Headlines for Tuesday, October 31

  • Sun-Times Columnist Mary Mitchell on Why She Avoids riding CTA Buses
  • Tollway Set to Open New I-390 Stretch, Water Taxi Season Winds Down (Tribune)
  • Driver Critically Injures Female Pedestrian, 27, By Logan Square Station (DNA)
  • Man Accused of Pushing CTA Customer Onto Blue Line Tracks Pleads Not Guilty (CBS)
  • Former Metra Cop’s Cell Phone Video Leads to Excessive Force Charges (Sun-Times)
  • New York Times Looks at How Transit & Biking Could Help Chicago’s Amazon Bid
  • New TOD Near the Logan Square Stop Could Displace City Lit Books (DNA)
  • Budget Elected in 36th Ward Includes 40 Bike Racks Made by Bikes N’ Roses (DNA)
  • SBC Funder Chicago Community Trust Welcomes New President & CEO Dr. Helene Gayle
  • West Town Bikes’ Bikecitement Night Fundaiser Takes Place 11/14, 6-8 PM at RevBrew
  • Help Slow Roll Win a Grant by Attending BOOST Funding Party 11/14, 7-10 PM at Chop Shop
  • Mark Your Calendar: Next Year’s Transport Chicago Conference Takes Place on June 1

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  • Jeremy

    Regarding the Mary Mitchell article: Some of her points are valid, but I don’t understand why she applies them to buses, but not trains?

    I believe CTA management isn’t interested in how people feel about their service. They have my email address and email addresses of tens of thousands of other Ventra users. If they ever wanted to know what we thought, they would ask us.

  • Anne A

    I think that some people at CTA do care, but not enough of them. I’ve experienced extreme crowding situations on buses during more of the day than trains. Also, I find crowding situations tougher to handle on a bus, because it’s harder to stay upright when the bus driver is constantly having to brake or change lanes due to what’s happening in traffic.

    Perhaps Mary Mitchell’s Point A and Point B are better connected by buses, so maybe she uses them instead of trains. That’s true of a lot of neighborhoods.

    FWIW, the buses I ride most often are the 95 (CTA) and 381 (Pace) on 95th St., and the number of problems went WAY down when Evergreen Plaza closed as an indoor mall. It used to be a destination of choice for punks to hang out, and they would hassle people on the bus on the way there. Now it’s usually a reasonable ride. The Plaza is mostly rebuilt as an outdoor mall with a different mix of stores – no longer a punk magnet.

  • FlamingoFresh

    That whole article was of her whining and complaining about all the shortfalls of public transportation. I have taken the CTA as my main mode of transportation for years and haven’t encountered half of what she said. Yes I’ve read about it or heard of these things happening but in reality I high doubt she experienced all that in her week of traveling. For someone as outspoken as her I’m surprised she doesn’t call out the people who didn’t give up their seats for the elderly or disabled. I know without a doubt the people on the bus would back her up if she spoke up. Be the change you want to see.

  • Tooscrapps

    The stop/go of buses is can be awful and for some people, can cause motion sickness.

    That being said, I’ve been on a few brown line trains that did the stop/go all the way from Sedgewick to Chicago. That is the worst!

  • Chicagoan

    Ms. Mitchell must not ride the bus ever, because she said the cost is $2.25…

  • Chicagoan

    Nah, easier to complain.

  • Jeremy

    I did specify “management”. I believe it is a top-down issue, and the blame should fall squarely on Emanuel’s shoulders. I also think if the alders were denied their car service and were required to use public transportation, service (both quality and quantity) would be better.

  • Jeremy

    I am willing to giver her the benefit of the doubt because different routes have different clienteles. For me, riding on the 36 Broadway is a different experience than the 156 LaSalle.

    I am a middle age white male. I am not going to assume an older woman of color would have similar experiences as me.

  • Chicagoan

    If the CTA cared about changing perceptions of bus service, which is an issue for every transit authority in the United States, they’d push forwards with true BRT on Ashland Avenue. Dedicated lanes, signal priority, and overall reliable service on a long, north-south thoroughfare that North, South, and West Siders could experience would do wonders. If they need to change the perception of bus service, they need to change how buses are working now.

