WBEZ | Chicago Transit Authority http://www.wbez.org/tags/chicago-transit-authority Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Why buses arrive in bunches http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/why-buses-arrive-bunches-110941 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/172338843&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>It&rsquo;s a situation that plays out every day in Chicago. Riders show up at a bus stop, and the bus doesn&#39;t show up on time. Then all at once, two appear together.</p><p>The phenomenon is called bus bunching. Corrin Pitluck noticed it often while riding and driving around Chicago, so she put this question to Curious City:</p><p><em>I&rsquo;m interested to know about the urban physics involved in bus bunching, how it happens. I&rsquo;d also like to get drivers&rsquo; perspectives on how they feel about it and how they deal with it and what tools they have to unbunch their buses.</em></p><p>Most CTA bus riders have been frustrated by bunching at least once, but it&rsquo;s not just a problem for them. Bunching is a symptom of a bus system that&rsquo;s not running efficiently, and that creates more street traffic for everyone: bus riders, car drivers and bikers, too.</p><p>And don&rsquo;t be fooled that bunching is simple to combat. Not only is the problem practically inevitable, short-term fixes can sometimes make bus riders feel worse.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">A typical scenario</span></p><p>We watched bus bunching play out on a recent weekday morning at the 66 Chicago bus stop at Chicago and Milwaukee avenues.</p><p>Passengers getting off the Blue Line at Chicago waited for buses downtown, while bus riders worked to get off and board the &ldquo;L.&rdquo; Both groups converged at the bus stop, leaving bus drivers to wait while each got where they were headed.</p><p>Meanwhile, three 66 Chicago buses all rolled east down Chicago toward the stop together.</p><p>&ldquo;Oh, don&rsquo;t get me started,&rdquo; Matt Zachar said while waiting for a bus to arrive. &ldquo;It is inconceivable. I don&rsquo;t understand why one can&rsquo;t just wait and be on schedule like he&rsquo;s supposed to.&rdquo;</p><p>Many riders feel just like Zachar, unable to figure out how two, three or more buses can even be in the same place at once. Bus bunching is ninth on the Chicago Transit Authority complaint list, the subject of around 2 percent of all calls. It seems like there should be something the Chicago Transit Authority can do to keep the buses on schedule.</p><p>That&rsquo;s not always the case, though, according to University of Chicago Professor Donald Eisenstein.</p><p>Eisenstein studies self-organizing systems, like workers in a production line. As a system, buses by design are set up to buch.</p><p>&ldquo;A bus system by nature has bad dynamics,&rdquo; Eisenstein said. &ldquo;Left on its own, buses will bunch.&rdquo;</p><p>Big gaps between buses, he said, will get bigger, while small gaps will shrink. This reality makes it almost impossible to eliminate bunching on a route unless there&rsquo;s a lot of time between buses.</p><p>&ldquo;Zero isn&rsquo;t a possibility,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;The natural dynamics fight against you. I don&rsquo;t think you&rsquo;ll ever get zero bus bunching, so your goal is to reduce it as much as possible.&rdquo;</p><p><a name="slideshow"></a><iframe frameborder="0" height="450" scrolling="no" src="http://interactive.wbez.org/curiouscity/bus-bunching" width="620"></iframe></p><p><em><a href="http://interactive.wbez.org/curiouscity/bus-bunching/">Click here for a full screen and shareable version</a>&nbsp;</em></p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">&#39;At the mercy of the street&#39;</span></p><p>Mike Connelly, the CTA&rsquo;s vice president of planning, said bus bunching isn&rsquo;t a major issue for the agency. According to CTA performance metrics, only around 3 percent of bus trips experience bunching, which the agency defines as a gap of less than 60 seconds between buses at a stop.</p><p>Of course that percentage is greater during morning and evening commutes, as well as along the busiest routes. Still, for Connelly, bus bunching is a smaller part of making sure the buses are on time and consistent.</p><p>&ldquo;Though everyone may be affected at some point, we feel that it&rsquo;s something we work at and that we have a very high standard for [being] unbunched,&rdquo; Connelly said.<a name="routes"></a></p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="320" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" src="http://cf.datawrapper.de/Z5XAO/2/" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" width="620"></iframe></p><p>The main way the CTA tries to combat bunching is scheduling. Each bus is equipped with a GPS tracker, and four times a year the CTA analyses the data to see if there&rsquo;s a more efficient way to run the buses.