Moving beyond the shock of CTA fare increases to doing something about it

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Drive? Drive! Photo by Dan O’Neill. 

I’m not going to try to make sense of the pending Chicago Transit Authority fare increases, why they’re necessary, or of Rahm’s insensitive remarks on Monday that he clarified yesterday. There are already great responses on these matters:

You will have to figure out for yourself if it’s still worth it to buy single or multi-day passes. Need a primer on what’s proposed to change? Check out the CTA’s FAQ (.pdf). The fare increases will be voted on by the CTA board on December 18, 2012, at 2:30 PM, and the increases would take effect January 14, 2013.

I’m going to try and inspire you to take action and give you some tools that may help lessen the impact on your household’s finances. Here are 12 ideas.

1. Illinois legislators control the CTA so you have to tell them how you feel about fare increases and transportation subsidy policies. They decide how much financial assistance transit agencies will get. Tell them which way you tend to vote. You can find their contact info on the Riders for Better Transit website.

2. There are pre-tax benefits available at supportive workplaces. Money is removed from your paycheck to purchase a cash transit card or a monthly pass before taxes are calculated. You can save hundreds of dollars per year. This applies to Metra and Pace riders, too. You cannot get this benefit individually: your employer most offer it. If they don’t, give your boss or HR manager this information. Learn more at LessTaxingCommute.com.

If you get pushback, educate your coworkers or contact Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) and Riders for Better Transit to see if they can help you reach out to company executives.

3. The mayor of Chicago and the governor of Illinois appoint four and three members to the CTA board, respectively. Direct your attention to those two.

4. The budget recommendations for the following budget year (2013) are created by CTA president Forrest Claypool and his staff and then presented to the appointed board members for their approval. If I kept better track of the board’s activity I could tell you if they’ve ever told the CTA president to revise the budget recommendations. You can speak to the board at two public meetings in December: Continue reading Moving beyond the shock of CTA fare increases to doing something about it

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Metra mischaracterizes why people buy 10-ride tickets

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A outbound Metra commuter rail train leaving the College Ave station in Wheaton, IL on a misty cold election night in November. Photo by Duane Rapp. 

“The 10-ride is meant as a convenience media, offered as a convenience to riders to save them from having to buy 10 one-ways,” said Metra spokesman Michael Gillis. (The 10-ride ticket costs as much as 9 rides.)

The 10-ride ticket is meant to save customers money and attract them to using transit; otherwise it wouldn’t have been priced at the cost of 9 one-way tickets. Saving money is why people pre-pay for several days worth of rides on Chicago Transit Authority and Pace. Selling tickets in bulk – the 10-ride ticket comes on a single piece of paper – saves Metra money, too. And when CTA and Pace customers use prepaid fares instead of cash, those agencies spend less money having to serve as banks and driving armored trucks around town. Continue reading Metra mischaracterizes why people buy 10-ride tickets

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New Wilson Red Line train station offers more flexibility, better looks, and a long wait

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The Gerber Building, at the corner of Wilson Avenue and Broadway, will be restored to original architectural heritage. 

The Chicago Transit Authority held an open house-style meeting on Thursday at Truman College (1145 W Wilson Avenue) in view of its subject, the Wilson Red Line train station (read last week’s article). The CTA’s plans, estimated to cost $203 million dollars, give the rebuilt station three entrances: the main entrance will be on the south side of Wilson Avenue; an auxiliary entrance will be on the north side of Wilson Avenue to the west of the Gerber Building (which hosts an entrance from Broadway currently); there will be an auxiliary entrance on Sunnyside Avenue with direct access to Target and Aldi stores.

CTA’s director of communications and media relations, Brian Steele, summarized the project:

The Wilson station will become a main transit hub along our north side corridor but also a community amenity. This is the the first new transfer station since Library in 1997 which will provide new flexible trip choices and a better transportation option in a vibrant community.

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Rendering of new Gerber Building.

One example of new trip choice is that commuters who are heading downtown in the morning starting from a Red Line station south of Howard can transfer to the Purple Line Express at Wilson instead of Belmont and potentially have a shorter trip. The ability to transfer at a station several stops from Belmont and Howard can help redistribute passengers amongst crowded Red Line trains and less crowded, but faster, Purple Line Express trains.

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Neighbors talk to CTA staff and view information display boards. 

Many website comments (here and other places) dealt with the local environment’s nature of having crime, drug deals, and people urinating. I asked Alderman James Cappleman (46th ward) at the open house to talk about some of these neighborhood issues.

He first noted that the Urban Land Institute (ULI) conducted a study about the station and environs, for the second time, which says that the addition of a new station (upgrade, renovation, new, it doesn’t make a difference), doesn’t by itself make a difference (here’s background information). Cappleman said it’s necessary to protect the affordable housing stock, and work with neighbors, police, schools, community groups, social services organizations, and police (he said it twice for emphasis), to reduce crime and poverty in the area.

He specifically mentioned that the arrest rate for drug abuse is over 10 times the city average, and that in the Census tract containing the train station, over 50% of households are considered to be below the poverty line (which changes often based on the nation’s changing incomes). The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, Cappleman explained, considers a “healthy community” to be one with 25% or fewer households below the poverty line. He ended with, “When that study’s released, we’ll start discussing how to deal with that [the relationship of the station to crime and perception of crime]”.

