The Frozen (Molten?) Snot Century: Mission to Madison


Photo of this year’s Frozen Snot Century trip by Adam Wonak

Back in 2005 when Illinois Governor Pat Quinn was second-in-command under Blago, he did cyclists a huge favor by bullying Metra into allowing bikes on board. This opened up a whole new world of options for affordable, car-free road trips because, even after the commuter rail system hiked its fares last year, a weekend pass is a mere seven bucks.

You can hop the Union Pacific North Line all the way up to Kenosha, Wisconsin, then pedal 35 miles to downtown Milwaukee – it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than Amtrak, whose Hiawatha service to Cream City costs $46 roundtrip and doesn’t allow unboxed bicycles. Or bike 30 miles south from the Loop via trails to Munster, Indiana, for gourmet burgers and craft beers at Three Floyds, a heavy metal-loving brewpub, then spin ten miles west to Flossmoor Station Brewery, where you can catch a lift home at the adjacent Metra stop.

Continue reading The Frozen (Molten?) Snot Century: Mission to Madison

What keeps an El car from falling off the tracks on tight curves?


1977 derailment at Wabash and Lake – photo by Mark Llanuza

[This piece also ran in Time Out Chicago magazine.]

Q: Since I’ve switched from the straight-shot Red Line to the winding Brown Line, where you often feel like you’re about to ride right off the rails (and right into a nearby condo building), I’ve been wondering: At what speed would El trains hitting sharp curves come off the tracks?

A: A CTA train’s extremely low center of gravity and speed limits allow it to safely navigate the El’s many curves, according to spokeswoman Catherine Hosinski. As a train goes around a bend, like the tight S-curve on the Brown and Purple Lines just north of the Merchandise Mart, the car may seem to sway at an impossible angle, but most of the weight is still directed straight down, Hosinski says. This overcomes centrifugal force and keeps the wheels on the rails. “Also, a train’s speed through each curve is limited by the automated train control system,” she says. “This system enforces a maximum train speed that’s much lower than the speed that could cause a train to leave the rails.”

Continue reading What keeps an El car from falling off the tracks on tight curves?

Fatality Tracker: Woman dies after being hit by Rock Island Metra train


2012 fatality stats*:
Pedestrian: 3
Pedalcyclist: 0
Transit: 0

Updated March 16, 2012: I’ve recategorized this as a pedestrian death, and not a transit death. Also changed the deceased’s home location and corrected the Street View.

Gardenia Boyer, 23, from the Brainerd neighborhood, was struck and killed by an empty Metra train at 95th Street and Vincennes Avenue on the Rock Island branch going south towards Blue Island, Illinois. It happened on Wednesday morning, around 7 AM. She was walking east on 95th Street. There are two tracks here. Walking on 95th Street never seems like a good idea: the first fatality tracker post was about two people killed while crossing 95th Street. She had two daughters.  Continue reading Fatality Tracker: Woman dies after being hit by Rock Island Metra train

Talking Transportation with 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar


Continuing with our project to interview all 50 aldermen about sustainable transportation, I recently caught up with Ameya Pawar (A-MAY-ah Puh-WAR) at the 47th Ward service office, 4243 N. Lincoln. His ward includes parts of Lakeview, Roscoe Village, North Center, Roscoe Village and Lincoln Square.

After longtime alderman Eugene Schulter retired last year, Pawar ran a grassroots campaign that defeated Schulter ally Tommy O’Donnell, making Pawar Chicago’s first Asian-American alderman and, at age 30, the youngest current member of City Council. So far he’s shown himself to be a strong advocate for walking, biking and transit, as well as environmentally sustainable street design.

His staff includes Transportation Planner Bill Higgins, a former colleague of Steven’s from UIC’s urban planning program. After studying the ward’s existing bikeways, Higgins proposed building the city’s first neighborhood greenway (AKA bike boulevard, a traffic-calmed, bike-and-pedestrian-priority side street) in the ward on Berteau Avenue (4200 N.) from Lincoln Avenue to Clark Street.

In our interview, Pawar and I discussed his commuting habits, the upcoming Lawrence Avenue streetscape and road diet and the proposal for a new retail and housing development in conjunction with Metra’s Ravenswood station rehab. We also talked about plans for relocating bus stops, his idea to pilot Portland-style street murals as traffic calming, and whether Berteau is a good location for the neighborhood greenway.

Continue reading Talking Transportation with 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar

Local transit authorities Tracy Swartz and Greg Borzo celebrate the CTA


Note Greg’s CTA map necktie. See more photos from the event.

Tuesday night I dropped by a meet-up for Active Transportation Alliance’s Riders for Better Transit campaign featuring Chicago writers Greg Borzo and Tracy Swartz at the Blue Frog, 22 E. Hubbard. Greg wrote the book The Chicago “L,” a very thorough history with lots of great archival photos. Greg also wrote the book Where to Bike Chicago, and contributed a chapter to the new anthology On Bicycles by Momentum magazine cofounder Amy Walker. Tracy writes the CTA-centric weekly column “Going Public” for RedEye. Since April 2009 she’s been riding a different CTA bus line every week, and in December she completed the last route, an impressive accomplishment.

Continue reading Local transit authorities Tracy Swartz and Greg Borzo celebrate the CTA

The plan for Union Station


Accessing Union Station is done by many modes, but each has its own challenges and annoyances. 

Over 50 people attended the 4:30 PM presentation of the Union Station master plan in the Union Gallery on Thursday. The Chicago Department of Transportation is the lead agency on this project even though it may have less at stake in the plan. It’s more likely to lead a fair planning process than if Amtrak, the station’s owner, or Metra, the station’s busiest user, led the master plan. After the presentation, visitors were able to speak directly with staff from the stakeholders and partners (see full list at end).

The plan divides goals and objectives into short, medium, and long term ideas.

Two short term projects are already in the works and each has received funding. They are the “Central Area East-West Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project” and “Union Station Transportation Center”, which I’ll also call an intermodal center, as it gets people from buses onto trains and vice versa. The BRT project includes bus priority lanes and intersection priority (buses can go before other traffic) on Canal, Clinton, Madison, and Washington (see embedded map). The BRT application also indicates a Madison Street bike lane will be installed (which already happened) and an eastbound bike lane will be “considered”. The intermodal center will include stair, elevator, and escalator access to an existing underground walkway into Union Station. Continue reading The plan for Union Station