</p><p>Next, buses are monitored and controlled at key spots on the route, called terminal points. A street supervisor can speed up or hold a bus back to make sure it leaves that point on time and with enough space between it and the bus in front.</p><p>From there, &ldquo;we&rsquo;re at the mercy of the street,&rdquo; Connelly said. There are a few go-to methods, but each comes with a cost: financial costs to the CTA or potential to frustrate bus riders.</p><blockquote><p><a href="#slideshow"><strong>Check out our visual explanation of bus bunching to learn more about how CTA tries to stop bunches</strong></a></p></blockquote><p><span style="font-size:22px;">A driver&rsquo;s view</span></p><p>The CTA&rsquo;s job is complicated by us, the riders, who need to go to a specific point and in a predictable way, so buses can&rsquo;t always go the fastest or easiest way possible.</p><p>&ldquo;For us, the bottom line is that we carry people, so the people have to be our bottom-line,&rdquo; Connelly said. &ldquo;If we were UPS, where you load the boxes and we go, we could make a choice not to deliver down this street at 9 a.m., because there is something going on this street and we could come back at 2 in the afternoon. That&rsquo;s not our choice. Our choice is that there are people waiting at the stop and we&rsquo;re going to go pick them up.&rdquo;</p><p>While bunching can be an annoyance for riders, it&rsquo;s even more stressful for the drivers themselves.</p><p>Michael Toomey is an 11-year CTA veteran and current bus operator on the 77 Belmont route. He said the main thing he wished customers understood was how the smallest disturbances on the street can lead to big delays on his route.</p><p>&ldquo;[It&rsquo;s] minor factors most people wouldn&rsquo;t notice, like a double parked car that I get stuck behind and the bus behind me comes straight through,&rdquo; Toomey said. &ldquo;So if I become two minutes late on a route that runs every four minutes, that&rsquo;s the same as being 15 minutes late on a route that runs every 30 minutes. I get more stress knowing I&rsquo;m two minutes behind schedule and the next bus is scheduled four minutes back, which means I&rsquo;ve got twice as many people to pick up.&rdquo;</p><p>Drivers can do a few things on their own to stop bus bunching, such as leapfrogging the driver in front of them or skipping unneeded stops. On larger problems they coordinate moves with the control center and street supervisors.</p><p>&ldquo;If I see my coworker in front of me, he has a standing load, I pull up and say &lsquo;Come on, you guys. I&rsquo;ve got room&rsquo; and we work together,&rdquo; Toomey said.</p><p>Though Toomey can spot many bunches starting &mdash; he knows how much time an extra load from the Belmont &lsquo;L&rsquo; stop will add, for example &mdash; he sometimes gets as mystified as riders.</p><p>&ldquo;Some days it&rsquo;s wide open, the next it&rsquo;s bumper to bumper stopped,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s something we as operators ask, too. We&rsquo;re throwing our hands up, expecting something major, and there&rsquo;s not.&rdquo;</p><p>Toomey said he wished customers could see the bunching and delays from his eyes, as a problem they share.</p><p>&ldquo;I rode the bus for years, so I&rsquo;ve seen both sides,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;I wish more people had the opportunities to experience it firsthand, because if people could actually see what was happening behind the scenes they&rsquo;d be more understanding.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Now we have an answer. Who asked the question?</span></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/corrinpitluck.jpg" style="height: 201px; width: 280px; float: left;" title="Corrin Pitluck asked Curious City about how bus bunching works. (Chris Hagan/WBEZ)" />Our question-asker, Corrin Pitluck, takes a lot of trips from her Logan Square home with her kids, heading to school or visiting friends. Both as a CTA bus rider and a car driver, she&rsquo;s been fascinated by bus bunching.</p><p>&ldquo;I might be waiting for a bus and it&rsquo;s clear two buses are coming up, or might be driving and making a right turn and trying to be a good citizen and not turn in front of a bus, but waiting back there a ways behind a queue of buses,&rdquo; Pitluck said.</p><p>Growing up in New Jersey and Southern California, she&rsquo;s seen lots of different types of public transportation, and she&rsquo;s seen how easy it is for a bunch to form.</p><p>&ldquo;I have wondered and shook my fist at this bunching problem for decades now.&rdquo;</p><p>We love that she took this empathic element so seriously. It prompted us to speak with driver Michael Toomey and convey the gist to her.</p><p>She was just as shocked as we were when Toomey told a story of a seven-bus bunch he was involved in early in his career at the intersection of Cicero and Chicago. Utility work and an accident shut down all but one lane, and it took him more than a half hour to go one block.</p><p>&ldquo;Oh my gosh, that&rsquo;s unbelievable!&rdquo; Pitluck said.</p><p>Pitluck said the experience helped her understand the position of drivers and the difficulties they face on the road.