One of the first things I did after I bought a two-flat in July was contact Peoples Gas and Comed to ensure utilities were in my name, and that the utility connections would not be interrupted.
A few days later I decided that I wasn’t going to move in, because I wanted to make a good amount of changes and the best time to do that would be when nobody is living there. “Good amount of changes” turned into “gut rehab”. One of my friends is an architect and we (mostly him) are drawing permit plans right now.
It wasn’t until a week ago (8 weeks since I bought the house) that I realized there’s no reason to be paying for Peoples Gas to maintain a connection when I’m not using natural gas.
I’m writing this journal entry to exclaim how expensive it is to just “leave the gas line connected”.
It costs $50 per month per unit to have the privilege of possibly purchasing the delivery of natural gas through a pipe. Both units used 0 therms in the longest-period bill I received. (I received three bills, only one of which was for 30 days.)
I’ve got to pay $50 per unit for no gas.
I visited a three-flat under construction in Pilsen on Friday, and talked to the developer, Brent. He described how he’s following high-efficiency building wall standards to create a “tight envelope” (one in which very little air can leak) so that the tenants can “receive the comfort they’re paying for”. When it comes to setting the thermostat, the air delivered by HVAC machines should match that exactly, no more, no less. No oversized furnaces pushing too much heated air because so much of the air leaks through the walls and windows.
And, as a way to control costs, Brent will not connect a natural gas pipe to the building, mostly because of the expensive and default customer charge that persists even when no gas is used. A VRF (variable refrigerant flow) and heat pump machines will be entirely powered by electricity to serve the tenant’s heating and cooling needs.
Brent said that the tight building envelope coupled with the high-efficiency HVAC means that it’s more cost effective to use electricity to heat a house than natural gas.
After our meeting, I looked again at my final bill from Peoples Gas (I closed the account two days prior) and understood what Brent was saying about controlling costs. With an electric water heater and an electric range, there’s no need to have any gas connection.
I will probably have to keep the gas at my two-flat, to power the furnaces, because I don’t have the expertise or financial resources to renovate an existing building to have a tight enough envelope to make electrically-generated heat more cost effective than gas-generated heat.
Update January 13, 2021: I turned off the gas and closed the accounts so I don’t have to waste any money while I’m not living there (a gut rehab still needs to happen).
To keep water pipes from freezing and bursting I cleared the vast majority of water lines and added an electric pipe heating cable to keep the remaining sections warm.
I was methodically reviewing features on OpenStreetMap that could benefit from additional attributes, namely missing names and cities. The information on OpenStreetMap feeds into Chicago Cityscape so that the real estate information service I created can show people looking up addresses the locations of nearby amenities, including parks.
This particularly large park in Des Plaines had no name and no city, so I started investigating. From the overhead imagery view, it looked to me like a landfill.
Since there was a forest preserve to the east, I looked in the Forest Preserve District of Cook County’s nice interactive map for any properties near Beck Lake. Nothing found.
I looked on Google Maps Street View for some insight and there was no name. (Note that data from Google Maps cannot be used to amend OpenStreetMap because of Google Maps having a data license that isn’t compatible with OSM’s openness requirements).
Next I looked at the Cook County parcel map that Chicago Cityscape has to identify its “Property Index Number” (PIN). All of it fits within 04-31-300-003-0000 – the database pointed to “Catholic Cemeteries” as the property owner.
I looked up that PIN on the Cook County Recorder of Deeds to try and find more information. Lo and behold, the most recent document that was recorded against the PIN was for a “Memorandum of Option Agreement” that identified the Catholic Bishop of Chicago as the landlord and Patriot Acres, LLC, as the tenant.
I believe that more people are hosting more backyard bonfires in Chicago in order to spend time with friends outdoors, because it’s one of the lowest risk ways to still enjoy life during the COVID-19 pandemic that Trump is prolonging.
The City of Chicago has rules on what can be burned. Be sensitive to neighbors who rely in keeping their windows open to cool and ventilate their homes.
The summary version is this: You can burn manufactured firewood that you purchased, and you can burn wood logs from any trees someone manually cut. All logs have to be untreated and two feet long or shorter.
You can’t burn scrap wood, lumber, plywood, or particle board. You also cannot burn garbage. Avoid having bonfires when the wind speed is 15 miles per hour or faster.
Read all the rules in this PDF. The rules aren’t in the municipal code; the code in section 11-4-740 says that the environment commissioner shall make rules (Chicago doesn’t currently have a department of environment).
