Monday, March 26, 2007

Chicago's Transit System On the Brink Under Daley Management

The enclosed New York Times article should be a very important wake-up call to the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) before they proceed with a bid that has Mayor Richard Daley and the City of Chicago in control.

Transportation is CRITICAL to stage the Olympic Games anywhere. Chicago's system is crumbling and on the brink of serious crisis, but because of Daley leveraging the idea of having "compact venues" and "close proximity" to avoid as much as possible to share control or the Olympic Games with the metropolitan area, it makes the City of Chicago's transportation system that much more important to how an Olympic Games would function.

If the track record of the Daley regime is any indication, the CTA is a failure of economic, transport and practical proportions. Using the Olympic Games to lure federal funding to bailout the mismanagement of the Daley regime is a nice idea...IF we could be assured the control over the transit system would be removed from the City and instead given to a regional entity like the RTA.

There is legislation being propsed to do exactly that...unify the transporation agencies for the region, but that would mean less control by Daley's cronies. It would be foolish, if not irresponsible, to continue to allow the CTA to exist as a City of Chicago controlled entity. Not just for the Olympic Games, but unifying transportation agencies in a regional and metropolitan manner is a much smarter way to go considering approximately 8 million people will live in the Chicago area in 2016, not including the 2.5 million who live INSIDE the city limits or the potential visitors that would be spread all over.


Other Resources:


>State Auditor's Report on Transit

>CTA Tattler (blog)


New York Times said...

March 26, 2007

A Rail System (and Patience) Are Stretched Thin in Chicago

New York Times

CHICAGO, March 25 — The century-old elevated train system here is as much a city fixture as the towering skyline and the piercing blue waters of Lake Michigan.

But deteriorating tracks and trains, chronic budget shortfalls and a region ever more dependent on rail service are forcing Chicagoans to confront the possibility that the system, commonly known as the El or the L, may be at a breaking point.

“We’re living on borrowed time,” said Frank Kruesi, the president of the Chicago Transit Authority, which runs the rail service. “The fact is, there’s no magic wand when we’re looking at modernizing a system that’s 100 years old in a very dense urban environment.”

The El, with its 1,190 rail cars and 222 miles of track, is the rail component of the transit authority, the second-largest public transit system in the country after New York’s. The C.T.A.’s trains and buses serve the city and 40 suburbs, logging 1.55 million rides daily. The El alone accounted for more than 195 million rides last year.

Many neighborhoods have thrived in recent years in part because they attracted residents eager to take advantage of the easy access to downtown that the trains afforded, some riders say. But the rail system is splitting at the seams, having carried 31 million more riders in 2005 than in 1985 on a fleet of cars with an average age of 27 years.

“I’ve been riding the El pretty much all my life, and I’ve never seen performance anywhere near this bad,” Alexander Facklis, 37, a rider on the Blue Line, said during a recent morning commute when a stalled train slowed most service. “There are delays every single day.”

For years, the story of the El has been one of too little money and costly patchwork maintenance, transit experts say.

Along with two other transit systems, Metra and Pace, which link Chicago to the suburbs by bus and by rail, the C.T.A. depends on a financing formula of fares and sales taxes that has not changed since 1983. The state auditor general has called the system’s financial condition “precarious.”

The Regional Transportation Authority, which oversees the three transit agencies, is trying to persuade state lawmakers to approve a $10 billion infusion of state and local money over the next five years. The C.T.A. needs $5.8 billion to bring its system, including buses, into a state of good repair, officials say.

“We call this ‘the year of decision,’ ” said Stephen E. Schlickman, the executive director of the regional authority. The choice, Mr. Schlickman said, is between a “world-class transit system” and an economic downturn that, he predicted, a hobbled transit system would most likely bring about.

The combination of slow zones, construction projects and packed rail cars has unleashed complaints from riders at community meetings and on blogs like C.T.A. Tattler, which refers to one of the most troubled routes, the Blue Line, as the “Blues Line.”