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s a lot that&rsquo;s out of their hands,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;They have some tools but they&rsquo;re kind of limited in dealing with this ... that buses bunch.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Chris Hagan is a web producer and data reporter at WBEZ. Find him on twitter </em><a href="https://twitter.com/chrishagan"><em>@chrishagan</em></a><em>.</em></p></p> Wed, 15 Oct 2014 15:10:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/why-buses-arrive-bunches-110941 Meet the CTA's super-friendly conductor http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/meet-ctas-super-friendly-conductor-110466 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/157991456&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false; show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><em>Editor&rsquo;s note: The podcast episode available above includes two stories. The first looks at <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/passing-through-chicagos-union-station-amish-transit-hub-110453" target="_blank">why Chicago is a transit hub for the Amish</a>. The profile of CTA conductor Michael Powell begins at 7 minutes, 36 seconds.</em></p><p>The idea for Caroline Eichler&rsquo;s Curious City question first came to her in 2011, shortly after she had finished college and first arrived in Chicago. She didn&rsquo;t know anyone except her roommates and co-workers. &ldquo;And this is the first city I&rsquo;ve ever lived in, too,&rdquo; she says. It&rsquo;s little wonder that she felt &mdash; by her own admission &mdash; &ldquo;pretty terrified and overwhelmed.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p><p>One of the first people Caroline came to recognize in the city was the voice of a certain chatty train conductor during her commute on the CTA&rsquo;s Red Line from Rogers Park to the Jackson stop downtown. She remembers the conductor reminding passengers to grab their umbrellas if it was raining, or he&rsquo;d jokingly advise passengers to take their children with them when they left the train. &ldquo;One time he said &lsquo;May the force be with you.&rsquo; That really cracked me up,&rdquo; she says. Since Caroline only knew a handful of people in the city, even the more reserved announcements such as &ldquo;I hope you&rsquo;re having a great day!&rdquo; were really nice, she says.</p><p>All of this interest in a comforting voice led Caroline to send us this question:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>Who is the super-friendly train conductor on the Red Line?</em></p><p>While tracking down an answer, we learned that the man behind the kind words used the daily commute to comfort himself, too.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">&lsquo;I just started talking&rsquo;</span></p><p>The conductor is Michael Powell, who began working for the CTA in 1978. Getting a job with the CTA was &ldquo;like a dream come true,&rdquo; Powell says. He&rsquo;s always loved trains, and he even had toy trains when he was growing up.</p><p>Talking over the train&rsquo;s PA system came naturally to Powell. &ldquo;I just started talking,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s spur of the moment, I really don&rsquo;t rehearse them. If it feels like I can say something silly or something half-serious, I&rsquo;ll say it.&rdquo;</p><p>Powell is not shy about sharing difficulties he had early in life. The oldest of four children, Powell says his mother &ldquo;had a rough time raising four children, not having a college degree or any education formally.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I could never make her happy,&rdquo; Powell remembers. &ldquo;I didn&rsquo;t like myself because I didn&rsquo;t get any compliments.&rdquo; Eventually Powell went to counseling. &ldquo;I just had to get over my fear or rejection, I think that&rsquo;s everybody&rsquo;s problem,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;When I started getting attention from the train it was like: Hey, I&rsquo;m getting the love or the attention that I didn&rsquo;t have growing up.&rdquo;</p><p>Powell&rsquo;s philosophy about relating to the passengers is straightforward. &ldquo;I just try to make everybody feel good,&rdquo; he says. Knowing people aren&rsquo;t always happy to be on their way to work, he would sometimes give a morning pep talk. &ldquo;Some people feel like they&rsquo;re down in the dumps. They&rsquo;re like &lsquo;Wow-wee, I had to come to work today.&rsquo; And I sometimes say, Yeah, you know, it would be nice to stay home today, but we have to work. What&rsquo;s for dinner tonight? Make sure you have everything with you! Just, you know, look on the bright side of life,&rdquo; he says.