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England, days 3 and 4

Day 3 (Thursday)

  • Day 3 (previously published in days 1-2): The train arrived at Euston Station at 6:30 AM, about 37 minutes earlier than the Caledonian Sleeper’s “tips and tricks” webpage indicated. This is also when the attendant brought everyone in my carriage their coffee and breakfast snack. 
  • Passengers must disembark by 7:30 AM, and that’s about when I did. I exited the station from the very long platform – Caledonian Sleeper says these are the longest passenger trains in the UK – and walked two blocks to my hotel for the next three nights in London.
  • Bags dropped off, I walked over to Warren Street Underground station to take a train or two to Westminster station. (I used my photographs of the fascinating design of that station to joke on Twitter that I had actually been in the never-opened Block 37 “superstation” in Chicago.)
  • I walked around Westminster Abbey, St. James’s Park, and Green Park, to observe the preparations for the coronation of Prince Charles III on Saturday (in two days). There were a lot of police officers, private security personnel, and tons of barricades all over the place. People were even camping along the Mall to save a spot from which to watch the procession of the Gold State Coach from the church to Buckingham Palace.
  • I saw a lot of people commuting to work by bicycle; compared to Chicago and New York City, more people in London seem to wear cycling kit in the morning.
  • Having enough of that, I walked around East London where a lot of the higher end shopping streets are – near Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square.
  • The time was nearing 10 AM so I headed over to the London Transport Museum to join the queue prior to my reserved entry time. (I’m not going to explain the contents of the museum, but it reviews the history of growth and development in London and the surrounding areas that were rural and became suburbs and then were absorbed into the city, as well as shows and explains the workings of many past and present transportation agencies in the Greater London Area.)
  • I had lunch with a friend from Batavia whom I hadn’t seen in ages at a Vietnamese restaurant in a viaduct underneath the Charing Cross station tracks.
  • After lunch I went back to the hotel and took a shower and nap.
  • For the evening, I walked over to a friend’s friends’ flat in Covent Garden and we had drinks on their courtyard balcony and ate takeout pizza from Pizza Pilgrims, a local chain.
  • I rode the tube home (it was about twice as fast as walking).

Day 4 (Friday)

  • Two Chicago friends and I had breakfast at Dishoom – I had the “Wrestler’s naan roll”, which had a sausage, egg, and bacon wrapped in naan.
  • We then hopped on the Elizabeth Line at Tottenham Court Road and rode it a few stops until my friend who is staying behind and I needed to change trains to go somewhere else while our friend continued heading to Heathrow.
  • That somewhere else was Canary Wharf station, which I believe was under construction when I was last in London in 2014. Now it’s a huge structure that looks kinda of like a tube with angularly sliced ends. On top is a restaurant, Big Easy, and an open air botanic garden.
  • Soon, I headed to meet someone at University College London and do a kind of walking tour around the Camden borough to see the new streetscape changes.
  • To get to UCL I changed trains at Baker Street, one of the world’s oldest subway stations – it opened in 1863. Chicago’s first ‘L’ station opened in 1892.
  • After the walking tour I headed over to the “City Centre”, an exhibit from New London Architecture where there are three 3D models of the city alongside posters about proposed and under construction “mega developments” in London. (This was also a good place to use the loo.)
  • My friend and I reunited outside St. Paul’s Cathedral and headed to a pub on Bow Lane to have a pint alongside the after work crowd.
  • While walking through the narrow streets from the pub to a subway station I took a fantastic photograph of the cathedral from several blocks away.
  • For dinner I joined a big group of friends for Punjabi food at Tayyabs in Whitechapel. We rode the Elizabeth line from Tottenham Court Road to get there. The line is important to describe because it opened in May 2022 and by November 2022 more people rode it than rode all eight lines of the CTA (counting ridership on a daily basis). The line is so useful to so many people because it offers faster crosstown trips; it has induced additional trips rather than cannibalize ridership on other subway lines.
  • We returned to the flat where we had pizza the night before to freshen up and head over to a bar that turned out to have blaring and poorly tuned speakers before going to the Hippodrome Casino to listen and sometimes sing along to musicals played live on piano.

