First CTA fare hike in four years begins today


A Blue Line train towards O’Hare approaches the UIC-Halsted station. CTA has added more runs to the O’Hare branch, in its “plan to reduce crowding” (more commonly called “decrowding plan”), which are short-turned at UIC-Halsted station. Photo by Jeff Zoline. 

The 55% of Chicago Transit Authority passengers who use passes will see an increase in their per-trip fare when they buy new passes or reload a Chicago Card Plus today. This is the first fare increase since January 2009. (See the full schedule of fares on CTA’s website.)

My friend Ryan Lakes, an architect, bike polo player, and West Town Bikes volunteer in Humboldt Park, strongly recommended I watch “Taken For A Ride“, a documentary about the systematic dismantling of rail transit in tens of cities nationwide, and the conversion of those routes to diesel buses manufactured by General Motors. I strongly recommend it, too. It was released in 1996, but watching it today shows me how transit history repeats itself.

Continue reading First CTA fare hike in four years begins today

Top 5 lists: essential parks, walking, biking and transit stories of 2012


The Dearborn Street two-way protected bike lane.

In 2012 the Emanuel administration kept the momentum going for walking, biking, transit and public space improvements, with a number of big projects announced and/or completed. For Newcity magazine’s annual “Top 5 of Everything” issue, I submitted the following lists of the most important or interesting sustainable transportation and parks stories of the year. Did I miss anything?

Top 5 Wheelie Exciting Chicago Bicycling Stories

Hundreds of cyclists provide input for 645-mile Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 network

Comrade Cycles, Chicago’s first worker-owned bike shop, opens in Ukrainian Village

Couriers from around the globe gather here for Cycle Messenger World Championships

Final plans for Bloomingdale trail and “linear park” released; construction slated for 2013

CDOT builds Chicago’s first two-way protected bike lane downtown on Dearborn Street


Bollywood dancing at Open Streets on Milwaukee Avenue.

Top 5 Not-So-Pedestrian Local Walking Stories

Chicago’s speed camera ordinance passes, paving the way for safer walking conditions

Make Way for People plan to turn alleys, cul-de-sacs and parking spots into mini parks

City releases first-ever comprehensive Pedestrian Plan

Open Streets ciclovia expands to include Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park / Bucktown

Mayor Emanuel announces $100 million plan to complete the Chicago Riverwalk


The CTA Yellow Line’s new Oakton-Skokie station. Photo by Jeff Zoline.

Top 5 Rapidly Developing Transit Stories

CTA announces 5-month closure of south Red Line, $240 million 95th St. station rehab

Both CTA and Metra hike farecard prices

Sparkling new CTA stations open at Green/Pink Morgan and Yellow Oakton-Skokie

Amtrak train hits 111 MPH downstate, paving the way for high-speed service to St. Louis

Jeffery Jump debuts; plans for bus rapid transit downtown, and on Western, Ashland


Park district rendering of Northerly Island redesign.

Top 5 Blossoming Chicago Park District Stories

Rahm announces $290 million plan for 800 parks & rec projects citywide in next 5 years

Construction starts on four new boathouses along the Chicago River

$5 million Northerly Island rehab will add topography, native habitats and campsites

Take the Field plan earmarks $12 million for sports fields in underserved communities

North Grant Park, now Maggie Daley Park, will get climbing sculptures & skating ribbon

Strong Towns and Playborhoods: A talk with Charles Marohn and Mike Lanza


Mike Lanza and Charles Marohn. Photo by Steven.

Earlier this week New York-based livable streets activist Mark Gorton invited sustainable transportation leaders from around the country to Chicago for a discussion of ways to encourage the development of walkable, bikeable, transit-friendly communities across the nation. Gorton’s new campaign is tentatively called the American Streets Renaissance.

Dani Simons, director of the campaign, invited Steven and me to drop by after the meeting at the SRAM headquarters to interview two of the participants. Charles Marohn is executive director of Strong Towns, a nonprofit that promotes sustainable, fiscally responsible communities. Mike Lanza, author of the book Playborhood: Turn Your Neighborhood Into a Place for Play (buy on Amazon), advocates for public spaces that allow children to play and move about independently, fostering self-reliance.

John: Mike tell us about your book and the other projects you’re working on.

Mike: Sure. I write a blog and I’ve written a book about children and neighborhoods and play, the central idea being that children should be empowered by their parents and by their communities to be outside in their neighborhoods and to learn how to be independent. It’s something that used to be obvious to people a few generations ago but today it’s very uncommon for children to have independent lives on their own in their neighborhoods. In my mind, the immediate neighborhood right outside their front door, that means their yard, their block, is the foundation to having independent mobility, to being able to ride their bike to school, to walk to school and go to retail stores.