</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/MichaelPowell%20for%20WEB.jpg" title="Michael Powell, a CTA conductor for 36 years, was known by commuters for his cheerful quips. (Photo courtesy Katie Klocksin)" /></p><p>Over the years Powell has made an impact on his passengers, and he&rsquo;s been written about many times. When I first introduce him to Caroline, he presents a large binder full of his press clippings, print-outs of mostly-positive comment threads on articles featuring him, cards passengers had sent him, and comments people sent to the CTA. Caroline says she&rsquo;s impressed with how much Michael&rsquo;s comments resonated with people &mdash; enough that many people actually wrote to the CTA with positive feedback.</p><p>&ldquo;He brings out a good side of Chicago,&rdquo; she says.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">End of an era</span></p><p>Fans of Powell and his conversational style as a train conductor may be disappointed to learn that he retired at the end of 2013. He still spends time with a group of friends he calls &ldquo;train club.&rdquo; They get together once a week for breakfast, and they also run model trains and watch train movies together. Michael also became a grandfather this May. He misses seeing his passengers every day, &ldquo;yet it&rsquo;s nice to be a grandfather. It&rsquo;s nice to spend more time at home,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>Caroline asked Powell if he had a fantasy train he&rsquo;d like to drive. &nbsp;&ldquo;Not really,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;I feel like I&rsquo;ve done enough driving in my life. Let someone else do the driving.&rdquo;</p><p>As their time together ends, Caroline tells him: &ldquo;The Red Line community of train riders will miss you.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;ll miss them too,&rdquo; he replies. &ldquo;I had fun.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Caroline%20Re-Touch%20for%20WEB.jpg" style="float: left; height: 242px; width: 200px;" title="Caroline Eichler, who asked about the super-friendly Red Line conductor. (Photo courtesy Caroline Eichler)" /><span style="font-size:22px;">Our question comes from: Caroline Eichler</span></p><p>Caroline Eichler moved to Chicago in 2011, after graduating from Kenyon College. She quickly noticed Michael Powell&rsquo;s distinctive style on the Red Line&rsquo;s train announcements.</p><p>&ldquo;He was one of the first people in city I&rsquo;d recognize,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;I didn&rsquo;t even see him, I would just would know he was there from his voice.&rdquo;</p><p>Powell was a topic of conversation among her roommates as well. They would text each other when they caught Powell&rsquo;s train on their morning or evening commutes. &ldquo;I think I&rsquo;m the most excited about it, but we&rsquo;re all in on it together,&rdquo; Caroline says.</p><p>After three years, Caroline is more settled in the city; she&rsquo;s involved in several musical endeavors, including working as the Music Librarian for the <a href="http://cso.org/Institute/CivicOrchestra/Default.aspx" target="_blank">Civic Orchestra of Chicago</a>. She&rsquo;s also a violinist, and she sings with the vocal ensemble <a href="http://www.lacaccina.com/" target="_blank">La Caccina</a>.</p><p><em>A <a href="http://chirpradio.org/podcasts/person-of-interest-michael-powell" target="_blank">version of this story </a>originally aired on ChirpRadio.org. Katie Klocksin is a freelance radio producer. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/KatieKlocksin" target="_blank">@KatieKlocksin</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 09 Jul 2014 12:03:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/meet-ctas-super-friendly-conductor-110466 Will Chicago scale back its bus rapid transit plan? http://www.wbez.org/news/will-chicago-scale-back-its-bus-rapid-transit-plan-109423 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/AndrewsCROPSCALE.jpg" style="margin: 4px 0px 0px; float: right; height: 315px; width: 300px;" title="Dan Andrews of Kennicott Brothers says squeezing Ashland Avenue traffic into one lane and removing most left turns would hamstring the business. (WBEZ/Chip Mitchell)" />After wrapping up a public-comment period in an ambitious Chicago bus project, Mayor Rahm Emanuel&rsquo;s administration faces tough choices about the design.<br /><br />The city can stick to its plans and push for federal funds to build what would be the nation&rsquo;s most advanced &ldquo;bus rapid transit&rdquo; line. The project would transform Ashland Avenue, beginning with a 5.4-mile leg that would connect several passenger rail lines before they reach the Loop and, planners say, spur economic development that benefits the entire Chicago region.<br /><br />But there could be significant collateral damage, especially to the trucking operations of companies in an historic industrial corridor along the route.<br /><br />The Chicago Transit Authority says the BRT line, which could eventually lengthen to 16 miles, would cut the average Ashland bus ride time roughly in half. But some companies in the Kinzie Industrial Corridor and a few large retailers nearby say they would struggle too much to make and receive deliveries and keep customers flowing in. The companies are pushing hard for the Emanuel administration to eliminate some of the project&rsquo;s key features for speeding up bus service.