Every now and then I’ll run the queries below to help me figure out ways to optimize the queries my application is using, and to figure out if certain tables and views (relations) need to be optimized.
Updated January 18, 2020, to add a query to alter the autovacuum and autoanalyze factors on a per table basis because I have a “cache” table that is updated quite frequently and generates many dead tuples every minute. The table would balloon from 250 MB to 15 GB in a few hours. I hope that reducing these factors to just a threshold of 100 dead tuples will prevent the inflation. I also need to monitor this that it doesn’t make my RDS database work too hard.
/* Show the last time at which every table and view was vacuumed and analyzed */
SELECT relname, last_vacuum, last_autovacuum, last_analyze, last_autoanalyze
FROM pg_stat_all_tables d_d
WHERE schemaname = 'public';
/* See which queries are most popular */
SELECT * FROM pg_stat_statements where calls >=1000; /* replace 1000 with any integer, depending on how active your database is queried */
/* Kill a specific query */
select pg_terminate_backend(INTEGER); /* replace INTEGER with the process ID of a specific query */
/* Get the size of the database */
select pg_size_pretty(pg_database_size('DATABASE_NAME')); /* replace DATABASE_NAME with the name of your database */
/* Kill queries that are taking too long; replace DATABASE_NAME with the name of your database */
SELECT query, pg_terminate_backend(pid)
WHERE datname = 'DATABASE_NAME'
AND pid <> pg_backend_pid()
AND (state = 'active'
OR state = 'idle')
AND state_change < current_timestamp - INTERVAL '15' MINUTE; /* change 15 to any integer that you think means a query is taking too long */
/* See which queries are running */
select * from pg_stat_activity;
SELECT * FROM pg_stat_activity WHERE wait_event IS NOT NULL AND backend_type = 'client backend';
/* Find very large indexes and indexes that aren't used much */
WITH table_scans as (
tables.idx_scan + tables.seq_scan as all_scans,
( tables.n_tup_ins + tables.n_tup_upd + tables.n_tup_del ) as writes,
pg_relation_size(relid) as table_size
FROM pg_stat_user_tables as tables
all_writes as (
SELECT sum(writes) as total_writes
indexes as (
SELECT idx_stat.relid, idx_stat.indexrelid,
idx_stat.schemaname, idx_stat.relname as tablename,
idx_stat.indexrelname as indexname,
pg_relation_size(idx_stat.indexrelid) as index_bytes,
indexdef ~* 'USING btree' AS idx_is_btree
FROM pg_stat_user_indexes as idx_stat
JOIN pg_indexes as indexes
ON idx_stat.schemaname = indexes.schemaname
AND idx_stat.relname = indexes.tablename
AND idx_stat.indexrelname = indexes.indexname
WHERE pg_index.indisunique = FALSE
index_ratios AS (
SELECT schemaname, tablename, indexname,
round(( CASE WHEN all_scans = 0 THEN 0.0::NUMERIC
ELSE idx_scan::NUMERIC/all_scans * 100 END),2) as index_scan_pct,
round((CASE WHEN writes = 0 THEN idx_scan::NUMERIC ELSE idx_scan::NUMERIC/writes END),2)
pg_size_pretty(index_bytes) as index_size,
pg_size_pretty(table_size) as table_size,
index_groups AS (
SELECT 'Never Used Indexes' as reason, *, 1 as grp
idx_scan = 0
SELECT 'Low Scans, High Writes' as reason, *, 2 as grp
scans_per_write <= 1
and index_scan_pct < 10
and idx_scan > 0
and writes > 100
SELECT 'Seldom Used Large Indexes' as reason, *, 3 as grp
index_scan_pct < 5
and scans_per_write > 1
and idx_scan > 0
and index_bytes > 100000000
SELECT 'High-Write Large Non-Btree' as reason, index_ratios.*, 4 as grp
FROM index_ratios, all_writes
( writes::NUMERIC / ( total_writes + 1 ) ) > 0.02
AND NOT idx_is_btree
AND index_bytes > 100000000
ORDER BY grp, index_bytes DESC )
SELECT reason, schemaname, tablename, indexname,
index_scan_pct, scans_per_write, index_size, table_size
/* Modify the autovacuum and autoanalyze factors for a single table
ALTER TABLE cache SET (autovacuum_analyze_scale_factor = 0, autovacuum_analyze_threshold = 100);
WITH raw_data AS (
pg_class.oid AS relid,