England and Scotland, days 1 and 2

Day 1 (Tuesday)

  • I arrived at London Heathrow airport at around 11:30 AM. Immigration was quick, using e-gates that only people with passports from select countries can use. The distance between the arrival gate, immigration, and the train station was immense. Much longer than even the new, longer distance at SLC. I took the Heathrow Express to Paddington (paid for via contactless credit card), and then took Underground lines to King’s Cross (again, paid via contactless).
  • At King’s Cross (KGX) I bought a ticket on LNER Azuma service to Edinburgh Waverley, which was leaving in 20 minutes. The train passes through countryside but “calls” at York, Durham, and Berwick-upon-Tweed; nearing Edinburgh the East Coast Main Line hugs the North Sea coast.
  • After arriving at Waverley I walked up the stairs to High Street and then over to my hotel. I dropped things off in the room and headed over to the base of Arthur’s Seat and hiked up to the peak before sunset.
  • Once back down at city level, I walked around the city and then got a pie and pint at Halfway House (which I had seen on the walk up the stairs several hours prior).

Day 2 (Wednesday)

  • I checked out of the hotel at 11 AM and walked over the to Left Luggage and storage operator at Waverley station to drop off my large bag. After that I walked over to the platform where a ScotRail DMU train was waiting to depart for Cowdenbeath.
  • I alighted (disembarked) the train at North Queensferry and walked down the hill to the riverside to get a better view of the Forth Bridge (the first one, that carries two railway tracks). I also used a public toilet at a little car park here.
  • The hill back up was pretty steep and I hoofed it to make the next train in the return direction so I could get to the other side of the River Forth to Dalmeny.
  • Once in Dalmeny I walked down the hill to the riverside and over to a pier where I bought a ticket for the final sailing of the 90-minutes-long Maid of the Forth river cruise. When you’re traveling solo, you don’t have a hotel, and your train leaving the city isn’t for another nine hours you need stuff to do to fill the time – but the river cruise turned out to be a pretty awesome way to spend the time and £17.
  • Back at the dock I walked over to the town of North Queensferry. Both towns are named such because former Queen Margaret of Scotland used both points to cross the river. North Queensferry has some great urbanism: being set in a hill, there are shops on the flat part at the bottom of the hill, then a large sidewalk above them and entrances to shops and row houses next to this sidewalk – the hill is completely disguised.
  • Next to North Queensferry are two road bridges over the River Forth. The old one was found to have structural issues and is used only for taxis, pedestrians, cyclists, and transit. Adjacent to it is the bridges’ maintenance and monitoring facility and a public viewing deck that offers views of all three bridges. There’s another public toilet here, and a kiosk.
  • I walked back over to Dalmeny (the town under the Forth Railway Bridge) and had my dinner early at The Rail Bridge Café. I ate a plate of haggis, neeps, and tatties (haggis is “savoury pudding containing sheep’s pluck (heart, liver, and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock”, and neeps are mashed turnips, and tatties are mashed potatoes). It was delicious.
  • After four hours in the towns around the Forth Bridge, it was time to head back to Edinburgh. I boarded ScotRail back to the city and alighted at Edinburgh Gateway, a station to transfer to trams to the airport or city center. I took the tram to the city center and alighted at Princes Street, the main shopping street.
  • From Princes Street I walked to the Leith River and on to Leith and Newhaven. I walked around Leith to a bus route that would take me back to Waverley station.
  • Once at Waverley station I retrieved my left luggage and paid £15 (which is a convenience for not having to spend half an hour to return to the hotel up the hill to get it if I had left it for free and less secure at the hotel).
  • I bought some snacks at M&S Food and ate them in the station waiting room until I found out at which platform the Caledonian Sleeper would be waiting. (I used the National Rail website to find out because its late departure meant it would be a while before it showed up on the overhead departure screens.)
  • I boarded the train, found my room, and immediately started changing into pajamas and brushed my teeth. I was in bed by the time the train departed at 23:40. The sleeper train has a lounge car, but I don’t think the timing of this train allows it to be used conveniently.
  • Day 3: The train arrived at Euston Station at 6:30 AM, about 37 minutes earlier than the Caledonian Sleeper’s “tips and tricks” webpage indicated. This is also when the attendant brought everyone in my carriage their coffee and breakfast snack.
  • Passengers must disembark by 7:30 AM, and that’s about when I did. I exited the station and walked two blocks to my hotel for the next three nights in London.

