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Blue Line Construction Strands Shuttle Bus Riders Amid Detoured Traffic

Heavy traffic in Logan Square

Two southbound shuttle buses took about six minutes to travel 500 feet through Logan Square’s traffic circle.

Last weekend’s Blue Line track work, just one week of the months-long Your New Blue project, pushed rail riders onto shuttle buses that ran along Milwaukee Avenue — and right through a traffic jam created by the very same track work. Instead of following the designated detour, drivers diverted from Fullerton and Sacramento Avenues under the Blue Line piled onto Milwaukee Avenue and slowed buses to a crawl.

An alternative approach that I’d suggested earlier would have set up diverters on Milwaukee, preventing through traffic while still allowing access to all businesses and parking spaces. Since there were no diverters to keep Fullerton drivers off Milwaukee, many drivers continued on Fullerton and then — at the last minute — turned onto northwest-bound Milwaukee, adding more traffic to a stretch that’s already plenty busy during weekends. The resulting traffic jam paralyzed not only the Blue Line shuttle buses, but also the heavily used 74-Fullerton and 56-Milwaukee bus routes.

CTA Blue Line traffic detour

This diagram shows the intended detour in blue, designated by signs on the street, and the more commonly used detour in orange that slowed buses. Image: Adapted from Chicago Transit Authority

A small sign on Fullerton directed drivers to turn onto California, but the road ahead was wide open, and barriers didn’t force a turn off Fullerton until Milwaukee. Forcing a turn at California would have kept Milwaukee relatively clear for the many shuttle buses needed to carry Blue Line passengers, minimizing their delay and keeping the “rapid transit” service at least a little bit “rapid.”

Traffic jam on Milwaukee Ave. during Blue Line track work

The little detour sign that most westbound drivers on Fullerton ignored.

Gareth Newfield, a longtime Logan Square resident I interviewed while we both watched crawling, bunched-up shuttle buses from inside the Logan Square Comfort Station, noted that “the CTA always provides complete service” during construction projects, “but it doesn’t provide good service.”

Newfield suggested shifting priorities. “How about we say, ‘Getting people to the airport is such a priority that we’ll shut down a [traffic] lane to run express buses’ ” and maintain adequate service for Blue Line riders traveling through Logan Square. “The city isn’t taking [that trip] seriously, but the CTA does.” Newfield added that the few personnel dispatched to a site aren’t thinking about traffic jams as a system: “even a cop… isn’t thinking about it – ‘hold on folks, this bus needs to go first’ — or limit[ing] turns.”

Traffic jam on Milwaukee Ave. during Blue Line track work

Drivers line up to turn onto Milwaukee from Fullerton, instead of making the recommended detour earlier.

Even where there were additional lanes, for example through the square, no space was dedicated for transit; instead, both lanes were filled with cars. The CTA didn’t respond by press time to a request about shuttle bus speed data.

He later tweeted that “[I] probably could have walked faster.”

Police officers or Traffic Management Aides were not on scene to change or hold traffic signals, or to prevent turns onto Milwaukee when they saw a shuttle bus coming.

Erin Borreson was biking northwest on Milwaukee to the Comfort Station; she had to get off her bike and walk on the sidewalk because there was too much traffic. “Buses were [driving] so close to the parked cars,” she explained, “and there’s no way a biker could have gotten through.” Borreson said she was not only more comfortable on the sidewalk than in the jammed street, but added “I was faster on the sidewalk.”

The next Blue Line bus bridge along an equally congested stretch of Milwaukee will start Friday, April 4, replacing Blue Line service at Damen and Western. The shuttles will run a much longer route than the first weekend — from Western Avenue to the Clark/Lake station –  because it’s the only way to provide fully accessible service.

The same problems may recur that weekend, unless there are appropriately enforced detours. Whenever there are more buses on the road, that means more traffic. The city has a lot of options at its disposal to live up to the spirit of its Complete Streets policy, and to put transit riders first.

