2008/03/11

Western expansion

There was some big news for Chicago in the paper two weeks ago, but no one seemed to notice. A committee of suburban mayors and county commissioners presented an ambitious proposal for long-term transit improvements on the far West Side and in the western suburbs. The plan calls for the Forest Park Blue Line to be extended up to 13 miles along the Eisenhower, to the Yorktown Mall in Lombard, and for three new north-south transit lines to make it easier for rich people from the suburbs to take transit into the city, for poor people to take transit to their degrading jobs in the suburbs, and for everyone to make intersuburban commutes.


One of those three lines is the Mid-City Transitway, proposed as a bus rapid transit (BRT) line. The other two are a rail line between O'Hare and Midway thru the suburbs, and a BRT line connecting Schaumburg, Elmhurst, Oak Brook, Naperville, and other far west suburbs. A fourth BRT line even further west and widening of the highway are also being considered. (This is the best news article - the Tribune article wasn’t worth much. The preliminary recommendations can be found here.)

The plan would be expensive - between $5.5 and $8 billion dollars - and would probably take a couple decades to complete assuming the money could be found. It’s also well back in the line of transit expansions - the Circle Line, airport express, and extensions of the Red, Orange, and Yellow Lines are all much further along. But it’s still a big deal - the plan is a product of an exceedingly rare cooperative spirit among suburban and county officials, and it would be a big step forward in the transit capacity of the Chicago area. The Cook-DuPage corridor is a major location of jobs but currently has almost no transit options outside the two Metra lines that run a couple miles north and south of the Eisenhower. The Mid-City Transitway, which I’ve argued for before, would be a particularly important expansion of service to fairly dense low-income neighborhoods that have limited transit access.

In fact the Mid-City Transitway seems far more worthy than the Circle Line, and ten billion times better than the airport express line, which should be eliminated altogether from expansion plans. But do we want a bus rapid transit line for the MCT, or should we fight for an El line? Any thoughts on the pros and cons? As for the Blue Line extension, there's still a lot of details we don't know - how far apart the stops would be or how high ridership would be in a comparatively low-density area. What do yous think about the proposals for the suburbs? The only proposal on the table that seems obviously bad to me is widening of the Eisenhower.

The commission website is here. They're accepting public comments until March 31, which can be sent to lenskiw@rtachicago.org (download a public comment form here and send it as an attachment). They're also holding public meetings, but the one in Chicago was yesterday - others are listed on the website.

3 comments:

jenny said...

"There was some big news for Chicago in the paper two weeks ago, but no one seemed to notice."

on the contrary, i've been hearing about this a reasonable amount. it's the benefit of actually living in chicago, jake. :) anyway, one of the issues that was brought up on 848 is that a blue line extension to lombard will be useless without added bus service from the station to workplaces. which i don't think is factored in to the cost. another thought is that if the mid-city transitway was a bus line, it would probably be cheaper and maybe could start up quicker than a train line? considering how long the "slow zone elimination" is taking on the blue line, i can't imagine the painful wait for a new set of rails to be built. it's also a choice between rail maintenance and road maintenance. i don't really know which is better.

as an aside, being a suburban commuter myself, i do think that there are some different issues related to transit planning in the suburbs. namely, since everyone has a car, there's not enough ridership during non-rush hour times to justify having regular bus service. that makes life miserable for the few people who don't own cars or happen to be stuck out at odd times. the train/bus service in the suburbs doesn't eliminate the need for a car but really only supplements it. but, it's definitely better than nothing.

Jake said...

maybe some people noticed, but the media didn't seem to. the tribune and sun-times each had one news article with no follow-up and no opinion writing. as far as i can tell the reader hasn't written anything on it either. pretty lame if these kinds of plans get set by some politicians and bureaucrats after a month-long comment period that hardly anyone knows about.

bus is definitely cheaper than rail, don't know if it's faster to build (the slow zone work is probably so slow because they have to work around running trains, so laying new track would probably be a lot faster). the other things to think of are that rail can handle more passengers and i'm guessing it's more energy efficient if there's a lot of riders. i'd like to see projected ridership figures for the mct - a 2005 study predicted numbers similar to the north side red line, which is the most heavily used line. i wonder if a new El line would do more to encourage high density development along the route than a brt line would.

i also wonder why the proposal for the suburban o'hare-midway link is rail while the mct is bus. might it have something to do with the incomes of the projected ridership?

Patrick said...

My understanding (from a friend who works in city government in Minneapolis) is that buses are cheaper in the short term only; trains are less expensive in the long run. One significant reason is that buses play a major role in degrading roadways; the road maintenance funding required to mitigate damage due to heavy bus traffic is considerable.

The CTA has started to move to some smaller buses, which helps this problem. Ideally, I guess a city would have a system of small electric buses running frequently, feeding into a comprehensive train system.

In any case, I'm shocked - *shocked* - that you would believe rider income correlates with the quality of service delivered in specific cases.