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Slow Ride: The CTA Is Stuck In Reverse

The news last week about a dramatic increase in "slow zones" on the CTA's El tracks was just the latest in a year of discontent for frustrated riders tired of the transportation agency's seeming inability to run a train system. Here is a rundown of the continuing problems on each of the CTA's color-coded routes - and the solutions advocates are pressing for.

Red Line
Main problems: It's too short and too slow. Much-talked about extension on the South Side leg past 95th Street is still just that - much-talked about. Number of slow zones has more than doubled in the last year, in part due to Dan Ryan construction. But almost half of the Howard leg is in slow zones of 35 m.p.h. or less. Work scheduled to begin on the Belmont and Fullerton stations later this year will only make the situation worse.
Quote: "The Red Line totally sucks," Miguel Brown told the Sun-Times.
Advocate: Michael Evans of the Developing Communities Project. DCP, whose office is based, appropriately, at 95th Street, began holding an annual Red Line Walk-a-Thon last year to show support for the long-gestating Red Line extension past 95th.

Blue Line
Main Problems: It's slow, it's overcrowded at Rush Hour, and it tends to catch fire.
Quote: "Sometimes I have to wait for a second train," Stephen Mullins told the Tribune. "Sometimes a third train."
Advocate: For years the Chicago Area Transportation Study has lobbied for extending the Blue Line past O'Hare airport to the Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg. For years it hasn't happened.

Pink Line
Main Problems: The CTA is drawing fire for the delays and additional transfers that the Pink Line has created.
Quote: "The service sucks," Alan Nottingham told the Sun-Times. "I wish they went back to the old service. It takes too long."
Advocate: Michael Pitula of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization. He has admitted, though, that the rerouted Pink Line makes it easier for him to get from his West Side home to CTA headquarters.

Green Line
Main Problems: It's a long way between stops on parts of this line. On the Lake Street Branch, the Ashland and California stops are about a mile and a half apart. Plus, at least one man has been found dead on a Green Line train this year. And a fire forced passenger evacuations at two different stations.
Quote: "The Green Line is garbage," NWside wrote in a post to Skyscraper City. "No wonder residents complain."
Advocate: Amy Sue Mertens of the West Loop Community Organization may be less disgruntled than other transportation activists, but she's still enthusiastic.

Brown Line
Main Problems: Renovations on Brown Line stops are now famously over-budget; the CTA and its contractors have sometimes failed to get the construction permits they need; stations were closed despite the CTA's assurance they wouldn't be; older platforms are falling the hell apart.
Quote: "[The CTA] has a huge credibility problem" because of the Brown Line, CTA Chairwoman Carole Brown said in July. She said she would hold CTA chief Frank Kruesi responsible, as well she - and the mayor - should. You're doing a helluva job, Frankie.
Advocate: Les Kniskern of the Greater Rockwell Organization jumped into transit politics when the Brown Line renovations went over budget- and the CTA went back on its promise that it wouldn't close stations during the project. As far as I can tell, Kniskern is as well-to-do as Chicago transit activists come - he's an associate producer with the Goodman Theatre. Upsetting a line especially heavy on white, middle-class commuters seems dangerously novel for the CTA.

Orange Line
Main Problems: The end of the line is ostensibly Midway Airport. But you might want to call a cab to get from the station to the terminal.
Quote: "Unlike O'Hare, the connection between the airport terminal and CTA terminal is very awkward and does little to encourage the use of public transit. To get to the transit station, one must pass through a heavy set of doors, walk through the parking garage and cross vehicular traffic lanes, and then use a long pedestrian bridge to the CTA station. The bridge is glass-enclosed and features moving walkways [that are frequently broken and therefore still] to help alleviate the long walk, but is not climate-controlled. A fin tube heater along the ceiling, however, does provide some heat in the winter," writes David S. Cole in his review on Like the rest of the CTA station, the bridge is of a utilitarian design with exposed steelwork painted green. To our left we are treated to an impressive view of the Orange Line yard, just west of the actual station."
Advocate: The Chicago Area Transportation Study wants the Orange Line extended beyond Midway Airport to the Ford City Shopping Center.

Purple, Yellow Lines
Main Problems: Um, we don't really care.

Circle Line
Main Problems: Pretty much everyone mentioned in this story wants to know why the hell the CTA is spending money on this project; it will divert money and attention from their needs and concerns.
Quote: "Any advantages of the Circle Line will not only be at the expense of 54/Cermak Blue line riders, and residents of Pilsen losing their homes, but of CTA employees losing their jobs, and all riders affected by Doomsday service cuts and fare increases," says "Nobody has asked for it," Jacquelyn Leavy of the Neighborhood Capital Budget Group has said, pointing out that the line would benefit gentrifying neighborhoods already well-served by public transportation while "huge swatches of the city are underserved by rapid transit. It means the Red Line won't be extended to 130th, the extension of the Orange Line to Ford City will get no priority, and the Southeast Side will continue to have no access to rapid transit. A proposed Mid-City Transit Way that would link O'Hare and Midway as well as existing CTA and Metra lines would also be set back, she has said.
Advocates: CTA officials?

All Lines
Main Problem: We can't quantify any of the aforementioned problems.The CTA has released some specific data about slow zones and how long it takes certain lines to go around the Loop, but so far has not released much in the way of empirical data that tells us how specific train lines and bus routes are performing. (The CTA just waits for the Campaign for Better Transit to release its own independent reports and then dispatches its flaks to dismiss them.) Not to mention that the CTA's business is conducted in an opaque, un-democratic manner.
Quote: "When you can't disaggregate the [CTA's] data to get down to the route level or the line level, the data loses any kind of semblance of validity," State Rep. Larry McKeon (D-Chicago) said during an April hearing on Illinois House Bill 4663, which would require transit agencies across the state to provide detailed accounts of performance and finances to state legislators and the public, and to hold more public hearings on their annual budgets.
Advocates: Leavy and Kniskern testified earlier this year in favor of 4663. McKeon is retiring from office in January, but the bill will still have a fighting chance, especially as legislators continue to get peeved about bailing out the CTA and RTA. Leavy is gathering many of the advocates mentioned in this story into a broader coalition to make the bill an election issue - on the city level as well as on the state level.


Posted on September 22, 2006

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