Tagbuses

WorkCycles Fr8 fits on the CTA’s bus-bike rack!

If you ride a bike more than you use other transportation modes, and you visit online forums, then you probably know that the correct number of bikes is n+1. I got a new bike this year, but it was partly to replace the cargo carrying capabilities I lacked after selling my Yuba Mundo in the spring.

Two weekends ago I passed by the Chicago Transit Authority headquarters to test if my WorkCycles Fr8 could fit in the Sportworks VeloPorter 2 bus-bike rack the CTA uses on most buses (it’ll eventually replace the red ones). I don’t know if Pace buses have the same model.

It fits! (I feel like saying “It blends!”)

I already knew that the WorkCycles Transportfiets would fit, having made a video of it last year. But they seemed to be of different dimensions (they probably aren’t) and I wanted to check ahead of time lest I embarrass myself and delay a bus if I tested it in the field.

Actually, I wasn’t worried that the Fr8 wouldn’t fit, I was worried that it wouldn’t fit securely under the spring-tensioned arm with the yellow grip. I have a burly front rack and metal fenders that wouldn’t be able to budge. See how that worked out for me in the photo below. Additionally, my bike weighs 50 pounds unloaded (and without the red basket) – the Sportworks specifications note that each bike tray holds 55 pounds. Phew!

Last weekend I took the Fr8 on its first ever train journey, from the Clinton Pink/Green Line station to the California Pink Line station. The Pink Line uses the 5000-series cars, which are brand new from Bombardier’s factory in New York. They have the distinction of providing two wheelchair-accessible spaces in every car instead of one. This means there are two fewer “modesty panels” in the vestibule. It offers more room to position and park your bike – it works out great; see photo below. It still doesn’t provide enough room for a passenger to bring a bike aboard, stay put, and let other passengers in and out of the door. Passengers with bikes will still need to pay attention to the announcements to know which door will open at the next station and move their bike accordingly.

Looking for a WorkCycles of your own? You can contact them directly in Amsterdam. Shipping is €200, which is a really good deal now. You can also contact J.C. Lind Bike Co. who will become a dealer soon.

Is this the sign of things to come for the CTA?

The Mayor of Chicago has considerable influence over the Chicago Transit Authority. Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel let Chicagoans know on Tuesday, April 19, 2011, partially how he intends to wield that influence. This post is a look into the recent announcements regarding transit in Chicago.

1. Forrest Claypool “appointed” as CTA president*

During the press conference, Rahm had some choice words and expended a little of his still-growing political capital:

He shares my belief that (the CTA) is our most critical piece of infrastructure. Forrest has the experience to capitalize on the CTA’s strengths and the creative mind to guide its future.

He didn’t mention our roads, highways, or airports. While Mayor Daley may have shirked finding the best funding solutions for the Chicago Transit Authority, saying it’s the state legislature’s responsibility, Rahm and his choice for president staking a bigger role in leading the CTA. Chicago Tribune, April 19, 2011

2. Gabe Klein at CDOT

The Chicago Department of Transportation supports the CTA in many respects. It owns the downtown subways and subway stations. It can renovate or build stations for the CTA. For example, CDOT is currently renovating the Grand/State Red Line station and building the completely new Morgan/Lake Green/Pink Line station. Gabe is a very transit-friendly DOT commissioner. In Washington, D.C., he helped launch a streetcar project to supplement the city’s bus and subway networks.

Robert Thomson, or “Dr. Gridlock” from the Washington Post, defended Klein from a letter writer with a windshield perspective on traveling within the city:

Klein was trying to restore an old balance that would allow everyone to move around more easily. “People think about having to move X number of cars,” he said. “We’ve tried to think about how we’re moving people. . . . We want to provide people with attractive choices.” Washington Post, December 11, 2010 (just days after Gabe announced his resignation)

3. Ray LaHood and the Red Line Extension

Rahm says he’s gung ho about extending the Red Line from 95th to 130th, a project that will cost over $1.2 billion. The plans are waiting for funding. On his campaign website, Rahm expressed his interest in the project: “Rahm will make it a major priority of his administration” and mentioning how he would leverage every available funding opportunity to get it built.