And so I write about other communities outside of my own that have done some very innovative things. I also write a lot about what I’ve done and my own personal journey and trying to make what I call a “playborhood,” a neighborhood of play for kids in my community. One important part of it is making a third place if you will, a neighborhood hangout for kids right where they live. It’s something that has left American life. We used to have places where we could just show up and see people we know, like the Cheers bar. As a kid, I had a street right next to my house where we used to play ball all the time. So having one place to go where you can feel that there’s a pretty decent probability there will be other kids, there’s something to do, there’s a place where you can just show up and hang out with people, is really important.

Continue reading Strong Towns and Playborhoods: A talk with Charles Marohn and Mike Lanza

A great leap forward? Riding the entire Jeffery Jump express bus route


7:58am After waking up at an ungodly hour, cycling to the CTA’s Fullerton stop, riding the Red Line south to 95th Street and pedaling a few more miles to the 103rd Street & Stony Island garage terminal, I board a shiny blue J14 Jeffery Jump express bus. As I load my cruiser onto the front bike rack, the driver calls out the open door, “Could you hurry up please? I gotta go.”

Launched on November 5, the Jump is a new service that’s the transit agency’s first venture into bus rapid transit (BRT), systems that create subway-like speeds for buses via car-free lanes and other timesavers. The Jump, funded with an $11 million Federal Transportation Administration grant, isn’t full-blown BRT. But it does include several pioneering features that will hopefully pave the way for bolder bus corridors downtown and on Ashland and Western avenues later this decade. I’m here to ride the entire sixteen-mile route from the Far South Side to the Loop, to see how these elements are working out.

Continue reading A great leap forward? Riding the entire Jeffery Jump express bus route

Bike share, not white share: can Chicago’s program achieve diversity?


B-Cycle, a small-scale bike share system that launched here in 2010. Photo by Michael Malecki.

[This piece also appeared in Checkerboard City, John’s weekly transportation column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets in print on Thursdays.]

There’s a common misconception that transportation biking is only for privileged white folks. Recently Tribune columnist John Kass expressed this attitude when he dismissed cyclists as “the One Percenters of the Commuter Class,” but in reality people from all walks of life use bikes to get around. Many of these folks are the so-called “invisible riders,” low-income individuals who ride, not because they’re looking to get exercise or save the planet, but because they need cheap, efficient transportation.

Chicago’s new bike-sharing system, slated to launch next spring and grow to 4,000 vehicles by the end of the year, is a great opportunity to broaden the demographics of cycling here to include more residents from underserved neighborhoods and communities of color. By providing cycles for short-term use, to be ridden from one automated rental kiosk to another, it will function as a second public transportation system and remove some of the major obstacles to cycling: the need to purchase, store and maintain a bike, plus fear of theft.

The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) will first install rental kiosks in the Loop and nearby neighborhoods, but coverage will eventually expand to serve an area generally bounded by Devon Street, California Avenue, 63rd Street and Lake Michigan. The roughly 400 kiosks will be located at transit stations, retail and employment centers, schools, hospitals and other convenient places. Citizens can suggest locations at

Continue reading Bike share, not white share: can Chicago’s program achieve diversity?

New CTA buses and mid-life overhaul of more than 1,000 vehicles will avoid dismal situation 6 years ago

A 4400-series TMC RTS bus on State Street. Photo by Kevin Zolkiwicz.

I arrived in Chicago in 2006 to attend the University of Illinois at Chicago for a sociology and urban planning degree. I visited home in Batavia, Illinois, quite often. I took route 60-Blue Island/26th from campus to Northwestern Station to catch the Union Pacific-West line to Geneva. I distinctly remember how decrepit these buses were (this route seemed to have the oldest ones in the fleet, 4400-series TMC RTS). They lumbered; they were dark inside; they had stairs to climb aboard; passengers who wanted or needed to use the ramp had to spend several minutes waiting for the ramp to deploy and then be elevated.* I don’t know how much was just old design, no upgrades being made, or broken down equipment.

That was at a time of major service cuts, fare hikes, and deliberations about new legislation determining how to fund the Regional Transportation Authority and the three service boards it oversees (Chicago Transit Authority, Metra, and Pace).

The Chicago Transit Authority made announcements this year that should ensure this won’t happen again. Continue reading New CTA buses and mid-life overhaul of more than 1,000 vehicles will avoid dismal situation 6 years ago