Joseph Musco attended the meeting, too, looking for insight and answers to the changing costs of the project, where they’re being spent, and their sources. He noted that the estimated cost of the project increased from $135 million in November 2011 to $203 million now. Don Gismandi, capital grants manager, was standing next to the funding sources chart and informed me that in the past year CTA has continued its engineering studies which resulted in more accurate cost estimates.

I asked CTA for a breakdown of costs, which they could not provide, as “project components as project plans have not yet been finalized” and “details on how much each project components will cost will also depend on the contractor selected following the competitive bid process, which is not expected to take place until early 2013”.

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Funding sources chart.

Here are other attributes of the project:

  • Construction will last 33 months during which the CTA will operate a neighborhood business campaign in the same style as the one it ran during the Brown Line Capacity Expansion Project. The station will remain open.
  • The Gerber Building will be restored and CTA, along with its real estate manager Jones Lang LaSalle, will seek the right developer to build out the space.
  • The viaduct that carries Track 4 will be removed; 4 tracks will be constructed.
  • All track and the track structure will be replaced with a concrete aerial viaduct, much like the viaduct at Belmont and Fullerton stations. This provides a smoother ride and is quieter for the neighborhood.
  • For accessibility, there will be an elevator at the main entrance and ramps at the Sunnyside Avenue auxiliary entrance.
  • View all photos for this story
  • View the display boards (.pdf)

Take Action

For more information, visit the CTA’s website. The CTA invites comments about the project:

Updated October 12 to correct quotes and paraphrasing of Alderman Cappleman. Added link to display boards. Added cost estimate quote from CTA. 

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Take action: Residents in 4 wards have opportunity to directly influence expenditure of $4 million on infrastructure

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The walls of the Mess Hall community center in Rogers Park are covered in project proposals, in 2010. Photo by Samuel Barnett. See more photos from Barnett.

Major updates, 11:17 AM

We received an email Participatory Budgeting Chicago manager Thea Crum, at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s (UIC) Great Cities Institute, that four alderman will be conducting participatory budgeting in their wards, committing $4 million in discretionary spending (which is short of the $5.2 million in menu funds they have available).

The four alderman are:

  • Leslie Hairston, 5th
  • John Arena, 45th
  • James Cappleman, 46th (see details below)
  • Joe Moore, 49th

Continue reading Take action: Residents in 4 wards have opportunity to directly influence expenditure of $4 million on infrastructure

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Final Bloomingdale Trail meeting presents nearly final designs and plans

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The Bloomingdale Trail design team, a consortium of engineers, planners, artists, and horticulture experts from Chicago and around the country, presented their latest designs at the final public meeting on Monday night at the Humboldt Park field house. The elevated park’s design was divided into 7 segments and printed on enormous posters in two rooms. An eighth segment summarized the phenology planting concept and artwork scattered across the Bloomingdale Trail.

I inspected many of the designs and listened to people express their admiration, excitement, as well as lingering concerns. They included:

  • How tall is the privacy screen? 10 feet; the privacy screen consists of a metal mesh wall covered in plants.
  • Will traffic configurations change on Lawndale Avenue or Bloomingdale Avenue? Nope.
  • How are fast cyclists going to be slowed down? This question has been answered identically at every meeting: the design team has implemented a variety of solutions including horizontal and vertical “deflection” that serve to calm traffic. In this author’s opinion, the mix of traffic (people walking, jogging, pushing strollers, rolling on mobility devices) will slow cyclists.

Enjoy the designs (view the full set of photos). When available, we will publish the digital versions of these images. A comment card at the meeting indicated that this was the final period for neighbors to make comments about the designs (email them to info@bloomingdaletrail.org). Read our past coverage of the project.

Update: Less than 2 hours after posting, the digital images are available. Download a 3 MB .pdf file Continue reading Final Bloomingdale Trail meeting presents nearly final designs and plans

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Making bus transit a priority on Western and Ashland Avenues

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Active Trans staffer Lee Crandell talks to Enrique Rico. The three poster boards are displayed at the bottom. 

Riders for Better Transit is reaching out to bus riders across the city to inform them about plans to build better bus service on Western Avenue or Ashland Avenue (or both?). They visited six bus stops last week with informational posters. Lee Crandell, campaigns director for Active Transportation Alliance, was staffing the exhibit at 18th Street and Ashland Avenue in Pilsen when I visited last Wednesday. One goal of the outreach, Crandell said, was to “make a public meeting in the street for those who couldn’t attend” the static meetings.

When I arrived, Enrique Rico was waiting for the northbound Ashland 9 bus. I noticed the next bus was coming so I tried to ask Rico a quick question before leaving, starting with if he had heard of BRT (bus rapid transit) before now. He said he hadn’t, but Crandell informed me that Rico had told him earlier he was familiar with the enhanced bus services in Mexico City. The Metropolitan Planning Council, a major sponsor of this traveling exhibit, had sent a few of its staff members to Mexico City to explore the 4 line Metrobús system that opened in 2005. Continue reading Making bus transit a priority on Western and Ashland Avenues

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