Update on South Shore Line Expansion

It’s been a while since I posted on the possibility of South Shore Expansion – mainly because it ended up being a nonissue (Valparaiso didn’t want any commuter trains coming to them to begin with, and in the end it seemed that the expansion was looked at out of duty instead of actual desire and forward planning), my enthusiasm for the project nonwithstanding. However, there are plans afoot and it looks like they’re serious for once.

To start with, though, we’re talking about a smaller footprint – nearly a Stub line in many ways, as the plan only goes so far as the Dyer-Munster city limits. I would have thought they would have wanted to at least go as far as to the Dyer Amtrak station and turn that into a true stop instead of what has to be seen now as a glorified Amshack (it is nice, but since there’s no ticketing and the station is used but twice a day…), but it appears that future plans for the West Lake line involve a station closer to US 30 in Dyer itself, and a station at the present Dyer Amtrak station would probably cause problems – especially once commuter-based development starts near the station, wherever it may be placed. Maybe they could move the Dyer Amtrak station where the South Shore Station is when the South Shore is finally extended south from the Dyer-Munster border.

How serious is this?Read More »

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Why Our Roads Suck – A Forced Remembrance.

You know what keeps amazing me? Everyone talking about how “The Government’s gathering up all this money, yet they fix nothing.” The sad thing is that the information is out there, only people don’t care to think about it.

Take the example of roads, bridges and transit:

Right now we pay 18.4 cents/gallon in federal gas taxes, with one penny per gallon dedicated to Mass Transit. This is where it’s been since 1997, when the last bill relating to the Federal Gas Tax was passed.

Fifteen years. Which makes the dollar in 1997 worth seventy cents today, if you’re an optimist…and believe the governmental CPI…and ignore that gas (increased 200%, if my recollections on gas prices are right), material and food prices have shot up much more than what the Governmental CPI is willing to admit.

Add in the fact that much of the construction work today isn’t so much “plant two new ribbons of concrete through miles and miles of farmland” (or even “shut things down to work on everything at once”) but is instead “tear up four lanes to put in six, remake interchanges into SPUIs and make sure traffic keeps moving during the work,” and you have a recipe for less and less being done and costing more and more. Shifting transit funding (all one cent per gallon of it) over to highway funding would just add drops to the bucket.

What’s needed is to change how gas is taxed.
First, peg the tax as a percentage of the tax – like they do with gas taxes in Indiana and Illinois.
Second, base that percentage to what we paid in 1997. Basically, it would be a tripling of tax money at the moment – at least in step with gas inflation, plus keeping up with the rising prices of other materials (and wages). Even if the percentage was dropped (Say…down to 10%, from the de facto 15-18% between 1997 and 2000) it’s definitely higher than the present 5% de facto rate.
Third, instead of a penny of the tax going to transit, put in a certain percentage written into law. Like…20% of the tax going to transit, 80% going to Roads. Some places are just NOT going to be amenable to highways, ramps, parking lots and lawns.
And Fourth: for the first five years, take ten percent off the top for a slush fund, so that when revenue drops commitments made during better times could be completed.

(Not that I expect this to come about. Too many Americans would rather bitch about decaying roads than put their money towards fixing the roads.)

When Everyone Starts Cancelling Transit Projects…

One: As soon as he could Governor John Kasich made repeated sounds that he would cancel the Ohio Hub project, saying that Passenger Rail was not (and thus could never be) in Ohio’s future. After hearing it said enough times, the Government recaptured the funds and redistributed them to other, still active rail projects.

A one-off, right?

Two: Newly elected Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker canceled the Milwaukee-Madison rail line (high speed rail as well) and tried to get the money redistributed to road projects. The government told him “no thanks.”

Okay, two Midwestern governors making two seemingly low-impact moves to favor those who funded their election bids. Right?

Three: New Jersey Governor Christopher James Christie cancels a tunnel meant to duplicate tunnels already going from New Jersey to the Penn Central Station in New York.

Okay, so the ARC Tunnel turned out to be a bit of a problem as it ended up being designed, and maybe sending the #7 underneath the Hudson would be a better idea. But still…three projects canceled between November 2010 and January 2011? Must be the United States, right?

Four: On December 1, 2010, Rob Ford said that the first job of the new transit commission to be appointed on December 8 would be to “stop spending money on a project we don’t need anymore”. Meaning Transit City would be killed.

Granted, he would need the council to do that, as he admitted. He also supports mass transit, more along the lines of Subways and such. But one has to wonder…

– – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Four States/Provinces. Four Right-Of-Center candidates (The Three US governors were Republicans, the Canadian was definitely a right-winger who won what would have been called the Suburbs before the Toronto Amalgamation.) Four transit plans which were summarily canceled (or threatened with cancellation). All by Proclamation, and immediately after election.