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A Hard-Fought Legislative Victory for Indianapolis Transit

Indianapolis might not be known as a transit city — yet — but a legislative breakthrough at the statehouse this week opens the door for dramatic improvements to its transit system.

After three years of advocacy, state officials approved a bill that will allow the six-county Indianapolis region to vote on whether to tax themselves to pay for a plan called “Indy Connect,” which would establish a network of high-quality bus routes.

Shayla Williamson at Urban Indy says the legislation isn’t perfect — one drawback is that it specifically forbids spending the money on light rail — but it removes a major obstacle to significantly improving the region’s transit:

[T]he Indiana General Assembly closed the 2014 session by passing SB176, otherwise known as the central Indiana mass transit bill. After being scaled back, stripped, and amended here and there, an effort three years in the making now heads to Governor Pence for final approval before being placed on the ballot this fall for local voter approval. Voters will finally have the option of approving an income tax increase, of anywhere between 0.1 and 0.25 percent, to help cover the operating costs of expanded transit in their counties.

Pence has now signed the bill, which Transportation for America calls a great example of pragmatic political compromise:

Read more…

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How the Self-Driving Car Could Spell the End of Parking Craters

Look, ma, no hands! A legally blind man tested out Google's self-driving car in 2012. Photo: ##http://byteandchew.com/best-of-2012-8-rise-of-the-self-driven-car/##Byte and Chew##

A legally blind man tested out Google’s self-driving car in 2012. Photo: Byte and Chew

Here’s the rosy scenario of a future where cars drive themselves: Instead of owning cars, people will summon autonomous vehicles, hop in, and head to their destination. With fewer cars to be stored, parking lots and garages will give way to development, eventually bringing down the cost of housing in tight markets through increased supply. Pressure to expand roads will ease, as vehicle-to-vehicle technology allows more cars to use the same road space. Traffic violence will become a thing of the past as vehicles communicate instantly with each other and the world around them.

Then there’s the other scenario: People who can afford it will pay an exorbitant amount for gee-whiz driverless technology, but the new systems will have imperfections and won’t integrate seamlessly with older vehicles. Most cars will still be piloted by humans, so the new tech won’t have much effect on traffic hazards and congestion. The driverless car utopia will remain a Magic Highway fantasy.

Driverless vehicle technology has progressed far enough that we need to start anticipating its potential effects. Google’s autonomous vehicle fleet has driven half a million miles without a crash. But the future is extremely uncertain.

At a Congressional briefing this week, the RAND Corporation’s James Anderson, author of a recent report on the prospects for autonomous vehicles, said he is convinced that while there are advantages and disadvantages to driverless cars, “the societal benefits exceed the costs.”

The best possible scenario involves a fleet of shared driverless cars and the elimination of private vehicle ownership. Cars would be in constant use, so the amount of land reserved for parking could be greatly reduced. Even if driverless car technology comes on the market soon, however, that version of the future may never arrive.

Here’s how RAND and others are gaming out some of the potential effects:

Read more…

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How Transit Pays for the Automobile’s Sins

Tony Dutzik is a senior policy analyst with the Frontier Group.

An op-ed in Friday’s Washington Post by three professors of urban planning rained on the parade of transit advocates celebrating a new 57-year high in transit ridership. Ridership, the authors wrote, has actually fallen on a per-capita basis since 2008 (as has driving, by the way), as well as outside of New York City.

Dial-a-ride services for the elderly and disabled are costly, but they provide an essential service to people automobiles leave out. Photo: ##http://www.cityofdelano.org/index.aspx?NID=183##City of Delano##

Dial-a-ride services for the elderly and disabled are costly, but they fill an essential gap left by automobiles. Photo: City of Delano

To underscore their point about transit’s unimportance outside of NYC, they wrote, “[t]ransit receives about 20 percent of U.S. surface transportation funding, but accounts for 2 percent to 3 percent of all U.S. passenger trips and 2 percent to 3 percent of all U.S. passenger miles.”

