CategoryUrban Rail

Morgan CTA station is fueling new West Loop development

First day of CTA Morgan Station serving the Green and Pink Lines

The Morgan Station was designed by Ross Barney Architects.

DNA Info Chicago discusses an informal study the Chicago Transit Authority conducted that showed, “since the [Morgan Green/Pink Line] station opened in May 2012, residential and business development in the surrounding neighborhood has continued at a faster pace than nearly all other markets within the city during the post-recession period.”

Morgan connects two major restaurant rows, one on Randolph Street that stretches much further east at Jefferson all the way west to Racine, and another on Fulton Market that starts at Carnavale (next to the Kennedy Expressway) and stretches to Morgan. Google’s huge new headquarters (under construction) and Coyne College – an HVAC institute – are within walking distance.

Using ridership information and commercial rents data, as well as information from the Chicago open data portal, CTA spokesperson Catherine Hosinski listed the following findings in the study:

  1. “A more than 20 percent increase in new business licenses.”
  2. “New construction and demolition permits spiked from one to 15. (The new construction/demolition permits issued after the opening of the station were compared to a 21-month period during the construction from August 2010 through May 2012)”
  3. “Average weekday ridership increased 30 percent between May 2013 and May 2014, according to information reflecting a 12-month rolling average over a 36-month period.”
  4. “Average weekend ridership increased more than 20 percent.”

Item #2 is data that we can see on Licensed Chicago Contractors. To help CTA planners and residents see this information more readily I’ve added all 145 CTA stations as places you can explore from the Places page.

How can you use this new place in connection with CTA’s study? With it you’ll be able to easily see building permits issued within half a mile from the CTA station and download this data for the last 9 years. You can also sort by projects’ estimated costs to find the biggest investments near the station.

Hosinski admits an important part of the study when she told DNA Info, “the West Loop was showing signs of becoming a booming neighborhood before the station was built…its presence has contributed to the migration of commuters and residents to the area.” Hosinski also said that you’ll find CTA stations at the heart of “most” Chicago neighborhoods and now CTA stations are part of the heart of tracking building permits.

Here’s how to track building permits (including demolitions and new construction) around any CTA station:

  1. Open the Places page on Chicago Cityscape
  2. Search for a station name (like Morgan), route name, or click “CTA Rail Station” in the right sidebar.
  3. Done! The list is sorted by the permit’s issue date, but click on any of the table headers to sort differently.
Morgan station on Licensed Chicago Contractors

We’re tracking over 1,700 building permits within a half mile of the Morgan station since July 2005.

What’s up from Europe: A train station that looks like a train station

Walking towards the Hoxton station on Cremer Street. 

Train stations – metro and commuter rail – in the United States, outside city center terminals, are often simply queuing areas, with zero amenities (some don’t even have a shelter). In some locales, people getting dropped off in a car will sit in the car with their driver (a friend or family member) until they see a sign that the train is arriving.

In Europe, train stations are places. Places to hang out, conduct errands, and eat, so that your time is enjoyable and, to put it frankly, used efficiently.

One of my favorite train stations in London was Hoxton serving Overground trains. Overground trains started less than a decade ago and provide near-rapid transit levels of service (meaning they come almost as frequently as Underground trains). They use refurbished track and are almost always elevated. Bombardier built the trains to look a lot like the newest Underground trains.

The station plaza on Geffrye Street. I have a feeling this street used to ferry cars, but now it forms a car-free piece of the walking and bicycling network. 

Overground trains have a lot of space for sitting, standing, and moving about – after all, they’re articulated giving them the roomy feel and allowing one to board at one end and find a seat at the other.

When you approach Hoxton you’ll see that you’re near a train station because of the iconic Transport for London “roundel” on the tracks over the street. Just before you arrive the walls break open and there’s a large gap that opens into a plaza with the Beagle café.

The plaza also hosts a Barclays Cycle Hire (Boris bikes) and plenty of seating to relax and wait for a colleague. The station entrance stands out with a large, glass canopy, and noticeable, polished-metal walls flank the doorway.

You know you’re at a train station now. Feel free to stick around before or after your journey.

A northbound Overground station at Hoxton. You can see in this photo the only feature I disliked about the station: the narrow corridor that doesn’t allow you to see around the corners. 

Oh, by the way, I’m not in Europe anymore – I got back on Saturday and the first thing I did was eat a burrito, something I sorely missed.

