TagMayor Emanuel

The CTA must remove the Clark Junction bottleneck to modernize the Red Line

CTA Belmont bypass rendering

A CTA rendering shows what a bypass track for Brown Line trains north of the Belmont station might look like, alongside a new residential building on Wilton Street.

Ed. note: This is a guest post from Chicagoan Jacob Peters.

“Keep the RPM Project on Track – Uncouple the [Belmont Bypass] Roller Coaster” is the tagline for a new website called “Coalition to Stop the Belmont Flyover”.

Capacity is constrained at the Chicago Transit Authority’s Clark Junction track interchange (at approximately 3300 N Clark Street) which means that fewer Red Line trains can run than could be run if there wasn’t this conflict. In the same way there are opportunity costs in business, there are opportunity delays that are caused by this constraint on rail capacity.

For example, if there was no conflict at Clark Junction, then five more trains an hour could pass through the Red Line subway. This would increase Red Line capacity by 25 percent during rush hour, and fewer passengers would be left waiting for a train to arrive with space for them to board.

The way the website advocates against eliminating the bottleneck is hypocritical to the tagline of “keeping the Red Purple Modernization project” on track. That project, which would completely replace all track, viaducts, and embankments north of X station, and rebuild most stations (as well as widening and extending platforms) is largely based on a future service pattern that would run more and longer trains in the busiest transit corridor of Chicago.

This capacity increase would reduce their average commutes by a few minutes. Since the trains wouldn’t have to be spread out in order to maintain gaps in service for the Brown Line trains that need to cross the Red Line at Clark Junction, average wait times between trains would drop all along the Red Line at rush hour, further reducing commute times.

Lastly, when either the Brown, Purple or Red Lines are experiencing delays, and trains get bunched together, these delays ripple through the other lines. This happens because when a queue of delayed Brown Line trains are making their way through Clark Junction, Red Line trains must be held in order to let the delayed trains through the junction in an attempt to keep things moderately on schedule. If there was a bypass of this junction for northbound Brown Line trains, then a delay on either line would not affect the other. This would result in fewer days in which your commute is delayed.

Future capacity needs and current delay reduction is what the Belmont Bypass attempts to address. There may be other ways to achieve this with other alternatives, but the bypass would be far and away the cheapest and could be implemented soonest. Unless you plan to propose alternative means of resolving these conflicts, and funding mechanisms to make them possible, you are not really advocating to keep the RPM on track. Because without untying Clark Junction there is no true modernization.

Runoff election

The RedEye published on Monday an overview of the transit platforms from the two mayoral candidates that have made it into a runoff. (Mayor Rahm Emanuel didn’t receive a sufficient number of votes, 50 percent +1, in the February 24 election.) Chuy Garcia released his transportation and infrastructure platform about two days before the election.

Garcia paints a beautiful transportation issues platform, but when faced with a truly transformative project he is unwilling to uphold his call for “reliable transportation”. I want to vote for him again, but if he keeps on watering down projects to a point of inefficacy then how are you going to convince anyone to expand transportation funding? How can I trust him to bring about the change is needed on other important issues if on the issue that he received a masters in, he is unwilling to apply best practices?

Emanuel and Garcia should avoid grandstanding on issues of transportation because opposing a necessary transportation investment for political reasons is to let down the electorate that you are campaigning to serve. For both traversing Ashland Avenue by transit and riding Brown, Red, and Purple Line trains through Clark Junction, there is no way to move more people reliably through these areas without infrastructure improvements. Garcia shouldn’t oppose projects without explaining his alternate plan to address the same issues and achieve similar benefits – otherwise there isn’t leadership.

Alternatives

There are few alternatives. First, you could study how to use the existing CTA land around the Belmont stop more efficiently and eliminate track conflicts. It would need to be studied whether a new northbound Brown Line track and platform just to the east and a few feet higher than the current track it shares with the Purple Line could allow for the Brown Line to get high early enough to bridge over the Red Line closer to School.

This option would spare the buildings on the commercial thoroughfare of Clark, and focus demolition on residential streets.  I am not sure if it is possible given how the Belmont station was reconstructed in 2009, but I don’t have a record of it being studied or laid out why it is not an option. Seeing as the anti-bypass group is claiming that the destruction on Clark would turn it into a “permanent under-El wasteland” I would think they would want to prove whether this is possible or not.

Secondly, any alternatives analysis process [which the CTA hasn’t conducted] would include studying a subway alternative for this portion of the Red Line. In the RPM’s subway alternative there was no need for the bypass. The CTA considered a subway from Loyola station to Belmont station, but never studied each section of the potential subway separately. I truly believe that a subway with a portal at Clark Street and a portal just north of Irving Park Road would eliminate the property acquisition, station constraint, and construction phasing issues to outweigh the increased cost of going underground, without needing to consider a two-track alternative.