Methinks the Republicans (excluding Rob Ford for the whole of this, as he wants to see Subways built up instead of LRTs around town) decided to try to shut down whatever momentum was for public transit by mass-shutting down projects being worked on. By doing so, they could say “See, people didn’t want this stuff, had they wanted it they would have voted them other guys in.” (Never mind that they never said anything before the election). Typical “Shock and Awe here, do stuff right away when the opposition is unable to even react, never mind organize and resist/move. And with state budgets tight (I’ll pummel Clinton over that in due time), striking at the few transit plans that had actually made it to the building stage is bound to have a major impact on moral and future plans (if any are allowed).

And, of course, once it becomes impossible to expand the systems, you’ll start seeing lines shut down. Not much at first, as they’ll have to pick and choose – branches to the Metra Electric, a line in Cleveland, maybe rationalizing a rail line or two in Jersey (no more branching out and branching, or branching between lines) or cutting a stub off at the LIRR. Death by a million cuts.

Already many bus lines have cut back on a regular basis. Chicago has cut back on bus service even through the oughts, don’t be surprised to find out the Rail Lines no longer go 24-7 or some other major cuts start developing.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

I’d like to say “there’s hope for a return to the future. However, things have fundamentally changed since the 1990’s (never mind the ’80’s, when there was still the idea of Government being good, Reagan to the contrary). And with so many plans for expansion having already died, there’s probably plans for closure already being set into motion or put out onto the public’s mind, only to be implemented when the people “resign themselves to the inevitable debasing” of the social contract that had once developed.

There’s no longer any sense that whatever affects us affects our neighbors (or visa-versa). And as fewer and fewer people are “alright, Jack,” less and less will be done simply because people will become bitter. Heck, we’re already losing out ability to empathize with others.

Fact is, it’s been happening since the Seventies. I’ve posted about its causes, we all know the results.

I Remember When I-94 Used To Be Merely Backed Up!

When I first moved into the Northwest Indiana area ten years ago (it’s getting near that date) I had grown used to I-80/94 backing up anywhere from near Calumet Avenue (thank goodness for the merge in/out lane) to past the Indiana Toll Road. Eventually people could make it through, if they stuck on it long enough.

Then they rebuilt the road. It was expanded to four lanes between Broadway and I-294, and they even made the section underneath the intersection four lanes. So now the road rarely backs up.

Only now it closes.

It closed for a few days last year. That time they said some bit of machinery didn’t work the way it was supposed to, and I-80/94 became flooded because of it.

This year the closing has grown so bad that the blockages have expanded. This time I-65 north from US 24 has been closed down for traffic control. All because a dike broke near Kennedy Avenue.

I don’t know about you, but I remember a road that almost never closed. Now we’re talking about a road that closes down every other year, it seems.

Something is VERY wrong.

GM Finally Sees Writing On the Wall…

G.M. Shifts Focus to Small Cars in Sign of Sport Utility Demise

That’s right, friends, General Motors, the champion of the SUV and owner of the Hummer, is now closing down some SUV factories and working to produce smaller cars!

Thing is, seems every time GM (or ANY USA domestic producer) tries to produce smaller cars they trip over themselves, make big mistakes and end up falling further behind in things. They haven’t been able to make a good small car since 1965 (with the exception of Dodge’s Omni GLH) and now have to IMPORT their subcompacts.

< end snarky commentary >

Looking over the article reveals some interesting bits of information:

  1. The graph shows that SUVs have lost market share, while small cars have gained. Crossovers and Trucks have also lost a bit, but not nearly as much as the SUVs have.
  2. Looks like the Volt will still be a go.
  3. GM will be making yet another half million fewer cars this year. It would appear that they’ve DEFINITELY given up on being #1, at least for the next few years.
  4. Hummers have shrunk mightily since 2006. From 71,000 vehicles in the 2006 model year to 14,000 this model year (so far)

The sad thing about this is that I still fear that the USA automobile companies may end up disappearing or changing over to a foreign company. Fact is, the American Automobile Industry has been at its best when it’s built supersized vehicles. 1959, 1972 and 2004 were high-water points for the American Automobile Industry, also the times when big, gaudy cars/SUVs were at their zenith. Small cars were always their weakness, and now that fewer people want the big cars the American Automobile makers are at a severe disadvantage.

Here’s to hoping they actually get things right. However, I wouldn’t bet on it. Don’t be surprised if Toyota comes in a year early and better range with their Volt-esque car (God knows they’re going heavily into hybrids). 