  • Carter O’Brien

    If people are disobeying rules within sight and earshot of the CTA employee who is actually in charge of the vehicle, why should that onus fall on to the customers?

    The trend of isolating the bus drivers behind that sneezeguard can have the effect of leaving the inmates running the asylum. I’ve been on plenty of other metro systems where – as it used to be in Chicago – the operator actually sets the tone for proper behavior. That is how it should be, these are legit career jobs with pensions, this is far from an unrealistic expectation.

  • Anne A

    A bus fare plus a transfer costs $2.25.

  • Anne A

    Yeah, that section can get rough.

  • Anne A

    Depending on the route, time of day, gender, race, size, disability, experiences can be VASTLY difference. It’s definitely a “your mileage may vary” kind of situation.

  • I see us as more than customers. Remember we do not pay the full cost. I see us more as community owners of the bus/transit system. The more responsibility we take the more we assert that communal ownership. The more we help our driver the more we can count on them to help us as well. Especially with things like “tone.” We can stare and multiples or us can silently connect with each other as we ride together to bring strength with us during those times we need to actually speak out against impolite behavior. The driver is there to drive. But if we act in concert with each other then we are more likely to be about to count on the driver to back us up.

    Giving up agency to the driver when we often posses sufficient power to educate miscreants is the wrong tack to take, imho.

  • Would I like for there to always be a seat for me on every bus I take? Of course. Would I prefer that all the passengers practice the same set of middle class values and habits as I do? Well sure I wish they could afford nice clothes to go to work in and nice jobs that leave them clean smelling when they return. Would I like the person sitting next to me to not be a potential harasser? That one for sure.

    But at the same time can I appreciate my fortunate status that allows me to enjoy the social contact with the diversity of my fellow citizens on buses and trains. And am I willing to pay more taxes to get less crowded conditions, You betcha!

  • Carter O’Brien

    It has nothing to do with “giving up” agency, it has to do with the law. The operator is not simply there to drive, they are the one human being legally in charge of the vehicle. I agree in spirit with the “if you see something say something” concept, but I have yet to see a bus driver doing ANYTHING in this regard, even they can clearly see what’s going on as it is literally right next to them.

    Also, we do not pay the full cost in terms of the fare, but we are obviously paying the full cost as a society. Part of what communal ownership means is we determine what is and what isn’t doable for the larger public transit system. I would be looking at this way if I was the CTA – if your employees are reduced to simply being “drivers,” you’re going to find yourselves out of work as we’ll see a pretty quick evolution to self-driving vehicles.

    Mary is dead right, just like any other public servant who has been given authority, the buck stops with them. If you want CTA to be safer, empower the employees. And part of that may mean busting them out of that currency exchange bulletproof window and requiring them to actually interact with their passengers.

  • hopeyglass

    Yeah, the CTA DOES care about BRT. The problem is all the businesses and pushback from citizens who don’t want to give up precious parking, so…. you know, again talk to individuals who love that neoliberal all for me, none for all mentality, because GD would I love a faster Ashland/Western/ANY bus.

  • Of course with self driving buses there will be no driver to fall back on. Similar to the situation on an eight car train. All the more reason for a socially empowered activist citizens. I’m not calling for vigilantes nor concealed carry. I’m just saying that educated and sophisticated people, similar to grand-parents, know when to come together and what their reasonable limits of social control are. That is what I mean by agency. Better than the law, which has important uses, is social courtesy and responsible social restraining actions that bring understanding to those ignorant of proper urban behavior.

    Really, you’ve never seen a driver get into a verbal exchange with someone behind them on a bus? I certainly have and I’m lucky if I average more than one bus trip a week.