If you are a transportation nerd like me, you have probably seen this kind of comparison before. It is a long-time favorite of transit denigrators, and for good reason: It makes transit look really bad.

But here’s the thing. Comparing spending on transit with spending on highways per trip or per mile is an inherently misleading exercise. In part, that is because it fails to recognize an important fact: Much of the transit service we provide in the United States is designed specifically to cover for the failures of our lavishly subsidized car-centered transportation system.

Here’s an example. In 2012, U.S. transit agencies spent $3.5 billion to provide “dial-a-ride” demand response service for the disabled — accounting for 9 percent of all spending on transit operations nationwide. Those services carried 106 million passengers, 1 percent of all transit riders.

That same year, Boston’s transit agency, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, moved nearly four times as many passengers as dial-a-ride at less than half the total cost.

What does that comparison tell you about the relative value to society of dial-a-ride versus the “T”? Or about the wisdom of spending an additional dollar on improving transit service for the disabled versus spending it, say, on running an extra train on Boston’s Red Line subway?

Read more…

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Making Transit Better Isn’t Enough. Driving Needs to Be Worse.

So transit ridership is up. Everybody knows that. It’s at its highest point since 1956. Right?

That's more like it. Photo: ##http://www.showingsuite.com/high-gas-prices-still-sell-more-homes##Showing Suite##

That’s more like it. Photo: Showing Suite

Well, ridership per capita is still less than half its 1956 point. And by 1956, transit ridership was already at a 40-year low. But with transit growing faster than car travel, at a rate that outpaces population growth, there is still cause for optimism.

But even that cautious optimism took a bit of a beating in the Washington Post’s opinion section this morning, as three prominent urban planning professors declared the transit bump fictitious. “In fact, use of mass transportation has remained remarkably steady, and low, since about 1970,” they go on. “There is nothing exceptional about last year’s numbers; they represent a depressing norm.” They even hint that federal funding for transit is too high.

Way too far down in the column, the professors — David King of Columbia University, Michael Manville of Cornell University, and Michael Smart of Rutgers — shift focus from the problem with transit to the problem with driving.

The nut of their argument is as follows: “Resting our hopes on a transit comeback distracts from our real transportation problem, which can be summarized in four words: Driving is too cheap.”

Emily Badger made this point in Atlantic Cities two weeks ago (and Jeff Wood and I made it on the Talking Headways podcast last week). It’s not enough to spruce up sustainable modes if we as a nation are still giving enormous amounts of subsidies and space to the private automobile.

Read more…

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A Clearer, More Concise Regional Transit Proposal From Senator Biss

Daniel Biss's new RTA board makeup proposal

Biss’s unified RTA proposal has 19 members, all appointed by the governor with approval from 10 of 13 members of a regional transit council with locally appointed members.

At least one Illinois legislator supports a unified transit agency, even though RTA board chairman John Gates and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel have declared their opposition.

Senator Daniel Biss (D-9th, Evanston, Glenview) published a proposal [PDF] back in November, saying “the CTA, Metra, and Pace should combine into a single new Regional Transit Authority.” That was months before Governor Quinn’s transit task force issued a similar recommendation, due to be released in final form next week.

Biss’s proposal calls for a streamlined RTA, with gubernatorial appointees who would need to be vetted by representatives from Chicago and its suburbs. While it leaves a few key questions unanswered — namely, how long people would serve on the new agency’s board, and how they could be removed from office — the plan is a solid attempt at reforming regional transit governance without turning the new agency into the governor’s plaything.

In the proposal, a new RTA with a 19-member board would replace the existing RTA board, three service boards, and their combined 47 members. The governor would appoint every board member, with the supermajority approval of a new Regional Transit Council — made up of members appointed by the Chicago mayor, suburban Cook County commissioners, and board presidents from the collar counties (DuPage, Kane, Will, McHenry, and Lake).