(SELECT split_part(x, '=', 2) FROM unnest(pg_class.reloptions) q (x) WHERE x ~ '^autovacuum_analyze_scale_factor=' ) as c_analyze_factor,
(SELECT split_part(x, '=', 2) FROM unnest(pg_class.reloptions) q (x) WHERE x ~ '^autovacuum_analyze_threshold=' ) as c_analyze_threshold,
(SELECT split_part(x, '=', 2) FROM unnest(pg_class.reloptions) q (x) WHERE x ~ '^autovacuum_vacuum_scale_factor=' ) as c_vacuum_factor,
(SELECT split_part(x, '=', 2) FROM unnest(pg_class.reloptions) q (x) WHERE x ~ '^autovacuum_vacuum_threshold=' ) as c_vacuum_threshold,
to_char(pg_stat_all_tables.last_vacuum, 'YYYY-MM-DD HH24:MI:SS') as last_vacuum,
to_char(pg_stat_all_tables.last_autovacuum, 'YYYY-MM-DD HH24:MI:SS') as last_autovacuum
JOIN pg_namespace ON pg_class.relnamespace = pg_namespace.oid
LEFT OUTER JOIN pg_stat_all_tables ON pg_class.oid = pg_stat_all_tables.relid
n_dead_tup IS NOT NULL
AND nspname NOT IN ('information_schema', 'pg_catalog')
AND nspname NOT LIKE 'pg_toast%'
AND pg_class.relkind = 'r'
), data AS (
COALESCE(raw_data.c_analyze_factor, current_setting('autovacuum_analyze_scale_factor'))::float8 AS analyze_factor,
COALESCE(raw_data.c_analyze_threshold, current_setting('autovacuum_analyze_threshold'))::float8 AS analyze_threshold,
COALESCE(raw_data.c_vacuum_factor, current_setting('autovacuum_vacuum_scale_factor'))::float8 AS vacuum_factor,
COALESCE(raw_data.c_vacuum_threshold, current_setting('autovacuum_vacuum_threshold'))::float8 AS vacuum_threshold
ROUND(reltuples * vacuum_factor + vacuum_threshold) AS v_threshold,
ROUND(reltuples * analyze_factor + analyze_threshold) AS a_threshold,
c_analyze_factor as caf,
c_analyze_threshold as cat,
c_vacuum_factor as cvf,
c_vacuum_threshold as cvt,
analyze_factor as af,
analyze_threshold as at,
vacuum_factor as vf,
vacuum_threshold as vt,
ORDER BY n_dead_tup DESC;
A second project that I invested in through the crowdfunding portal, Small Change, has “failed”. It’s a project for a worker-owned bed and breakfast. According to the project owner, the project needed more funds than what they were able to obtain from Small Change investors and other investors. The owner found a new investor, who required that all Small Change investors be removed from the project. They announced that to us earlier this year, and said we would receive our initial investment + 3%.
The Small Change leadership didn’t think this plan was good enough, starting with disagreeing the removal of Small Change investors.
Eventually, the project owner returned our initial investment + 8%. I don’t know if the project owner had the right to cancel and return our investments, but I’m happy to have my money back + 8%.
I’m disappointed in the ultimate outcome of not being able to participate in 1476 Magazine because this is the second project I invested in via Small Change that has not succeeded. The first was for a group of three single-family houses built to a high energy efficiency standard that have not yet sold.
I have an investment in a third project (in Philadelphia) that is converting a disused industrial building into mixed-use with residential and I hope that one succeeds, but I haven’t received an update since it was funded. Update: I inquired and the project owner sent me the update they sent in the last couple of months, which I seemed to have missed.
I believe in the Small Change mission, and crowdfunding broadly, but once I made my third investment I paused so that I could wait to see what happens with all of the projects.
The book is about her father, and the history of racist housing policies and displacement in Chicago’s West Side. Mark Satter, who died of heart problems when he was 49, owned several properties in Lawndale and Garfield Park.
One of them was a 12-flat in West Garfield Park at 3901 W Jackson Blvd, one block west of the eponymous park. Mark died in 1965, and the properties reverted to a trust he had set up, controlled by his wife, Clarice. Mired in debt to contractors and the mortgage, Clarice had family friend, Irving Block, sell the four properties.