Transportation so far

  • Heathrow Express (non-stop service from Heathrow Airport to London Paddington station)
  • Jubilee Line
  • Victoria Line
  • LNER Azuma service on the East Coast Main Line (top speed is said to be 125 MPH)
  • ScotRail (provides intercity and regional services but I took it only to towns 25 minutes away from Edinburgh)
  • Edinburgh Trams
  • Lothian Buses
  • Caledonian Sleeper

Zoning 101: Business live/work units

This is the first post in what might become a video series about the Chicago zoning code. I picked business live/work unit because they’re a rarely seen “use” (an establishment) in Chicago, likely in part due to how few buildings are zoned to allow them and that the rules setting their minimum size might make eligible spaces doubly harder to find.

There is no order! An authentic “Zoning 101” would probably start by describing zoning, but I’m assuming you know that Chicago has a zoning code that defines what can and cannot be built or practiced on every property in the city. Business live/work units are one of those many things the code defines and regulates.

A business live/work unit is distinguished from an artist live/work unit in the Chicago zoning code in that it allows more business types – i.e. more than the creation or practice of art is allowed – but it requires that they happen on the ground floor. Artist live/work units are allowed in more zoning districts as of right (no additional permission necessary) above the ground floor.

What do you want to learn about next? Leave a comment or @ me on Twitter (stevevance).

Links to the relevant parts of the Chicago zoning code:

Update: Three more podcasts I started listening to

Last November I admitted I started listening to podcasts and I shared my list of two essential and two extra urbanism podcasts. Since then I’ve added three more podcasts to my rotation.

a photo of University Center in the South Loop, behind a Green Line elevated train that's headed north.
Chicago urbanist. High-rise student housing and conference center, a 131-year-old elevated transit line (although running over the Harrison Curve track that was built in 2003 to replace two 90-degree turns), and an undeveloped surface parking lot.

(Links go to Apple Podcasts.)

City Dweller

Listen to the episodes where they interview my friend Eric Allix Rogers about what he appreciates in Chicago, and my sometimes conspirator Emily Talen (also an urban geography professor at University of Chicago). Other Chicagoans, Natalie Moore and Mary Wisniewski, have also been interviewed. Episodes are short!

Odd Lots

This is one of Bloomberg media’s podcasts, with hosts Tracy Alloway and Joe Weisenthal. I mostly appreciate the episodes where they explain financial topics I still have a hard time understanding, and I really liked the recent episode where they interviewed Saule Omarova to talk about the FDIC and the Federal Reserve.

Tracy and Joe also interviewed Stephen Smith and Bobby Fijan to talk about apartment building designs, unit layouts, and why the double-loaded corridor is fine for hotels but not fine building apartments for families.

The War on Cars

This should have gone in my previous post because this is another urbanism podcast. The title is a pretty good summary and the three hosts – Sarah Goodyear, Aaron Naparstek, who cofounded Streetsblog, and Doug Gordon – discuss the many, many ways that cars ruin cities.

Alternatives for spending the LaSalle Central TIF money

Currently, the Lightfoot administration has proposed spending about $188 million to support the construction of 318 affordable dwelling units in three office and hotel buildings that would accomplish a couple of goals. The housing would reduce the segregation of downtown living, and it would increase the population of downtown which could use more people to support all of the businesses and infrastructure that already exist.

The building at 111 W. Monroe St. From Block Club Chicago: “This proposal by Prime/Capri Interests, LLC, will create 349 apartments, 30 percent affordable, plus a hotel on the lower floors and 130 spots of underground parking. The hotel would be created without city funding, developers said.”

How should that money be spent

Let’s see how much money the LaSalle Central TIF district has.

  • $196 million (at the end of 2021) – read the annual report
  • it generated $151 million in 2021
  • the city projects it will generate $120 million in in 2022 (source)
  • the city spent $76 million in 2021 ($63 million was surplused and the rest was spent on plans, studies, and “Costs of construction of public works or improvements”)

That’s a lot of money that the mayor’s office gets to choose how to spend!

It’s unlikely that the Lightfoot administration can rally the necessary approvals to dedicate the money before Brandon Johnson and a new city council is sworn in on Wednesday, May 15.

If the Johnson administration wanted to review the alternatives to that proposal, what would those be?

The alternatives

  1. Spend $188 million to support the construction of 318 affordable units 
  2. Surplus the money; if the city did this, it would receive $44.81 million into the general budget. 
  3. Spend the same or less money on…something else. This could include beautifying the street or attracting residential development through another strategy that doesn’t spend the money on buildings construction (according to suggestions in a Crain’s article).
  4. Do nothing. The money would stay in the account, grow, and generate interest.

What are other ways to spend the money?

With the cash flow shown in the “how much money” list above, it seems that the city could accomplish alternatives 1 and 2.