What’s up from Europe: frequent diesel trains

I’m staying in Groningen for three nights, the northernmost big city in the Netherlands, with about 190,000 inhabitants. About 20 meters from my bedroom window is a passenger train line on which diesel multiple units (DMU) running frequently.

I hear the train come very often and I snapped a few photos, of course. As I saw the train frequently run, with 1-2 diesel cars, I thought that Metra – Chicago’s hub-and-spoke commuter rail system – needs to implement a nimbler operation with more runs to make it more convenient to use transit. I tweeted that thought.

The train is a “Stoptrein” because it makes all stops. This is one of four passenger train classes: “Intercity” trains make few and distant stops, the “Sneltrein” offers express service to a small number of local stops, the “Sprinter” class makes a medium number of local stops.

I can see from the schedule on 9292.nl that the train, after 21:00, runs every about every 26 minutes in each direction. At other times of the day there may be two trains four minutes apart or 15 or 24 minutes apart. Stadler in Switzerland built these “GTW” DMUs which accelerate faster which could improve the timetable.

I suggested that Metra run this rolling stock on the UP-West and UP-North lines because of their existing ridership and closely spaced stations. Also, UP-North doesn’t have freight trains so it should be easy to get a waiver from the Federal Railroad Administration to use lighter weight European trains. UP-West is another “streetcar suburb” line having trains stop frequently during rush hour in city centers; stations are 4-10 minutes away from each other so the train can’t reach high speeds quickly between them.

(I wish the train didn’t run so frequently here because I have only a single-pane window.)

What if Metra employees were late to work as often as Metra passengers?

trainmageddon

A malfunctioning Metra Electric train in January. Photo by Eric Rogers.

It was a big deal to news media this morning when new Metra CEO Don Orseno reported at an Illinois House mass transit committee hearing that the commuter-focused rail system experienced a 30% on-time rating in January, when the “polar vortex” hit. (Apparently polar vortex is not an event that happens to a place, but is the name of a climate pattern that’s always there hovering above Canada and occasionally dips down over the United States.)

Most Metra passengers are commuters, going to work. A hair over 300,000 travel each weekday; service is drastically lowered on weekends and holidays, offering less than half the service of weekdays.

What if the organization of Metra, including all 2,500 employees in addition to the contracted railroad workers (let’s say 3,000 people), showed up to work with the same performance rating that their passengers experience?

First, Orseno – a career railroader who drives to work from Manhattan where a train comes leaves three times each day – would miss 11 work days of work each year (of 260 work days), based on their overall 95.8% on-time rating in 2012. Some routes are worse and others better. But collectively 3,000 people would miss 32,760 work days each year. That’s a lot of missed work.

Put another way, everybody – all 3,000 of them – is going to show up 20.16 minutes late to work because they’re missing 87.36 hours each year (of 2,080 hours they’re supposed to work and being 4.2% hours late). But again, I have no idea who’s working 8 hours and who’s working longer. (One of the problems Metra had during #Chiberia is that many workers hit the federally mandated limit and there weren’t always workers to take their place.)

Thankfully the Chicago Transit Authority, Pace, and ever-expanding highways and tollways are available to pick up the slack in Chicagoland’s transportation supply.

Another thing, this post is full of averages of averages, so it’s really imprecise. Today, Metra was reporting delays on a single train run of 16-100 minutes – a pretty broad estimate, but another train had a possible delay of 26-110 minutes. During the worst storm Metra experienced on January 5th and 6th, some train runs dumped passengers on platforms in subzero temperature.

Orseno reported today at the committee hearing that a “I don’t want to say middle-level” manager at Union Pacific made the call to dump the passengers. This has been “corrected” by only allowing a senior level staffer at Union Pacific make this call. Metra, which doesn’t have any performance-related incentives in its contracts with the freight railroads, apparently cannot stop this decision.

I’m waiting for the day when Metra is run like a transit system and not a railroad.

Note: I excluded vacation days because, well, no law requires organizations to offer paid or unpaid vacation days and there are probably several tiers of vacation-giving at Metra that I don’t know about.

Can you rely on Metra after hearing a story like this?

Tweet shows a different Metra line but is representative of experiences since #Chiberia began in January. 

My friend Shaun relayed this story to me about his coworker who rides Metra’s BNSF line from the Aurora/Naperville area, the commuter train in Chicagoland that carries over 300,000 people each weekday but fractions on weekends (because it rarely runs).

