On the first page of the Chicago Tribune on August 27 was a story about aisle-facing seating on the new Chicago Transit Authority’s 5000-series cars and how many people were unhappy with the setup. It was a case of inventing a story.
Then in the Sunday paper, on the “Chicago Week” page where the newspaper recaps a variety of stories it published since the previous Sunday, it summarized the story with the following:
Hey, can you move over a bit?
Not everyone’s happy with the CTA’s new rail cars and their aisle-facing seats, but the cars are likely here to stay. The transit agency spent $1.14 billion on the cars and reconfiguring the seats would require a major and expensive redesign. Riders have complained about having to ride with fellow commuters squeezed in on both sides and other passengers standing directly in front of them.
The photo included with the summary, embedded at the top, shows a majority of people (who are sitting) preoccupied with books and phones. One person sitting is giving the foreground standee the stink eye. This is hardly the photo to use to communicate the dislike that passengers have for the setup.
Hmm. I seem to recall that such a situation has been the norm for at least 100 years, ever since subways became crowded. It’s typical around the world, too, to have “passengers standing directly in front of them”. CTA has had aisle-facing seating since its inception, and even before. It’s present on all trains now. Additionally, the CTA tested the aisle-facing setup (also called longitudinal seating) in 2004 ago to garner customer reactions (it also collected feedback during prototype testing in 2010). The new train cars retain some seats that aren’t aisle-facing.
Passengers in 2010 again seem occupied with their own activities and not with their “across the aisle partner”. Photo by John Iwanski.
Kevin O’Neill, primary author of CTA Tattler, supports the seating, but would prefer bench seats (like on the New York City subway) instead of the single-person, molded seating. Bench seats “adapt” to the different widths of passengers and can theoretically provide more seats. O’Neill expressed his concern as far back as 2005.
That’s not all. The Chicago Tribune posted a letter to the editor in the same Sunday paper; the letter was representative of the comments on the Trib’s website, and on Vocalo:
This is in response to “‘L’ to get less elbow room; CTA’s new train cars cramp riders’ style – and shoulders, feet” (Page 1, Aug. 27).
I find the front-page position on the new CTA rail-car layout to be frustratingly one-sided.
Essentially the writer elevates the concerns of a few lucky individuals who are able to get seats – nearly impossible if you don’t board at one of the first train stops – above all the people stuck standing.
The current configuration, while perhaps more comfortable for sitters, is nearly impossible for standees, as we are left without almost anything to hold on to, and even less room to stand.
The new configuration makes a lot of sense and I’m grateful for it.
Also human bodies are human bodies; it is stilly to bring a Chicago-versus-New-York [sic] debate into the mix. N.Y.-style train cars work better, plain and simple; no need to get regional about it.
-Caryn Trombino, Chicago
I can see it now: Seated Passengers Coalition versus the Transit Standees Alliance. Regardless of the manufactured controversy, the new train design provides clear benefits over the previous design: one additional wheelchair (or bicycle) space, more standing room (making it easier to maneuver around other people and luggage), and more bars to hold. It seats one fewer person than the previous generation (3200-series), but far fewer than the three prior generations that are still in service (2200, 2400, 2600 series cars).
John says: “I dislike aisle seating. If you want to look out the window you have to pretend not to see the person across from you. I think it also makes it less comfortable to bring a bike on board.”
Grid Chicago is a blog about sustainable transportation matters, projects and culture in Chicago and Illinois, by John Greenfield and Steven Vance since June 2011.
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