<br /><br />Along the route&rsquo;s initial leg, which would stretch from Cortland Avenue to 31st Street, the competing interests are obvious.<br /><br />Just outside Rush University Medical Center, one of four major hospitals in the Illinois Medical District, a half-dozen patients and staffers huddled in the cold one evening this week at a bus stop. They included Larry Coldiron, a Rush computer consultant who lives near Midway International Airport and gets to ride the CTA&rsquo;s Orange Line train for most of his commute. But his trip home starts with the Number 9 bus down Ashland &mdash; the city&rsquo;s most heavily used bus route. He said the 2.5-mile journey between the hospital and train usually takes 45 minutes.<br /><br />&ldquo;I&rsquo;ve been doing this for 16 and a half years and it just keeps getting worse,&rdquo; Coldiron said.<br /><br />The BRT project would bring big changes. The buses would have a lane to themselves on both sides of a landscaped median. To keep the buses moving through intersections, most opportunities to turn left from Ashland would be eliminated and many traffic signals would favor the buses. Passengers would board from platforms averaging a half mile apart. The CTA is also aiming for pre-paid boarding to eliminate lines in bus doorways. The project&rsquo;s environmental assessment says the BRT buses would move up to 83 percent faster than today&rsquo;s buses.<br /><br />&ldquo;I&rsquo;d like to see it,&rdquo; Coldiron said.&nbsp;Service that fast could attract some of his coworkers who now drive and pay for parking around the hospital, he said.<br /><br />That&rsquo;s exactly the idea, said Benet Haller, a top planner at the Chicago Department of Housing and Economic Development. &ldquo;They would have more money to spend on other things &mdash; like food, retail goods and housing.&rdquo;<br /><br />Haller said the BRT line would promote development in the medical district, where employment already totals 29,000, and in industrial areas along the route. He said it would also give a shot in the arm to many restaurants and retailers, especially ones that lack their own parking lots. Haller said the economic impact could extend throughout the Chicago region.<br /><br />&ldquo;All of our expressways are, pretty much, at capacity,&rdquo; Haller said. &ldquo;There&rsquo;s no real easy possibility to improve any of them. So, if we want to thrive, it&rsquo;s really going to come to reinvestment back in the central part of Chicago because it&rsquo;s the one part of the region in which there&rsquo;s a really robust transit network.&rdquo;<br /><br /><strong>THE CTA IS GUNNING TO BUILD</strong> the initial leg by 2017. Agency officials say they will apply for Federal Transportation Administration grants to cover an estimated $60 million in costs for detailed design and construction. Later phases would extend the BRT to Irving Park Road and 95th Street and cost another $100 million, the agency says.<br /><br />But there would be other costs, particularly to local businesses whose lifeblood is truck delivery. Those include Kennicott Brothers, an employee-owned flower wholesaler centered at 452 N. Ashland Ave., about a mile north of the medical district.<br /><br />Dan Andrews, a Kennicott manager, says the company runs 13 vans from that location for deliveries to neighborhood florists, grocery stories and companies that help throw events such as weddings and parties. &ldquo;Normally our customers will order in the morning,&rdquo; Andrews said. &ldquo;We&rsquo;ll load up the van with orders for that day and then send them out.&rdquo;<br /><br />Andrews is worried because the BRT design would leave just one lane on each side of Ashland for cars, trucks and regular buses, slowing down the Kennicott vans. &ldquo;It would probably be like rush hour all day,&rdquo; he said.<br /><br />The CTA acknowledges that the Ashland traffic would move slower. A spokeswoman says a peak-hour car trip that now takes 30 minutes would take 36 minutes with BRT in place.<br /><br />Another concern for Andrews is the loss of intersections for turning left off Ashland. &ldquo;With the BRT line, I&rsquo;d have to take three right turns and then I would have to go through a residential area.&rdquo;<br /><br />Andrews has more than deliveries to worry about. Many of Kennicott&rsquo;s customers pick up their flowers. &ldquo;If they can&rsquo;t get to our location, they&rsquo;re going to choose either another vender or they might choose to be delivered to,&rdquo; he said, pointing out expenses associated with deliveries.<br /><br />If Chicago sticks with its BRT plan, Andrews says his company might have to find a location away from Ashland Avenue. &ldquo;It costs you a lot of money to move your company,&rdquo; he said.<br /><br />Economic-development groups in the Kinzie corridor are speaking up for businesses like Kennicott. &ldquo;These companies need every advantage they can to compete in our city,&rdquo; said Roger Romanelli, executive director of the Randolph/Fulton Market Association.