During his visit on Thursday to Chicago, reporters asked U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood about funding this project. As I expected, he offered no clear answer:

LaHood made no commitment to fulfill Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel’s stated plan to line up federal funding in his first year in office to extend the south branch of the CTA Red Line from its current terminus at 95th Street another 5.5 miles to 130th Street. [LaHood said he] would invite incoming CTA President Forrest Claypool and Gabe Klein, whom Emanuel selected to head the Chicago Department of Transportation, to Washington to lay out their project priorities and present cost estimates for the work. Chicago Tribune, April 21, 2011

Currently, the CTA has not applied for funding for this project so Ray couldn’t provide any different answer.

See all of my 500+ Chicago Transit Authority photos.

*It should be noted that the Transit Act requires the board to choose the president, not the Mayor of Chicago. From (70 ILCS 3605/27) (from Ch. 111 2/3, par. 327): “The Board may appoint an Executive Director [president] who shall be a person of recognized ability and experience in the operation of transportation systems to hold office during the pleasure of the Board. The Executive Director shall have management of the properties and business of the Authority and the employees thereof, subject to the general control of the Board…”

For a fair division of commuting space

UPDATE: Transportation writer Jon Hilkevitch (“Hilkie”) published an article today about crosswalk enforcement in Chicago based on a new state law the Active Transportation Alliance helped pass that removes ambiguity about what drivers must do when a person wants to cross the street (they must STOP).

But I’m updating this post because he also writes about the crazy pedestrian situation I describe below at Adams and Riverside. I’ve quoted the key parts here:

The situation can be even worse downtown, where a vehicles-versus-pedestrians culture seems to flourish unchecked. Simply walking across Adams Street outside Chicago Union Station at rush hour can feel like you’re taking a big risk, as pedestrians dodge cars, buses and cabs and then must maneuver around the panhandlers and assorted vendors clogging the sidewalks near the curb.

It’s a mystery why such mayhem is tolerated by city or Amtrak police. The highest volume of pedestrian traffic downtown is right there at Adams and the Chicago River outside the station, according to a study conducted for the city.

“The cabdrivers have no concern with pedestrians trying to cross Adams in the crosswalk,” said Richard Sakowski, who commutes downtown daily on Metra from his home in Oswego. “They cut in front of other drivers cursing and yelling, pull from the center lane to the curb and stop in the crosswalk, not caring who they might hit. It is a very dangerous situation that the city does not care about.”

Chicago officials disagree, yet they have for years studied the problems around the downtown commuter rail stations without taking major action.

The city has received more than $10 million in grants to develop an off-street terminal on the south side of Jackson Boulevard just south of Union Station to address traffic safety issues and the crush of taxis and buses vying for limited curb space, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation.

“No timetable yet, but construction could begin in the next few years,” CDOT spokesman Brian Steele said.

Read the full article.


Every weekday afternoon in Chicago, over 100,000 people need to get to Union Station and Ogilvie Transportation Center to get on their Metra trains and go home. If you’re watching them walk, it seems like they don’t have enough room. The multitude of private automobiles with a single occupant and the hundreds of taxicabs also traveling towards these train terminals block the tens of buses that are trying to get commuters to the stations or to their neighborhoods.

Let’s look at Adams Street between Wacker Drive and Riverside Plaza. Riverside Plaza is a pedestrian-only thoroughfare (privately owned) alongside the west bank of the Chicago River and connects both train stations.

People “wait” to cross to the south sidewalk on Adams Street at Wacker Drive because they want to get to the entrance of Union Station. I use wait lightly – they creep out into the street and jog across whenever there’s the slightest opening (against the crosswalk signal).

Those who didn’t cross Adams Street at Wacker Drive now have to cross at Riverside Plaza. Thankfully, there’s a timed signal here for the crosswalk that stops traffic on Adams Street. It doesn’t always work because taxi drivers park their cabs on all segments of Adams Street here, sometimes on top of the crosswalk stripes themselves.