    I doubt that Mary is a regular bus rider. She is some kind of car rider generally is my guess. As such the bus is a back up mode of transit for her. I certainly wish the CTA could accommodate her concerns. But until that date she needs to not be bashing the bus system for not being able to accommodate her but be glad that the system exists and is providing the benefit of less congestion for her car trips. Others are sacrificing for her benefit. She needs to be more appreciative. IMHO.

    And no the driver is not intended to be responsible for crowd control. Just as there isn’t enough money available to the CTA to assure there will always be seat on the bus, so is there not enough money to pay for a “security” blanket – errr- guard on every bus. Empowering employees in the sense of employee security guards maybe but not until the money is there. In the mean time every one will need to suck it up and do their part to make the best of difficult situations. And sometimes that is to just grin and bear it.

  • Courtney

    I’m really sorry Mary has had such unpleasant experiences on the bus. I can’t say I LOVE taking the bus most of the time but the 147 is one of my faves, provided it doesn’t get stuck in traffic on Sheridan Ave and Michigan Ave. Speed up bus service by having more bus only lanes (even if it’s only during rush hour traffic that is a HUGE success and it sends a message to car drivers that they are not the priority mode of transportation in this city), BRT, all-door boarding, etc.
    Aside from that, I’d love it if my fellow passengers (bus and train) didn’t wear toxic noxious perfumes and colognes and didn’t subject everyone to their phone conversations or music choices.

  • You can also throw in a wuss mayor who is afraid to back a real BRT. Rahm and Gabe Klein had barely said the words BRT and the CTA already had the blue prints done. You know they are chomping at the bit for a shot at a real BRT.

  • Carter O’Brien

    That’s actually my point – train conductors are far more active dealing with these problems. I have never been on a train where they didn’t respond to the alarm quickly, and/or they routinely ride herd on people standing in doorways using the intercom.

    I’m not a fancy CTA rider, but with well over 40 years of ridership I feel confident saying that bus drivers are not even half as active as they were before all the new technology/new buses arrived. I doin’t expect a security guard on the bus. I do expect the driver to exert the same authority we’d see from a schoolbus driver or a freaking school hall monitor. Otherwise, no, we don’t need you, and we can’t afford you. I take multiple buses and all of them are getting worse/more impersonal, with drivers not so much as even looking at you as you board (irritating as when I take my kid the burden is on me to get the driver to trigger the discounted fare), stopping a bus length away from the actual stop (happened to me in the Loop earlier today).

    I suggest we give Mary Mitchell some benefit of the doubt, understanding that her perspective is not only as important as ours, but that way too many in the urban planning/transportation set are not people in their middle age-and later years. What may not be an inconvenience to you may be a major struggle for others.

  • My complaint with Mary is that she wrote her article not as constructive criticism but simply as a cheap shot. Your concerns, on the other hand, even where I may disagree, clearly are meant as constructive criticism.

  • FlamingoFresh

    What happened to just speaking up if you see something wrong taking place. Why does it have to be just on the bus driver. The bus driver’s main duty is to driver the bus, hence the job title. Yes they should be responsible for regulating what goes on the bus but at the same time there’s a ton of other things going on at the exact same time. It’d be naive to think a bus driver is capable of being bouncer while at the same time operating a bus on the bus streets of Chicago. Buses do get busy, and there are blind spots on board, and people do stand, so expecting the driver to have an eye on everything while operating a motor vehicle on the road is impossible. Yes there’s a line between what situations you should and should not get involved in on the bus and it’s at that point you alert the bus driver if it’s something you don’t want to deal with.

    People nowadays rather take a back seat and ignore a situation if it doesn’t affect them rather than address it for the betterment of society. For a species that has the most free will out of any known living organism, it’s surprising that most people rather stay quiet and keep to themselves, kind of like plants.

  • Carter O’Brien

    You are confusing bus drivers with truck drivers. Bus drivers are not simply tasked with moving goods from point A to point B. They move people. I’ve been riding the bus my whole life. CTA drivers used to not only do a much better job of keeping an eye on their bus (up to and *regularly* including physically escorting people off of the bus, something I saw on at least a weekly basis as a kid), but they did so while also having to ensure that cash fares were the proper amount.