There was a neighborhood proposal from the 1980s for a subway between Belmont Avenue and Irving Park Road which would act somewhat as a “flyunder”, so to speak. It would include a new Wrigley Field Station that could be built to handle more than the existing constrained Addison Red Line station, including a Purple Line stop in order to match the Purple Line limited service that stops at Sheridan that’s provided on select game days.

The “flyunder” could allow the CTA to forego the large amounts of property acquisition that would be required in order to straighten out the kinks in the elevated north of Belmont, and to smooth out the curve at Sheridan. The CTA could then sell land currently under the tracks for development. In order to see if this is now feasible given the way Belmont was rebuilt, the CTA would have to study whether a bilevel tunnel from Clark Junction to Irving Park would be possible under Clark Street, and parallel to Seminary Avenue.

There is also the alternative of proposing that eliminating the realignment of the Red Line, included in the Belmont Bypass literature, would be a way to eliminate the amount of buildings affected in the scope of the bypass.  But I think that is somewhat tied into the discussion about the other two alternatives. The point is that the elevated bypass is a simple (although in the CTA’s current process, clumsy) solution to the question of how do you eliminate the Clark Junction bottleneck and the unreliability in the system that it creates.

Jefferson Park station renovation highlights train station planning deficiencies

Jefferson Park train station rendering

Jefferson Park train station rendering from the City of Chicago. The only difference you see is canopies. What you don’t see is a walkable connection ut thisetween shops southeast of here and the train station – they’re separated by a strip of parking.

Plans for the renovation of the Jefferson Park CTA station are illustrative of the City’s failure to think deeply about how to design the projects that is funding in a way that maximizes potential for residential and commercial development around train stations.

The changes proposed for one of Chicagoland’s most important transit centers are weak. There’s no development plan, or any kind of neighborhood plan or “Corridor Development Initiative” for the Jefferson Park transit center.

Current city policy identifies train stations as optimal places to build new housing and commercial uses.

Without challenging the design to respond to this policy the transit center will continue to use neighborhood space inefficiently and doesn’t respond to demands from residents to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety and increase economic development.

Judging by the renderings, nothing is changing at the Jefferson Park Blue Line station (4917 N Milwaukee Ave). All of the improvements save for the canopy are invisible in this rendering. The CTA’s list of improvements reads like the superficial makeover that many stations got in the Station Renewal program almost three years ago, a stopgap measure until Your New Blue could begin.

There will be LED lighting, new paint, new escalators and stairs, new paving, and a new canopy. Only a few of those things make the station easier to access and use.

Jefferson Park is a major asset to the neighborhood and the city. The station serves CTA trains, Metra trains, CTA buses, and Pace buses to Chicago’s suburbs. The CTA’s September 2014 ridership report [PDF] said there are an average of 7,420 people boarding the Blue Line here each weekday, a 0.1% increase over September 2013. It’s the busiest Blue Line station outside of the Loop and O’Hare airport.*

On Twitter I said that the station should be surrounded by buildings, not bus bays. I’m not familiar with how many routes and buses use the station daily, and I’m not suggesting that space for buses go away. I’m challenging the Chicago Transit Authority and Mayor Rahm Emanuel to come up with a better plan for vehicle and pedestrian movements, and to start welcoming new development.

I pointed out the new Wiehle-Reston Silver Line station in Virginia where a residential building was constructed atop a bus bay (where I transferred from the Washington Flyer bus from Dulles). A plaza connects the bus bay to and apartment lobby and the Metrorail station.

Bus bays under an apartment building in Reston

The bus bay at the Wiehle-Reston Silver Line station in Reston, Virginia, is under an apartment building and plaza linking it to the Metrorail station.

The Metropolitan Planning Council conducted a consultation for the Logan Square Blue Line station – Your New Blue will make upgrades here, too – and the next door city-owned parking lot. Their consultation involved 700 people to decide what development at this station should look like. Their desires were pretty specific: there should be affordable housing, but not any higher than six stories.

The current policy, enacted as an ordinance and expressed in other city documents, allows developers to build more units in the same plot and save them and their tenants money by building less parking. But this policy is insufficient in that has no design review or public consultation attached. It also provides no zoning recommendations to expand the number of places to which it can apply.

A development plan, for which the CDI serves as a good, starting model, would bring residents – and people who want to live in the neighborhood – to discussions about if and how the neighborhood should change. It would hook into another city proposal, from the Chicago Department of Transportation, to build protected bike lanes on Milwaukee, but which ultimately failed. The process would probably uncover latent demand to build new housing in the neighborhood that’s stymied by incompatible zoning.**

The city’s recent choices for development and (lack of) urban design at this station as well as across from the Halsted Green Line station in Englewood where the city is selling vacant land to build a Whole Foods-anchored strip mall demonstrates how little deliberation there is in maximizing transit-oriented development, or TOD.