Looking Again at South Shore Expansion

So now the on-again, off-again expansion of the South Shore Line to Valparaiso seems to be on again, even if one of the so-called supporters seems to want to put up a ballot to dismantle the South Shore LIne instead of expand it.

Problem is, now they’re reconsidering all the plans again, including a plan to split the South Shore from Gary instead of Hammond or in Illinois.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

First, here’s the “favored” expansion plan, going from Hammond/Hegewisch to Munster, then Valpo/Lowell:

Route through Munster, with second line to Lowell

It was the running plan, in part because of the NICTD’s ownership of a right-of-way from Hammond to Munster. It also has the possibility of expanding service to the southern part of Lake County, with benefits spreading into Illinois. Also, many of the proposed rail stops along the line would actually be open to transit-friendly development, allowing for the ability of the line to survive on its own, instead of just a commuting line to and from Chicago.

Its main disadvantage is that it runs over the main Canadian National (CN) line, which can see over forty trains a day. CN wants the Northwest Indiana Transit Authority to pay for a third rail line along the CN portion of the route, and at over $1 million/mile, it won’t come cheap.

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Waiting For Chicagoland’s Transit Crisis to Work Itself Out

For the past few months I’ve been watching the CTA, Pace and Metra sweat out multiple funding crisises, only to have the final solution pushed back.

The only problem: What IS the final solution?

It could be proper funding (i.e. an actual sales tax, of about 1%, spread around the six county area), a jury-rigged answer (more casinos, including one on what used to be Meigs Field) or nothing (let the stuff stand by and fall apart).

I’m sitting in Northwest Indiana, watching the circus from “a safe distance.” That safe distance being a state which lobbies for its leading industries to be allowed to do more polluting (and which is opposed by a state next door that is about to force its mass transit to fall apart but is overly eager and willing to deny a county across the state line from it its industries and sources of income) and has apologized for standing on “the wrong side of the Civil War.” They once had a good, unified interurban system but have since embraced the automobile and the eighty-year planning window for road improvements.

I came from a place with good mass transit (and the will to improve it); and while Northwest Indiana has crappy, disjointed Transit (most counties with this many people would unite their services into one county-wide service), there has been enough service to and from Illinois to justify it as a half-way livable place. Remove the money from Illinois Transit (as their Neocon Governor wishes to do) and you get an unlivable urban area with too little roadway and too much demand.

And all this at a time when we need to DEVELOP mass transit.

If the CTA, Metra and Pace lose their funding, I’m going to have to turn away from any and all wishes I have had to move there. I’ve had to put a hold on my ambitions (my financial footing is actually the best it’s ever been), but this may force me to just give up on it.

2nd Avenue Subway: Shrunken Dreams, Dying City?

So now it looks like the Second Avenue Subway (SAS for short) is finally going to be built.

And the present plan sucks.

When the IND Second System was originally put forth (probably with the idea of forcing the IRT and BMT to sell itself to the City), the SAS was planned to be four to six lines wide and went from the Bronx to Queens. Right now the SAS is planned to be just two lines wide (except for a crossing point with the 63rd Street subway section) and stay fully within Manhattan.

Maybe it’s too much today for a transit system to dream of anything more than a subpar system, but where are the dreamers who can plan for something better? I cannot believe that the last person who could think big thoughts in New York was Mr. Moses with his expressways that still continuously threaten to choke the city into a smog-accelerated demise.

Anyway, here’s my thoughts as to how the SAS should be built:

  • One or Two Express Lines in addition to the two local lines planned. Preferably two.
  • Direct Connection to the Bronx, refitting Line 4 or 6 for use by the SAS. I’d prefer Line 4 so you could have transfer points (and possibly connect with the D train), but Line 6 will work out well enough (Line 5 is used by Line 2 as well, so there would be a conflict there).
  • More Stops on the main line. Add one at 6th Street north of Houston, one between Seaport and Hanover Square, one near 60th Street (connect with the Roosevelt Island Tramway; would involve shifting the 55th street stop to 52nd street), and a stop at 78th Street (with the 72nd street stop shifted to 70th or 69th).
  • A link from near the Seaport stop to the Hoyt Street-Schermerhorn Street stop via Court Street, linking the SAS with lines in Brooklyn and Queens and integrating the Court Street stub (now inactive) into the system.
  • Build a 7 line station at 2nd and 42nd. With the SAS working as an intermediate point between the 7 and the surface, there’s no longer a reason to not place a station at that point.
  • If you’re going to put in an endpoint at 125th and Lexington, why not do the obvious: create a 125th line across to Broadway. That would add connections to the Broadway, Eighth Avenue and Lenox/Malcolm X Lines, plus a possible place for redevelopment further north in Manhattan.
  • You could even make build the tunnels in such a way that you could build an extension across to Broadway in Queens (I’d say La Guardia, but I’m guessing they’ll want any route going in that direction to go to Uptown and Downtown Manhattan for that)

Maybe the last item was a pipe dreams (five miles between stops, no real access to the centers of NYC and no tourist spot to send people to), but everything else can be implemented with benefit to the system. While there would be some cost to all of these items, I believe it would all be worth it, especially the four-line idea and the extra stations.