    This is exactly my point: “you alert the bus driver if it’s something you don’t want to deal with” The drivers are now totally desensitized to their passengers due to that plastic shield.

    This has nothing to do with people “nowadays,” this has to do with CTA slowly but surely divesting itself of what were core duties. Again, they will reap what they sow – you can rest assured there are plenty of bean counters salivating at the idea of just replacing these folks with self-driving vehicles.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Ahem: http://www.americasjobexchange.com/transit-bus-driver-job-description

    Transit Bus Driver

    Job Summary
    Responsible for transporting people from one place to
    another for work, errands, school, or other reasons. Takes fares from
    passengers, issues receipts, announces routes, and ensures passengers
    get out safely.

    Primary responsibilities

    Transport people from one place to another on a transit bus.
    Operate bus by applying brakes, starting and stopping engine.
    Drive regular routes on a schedule.
    Announce next destinations.
    Transport passengers on chartered trips or sightseeing tours.
    Drive through traffic and obey traffic laws.
    Deal with unruly passengers.
    Stop frequently, often only a few blocks apart and when a passenger requests a stop.
    Collect fares and issue change.
    Answer questions about schedules, routes, and transfer points.
    Report accidents or other traffic disruptions to a central dispatcher, and follow directions when using an alternate route.
    Assist disabled passengers.
    Check the bus tires, lights, and oil and do other basic maintenance.
    Follow state and federal transit regulations.
    Keep passengers informed of delays.

  • FlamingoFresh

    I addressed that in my previous comment. It’s part of their responsibility but they have other duties as well. There’s also instances when it is the bus driver’s responsibility but it can easily be taken care of by anyone else on the bus. I don’t take the bus to instill a good values onto the fellow riders, I take to bus to get to my destination, so I’d rather be delayed as little as possible. I’m not going to continue arguing about this. I just hope you don’t sit on your hands when you see something that is not right just because it’s not “your responsibility”. Maybe your good deed will inspire someone. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L5ya8J-jyK4

  • Jeremy

    I get peeved every time I see a bus driver pull away from the curb before an elderly person is seated. This is either bad training or employee indifference. Again, if the CTA was concerned with improving service, they would periodically ask users’ opinions.

  • Carter O’Brien

    “I don’t take the bus to instill a good values onto the fellow riders, I take to bus to get to my destination, so I’d rather be delayed as little as possible.”

    And the hypocrisy comes out. Well, you and everyone else feel this way. This is exactly why trying to “crowdsource” social norm enforcement on a bus doesn’t work. I didn’t say there aren’t times to speak up, I said that the CTA needs to do a LOT better job of leading by example and articulating what exactly warrants speaking up.

    I’m willing to bet that I’ve done orders of magnitude more than you on this front, which is why I will stick to inserting myself when someone’s physical safety seems to be in jeopardy. You ever done that? Let me know when you have, it requires a little more courage than posting anonymously on the Internet.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Yes. I can’t remember the last time CTA actually did a bona fide user survey, but they didn’t seem to learn much from it if they did.

    Bottom line here IMO is Mary Mitchell speaks for a sizeable community of public transit users. CTA ignores her and that community at their peril.

  • Carter O’Brien

    I think her constructive criticism is that CTA needs to rethink the “average” user they are designing their trains and buses for. And it’s not IMO productive or acceptable for the young, healthy set to simply tell people of her generation to suck it up.

  • FlamingoFresh

    I’m a flamingo so none of what you said pertains to me, but it seems I’ve struck a chord with you. Now that you’re all jazzed up, get out there and make the city a better place.

  • Carter O’Brien

    I’ve got that covered, but thanks for the thought. Report back when you’ve got some specifics to share!

  • I have no idea of who you are talking about. I don’t know who you believe “her generation” to be. “young, healthy set”? Who are they? And then there is some entity the CTA. The CTA is a number of people of different thoughts not a single thinking mind.