3901 W Jackson Blvd eventually became the property of L.J. Epstein, a known slumlord, in 1967. (It’s unclear in the book, and online deed records don’t go that far back, if it was owned by someone else between Clarice selling it and L.J. acquiring it.)
Less than two years later, though, because of L.J.’s neglect of the building, Judge Kral placed it in receivership because of the activism of Ruby Kirk, a Black tenant from Tennessee.
The judge made Ruby the receiver, because the judge perceived that she cared about the building more than the owner. Ruby created a non-profit corporation on Monday, September 22, 1969, called “Chicago’s Best Landlord, Inc.” (It was involuntarily dissolved on February 1, 2003.)
Beryl wrote that during the remodel the corporation’s name was engraved into the stone above the front door. Along with the initials of the tenants at the time. As I was reading it I thought that stone had to still be there, and since I was biking over to Garfield Park for some hot air balloon training with a couple friends, I would stop by.
Ruby was also successful in pressing First National Bank of Chicago to issue a loan to her, a Black woman, when banks refused to lend to Black people as the Federal Housing Administration refused to insure the loans. If you’re from around here, you may remember that First National Bank merged with Banc One to become Bank One, which then became part of Chase. Chase is the second largest loan issuer in Chicago, and still has a “hard time” lending to Black people. It was also then, however, that the federal rules changed and FHA would insure mortgages in Black neighborhoods.
Chicago’s Best Landlord, Inc. owned the 12-flat from 1969 until 2001, when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) foreclosed the property. First National Bank had assigned the mortgage to HUD in 1976.
Peter Gritzanis purchased the property for $270,000, according to the deed recorded on June 28, 2001, at the Cook County Recorder of Deeds office. It looks like Peter stopped owning it in 2012.
I bought a copy of The “L”: The Development of Chicago’s Rapid Transit System, 1888-1932, written by Bruce Moffat, a historian of electric trains in Chicago. Moffat currently works for the Chicago Transit Authority. (If there wasn’t a pandemic, you’d be able to request a hold on one of the 50 copies at the Chicago Public Library.)
The book is about the elevated trains that were built in Chicago, in competition with the street omnibuses (horse drawn), railways (cable cars and streetcars), and suburban trains (okay, some competition), prior to establishing the Chicago Transit Authority. The CTA is a State of Illinois authority, created by the legislature, that today owns and operates all of the historic and since-built elevated, subway, and at-grade ‘L’ transit as well as buses. It acquired all of the assets of all of the ‘L’, streetcar, and bus companies that were operating when it was established in 1945.
On with the story!
Back in December 1888, the Chicago City Council approved a franchise for the Lake Street Elevated Company to build a Meigs Elevated Railway above Lake Street from Canal Street to 40th Avenue (later named Crawford and now Pulaski Road), then the western border of Chicago. A tract of land west of 40th Avenue (Pulaski Road) was incorporated into the City of Chicago four months later on April 29, 1889.
If you go to the intersection of Canal and Lake Streets today you’ll see the Union Pacific railroad tracks above, heading into and out of Ogilvie Transportation Center, a skyscraper at 444 W Lake Street, a cigar store, and a vintage loft office building.
The Meigs Elevated Railway was a steam-powered elevated monorail – meaning each track had one rail to support a train.
You may not know this: I love monorails. When my family visited Walt Disney World my favorite ride was the inter-park and world famous monorail. I’ve also ridden the monorails in Disneyland (but I don’t remember my time there), Las Vegas, Seattle, Düsseldorf airport, Wuppertal, and three in Tokyo, Japan (Chiba City, Shonan, and Haneda airport; I missed the one in Tama).
I used to be obsessed with monorails. I became a member of The Monorail Society when I was a teenager and my first eBay purchase was a Disney monorail motorized toy in March 2000. I was jealous of my friends in elementary school who had a Lego monorail, and now they regularly sell for $200. I also built a SAFEGE-style monorail out of K’NEX in high school.
It was invented by Josiah V. Meigs in Cambridge, Massachusetts; a 227-foot long demonstration line was built in 1886 on land that is now a Fairfield Inn hotel and before that was the Genoa Packing Co. (demolished in 2013).
The Lake Street Elevated Company organizers (seven incorporators are listed in the book) hired Morris H. Alberger to be the president. According to Moffat’s book, “Alberger had convinced his fellow directors that their railroad should use an experimental and relatively complex elevated railway system developed by Joe V. Meigs”. Alberger was also the president of the Meigs Elevated Railway Company.
