Friday, June 15, 2012

Wave of the transit future?

There might be one plus to the overhaul the Chicago Transit Authority plans to do to that train line that runs down the middle of the Dan Ryan Expressway – it could be the act that forces transit officials from city and suburb to figure out how their systems should work together.

Because the way the system is set up now is so oriented to, perhaps, the first third of the 20th Century – rather than the way the world really works these days.

AT A TIME when some officials think we should be encouraging people to use mass transit more often, we have to accept the fact that the current layout makes such use way too impractical.

There have been times I have lived in city neighborhoods that were laid out in ways where it was utterly practical to rely on the el trains and buses to get around – along with the occasional taxicab.

I can see how some people are able to get through life without an automobile. A part of me wishes I could do that now.

Instead, I keep an aging automobile running because I don’t want the payment of a new car, and the idea of not having any car would keep me completely isolated. Because I’m living these days in a place where I’d be cut off from certain parts of the world.

EVEN THOUGH I live these days just a few blocks (an easy walk) from a Metra commuter station on the Rock Island line that runs from LaSalle Street station to Joliet’s Union Station – where in theory I can catch the Amtrak train that could take me to Springfield, St. Louis or point further on.

Some people don’t even have that much access.

City vs. suburb needs to end....
Which is why I was glad to see the Chicago Sun-Times report on Thursday that has the CTA and Metra trying to figure out how their lines can cooperate. Perhaps some people who now rely on that “red” line train from 95th Street north to downtown can use a Metra Electric train just to the east to be able to make their commute to work when the CTA line is shut down for a major overhaul.

Because the idea that a system meant to get around Chicago proper and another meant to take people from suburbs to downtown just misses the point.

... for good of metropolitan area

MORE PEOPLE FROM suburban areas might be willing to use mass transit if they could more easily get to locations around Chicago – rather than having to take the trip all the way downtown, then try to figure out how to get to whatever neighborhood they want to go to via the CTA.

And let’s be honest. There are holes in the CTA system. I don’t see any el trains that go to the Hyde Park neighborhood. There, the Metra trains that happen to pass through get used for local transportation needs when they make their stops around 51st, 55th and 59th streets.

Or you can take the fact that el trains only go as far south as 95th Street – even though the Chicago city limit is largely 119th Street, and dips as far south as 138th Street in some points.

That’s a large swath of city ignored by the CTA (to the point where those residents have grown up expecting nothing in the way of mass transit, even though their tax dollars have to pay for it).

FOR THOSE CITY residents who have reasons to venture into suburban communities, life can be just as complicated – unless their business happens to be limited to specific communities like Evanston, Oak Park or Cicero.

Life doesn’t end at those communities right on the city border.

So as CTA officials try to figure out how they can use Metra trains to help their riders cope with the shutdown period next year, perhaps they can also engage in the kind of talks that could someday see us have a truly legitimate metropolitan transit system.

For the fact is that the Chicago area continues to grow (Peotone isn’t really as isolated a community as third airport opponents would like to think it is). Mass transit is going to have to grow along with it if we’re going to be able to go anywhere.


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