The train he was about to board Wednesday morning with several other people arrived and when the doors opened only one of the two sliding doors opened. The other one was stuck shut. So he “touched” it to get it to open up and the conductor yelled at him.

The conductor said “we’ve told you several times to not do that!” seemingly referring to other people who had done so, not my coworker himself. The conductor told him a guy at the last stop did that and it “broke the door.” (sounds like it already was!])

The conductor told him it would be a $500 fine if it happened again. At that point my coworker said he just shut up. When my boss tried to get on the train the conductor told him he wasn’t allowed to board! There was apparently plenty of room to get on so this was at the “conductor’s discretion.” Coworker had to wait 20 min for the next train [in single digit temperatures, no less], missed a meeting, etc…

Just completely shocked me that they wouldn’t let him on the train for pushing the door open (no sign, conductor wasn’t at the broken door to tell people not to touch it, etc.).

This started a conversation about our perceptions of Metra.

Steven: “It’s right that the new Metra CEO [Don Orseno]* wants to work on communication, but I think he needs to emphasize customer service overall.”

Shaun: “In Ogilvie Transportation Center tonight, same announcement played: ‘some trains are delayed. We will continue to update you.’

Every few minutes — no actual information. Lot of work to do I’m guessing. Wonder how many Metra people in charge ride their trains.”

Steven: “I rarely ride Metra for ‘important’ reasons (like going to work or for meetings). The last time was on the Electric to a meeting in South Shore in October.

Every time I ride I feel that the lumbering of the trains as they exit the stations (switching tracks, they sway side to side) is analogous to how Metra operates: ‘move in a slow, heavy, awkward way’.”

Shaun: “It reminds me of a novelty train ride. Like at an amusement park.

I only take it from work to home. To work is too risky. CTA is consistent (lately actually, Red Line at morning rush is so frequent I don’t even check the arrival times while walking to the station).

Kind of funny how you say you can’t rely on Metra for work or meetings, considering that’s what people use it for.

* Orseno, who’s been there for decades, said at the Metra board meeting where he was promoted to executive director from his interim position that he drives to work because the SouthWest Service “doesn’t get him to the office early enough, or home late enough” (Chicago Tribune).

However, Orseno lives in Manhattan so you can see how the infrequency would be a problem: this station only has three trains per direction per day. Remember from my previous post that Chicago rapid transit service has only shrunk since 1950. I wonder what he can do about that…

Chicagoland transit funding has no traction

An electric train would head to Aurora more frequently than the once an hour schedule of today’s lumbering diesel train.

I reviewed Metropolitan Planning Council’s short and easy-to-read report about existing funding conditions of Chicagoland transit (CTA, Metra, and Pace) for Streetsblog Chicago. It was more eye-opening that I expected, mainly because I didn’t realize how poorly we fund transit here compared to cities nationwide and around the world.

The bit about only Atlanta spending less than Chicago when you compare our regions’ funding levels to what it was 20 years ago really caught some people’s attention.

The other part of the report, co-authored by Yonah Freemark who writes the blog The Transport Politic, that got some attention was the above map that showed how the Chicago region had more rapid (frequent) rail transit in 1950 than 2010. Lower mileage and funding over the past three decades meant fewer riders – that part is obvious and has been known to me, transit planners and managers. But this much? I had no idea.

My tweet about this map – to which Eric Fischer, Mapbox map designer and map historian responded with a map from one of the predecessor departments* of the current Chicago Department of Transportation – was retweeted ten times and clicked on over 100. That more than 70% of Chicagoland workers drive to work alone is not surprising given that our rapid transit network is built around rush hour service to downtown, where a minority of jobs are located.

* The department name on the map, published in 1939, is listed as Department of Subways and Traction, headed by commissioner Philip Harrington. This became the Department of Subways and Superhighways. The map shows two cross-Loop (east-west) subways linking Michigan Avenue businesses and intercity electric trains (that travel south, southeast, and near southwest) with the Union and Northwestern train stations (where people board trains to the west, northwest, north, and southwest).

Wayfinding signs at Van Buren Street Metra station are incomplete

New RTA interagency transfer signage near Van Buren Street Metra Electric station

“B” marks a new bus boarding area near the Van Buren Street Metra Electric station.

The Regional Transportation Authority has spent $2 million to improve wayfinding between CTA, Metra, and Pace train stations and bus stops in a needed effort to connect newbies and long-time residents to their next transfer.