Jeff Gonzales, 40, sitting across the aisle from Mr. Facklis, said it used to take him 35 minutes to travel from his home in the Logan Square neighborhood to his job in the Loop. “Now, it takes an hour and 10 minutes,” he said.

Not far from where Mr. Facklis’s and Mr. Gonzales’s train had ground to a halt, a derailment in a tunnel last July caused a smoky fire and forced passengers on a packed rush-hour train to evacuate below ground and crawl to safety. The derailment sent 152 people to the hospital and snarled commutes on trains and buses around the city for hours.

Commute times have since doubled along that line, riders say, as deteriorating ties on many stretches of track have forced trains to travel as slowly as 15 miles per hour in some spots. The El’s slower trains prevent it from carrying as many passengers per hour as transit systems in Atlanta, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and the San Francisco Bay Area, according to a state performance audit released this month.

Next month, work is set to begin on a $529.9 million expansion of the system’s third-busiest rail line, the Brown Line, which winds through some of the city’s most congested neighborhoods. Ridership on that line is up 83 percent since 1979, according to recent figures, and officials at the Chicago Transit Authority predict the overhaul will increase capacity by 33 percent.

In the meantime, though, riders are bracing for more than two and a half years of track closings that could reduce the capacity of already packed trains by as much as 40 percent at peak travel times.

But transit officials say the work is a necessary evil. Without it, the system would almost certainly fall into a chronic state of disrepair.

Helen Harrison, an administrative assistant who says the El is her only mode of transportation, faults Mayor Richard M. Daley for not paying enough attention to the problems. Ms. Harrison, 50, said she wondered how the transit system would handle an influx of tourists should Chicago win a bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics, a dream of Mr. Daley’s. (The city is currently competing with Los Angeles to become the United States’ bidder for the Games.)

“Mayor Daley should concentrate his efforts on this rather than on the Olympics,” Ms. Harrison said.

Mr. Daley, who by law appoints several members of the C.T.A.’s oversight board, has said that luring the Olympics to Chicago could draw more federal money to assist with long-term upgrades to the system.

But for some, coping with the immediate future is more pressing.

“The notion that we’re supposed to prepare for a doubling of our commute time for the next two and a half years is so laughable to me I haven’t been able to get my arms around it,” said Peter Skosey, a transit expert with the Metropolitan Planning Council, a nonprofit advocacy group. “I’m going to make sure my bike tires are inflated.”

Anonymous said...

Be careful, this is the face of so called "regionalism".

Anonymous said...

It seems fairly unfair that the rates are going to go up by people who likely do not even ride the transit. I mean think about the environmental impact if we actually had trains and subways that worked and were more expansive and effective. I am not asserting some big conspiracy, but it seems odd that given the positive impact both on the environment and increasing the transportation and likely attractiveness of living in a city. Imagine if LA had mass transit that was both effective and useful, better yet buses and subways that were expansive and people gained some benefit from using them. It seems that we give tax credits in the thousands for green cars, why not for using public transit? does it seem that odd that the government encourage public transit by granting pseudo tax subsidies to companies that actually encourage and promote the use of public transit to get to work.

Returning to the main point, it seems a bit unfair to raise fairs and then simply sit down and wait for the sky to fall to resolve a problem for a transit system that really acts and operates as the nerve center for the great city of Chicago. Why don’t the students promote public transit? It seems odd that people are always willing to provide and promote driving directions, but there seems to be resistance to adopting green transit options for companies. I mean take Kaplan they do not provide transit directions to their centers even though most people are students and a large portion non-US citizens so non-drivers.

Anyone have any thoughts on this issue? Why does the public not take a stand and insist that companies like Kaplan, Columbia University , museums, local government offices, and other provide transit directions. Do they think that all Americans have cars? I mean a transit tool for them to embed directions on their own website just like map quest is available. What about the politicians? It seems just unjust and unfair for the public to not demand that website provide transit directions and driving directions. I mean one pollutes less, provide a way for those less fortunate to get somewhere and a bunch of other great benefits.

David Smith