Moffat discusses an eighth company organizer: Michael Cassius McDonald, “politically well connected and influential”. He was the “chief sponsor” and “promoter” of the Lake Street elevated proposal which came to be known as “Mike’s Upstairs Railroad”.
The Meigs Electric Railway – the monorail – was never built. Moffat says that the reason the monorail was never built was because it was difficult to promote and raised funds by selling shares.
Almost a year after City Council approved the MER to run over Lake Street, they “deleted the Meigs requirement” in November 1890 so that the Lake Street Elevated Company could build a traditional iron structure. The trains would also be “traditional”. (The first elevated train started running in Manhattan and the Bronx on August 26, 1878 – that was the Third Avenue Elevated – ten years prior to the Meigs monorail being approved in Chicago.)
Even before City Council “deleted” the franchise’s requirement to build a monorail, the Lake Street Elevated Company had already started building the iron structure for a train in December 1889, at Lake and Clinton Streets, where the Clinton Green Line station is now.
That’s the end of the story for the monorail, but I’ll continue talking about the Lake Street ‘L’.
The Lake Street Elevated opens!
Construction had reached “just west of Ashland Avenue” by October 1892, less than three years after the first iron girder was erected at Clinton. A year after that last construction milestone at Ashland, the tracks for service were completed to California Avenue (2800 West).
The Lake Street Elevated Company’s first service was set to begin on October 30, 1893. The opening was delayed, however, until an inauguration on Saturday, November 4, 1893, to mourn the death of Mayor Carter Harrison, who was assassinated during his fifth term. Passenger service began two days later on Monday, November 6, 1893.
In early 1893, the Lake Street Elevated Company wanted to run their trains down Market Street (now Wacker Drive) from Lake Street to Madison Street.
The Market Street “stub” ran past the future site of the Civic Opera Building, opened in November 1929. Operagoers and workers in the office tower of the building would have ridden the ‘L’ here until the Chicago Transit Authority
Extending further into the Garfield Park neighborhood
Tracks were built six blocks west of California Avenue, to Homan Avenue, but the stations were incomplete. Service to the Homan station started November 24, 1893, and four blocks further west to Hamlin Avenue in January 1894.
The Homan Avenue station no longer exists. Today’s Green Line over Lake Street was rebuilt from 1994 to 1996 and the Homan station was abandoned. According to Chicago “L”.org, the CTA decided to move the station two blocks west to Central Park Drive (3600 West). It was “completely deconstructed in spring of 2000 and put into storage”. It was renovated, made accessible, and opened as the Conservatory-Central Park Drive station in June 2001.
Chicago “L”.org notes that this visitors access to the Garfield Park Conservatory, evens out stop spacing, but does not intersect a bus route which Homan Ave does. The CTA closed Hamlin station on March 18, 1956. I don’t know when it was demolished.
Onward, to Austin and Oak Park!
Back to the Lake Street elevated timeline. Serviced operated to Hamlin Avenue in 1894. The next year it was operating to 52nd Avenue (now Laramie Avenue), the western boundary of Chicago. On the other side of that boundary was the Township of Cicero. Austin, a township neighborhood, was annexed by Chicago in 1899. The Village of Oak Park eventually emerged from the township, incorporating in 1902.
Austin was location of Cicero’s town hall. The town hall building, at the Central and Lake station, is now part of the Austin Town Hall Park and Cultural Center, owned and operated by the Chicago Park District.
Moffat’s book describes a lot of political controversy about extending the Lake Street Elevated into Cicero, which seems fitting for the Chicago region. Passenger service to Austin Avenue (now Boulevard) started April 19, 1899.
The next month, on May 14, 1889, trains that ran east-west above Lake Street came down a ramp – to the surface – onto north-south Lombard Avenue a couple of blocks south to Randolph Street. They turned west onto Randolph Street and continued until Wisconsin Avenue/Marion Street. The tracks on Randolph Street were in the middle of the street, and owned by Suburban Railroad, an interurban railway company.
The tracks were previously owned by Chicago, Harlem & Batavia Railway. I’m including that information because I grew up there. However, the railroad never made it that far: “No effort was made to extend the railroad to that distance place, but money was spent to purchase new locomotives and passenger cars and make other improvements.”
Residents here had the option of taking trains into downtown Chicago on the Chicago & Northwestern Railway. Those tracks are now owned by Union Pacific, which also operates the former C&NW lines as Metra’s UP-West Line. The line terminates at Ogilvie Transportation Center, which used to be called Northwestern Station, which was C&NW’s second location for their downtown terminal.