    For Ms Mitchell the CTA is the “transport of last resort”. So as you can see she has multiple other choices available. So why is she bashing the CTA. I assume because it’s an easy cheap shot of a column to write.

    “But the biggest challenge CTA faces is the perception that public transportation is just not safe.” That is not my perception. Is it yours, Carter? I would like to see the polling. She mentions a 16% rise. But if it’s a change of 10s or 100s of incidents over millions of rides that’s a nothing statistic.

    And her example of “disgusting behavior”:

    “I’ve witnessed a lot of other disgusting behavior on buses, like
    able-bodied adults hogging the seats reserved for senior citizens and
    people with disabilities”. Rude perhaps but not disgusting.

    And how about this concern of Ms Mithcells’s:

    “So, how do we make buses sexy?” she asked.

    Hmmm. How about this.

    Try making sure buses are safe, clean, dependable and able to transport passengers with some degree of dignity.”

    Carter what is your experience on buses. My are that they are safe, clean, dependable and with a definite degree of dignity.

    I’m sorry but Ms Mitchell doesn’t even have an axe to grind. Her only grinding seems to be grinding out a column that easily gets heads nodding because everyone has experienced those events from time to time. But really? Are there numbers there to support them?

  • Carter O’Brien

    The CTA’s public education campaign would be IMO a crystal clear indicator of the challenge. And I have taken the bus in some form for my whole life. The experience varies. Sometimes, all is peachy, no doubt. But I would love to take you back to 1985 to take the Halsted bus from Wellington to Roosevelt and the opposite. The late night Belmont is also a treat these days, there are in general a sad number of mentally ill people on the bus and trains these days. Easier to live with as a guy than a lady.

    But with respect to Mary Mitchell, why assume she is lying? Are hundreds of people calling her out for this?

    And I know CTA is not some monolithic being. I would also agree there are later societal issues (see: mental health clinic closings) that are a factor. Doesn’t change the fact that they are moving in a more hands-off direction when it comes to problems. Hell, the people who work at my L stop could be replaced by robots tomorrow and few would notice. I really love and rely on CTA, it is not out of joy that I say any of this, it is to reinforce that a LOT of people will not use CTA due to these kinds of issues. So let’s stop making excuses for it and demand solutions. As you say, it is our agency after all.

  • Anne A

    I agree. If CTA wants to increase ridership, they need to better accommodate the real “average” user. One example:

    Traffic situations may be beyond drivers’ control. That being said, rough braking is a big problem for a lot of people – being able to stay on their feet if they’re standing, being able to hold onto things they’re carrying, being able to stay in their seats in extreme situations, and avoiding motion sickness. Rough braking can cause injuries and also create awkward situations when someone goes flying and lands on someone else.

    Even if rough braking was reduced by half, this would be a noticeable improvement.

  • Anne A

    I would LOVE to see CTA do customer surveys.

  • Dennis McClendon

    Um, when was the last time you were actually on a CTA train? CTA hasn’t had conductors since 1997.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Conductors, operators, whatever. I was on three today – how about you?

  • PublicServant

    CTA has conducted three recent customer satisfaction surveys (2011, 2013, and 2016), and heard from thousands of riders… but more is always better. Please contact CTA with any concerns and/or suggestions; its employees do listen, do care, and are also riders and taxpayers.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Here to quickly give due props to the 146 drivers in the morning, this line has consistently great folks!

  • Carter O’Brien

    Is the problem the Mayor, CDOT, IDOT, or some combo of all three? Folks I know who primarily drive do think it’s the stupidest thing they’ve ever heard, pointing out how much real estate has already been taken up for median planters.

  • Drivers being the problem of course. Congestion in the city is never solvable by more cars or more roads. Congestion in the city is a geometry problem. In Tokyo Japan you need to show proof that you have a place to park your car before you can register one. Ashland has plenty of room, the drivers just need to decide do they want a parking lane or a travel lane. If they can’t decide then there is always the suburbs that are designed specifically for cars.

  • I don’t assume Mitchell is lying. I assume she has a slant that is in the opposite direction as mine.