The new RTA board would comprise five representatives from Chicago, five from suburban Cook County, five from the collar counties, and one representative from Chicago’s Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. New to Chicagoland transit boards would be three non-voting positions: a Citizens’ Advisory Board member, a Metra operating railroads rep, and an RTA union rep.

Read more…

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Emanuel, CTA President Come Out Against Unified Regional Transit Agency

Elevator shaft at LaSalle Street Station

The intermodal connection the Chicago Department of Transportation added to the LaSalle Metra station in 2011 is one of the rare inter-agency improvements made in the last 5 years.

The transit task force Governor Pat Quinn convened last year after the Metra governance scandal continues to discuss the merits of a single transit authority to replace the Regional Transportation Authority and absorb Chicago Transit Authority, Metra, and Pace. Count Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CTA President Forrest Claypool among the opponents of that idea.

Emanuel and Claypool came out strongly against the proposal because they believe the CTA would become less accountable to Chicagoans. Emanuel spokesperson Sarah Hamilton told the Sun-Times:

Chicagoans demand a public transportation framework that is accountable to riders and taxpayers, which is what we have at the CTA. The mayor is not interested in a solution that replaces one unaccountable bureaucracy with another.

Hamilton’s right that Chicagoans – and residents of the 35 other municipalities the CTA serves – deserve accountable transit agencies. And under Emanuel, the CTA has had a lot of wins, including new stations, new buses, and a successful Red Line South revamp.

But the CTA isn’t the only organization that’s part of the discussion. Pace and Metra — and all the riders who depend on their services — also need to be considered. These riders don’t care who is providing the bus from home to work, whether it’s Pace or CTA, or whether the Chicago mayor is calling the shots or not.

What matters is the rider. Would a regional transit agency serve the region’s transit riders better than the status quo? It certainly could help address some of the problems that are plaguing Chicagoland transit.

Right now, the region’s transit agencies basically compete for riders. Different agencies run similar routes that serve the same trips, and all three agencies have their own marketing departments, appealing to the same pool of potential customers. The agencies don’t make much effort to integrate fares, other than some extremely limited inter-agency transfers.

And instead of making a collective case to the state legislature for funding, each service board is, in effect, represented separately by various state legislators whose constituencies are easily divided along “agency lines.” A unified agency could be structured to allocate funding by performance instead of by geography: The task force recommends that any distribution of funds by formula incorporate performance measures. Read more…

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Sunday’s LSD Crisis Highlighted Value of Chicago’s Diverse Tranpo Network

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Cars are diverted down the LaSalle on-ramp around 4:30 p.m. Photo: Michelle Stenzel, Bike Walk Lincoln Park

Yesterday’s nine-hour standoff between police and an alleged murderer, which shut down North Lake Shore Drive and created Carmageddon on nearby surface streets, highlighted why Chicago is fortunate to have multiple transportation options. Around 12:30 p.m., officers began chasing accused killer Joseph Andrew Felton Jr., 43, in his car from south-suburban Harvey, through the South Side. The fugitive rammed several cars on LSD before his vehicle landed in the grass east of the northbound lanes near the Fullerton offramp.

While the police negotiated with Felton, who falsely claimed to have guns but could not easily be seen through his tinted windows, the highway was closed for 6.4 miles, from Chicago Avenue to Bryn Mawr. Around 9:30 p.m., the authorities succeeded in flushing Felton out of his car using a “flash bang grenade.” After the accused, who had slashed his wrists, was transported to a hospital, the drive was completely reopened at about 4:20 a.m. this morning, police said.

Shortly after the standoff began, the CTA was told to reroute buses off of the highway, according to the Chicago Tribune. However, thousands of motorists initially found themselves marooned on the drive with no information about what was going on. The off-ramps were jammed with vehicles, and traffic on the drive was backed up for miles. It was a scene reminiscent of the 2011 blizzard when hundreds of drivers were stranded on the highway, with some stuck in their cars for 12 hours.