Some of the signs need to show better information, though. The RTA installed signs at the Van Buren Street Metra Electric station at Michigan Avenue that create “bus loading groups,” similar to bus bays at suburban park & rides.

It works like this: you come across the nearest bus stop – I happened upon boarding area B – hoping to find the route you need. Instead, though, that route stops at boarding area A. The sign at boarding area B points you in the direction of A and from where you stand you can see a sign that identifies A.

RTA’s signs have two issues. First, they don’t tell you that boarding area C is across the street – unless you inspect the small map – and instead point you in the direction of A (from B). If you walk in the direction of the arrow from boarding area B you will not run into boarding area C or a sign that tells you where to cross the street in order to access C.

The first issue creates the second problem: by reading and relying upon the sign’s text you can’t know at which boarding area, A or C, you should board a bus route that stops at both boarding areas. (Those who also study the maps on another side of the sign will have better luck.) That’s because the same route operates in both directions and if you’re not familiar with the route, you won’t know which direction takes you towards your destination.

New RTA interagency transfer signage near Van Buren Street Metra Electric station

Both boarding areas A and C will get you on the 3, 4, J14, and 26, but only the map on the other side tells you which direction they go. Also, while the arrow points in the direction of boarding areas A and C, only the map tells you that A is across the street.

The fix seems an easy one. First, point the arrows on A and B across the street instead of north or south towards B or A, and add an intermediary sign along the walking path that communicates that “boarding area C is across the street.” Then, update the signs to indicate which direction the bus routes are going so that travelers are assured they need to visit C across the street for King Drive buses going towards Bronzeville or A for King Drive buses going toward Streeterville.

The RTA has installed other signage in this program at 95th and Western (CTA & Pace), Joliet Union Station (Metra & Pace), and Davis Station in Evanston (CTA, Metra, & Pace).

Something new in Salt Lake City transit

This is the fourth year in a row I’ve visited my mom in Salt Lake City and there’s a new transit line to gawk at. Three years ago it was the FrontRunner North commuter line between SLC and Ogden. Two years ago it was two new light rail lines (with new Siemens S70 vehicles). Last year was FrontRunner South to Provo (where my brother lives), and this year it’s the S-Line streetcar line.

On Wednesday, on my way back to SLC from Provo, I took a bus from my brother’s office to the Provo FrontRunner station, then the FrontRunner train to Murray station, where I switched to TRAX to ride up to Central Pointe station where the streetcar line terminates. A test vehicle was stopped at the single-track platform.

I wanted to see the route, the stops it makes, the station design, and the adjacent biking and walking path so I started walking up and down and across the blocks to check it out. I ran into two train several times while UTA staff tested them and made the video above.

Stop locking your bike at the Clybourn Metra station overnight

Existing bike parking at the Clybourn Metra station

This is a resolution.

WHEREAS, I love GIS.

WHEREAS, I was reading this blog post on the Azavea company blog about bike theft prediction and trends in Philadelphia.

WHEREAS, I analyzed bike theft location in Chicago in 2012 and the Clybourn Metra station emerged as the most frequent Metra theft location.

WHEREAS, I searched the Chicago Stolen Bike Registry for “clybourn” and several thefts have been reported to the registry in 2013.

WHEREAS, I believe the Chicago Police Department still doesn’t allow searching of their database for bike thefts thus leaving the CSBR as the premier source of data.

WHEREAS, I am watching this show called The Bletchley Circle wherein a group of four fictional women who cracked codes in World War II are solving a murder mystery in 1950s London.

BE IT RESOLVED that you should not leave your bicycle parked at the Clybourn Metra station overnight as it is a terrible place to leave a bicycle parked. Why? No one is around most of the time to socially secure your bicycle.

New bike parking at the Clybourn Metra station

This is a great place to get your bike stolen. In the dark. Overnight. With no one around to see it happen. 

Berlin day 2 itinerary during my 2012 trip

Olympic stadium, as seen from the entry plaza. View all 88 photos in this set.

A Chicago friend designed my two-day Berlin itinerary, whether he knew it or not. He visited Berlin in March 2012 and sent me an email a week before I left for Europe describing in detail the various facets of the city, including transportation, I should visit. This itinerary is a mesh of his suggestions and what I actually did on Friday, August 31, 2012.