A few thoughts. Probably just an unfulfillable wish list, but something I want anyway.

An Interesting Look At The Past of Public Transit

So I’m looking through a Southern California Transit Coalition website when I run across a listing of historical maps. So I looked up the 1910, 1920 and 1949 route maps.

You would be amazed what the maps tell:

  • The 1910 and 1920 maps show only rail lines; the 1949 map shows roads and rail.
  • The earlier maps show how many tracks are on each route; the 1949 map only shows the routes.
  • The 1949 map shows which rail lines are transit routes and which are used only for freight. If I read the legend right, the area served by the trollies had retreated back to its 1910 range, only without the density.
  • The 1949 map shows what many people viewed a the benefits of busses over trollies. Where one line did all the business between Covina and San Bernadino in 1920, you had three bus lines covering the whole of the corridor in 1949 with convenience added in the mix. Busses also gave a direct transit connection between San Bernadino and Orange County — a routing which would have been costly and bled red ink as a trolly line. Also note the area to the east of the Watts/Compton/Dominguez mainline
  • As interesting as the expansion of service via busses is, it’s also interesting to see where the service was cut back. Redlands was now only an end stop (instead of a local transfer point), everything south of Inglewood had been abandoned (no buses, even) and Pasadena had become merely part of a loop (instead of a center of its own area and gateway to Mount Lowe and a view of the basin).

As one could see clearly with the 1949 map, the automobile was already affecting how people viewed the area and the options given. Transit officials were looking towards busses to expand and fine-tune service, allowing for a greater spreading out where needed.

The automobile would cause greater changes from here, however. The expansion of the Suburbs into and beyond the settled areas served by the rails and busses would cause traffic jams, and the busses would be subjected to traffic jams that even the trams wouldn’t suffer from. Further, a grid of Expressways would develop, making clear the futility of bus usage for all but the poor and stubborn.

Eventually the need for a rail option on its own right-of-way would become known, and (only in America) would the idea of “the cheaper it is, the better quality it is” would lead to corners cut on the light-rail.

Still, it’s interesting to see what had happened, on what was one of the best urban rail transit systems in the nation (in a place one would hardly believe it could have existed, in addition).

Looks Like The Circle Line’s The Favored Son Here At The CTA…

Circle Line Narrowed To Three Possibilities

Looks like they’re opting for a smaller circle line instead of the more logical, more egalitarian mid-city line (Jefferson Park to Ford City alongside Cicero, then Ford City to Red Line 89th street alongside abandoned and presently used rail lines). There’s also a couple other lines (as well as the mid-city line) I’d like to see done before this thing gets built, but you know how things are…

Nevertheless, there’s positives from what I’ve seen, and they come from the fact that they didn’t limit themselves to using the Paulina Corridor:

  1. One of the three accepted options goes all the way to Western Avenue, expanding service to an area with enough need that it has Express Service over much it. That could be the start of a Western Avenue El, which would benefit one of the busiest roads in Chicago.Looking at the poll, it looks like the people are with me on the Corridor to choose. The Western Avenue routing outpolls the two others (and if stuck with an Ashland/Paulina corridor route, avoid the Odgen routing, please). But why the popularity of Light Rail, especially since they already have a strong Heavy Rail Presence, is beyond me. Heavy Rail would allow interconnections and make ordering easier (one set of railcars, not two different types).
  2. Some of the other considered routings had positives of their own besides the circle routing itself. The Halstead and Canal/Clinton options could act as through routes connecting other routes through downtown, and the Ashland/Odgen alignment could allow for through-routing from the Howard to Douglas or Midway while bypassing downtown.

What’s missing, imho, is a connection across from where this line meets the Orange Line across to Pershing Street. Since there’s a connection from the Green Line to the State Street Tunnel, there’s no need to jerri-rig a connection to the Dan Ryan Line. Plus, even if you use the Halsted Corridor, extending the line down to Pershing allows for expanding the el into areas it has never been before (instead of merely increasing service over two or three stations at best). You would also introduce time savings for people using the 95th Street Line going places other than downtown, something avoided by using the Orange Line.

Originally they talked about a three-part building plan for the Circle Line (one part finished, as shown by the Pink Line). Even if they end up doing the Western route, I’d allow for them to add on the Pershing Street connection after building the rest; just as long as the line is planned for and eventually built.