Take a look at the data (from the City of Chicago Traffic Information website):

  • 41,700 pedestrians, walking in both directions, were counted on Adams Street immediately west of Wacker Drive in one 10 hour segment, between 7:45 and 17:45, in 2007.
  • 14,300 vehicles, westbound only, were counted on Adams Street immediately east of Wacker Drive in one 24 hour segment, on September 20, 2006.

For simplicity, divide the number of pedestrians in half to get the actual number of people walking toward the train station in the afternoon. 20,850 commuters walk on Adams Street to get to Union Station. But trains don’t stop at 17:45. There are several more leaving every 5-10 minutes until 19:00. So add a couple more thousand pedestrians. Imagine that a couple hundred of them will be walking in the street because the sidewalk is crammed (I haven’t photographed this yet).

Now for vehicles. We don’t know how many are delivery trucks, taxicabs, or buses were counted. Only two bus routes come through here. (On Madison Street, in front of the Ogilvie Transportation Center, there are twelve bus routes and fewer walkers.) Some of the vehicles are turning right or left onto Wacker, so we can probably decrease the quantity that’s actually passing by the same count location as the pedestrian count.

Spatial mismatch

So now we know a little bit more about how many people, and by what mode, travel on Adams Street between Wacker Drive and Riverside Plaza. Walking commuters have little room (so little that some choose to walk in the street) on their standard 10-14 feet wide sidewalks and motorized vehicles get lots of room in four travel lanes. Then, the vehicles that achieve the highest efficiency and economic productivity are delayed by the congestion, in part caused by the least efficient vehicles.

Is the space divided fairly? What should change? What examples of “transportation spatial mismatch” can you give for where you live?

Is Chicago ready for Tokyo-inspired elevated pedestrian bridges at intersections? Las Vegas has several of these, as well as every Asian city with a few million residents. I first brought this up in the post, World photographic tour. Photo by Yuzi Kanazawa.

Where to start with off-bus fare collection

Right here, at Madison and LaSalle.

After reading this article on Human Transit about off-bus fare collection in Paris*, I thought, “Where in my city can we implement that system?”

I count 61 waiting passengers in this photo. If the routes that picked up here had off-bus fare collection, all 61 passengers would have paid for their upcoming ride and would be able to board at all doors. Instead of idling for 4 minutes, the bus would leave in 2.

“Proof of payment,” as off-board fare collection is commonly known, is typical in light rail systems around the world, including in North America, but not so much on buses.

Is there a stop or route in your town where off-bus fare collection would speed boarding and improve travel times? Do you see any disadvantages to collecting payment before passengers board?

Four routes stop here and use high-capacity buses (they’re articulated). All use LaSalle Street until its end and then continue on to different north side neighborhoods.

CTA bus operators should not strike

The assignment: Attached is a press clip from the Chicago Sun-Times on November 5, 2009, with the headline, “Bus driver strike over layoffs an ‘option’.” Also attached is an arbitrators ruling establishing the provisions of the current contract. Do you think the CTA unions should strike over the issue of layoffs? List and explain your reasons.

The class: Transportation Management

I think it is too early to form an opinion on the situation with the facts given. The newspaper article states that the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) has not yet communicated to the bus operator union what concessions it wants from the members.

However, I have developed a preliminary opinion based on the arbitration agreement and the contract between employer and employee.

The CTA has an obligation to honor its contract and the binding arbitration agreement (AA). The contract and AA stipulates that the CTA provide specific raises in specific years to all employees in the two unions (Amalgamated Transit Union Locals 241 and 208). I believe that for the CTA to continue honoring the terms of this contract, that is, to continue providing raises to the bus operators, then the CTA must reduce its workforce (along with other “balance modification” measures like cutting service and raising fares).

I am not often supporting of unions and I have never been a member of one, I believe the bus operators union will do itself a disservice by striking. It signals to City and State representatives they’re unwilling to continue negotiations with the CTA or a mediator, and that they cannot accept that the CTA, while working hard to increase organization and operational efficiencies, will be unable to pay the salaries of so many “extra” employees because there will be less buses and routes to operate. I shouldn’t have to mention the ill will the CTA’s customers might develop towards the bus operators and the transit agency.

