was completed, they ran unoccupied trains with weights to simulate a full load of passengers.


Passengers on the inaugural commute were glad they donut have to take 30-minute shuttle bus trips anymore. Photo: Jeff Zoline

The CTA and the Village of Skokie have both suffered financial losses due to the service shutdown. According to the Chicago Tribune, the MWRD has taken responsibility for the accident and will reimburse the CTA for lost revenue and repairs. The estimate is around $3.5 million dollars for the loss of fare revenue, the cost of running the shuttles and the redirection of rail car maintenance operations to the South Side, which required transporting the rail cars by truck.

The loss in riders was severe. The CTA reported that the shuttles only saw about the half the typical ridership of the Yellow Line trains. Due to the much longer travel times between Yellow stations, many riders used other CTA, Metra, or Pace routes, or simply opted to drive instead.

The logistical challenges for rail car maintenance were a major issue as well. The CTA’s heavy maintenance facility known as the Skokie Shops was cut off from railway access. Operations were moved to the 63rd Street Yard along the CTA Green Line, which required trucking the rail cars.

Major repairs could only be performed at the Skokie Shops and redeployment had to occur at 63rd Street due to the amenities and equipment in the respective yards. Deployment of new railcars had to be moved to 63rd treet as well.

The Village of Skokie experienced a loss of commerce due to the reduced transit accessibility. Some businesses near the Oakton and Dempster stations reported declines in sales. The Village also lost revenue from waiving the fee for parking at the Dempster stop.

The Yellow Line returned to service early this morning. A public ceremony was held at the Oakton station with CTA President Dorval Carter, Jr., Skokie Village Mayor George Van Dusen, Congresswoman Jan Schakowski and a representative from the MWRD addressing the crowd. Two new 5000 Series Railcars were deployed, and customers also got to ride on Bicentennial-decorated 2400 series railcars, complete with disco-era advertising. Commuters on the trains expressed relief that they’ll no longer have to deal with a 30-minute trip from Dempster to Howard.

After 5 months without Yellow Line service, the CTA and the village of Skokie are hoping to regain lost ridership and commerce by offering incentives to lure back riders. These include free fares for riders boarding at the Dempster and Oakton Street stations through November 6th and free parking at the Dempster Station for the remainder of the year. They’re also spreading the good news about the resurrected service via fliers, signs at stations and key bus stops, customer audio alerts, social media, and door-to-do outreach in Skokie. Hopefully ridership will soon return to its pre-collapse levels.