Their suburban forms are the antithesis of how we should be designing the stations and their environs – they should have higher densities and walkable places.

* Metra has published its 2014 station-level counts! This station had 599 daily boardings, yet not every train stops here. The Union Pacific Northwest (UP-NW) line that stops at Jefferson Park saw a 3.8% increase in ridership [PDF] from January to September 2014 versus the same period in 2013.

** There are no parcels near the Jefferson Park transit center that allow the transit-adjacent development ordinance to take effect; developers have to go through an arduous and sometimes costly process to persuade the alderman to change the zoning. The ordinance only affects Bx-3 districts (where x is 1-3 and -3 is the allowable density identifier).

Links between Emanuel’s campaign donors and their building projects

The Tribune called out Emanuel’s appearance at a press conference as an endorsement of a locally-designed skyscraper (Studio Gang and bKL Architecture) to be built by Wanda, a Chinese development company – it has yet to receive any approval. Photo: Ted Cox, DNAinfo.

The Chicago Tribune reviewed the campaign contributions of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s top donors and linked each donor to how it does business with Emanuel or the city. The article overall discussed how easy it is for Rahm to raise more money than what’s probably necessary to be elected a second time.

The Tribune graciously provided this data as a simple table which I’ve republished here in order to add links to building permit information from Chicago Cityscape. The website I’ve developed lists company and person names in an immediately searchable form. Currently there are over 90,000 companies, architects, and property owners that have received a building permit since 2010. Use the Illinois Sunshine database to find out who’s contributing to whom in the Chicago election.

Note: You’ll see “listed under [many] names” for several companies; this indicates that the Chicago building permit database uses different spellings, or the company has changed their name.

[table id=1 /]

Neither the article nor this table are meant to indicate any wrongdoing – campaign donations are public and it’s common to receive them from companies that do business in Chicago. It’s the extent that the donation appears to pay for favors or favoritism over other donors (which may be competing companies), or what’s right, that determines when immorality becomes an issue (a connection that’s hard to demonstrate).

Anti-traffic safety is now a political platform

Three of the five men running for Mayor of Chicago have pledged to eliminate enforcing red light running with cameras. Many aldermen have done the same. The Chicago Tribune has factually pointed out that Mayors Daley and Emanuel have mismanaged the red light camera program, with the bulk of it falling upon staff in the Daley administration. (The only part of the program under Emanuel that could be considered mismanagement was changing the business rules to issue tickets when the yellow light was recorded as 2.90 to 2.99 seconds long; Emanuel’s administration changed the rule back and has implemented many other changes following the inspector general’s report.)

Red light cameras lead to an increase in rear-end crashes but decrease the more severe angle (T-bone) crashes, which the Chicago Tribune “sorta” pointed out when it looked at frequencies but not injury costs.

Current 2nd ward Alderman Bob Fioretti, Cook County commissioner Jesus “Chuy’ Garcia, William “Dock” Walls, and Willie Wilson all have decided that neither the facts nor safety for people inside and outside of multi-ton machines are important. They are supporting the right to endanger others by respecting the inconvenience of not always being prepared to stop at a traffic signal.

Fioretti has said he will introduce soon an ordinance to remove red light cameras by April, but I haven’t found it in the legislation database.

Even though Streetsblog Chicago is no longer publishing, John Greenfield is hustling to get us both working again. In the meantime I intend to cover parts of the election, which takes place February 24, with assistance.

Apparently Chicago needs NATO/G8 conferences to solidify itself as a world class city

Photos of people participating in Occupy Chicago, back in October 2011. Photo by Ryan Williams. 

It wasn’t a diverse economy, a tech startup community, several well-known universities downtown, the world’s best collection of architecture, or any of that other crap that we need for others to pay attention to us. Where am I coming from?

From the Beachwood Reporter’s Steve Rhodes:

“Almost everyone agrees that having these two summits in our city is a great opportunity to solidify our rightful place as a world city,” Ald. Joe Moreno wrote on Huffington Post explaining his votes in favor of the new ordinances.

I’m not sure which part of that declaration is worse: “Almost everyone,” “great opportunity,” or “solidify our rightful place as a world city.”

It’s okay to say no to ordinances. Not every ordinance needs to pass, even with “concessions” after some “great open-mindedness” from Mayor Emanuel. Then the City Council tried to hide from the public:

“They wouldn’t let Occupiers into the council chambers. First they claimed it was a capacity. So I went up to the mezzanine and photographed empty seats and came back down to the 2nd floor. When I showed them the evidence they were lying, the cops reconvened then announced that the mayor simply refused us inside.”

This city is good enough without these two conferences. Ones that no one asked for.

My commentary on these kinds of issues is supremely bad, and I’m very mad at this city council for its endless string of rubber stamping. I didn’t start paying attention until the parking meter lease deal. 

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