Moffat discussed these passengers’ choices, writing, “Although a ride on the nearby Chicago & Northwestern was faster, the “L’s” more frequent schedule, convenient Loop stops, and lower fare drew many riders away from the steam railroad”. The same is true today; the ‘L’ costs less than Metra but takes longer to reach the West Loop.
The story about the construction and operation of the Lake Street Elevated is almost done. I’m going to end it as soon as the train reaches the current terminus at Harlem Avenue in Oak Park.
Service to Marion Street started in late January 1901, on the street level of South Boulevard, thus ending service on Randolph Street a few blocks south. Trains started servicing the Harlem station on May 20, 1910. Remember that the reason the trains are now on South Boulevard is because Lake Street runs with a slight northwest diagonal, ends at the Chicago & Northwestern Railway embankment, and resumes a few blocks west. In 1961, the line was elevated onto C&NW’s embankment.
Even though the station is currently called “Harlem/Lake”, the station is at Harlem/South Boulevard, and Lake Street is one block north.
Meigs’s railway was mentioned in an op-ed in the Boston Globe Magazine on Sunday, February 23, 1992, as the newspapers’s architecture critic, Robert Campbell, and Peter Vanderwarker, an architectural historian, lamented the towering car infrastructure proposed in the Central Artery/Tunnel Project (also known as “Big Dig”, the most expensive highway construction in the country), as well as the darkening effect of the elevated trains. It’s really quite an essay.
But competition was vicious. Arson and vandalism hampered Meigs, as did his insistence on old-fashioned steam power instead of electricity. Nothing besides the Cambridge test line was ever built. The Meigs monorail made its last run in 1894. Conventional elevated trains, modeled on those of Manhattan and far more massive than Meigs’, soon darkened Boston’s streets.
By the end of this decade, the view will have changed radically. A dramatic Babel of steel and concrete, perhaps resembling a great sports stadium, will rise like a gray mountain in the middle distance at the left of the photo. The introverted automobile will have won its long battle for supremacy over the sociable train.
“MEIGS ELEVATED RAILWAY – Changing TRACKS”, By Robert Campbell and Peter Vanderwarker
Meigs Field, a former airport in downtown Chicago that existed between 1948 and 2003, was named after Merrill C. Meigs, a pilot and former head of the Chicago Aero Commission. He believed that Chicago needed a third airport, within 10 minutes of downtown. The airport was built and named after Meigs in 1949. I haven’t found a relationship between the two Meigs.
tl;dr: Metra costs nearly twice as much for the same trip
I went to Pullman today for a preservation organization’s task force meeting hosted by Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives. Their office is in this weird US Bank office high-rise surrounded by open space, a golf course, warehouses, and an interstate.
There are many ways to get there. Some people drove their own cars from nearby neighborhoods, others shared a ride hail car, and I and at least one other person rode Metra, the region’s commuter rail service.
The Metra Electric District line has fast service between its downtown terminal at Millennium Station and 111th Street (Pullman), scheduled for a 36 minute run. The MED is Metra’s most regional rail-like service, with several electric train services per hour during some hours.
I rode a Divvy shared bike from the station nearest my office (300 feet away) to Millennium Station – in order to get to the station faster – and boarded the Metra about five minutes before it departed.
Taking CTA, a separate transit operator in Chicagoland, is also an option. I could have taken CTA from my office at Madison/Wells to CNI’s office in the high-rise with less than 3/5th of a mile walking. Google Maps predicts that this trip would have taken 1:06 (one hour and six minutes). It would have cost $2.75 ($2.50+25 cents transfer)
Metra, on the other hand, excluding the marginal cost of my Divvy ride because I have a $99 annual membership that nets me unlimited free rides of up to 45 minutes, took 56 minutes (5 on bike, 36 on train, 15 on foot) and cost $5.25.
A 14 percent shorter trip via Metra cost me 90 percent more. If I wanted to have saved the 15 minute walking trip and taken a CTA bus, that would have been an extra $2.25. CTA and Metra do not have integrated fares ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Matt Conway et. al. wrote a paper showing how much of the Boston area is accessible by transit (1) in a certain amount of time and (2) for a certain amount of money. This uses transit isochrones (coverage areas) calculated using two types of costs: time and money. Most isochrones are generated based on only one dimension, time or distance.