    My guess is that if we said to her that we agreed a 100% with her and that therefore we wanted to get more money into the CTA budget that she would not agree with us. She would go on about the CTA’s bloated bureaucracy and various inefficiencies and say why through good money after bad.

    Where you and I see the great job they are doing getting major projects done on time and within budget, she sees other things.

    Yes I would agree that the CTA is stuck in the American paradigm of spending way more than Europeans for the same bits of construction, but I believe that is a cultural reality larger than the CTA that the CTA is trapped within as well.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Drivers vote, and politicians that ignore that reality will find themselves replaced. So unless you want to go back to the drawing board every 4 or 8 years, there needs to be a better case made to demonstrate how we can transition people from driving to public transit. The problem as I see it is too many transit advocates are looking at simply one street in isolation – people who drive are generally doing so for practical reasons that go far beyond just the speed of one single bus on one single street. Many people take Ashland to one of the highways to reverse commute to jobs in the burbs, for example. Telling them “just move to the burbs” is as likely to go over like a lead balloon as if I told every suburbanite that moves here and is making the CTA crowded to move back to Barrington or wherever it is they came from.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Hmm. You may be right there, I don’t know. I do know that many people do not appreciate the conditions under which CTA and CDOT have to operate. Retrofitting public transit onto a City with so many cars is beyond a heavy lift, as closing streets to do work quickly and efficiently results in awful PR. But if you could help people like Mitchell see a connection between more frequent and efficient service and a more comfortable experience, that would help IMO.

  • You are right that one street at a time is half-assed. The need is there to do quite a number of streets at one time. Ashland, Western and Cicero for north south and Peterson, Lawrence, Irving, Belmont, Fullerton, North and Division for the east west. I don’t know the south side well but likely 35th, 55th and 79th for sure for east/west. I would start it piecemeal with stretches of bus only lanes especially within a mile of an el stop before moving on to better BRT implementation. I would take away parking bit by bit, first rush hour and later full day. In metered areas I would first surge rate rush hour parking before moving it around the corner on side streets. I would give the residents losing a quarter to a half block of free parking permit parking on the remaining spaces on their blocks and the next ones. I would buy single family houses on the alleys behind the lost business parking for mini-lots.

    Attacking parking is easier than attacking driving because there are more drivers than there are small business owners. Besides most residents losing free parking out front have their own garages out back.

  • Yes I agree the challenge is creating the right images of what a good transit is supposed to look like is a challenge.

    Actually first they retro-fitted cars into the city not designed for them and now we are trying to un-retro-fit the damage that the car retro-fit caused. :)

  • Carter O’Brien

    I find your ideas intriguing and I would like to subscribe to your newsletter…

    Seriously, these are great thoughts. Would love to grab a beer with you some time, carterobrien- @ – Gmail

  • Elizabeth

    I don’t quite understand why Mary Mitchell is so shocked that the general PUBLIC rides on PUBLIC transportation. I mean, yes, some people are fat. Sometimes fat people ride the bus. It’s not a crime and it’s also not a horrifying nightmare scenario to ride for a few miles with someone else’s leg touching yours (I say this as a thin person who fits easily into one seat and who has spend many bus rides touching fat people without combusting or melting down from horror). That whole bit about how repulsive and disgusting it is to be (gasp) in physical contact with another human being was just totally weird and body-shaming.

    I also don’t understand why occasional petty theft or jerk behavior is supposed to be a huge black mark against the CTA when it’s something that happens everywhere. Does this lady live a charmed life where nobody outside the bus ever has obnoxious phone conversations or refuses to be considerate to the elderly/disabled? Is this a thing she literally only experiences on buses? Can I move to whatever fantasy world she inhabits (except, apparently, for the CTA)?

  • Love to. I’m the older tall guy (not Steven Vance) at the Streetsblog get togethers. I live in Edgewater near Granville/Broadway. I have a lot of free time. Even some mornings during the work week. But not sure I have much more to say. Well not much more as sane as the stuff above.