There’s a lack of cooperation in the region’s transportation authorities


A South Shore train travels between northern Indiana and downtown Chicago. It’s not a member of the Regional Transportation Authority of Illinois. Photo by Seth Anderson. 

The Regional Transportation Authority is a financial administrator and cooperative service planner at the top of the Chicagoland transit hierarchy. Or at least it’s supposed to be. But transit in Chicagoland doesn’t act regionally, and hasn’t for a long time (if ever). Here’s the evidence:

1. Suburban county board member perpetuates the myth that Metra = suburbs and CTA = Chicago

DuPage County Chairman Dan Cronin is quoted in the Daily Herald about an “impasse” in how to distribute some funds amongst the RTA’s three member agencies. The CTA normally would get 99% of this particular pot, but the RTA is proposing it only gets 95%. (Note that CTA provides 82% or rides and receives 49% of region’s funding.)

“The money is collected from all the taxpayers in the region, the majority of whom reside in the suburbs. Why should we subsidize the CTA more than we already are?” he asked. “They seem to care little for their neighbors in the suburbs.”

Each transit agency operates routes and stations in and outside the Chicago city limits. Each has connecting service within and between municipalities, Chicago and not Chicago. Thousands of Chicagoans take Metra daily for work and other purposes to other points within and without Chicago. Thousands of people who don’t live in Chicago ride the CTA. It’s likely true that a majority of Metra’s weekday passengers don’t live in Chicago, though it doesn’t matter where they come from.

Typecasting transit agencies and their respective passengers based on the attributes of where they live and not the place of where they live – the place matters in order to know where service should go – inhibits the slight progression transit has been making in the region in the past decade.

RTA Chairman John Gates’s heart is in the right place when he said, “This is a regional agency, we have to reach a regional consensus.”

Continue reading There’s a lack of cooperation in the region’s transportation authorities

The best Chicago transit apps for iOS 6 devices


I have 9 transit apps installed, including 1 for Portland, Oregon. Seven are reviewed here.

If you upgraded your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad this week, you’ll find yourself without transit directions in the built-in Maps application. Wednesday was the first day you could download and install the latest version of iOS 6, your iDevice’s operating system. The Maps app was previously powered by all things Google but in iOS 6 the app is powered by Apple-owned technologies and partner companies’ data. It’s been known for months that the new Maps app wouldn’t come with built-in transit directions. (However, Apple Maps does scan your phone for compatible transit apps and links you to them, or helps you find them in the App Store.)

Don’t fret, though, as there are several apps for free and purchase that take over transit directions duty. I’ll review six apps, some of which I downloaded after I started writing this post. Visit the CTA’s Transit Apps webpage for more apps.

See all the screenshots created for this post.

Buster (CTA)

Download for $1.99. Arrival times, no trip planning.

Buster has four features: a bus route list (from which you can find a specific stop), find bus stops near where you’re currently standing, favorite bus stops, and an interface to the CTA mobile Train Tracker website. The first three are quite standard among Chicago transit apps, but each has a unique way of helping you find “your” stops and bookmarking them. Continue reading The best Chicago transit apps for iOS 6 devices

Observations from Europe: Why doesn’t the Metra train run as smoothly?


An example of a Regio Express train, stationed in Augsburg, Germany. Notice how it has only a single level. It has considerably more room for prams, bicycles, and people using wheelchairs. It also has near-level boarding at platforms (there’s a step down). The train’s name, Fugger-Express, refers to the Fugger family in Augsburg that founded the oldest social settlement still in operation.

I took a Deutsche Bahn (DB) Regio Express (RE) train on Wednesday from Munich*, Bavaria, Germany, to Augsburg, Bavaria, Germany, today in order to see the historical buildings, the world’s oldest social settlement, and, unbeknownst to me, a lot of trams running down pedestrian-only streets. I traveled with a friend who is studying in Munich and his parents. The round-trip price for four adults was 34 euros, or about $42.73. That’s $5.34 per person per direction, for a 40 mile trip.