I visited new-to-me cities in the United States, went to Mexico for the first time ever, and returned to Canada for the first time in over 10 years. I also rode a lot of new transit – including bike share – systems, which are denoted.
Oh, and I [brag] flew in United Polaris business class* [/brag] to New Zealand with my mom, after which we also visited Australia. Sadly, it’s now been over 2.5 years since I’ve traveled in Europe.
Two ferries in front of Sydney Opera House at Circular Quay in Sydney, Australia.
Aside: Transit advocates already know this: Every city I visited outside the United States had bus lanes. And not just a few here and there, but everywhere. On every route, in every city and suburb.
Here’s where I went in 2019 (in chronological order) (links go to photo albums on my Flickr):
I rode Brightline (now Virgin Trains); to Ft. Lauderdale in economy and from Ft. Lauderdale in first class. That meant use of the lounge, unlimited snacks and alcoholic beverages.
Metrobus – The bus is the best way to get your cute butt over to sunning on South Beach. Miami-Dade Transit also uses an app to sell QR-code based tickets that you show to a bus driver and scan to board Metrorail.
Metromover (the free people mover in downtown Miami)
I also rode a scooter for the first time, and I rode a bike for a few hours.
Métro, the ultra cheap and frequent subway, of course! I rode it out of the airport to a station 100 meters from my hotel.
Métrobus – my first BRT, and it was stupendous.
Bike share – A tourist from the U.K. asked me what the conditions were like cycling around the city. I said that depends on your comfort riding a bike in a busy big city, which is something I’m used to. After you observe and adapt to the different driving conditions and customs, it’s really no different than biking in Chicago or New York City.
Jitney bus. I forget what it’s called locally. This particular bus driver was plying a main street in a CDMX-branded purple bus that he apparently owned, looking for fares and once the bus was full (no more standing room), he pushed down on the accelerator to the nearest subway station.
I took Flixbus for the first time, from Sacramento to West Oakland. This is a German-based company that’s a network operator rather than a vehicle operator. Local companies contract with Flixbus to use Flixbus’s branding and ticketing systems.
Bay Wheels bike share (it used to be called Ford GoBike)
Charleston, South Carolina (no transit here, but I rented a bike for two days)
Tip: You’re probably going hiking in New Zealand, and bringing hiking boots. Clean them very well before you go to prevent being delayed at your arrival airport because you’ve triggered a biosecurity check of your shoes.
Lots of buses, which came quite frequently.
Regional rail from Britomart to Mt. Eden (yeah, a very short ride)
An annoying thing about transit in Auckland is that the transit card “deposit” is pricey and non-refundable. Additionally, the stored value (e-purse) on the card can pay for a second rider, but at the full cash rate, not the card rate.
Tongariro National Park
There’s a thrice-weekly train between Auckland and Wellington that stops here, but I didn’t schedule my trip well to be able to ride it.
I took a shuttle bus from my wonderful hotel (The Park Hotel Ruepehu) to the Mangatepopo Carpark, which is the start of the amazing Tongariro Alpine Crossing, and then from the end of the hike at Ketetahi Carpark back to the hotel. It was $20 NZD and it meant that my mom wouldn’t have to drive 60 miles for the same trip.
Wellington, New Zealand
The only transit we took here was the historic cable car – a cable-pulled funicular – from the high street to Kelburn (which is a suburb, but the way cities and suburbs as governmental jurisdictions and distinct geographies work in New Zealand and Australia is different than the U.S.).
At the top of the hill in Kelburn is a free cable car museum with a gorgeous restored vintage cable car, and an entrance to the botanic gardens.
We were going to take SkyBus to the airport, but due to a Christmas festival in the CBD, I wasn’t sure where it was going to pick up and we were running late.
I observed the high quality transit of Sydney (really, Transport NSW, because it’s all operated by the state of New South Wales) when departing the airport via the Airport Link. The T8 line is operated by Transport NSW’s subsidiary Sydney Trains, but the airport and other stations along the line are owned by a private organization that charges a station access fee (which is about $10 USD). Anyway, the first train we boarded was brand new, delivered this year! The train is called “B set” and has everything Metra doesn’t: Level boarding, passenger information displays, two wide doors per carriage, two full levels, and plenty of seating and standing space at the boarding level for people who need step-free access (this includes people with disabilities, people with strollers, luggage, bikes, etc.).