Take the S-Bahn to Olympiastadion. Make sure you note all the unused, but remarkably nice platforms. On exiting the station (toward the east) you get some great views of S-Bahn tracks and covered third rail heading into the city. Walk around the east side of the stadium (and think about how this is a place where Adolf Hitler opened the Olympics and the first television broadcast was done of, making a major plot point in the movie Contact).

Olympiastadion S-Bahn station platforms. The U2 line continues, but some trains may terminate at these platforms for events. 

I walked into the Olympic Stadium, walked 80% of its circumference, and noted all of the statues, some of the stelae, and read most of the historical information stanchions. I saw the swimming arena, which is still in use today (it seems to be a membership club, although not exclusive). The diving platform’s stair design has changed noticeably. The stands haven’t changed: they are covered in what looks like moss.

Disqus throwers statue by Karl Albiker. The accompanying sign said it was sculpted to show how powerful and masculine German male athletes (and Germans in general) were.

I then made a long walk to the north and west, past a Berlin football club and equestrian areas, towards the bell tower and Langemarckhalle (which is partly a memorial to the Langemarck battle in WWI, but now an exhibition about how that memorial was a myth and propaganda to encourage students to join the military). The ticket to get into Olympiapark also gets you on the elevator to the top of the bell tower (Glockenturm), giving you splendid views of the city in all directions. In the Maifield between the bell tower and the stadium, men were playing cricket. This humungous grassy area was used for youth rallies during the Nationalist Socialist (Nazi) era. From Wikipedia: “Maifeld (Mayfield) was created as a huge lawn (112,000 square metres, 28 acres) for gymnastic demonstrations, specifically annual May Day celebrations by Hitler’s government.”

Playing cricket in Maifield.

After another long walk, I exited the park and made my way to the U2 Olympia-Stadion station (note how the S- and U-bahn stations have slightly different names). This is where the U-Bahn museum is (it has weird hours, don’t expect it to be open), but before you enter, you can walk around the station house and get some INCREDIBLE views of an U-Bahn rail yard and shops facility.

The dreary-looking Olympia-Stadion station east of the Olympic Park.

Next, my friend told me, ride the U2 inbound to Eberswalder Straße (toward Pankow from Olympia-Stadion on the U2 line), and walk under the tracks a half-block south to the little stand with the tables outside. He wrote to me, “Have a spicy currywurst and a beer. You won’t regret it.” I ate it and drank a Berliner Pilsner and I didn’t regret it.

That spicy currywurst and beer under the U2 tracks. 

Next, walk back up to Danziger Strasse. Get on the eastbound/southeastbound M10 tram toward Warschauer Strasse U+S-Bahn stations. But get off at Frankfurter Tor, not the terminal.

Then, do this walk:

View recommended walk in a larger map

You’ll get a good view of some Soviet architecture on Frankfurter Allee, a cute walk through a gentrifying neighborhood with tons of lovely little shops, then see the massive, gritty S-Bahn station, the M10 Tram terminal, and the U-Bahn elevated terminal. (You’ll also walk past the hipster hotel my friend stayed in, Hotel Michelberger.) Then, you’ll end up seeing the Berlin Wall and East Side Gallery just before you cross the water from East Berlin into West Berlin – a profound act, to my friend, considering that it was not possible when we were born – and have a nice walk under the U1 el tracks up to a great elevated station.

Soviet architecture.

The beautiful Oberbaum Bridge taken from the north bank of the River Spree, near the Berlin Wall East Side Gallery. 

I didn’t walk under the U1 el tracks, but instead walked west along the East Side Gallery and then north on Andreasstraße. I stopped at a grocery store to get some grub and then boarded the U5 at Strausberger Platz, changing at Alexanderplatz U+S Bahnhof to the U8, getting off at Pankstraße and walking a block to the apartment I was staying in.

Artwork on the Berlin Wall. 

The name “Pankstrasse” written in a cool typeface.

N.B. I bought a day pass to use all transit minus Regio, IC, ICE intercity train service. I could use buses, trams, U-bahn, and S-bahn. I never waited more than 9 minutes for a train or tram. The average wait was probably 3-4 minutes. The day pass cost me $8.20. I was given access to a bicycle, which I rode on Thursday night with my hosts, but after walking around and taking transit all day, I declined to get it. I felt that I would be able to get around the city just as fast (or faster) by taking transit (yes, shocking, I know). I also wanted to ride lots of trains. Here’s the full gallery of photos from the day.

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