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

Bus-ted: are CTA drivers ever ticketed for traffic violations?


Photo by Mark Susina.

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

Q: When CTA bus drivers commit traffic violations, like driving through a red light, are they ever ticketed? I can’t recall seeing a policeman pull a bus driver over, so I imagine tickets just get sent directly to the CTA, right? And in those cases, do the drivers have to pay the tickets themselves, or are they otherwise penalized? How many tickets before they get canned? Is it a three-strikes policy or something?

A: Police do ticket bus operators, but this is “rare, especially considering the number of miles CTA buses travel each day,” agency spokeswoman Catherine Hosinski says. Bus drivers are responsible for paying fines associated with a traffic stop, and receiving a ticket on duty is considered a CTA safety violation. “Operators can be dismissed if they have accrued up to four safety violations within a two-year period,” Hosinski says. “However, a serious safety violation could result in immediate termination.”

But if a red-light camera records a bus blowing a stoplight, the agency pays the fine, Hosinski says. Though she wouldn’t say how much the CTA shelled out on red-light tickets recently, in 2008, the agency reportedly paid 1,194 fines at $100 a pop — $119,400. The policy of the agency picking up the red-light tickets was instituted due to pressure from the bus drivers union, and Hosinski says it streamlined the process of disciplining the drivers, since operators previously had the choice to either pay the fee themselves or contest the ticket in court, which delayed the CTA disciplinary process.

Charles Paidock of the CTA watchdog group Citizens Taking Action argues the rule is fair. “There’s pressure on the drivers to maintain schedules.” he says. “And things are going to happen in the process of operating a vehicle on city streets.”

Construction of the 55th Street protected bike lane and road diet began Wednesday

55th PBL installation, Wednesday 27 June

The eastbound bike lane begins at this bus stop at Cottage Grove Avenue. 

Erik Swedlund shares these photos taken Wednesday and today of construction on 55th Street between Cottage Grove Avenue and Woodlawn Avenue.

Room for the cycle track is made possible by removing a travel lane in each direction. Elements of this project that are different from previous bike lane projects in Chicago are the mixed traffic areas for right-turn lanes and bus stops. Continue reading Construction of the 55th Street protected bike lane and road diet began Wednesday

Streetcar desire: John Krause wants trams on Clark Street


Krause is tired of going Nuts on Clark waiting for for the slow-moving #22 bus.

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

Acid jazz pulsed on the sound system as a group of stylishly dressed transit fans clinked wine glasses last week at Vapiano, a sleek Italian restaurant at 2577 North Clark Street in Lincoln Park. They were there to launch the Chicago Streetcar Renaissance, a campaign to create a world-class streetcar line on Clark from the Loop to Wrigley Field, and eventually add lines in other parts of the city.

“Our mission is to grow the economy and the population of Chicago every year while reducing traffic congestion and making the city easier to get around,” says John Krause, 45, the architect who founded the movement, nattily attired in jeans and a dove-gray sports jacket. “That means every year there will be more people and fewer cars, more commerce and less congestion.”

He has a vision of the clogged traffic and the notoriously sluggish buses on Clark replaced by efficient, comfortable streetcars, more pedestrian traffic, on-street cafés and broad bike lanes. “The only way you can get rid of cars is to replace them with something better,” he explains. “In a car paradigm everybody assumes the city is going to grow more and more congested. But a public transit system is the opposite. The more people who use public transit, the better it gets.”

Continue reading Streetcar desire: John Krause wants trams on Clark Street