In addition to Sydney Trains, we rode NSW TrainLink to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains.
We rode the tram line (which they call L1, for light rail) from Chinatown to the Jubilee Park stop to visit Tramsheds, a redevelopment of a, get this, tram shed.
To get to Bondi Beach we rode Sydney Trains to Bondi Junction, a station that hooks into a shopping center and pedestrian shopping street. It’s odd…where we boarded bus route #333 for the final hop to the beach, and where we entered on the return from the shopping street, you can’t really see the station. It appears surrounded by offices and shopping. (I didn’t know this until later, but #333 runs from Circular Quay in the CBD to Bondi Beach and further on.)
SkyBus to and from the airport. This company runs frequent coaches for about $13 USD every 20 minutes from Tullamarine (MEL) airport to Southern Cross station. Here I bought two transit cards so we could ride a “Metro” (regional rail) train to Flinders Street station and then a tram to our hotel in St. Kilda (which is a suburb of Melbourne, but you could walk from our hotel to the Melbourne CBD in 20 minutes).
Melbourne, Victoria, has the world’s largest tram network, and a lot of it is free, so what do you think I did?
I rented a bike and rode around for four hours, as well.
We also rode the Belgrave Metro line to Belgrave station in order to ride Puffing Billy, a steam engine (which I don’t recommend unless you really like steam engines).
To get over to “Welcome to Thornbury”, a food truck and beer garden in the Melbourne “suburb” of Northcote we rode the Mernda Metro line from Central Station and then walked a couple blocks from Croxton Station. To return, we rode the 86 tram (my mom said she prefers the trams to trains because she can see more of the city).
My relaxing flight to Oceania
I have wanted to fly long haul international in business class for quite some time. I thought about saving miles for it. I roughly calculated how long it would take to acquire enough miles: about 3-4 years. And in the meantime, I can’t use the miles for what I think are more valuable trips, like deciding a week before to visit my mom ($600, or 30,000 miles, a “value” of 2 cents per mile).
Anyway, I decided I would pay for business class at some point, when it made sense. I used Google’s ITA Matrix website to find the cheapest days on which to fly one-way in one fare class, and the return in a different fare class. I figured out how to use Google Flights to find those itineraries, which conveniently links to United’s website for final purchase. I couldn’t do it. The prices were too high. And I didn’t want to fly first class from Chicago to San Francisco. (Air New Zealand flies nonstop from Chicago to Auckland, but I wanted to meet my mom in San Francisco so we could be on the same flight to Auckland.)
Fast forward to San Francisco International Airport, and my mom and I walk up to the gate. My mom asked if they hadn’t any better seats in economy available. Keep in mind that boarding starts in 10 minutes, so the answer was no. The gate agent mentioned that there are still seats in business class. I was curious, so I asked how much they were. She quoted me the upgrade fee, clarifying “and that’s per seat”.
I spent two seconds calculating the upgrade fee and comparing it to the hours of research I had done at home finding the right itinerary that would put me in business class for the cheapest outlay. “I’ll do it”, I replied, to which she asked, “For how many?”, double checking if it was for me, or me and my mom. “Two”, I said.
Not only do I still believe that I got a great deal on United’s Polaris business class, I also satisfied a longtime curiosity, enjoyed the flight, and woke up feeling ready to have a full day exploring Auckland.
Before leaving home I felt anxious that we would arrive in Auckland after having spent 14 hours in a cramped seat and potentially waste the first day feeling exhausted. Being able to sleep on a lie-flat seat meant that we felt pretty good when we arrived in Auckland at 8 AM. We got to the hotel by 10 AM – taking SkyBus to the city center – to drop off luggage, because the room wouldn’t be available until 2 PM.
We were still tired, though – when the hotel finally gave us access to a room, we inadvertently took a three hour nap.
No, I didn’t spend my day outside measuring parking lots. I spent it inside measuring existing, available data from OpenStreetMap. The last time I measured the amount of parking area in Chicagoland was on September 16, 2018, using the same data source.
Using the footprints of parking lots and garages drawn into OpenStreetMap as a data source, the area of land in a portion of Chicagoland occupied by parking lots and garages is 254,429,609 square feet. This portion represents the “envelope” of the Chicago city limits.
Last year it was 247,539,968 square feet, so the measured area of this portion of Chicagoland’s parking lots and garages increased by a hair over 2.7 percent. This isn’t necessarily new parking areas, but it’s parking areas that have been documented and mapped.