The union must also follow the procedures in their contract that, according to the newspaper article, requires them to submit to binding arbitration. Additionally, this may also harm the union and its members by requiring them to accept a less-than-desirable situation about their jobs.

I found that the Chicago Civic Federation, a non-partisan organization of citizens concerned about the city’s financial well-being, supports the CTA’s plan to reduce service and raise fares, as announced in the CTA’s fiscal year 2010 budget (press release). The Civic Federation calls the cuts and increases a fair approach that balances responsibility on management, union staff, and customers.

I agree with their position that all parties “must make sacrifices.”

In these trying budgetary times, all parties, to garner the most effective support, must ensure they reference only facts so as not to deceive or confuse the public. Facts will also allow the parties to communicate effectively and keep the public’s suspicion at bay. I wrote in the fourth assignment that the CTA should launch a marketing campaign (in order to improve their public image) that seeks to inform the public with simple facts about the agency, the breadth and cost of services it provides, but most importantly describes how it receives funding from Illinois residents through sales and real estate taxes, but also through grants. Additionally, they would discuss the efforts they’ve undertaken in the past few years to increase efficiency in all aspects of the agency.

Lastly, I would like to suggest that the unions spend an equal amount of time, effort and money on persuading elected officials to work on a plan that fixes our regional transit issues and keeps bus operators employed. Transit can be an economic and community development tool when looked at in the context of total transportation management that recognizes the economic detriment of traffic congestion, dangerous streets, pollution, and carbon emissions.

Biking to the Chicago Olympics in 2016

What does the Chicago Olympic Committee’s bid book say about bicycling as part of the Olympic transportation system? A system that has to move 15,000 Games workforce, 30,000 athletes and their coaches and support staff, as well as 1.5 million everyday “background” users like you and me commuting? This:

“Travel by bicycles, always welcome in Chicago, will be used practically to augment the plan through the use of bicycle valet service near rail stations.”

The end.

This one line was found under section 15.10, “Public-Transport Network.” It’s public transport-related because the bike valet will be at CTA and Metra stations near the venues. Many of those stations are up to 1.6 miles away, according to the plan. These bicyclists will be expected to ride from hotel or home to the rail station nearest the Olympic venue, park, then board a shuttle bus. 

The worst part of the statement within the bid book is that they felt compelled enough to insert the snide comment that bicycles are “always welcome in Chicago” as if readers may have been confused that Chicago would, in some way, disallow their use during the Olympic Games. Or, perhaps, historically, Chicago didn’t welcome bicycles. With this, I feel the bid book authors have never actually seen bicyclists in Chicago and had to learn this through secondhand communication – this is belittling and dismissive to bicyclists around the world.

The Olympic plan should use bicycling as a mode and opportunity to solve the complicated, expensive, and potentially messy transport issue. Bicyclists should be allowed to ride straight to the gate, which is where they would find bike valet service. And volunteers and staff can ride between gates, venues, and operations centers on bicycles. Instead, Olympic games workers will be driving singly in small SUVs or on Segways just like our public transport and police do now.

A final note on the use of shuttle buses: My concern is where these buses will come from, and what the CTA or other agency will do with them post-Games. According to section 15.11, “Fleet and Rolling Stock,” the Chicago Olympic games “will have access to the Federal Borrowed Bus Program.” What is the FBBP? The internet doesn’t know! A web search reveals one result: an entry on the CTA Tattler blog. No agency in this country has buses they can lend. A table in the bid book following this section, Table 15.11, has a column for transit fleet and rolling stock, and it’s conflicting or confusing. One column indicating the number of vehicles in possession now by various agencies, the next, a number to which these inventories will expand, and the third, the number of additional vehicles on hand for the Games. All rows in the third column indicate that NO additional vehicles will be needed for the Olympic Games – all agencies will have the necessary fleet vehicles to provide transport for the Olympic Games.

I don’t get it.

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