Some drivers took matters into their own hands, improvising potentially dangerous exit routes, the Tribune reported. Motorists left the road by driving the wrong way down on-ramps, while others blazed a trail over tree-filled medians to access Marine Drive, which parallels LSD. Around 2 p.m., an Outer Drive Express bus driver let customers exit to run across the median to Marine, according to the Trib.

Parallel arterials west of the drive, such as Clark, were soon hopelessly jammed with drivers seeking alternative routes. The Trib reported that performers rushing to shows at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater and Lyric Opera were severely delayed, and spoke with Bob Backis, who tried in vain to drive downtown from the Far North Side to services at Holy Name Cathedral, 735 North State.

After being turned away from several LSD on-ramps, Backis and his wife parked near the Wilson Red Line station and rode the ‘L’ to the church. “We were determined to try to make it down any way we could,” he told the paper. The train probably should have been their first choice, not last resort, for getting there, since the cathedral is virtually next door to the Red Line’s Chicago Avenue stop.

Read more…

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More State Control Over Chicagoland Transit Is a Bad Idea

Governor Quinn and Mayor Emanuel Unveil.CTA’s New Red Line South

IDOT Secretary Ann Schneider’s office would get more control over Chicagoland transit in Governor Quinn’s transit task force recommendations. Photo: IDOT

On Tuesday, the Northeastern Public Transit Task Force, created after former Metra CEO Alex Clifford’s abrupt resignation and the ensuing severance package scandal last summer, issued four different options for restructuring regional transit governance [PDF]. While there’s a lot of variation among the four options, they would all hand more power to the governor. This is the wrong direction to take.

The task force recommended that in any option, the Illinois governor should have more transit board appointments because the state provides a “significant portion of transit operating and capital funding.” But the governor already has too much say over regional transit.

The governor currently exerts control through the Illinois DOT (through which funding passes), appointments to Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning committees that also choose which projects to fund, and the appointment of three Chicago Transit Authority board members. Will Chicago transit be better off if we hand over more power to the governor and IDOT?

Stephen Smith wrote in Next City about the pitfalls of New York’s governor-controlled MTA: “Concentrating power over regional transit in the hands of the governor — even if that region happens to be a state’s main economic engine — has not turned out well for New York, and it’s unclear why it would work any better for Chicago.” Just because the MTA is a state agency does not mean that the governor has become accountable for its performance:

When New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo does involve himself in MTA affairs, it’s either to take away money or claim credit for projects that were already underway before he came along. On the most pressing MTA issues — its cripplingly high costs or its mound of expired labor contracts — the governor disengages completely.

Two of the four options would eliminate the RTA and put Chicagoland transit under greater IDOT control: one by transferring oversight and federal and state funding decisions to IDOT while retaining the three service boards, the other by making IDOT fully “responsible for coordinating the regional transit system,” wresting control of the RTA board from the City of Chicago’s Mayor, Cook County commissioners, and surrounding counties’ boards – which is clearly the worst-case scenario.

Putting control of Chicagoland transit in the state’s hands would exacerbate existing problems. The state and IDOT are already showering money on boondoggles like the Illiana Tollway and IL-53 extension over Chicago’s objections. These two options would further entrench IDOT’s ability to allocate resources. Read more…

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Talking Headways Podcast: Taking Transit Numbers for a Spin

What a week! Transit ridership skyrocketed (ahem, by 1.1 percent) to levels not seen since 1956 (depending how you look at it). Radio Shack is shutting down 20 percent of its stores. Is brick-and-mortar retail collapsing — and is it just as well, if getting delivery from Amazon is more efficient than driving to the store anyway? Plus, there’s a new video game for transit nerds to stay up all night obsessing over!

And we tackle the fundamental question of how to make a real change in how people get around. Will it happen just by improving transit and other modes — or do you need to make driving less appealing, as Emily Badger suggests in Atlantic Cities?

Tell us what you think in the comments. And remember, you can subscribe to the RSS feed or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.