Continue reading Observations from Europe: Why doesn’t the Metra train run as smoothly?

Transportation grad students offer advice to Metra for its strategic plan


A Rock Island Metra train travels near 16th Street, alongside Clark Street. Photo by Mickey Brown.

Ed. note: Ted Rosenbaum is originally from Evanston and Brian Derstine from Darien. Both obtained a master’s in transportation engineering from the University of California, Berkeley. They currently work on public transportation and ITS-related projects in the San Francisco Bay area. Follw them @RedTosenbaum and @baderstine. Their opinions are their own, and are independent of their employers. -Steven

August 10, 2012

To whom it may concern:

We, the undersigned, are excited to see Metra undertake serious long-range strategic planning. For too long, Metra’s actions have been inefficient, opaque, and focused on short-term tactics rather than long-term strategy. The strength of the Chicagoland area is inextricably tied to the ability of its transportation network to move people and goods throughout the region. As Chicago’s commuter rail agency, Metra plays a vital role in this transportation network and in the region’s continued good health, and we long to see it—and the region—succeed. We therefore present the letter below as formal comments to the strategic planning and visioning process. It is divided into three sections: (1) a response to the “Draft Mission Statement” included in the public survey recently posted on Metra’s website; (2) a response to the “Draft Vision Statement” included in the same survey; and (3) various other strategies—and some tactics—we feel it is in Metra’s best interests to prioritize.

Continue reading Transportation grad students offer advice to Metra for its strategic plan

Circumnavigating lower Lake Michigan by Metra, bike, ferry and bus


Sunset near Muskegon, MI.

[This piece also ran in Newcity magazine.]

One reason I’m glad I’ve cycled coast-to-coast a couple of times is that I feel like I’ve got nothing to prove when it comes to bike touring. As long as I’ve got my bicycle with me and get a few miles of pedaling in, it doesn’t matter what other non-car transportation modes I use – it’s a bike trip. Or at least a trip worth taking.

Case in point is a circuit of lower Lake Michigan I took a few years ago. While I covered a lot of ground with my bicycle in tow, I didn’t actually ride much more than a hundred miles. But this actually enhanced the experience.

Instead of my usual death-march mileage, the relaxed pace left me time to take walks in the woods and hang out on the beach before hitting the road to the next destination. Of course, a well-disciplined cycle tourist would leave early and get the day’s pedaling done before sightseeing. Maybe next time I’ll do it this way.

This excursion was inspired by a Time Out Chicago issue about Lake Michigan getaways and a yen to escape the big city and catch some sunsets over water. I was also curious to try the high-speed ferry from Milwaukee to Muskegon, MI. I’d already ridden the entire perimeter of the lake in stages before so this jaunt was about R & R rather than breaking new ground.

Continue reading Circumnavigating lower Lake Michigan by Metra, bike, ferry and bus

Report lists top transit suburbs with a cloudy definition of transit and suburb


Photo of La Grange Metra station by Tristan Garrett. 

Ed. note: Ted Rosenbaum is originally from Evanston and has a master’s in transportation engineering from the University of California, Berkeley. He currently works on public transportation in the San Francisco Bay area, and is on Twitter @RedTosenbaum. His opinions are his own, independent of his employer. -Steven

On Wednesday, July 25, DePaul’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development published their report on The 20 “Top Transit Suburbs” of Metropolitan Chicago—An Index Approach. It’s a good thing they put “Top Transit Suburbs” in quotes, because this report has a tenuous link to that phrase at best. Although the abstract says the study aims to evaluate “the region’s suburbs on the basis of their attractiveness to those with lifestyles oriented toward the use of public transportation,” they focus exclusively on Metra access & amenities. Metra is an important part of Chicagoland’s transportation network, and the region’s greatest hope for reducing the car dependence of downtown workers who don’t live all that close to the city. But drawing a straight line from Metra station aesthetics and auto-accessibility to public transportation-oriented lifestyles? That’s a stretch.

Download the full report (.pdf). Continue reading Report lists top transit suburbs with a cloudy definition of transit and suburb