<br /><br />&ldquo;Nealey Foods has about 40 trucks every morning,&rdquo; Romanelli said, reeling off names of businesses potentially hamstrung by the BRT project. &ldquo;These companies are critical to our economy.&rdquo;<br /><br />Romanelli says slowing the traffic down and banning the turns would also be unfair to big retailers like Costco, which employs more than 100 people in a new facility at Ashland and 14th Street. He points out that diverting traffic to other congested arteries would not much help much.<br /><br />The Emanuel administration, Romanelli says,&nbsp;ought to scrap the Ashland project and focus on existing buses.&nbsp;Romanelli&nbsp;suggests speeding up service by simply eliminating some stops and using transponders to give buses longer green lights. &ldquo;BRT is not the only solution for Ashland Avenue,&rdquo; he said.<br /><br /><strong>A FEDERALLY REQUIRED 30-DAY PERIOD</strong> for public comment about the environmental assessment ended Friday. Now Mayor Emanuel&rsquo;s administration has to decide whether to make adjustments that might please the plan&rsquo;s business critics but slow the bus service.<br /><br />Randy Blankenhorn, executive director of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, describes the clashing interests. &ldquo;Planners always want the 100-percent solution,&rdquo; he said, pointing to the goal of regional economic growth over the long term. &ldquo;And local businesses are worried about the bottom line today and tomorrow.&rdquo;<br /><br />Blankenhorn says the city should help companies find ways to bypass Ashland and maybe even allow a few more left turns across BRT lanes. &ldquo;But you have to protect the integrity of the transportation investment you&rsquo;re making,&rdquo; he said.<br /><br />On Ashland, that means a bus system fast enough to attract thousands of new riders.<br />&nbsp;</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/cmitchell-0">Chip Mitchell</a> is WBEZ&rsquo;s West Side bureau reporter. Follow him on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/ChipMitchell1">@ChipMitchell1</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>, and connect with him through <a href="https://www.facebook.com/chipmitchell1">Facebook</a>, <a href="https://plus.google.com/111079509307132701769" rel="me">Google+</a> and <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/in/ChipMitchell1">LinkedIn</a>.</em></p></p> Fri, 20 Dec 2013 16:05:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/will-chicago-scale-back-its-bus-rapid-transit-plan-109423 Final phase of Ventra rollout suspended, developer apologizes http://www.wbez.org/news/final-phase-ventra-rollout-suspended-developer-apologizes-109094 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Ventra.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr">Chicago commuters will be able to hold on to those old Chicago Cards and magnetic strip cards for a little while longer. Chicago Transit Authority officials announced the the final phase of the new <a href="http://ventrachicago.com/">Ventra </a>system&rsquo;s rollout will be suspended until a few of its problems are fixed. Chicago Cards and Chicago Card Plus were supposed to be phased out by November 15.</p><p dir="ltr">CTA President Forrest Claypool also said the agency won&rsquo;t pay the developer, Cubic Transportation Systems, any of the $454 million, 12-year contract, until the company meets three criterion: customer service wait times must be five minutes or less, processing times for the tap-and-go function of a Ventra card must be under two and a half seconds--99 percent of the time--and all readers and vending machines must be operational 99 percent of the time.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The bottom line is that too many of our customers are confused and frustrated and that&rsquo;s our fault,&rdquo; Claypool told members of the City Club at a luncheon Tuesday.</p><p dir="ltr">Cubic&rsquo;s head of North American operations, Richard Wunderle, was on hand to answer some questions as well.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;This transition period wasn&rsquo;t our shining light, and for that I want to apologize to the riders of CTA,&rdquo; said Wunderle. &ldquo;It wasn&rsquo;t our best effort but it will get better, so I apologize for that.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Cubic isn&rsquo;t new to the public transit game: They&rsquo;ve got 400 fare-collection projects in operation across the world, including systems in Sydney, London and Washington, D.C. But the Ventra system marks the first time the company&rsquo;s tackled an open-fare, contactless card system; and officials say it&rsquo;s the first of its kind in North America.</p><p dir="ltr">Wunderle said Cubic engineers are already at work on a number of fixes to get things up to speed.</p><p dir="ltr">One issue that&rsquo;s drawn many complaints from CTA riders is being charged for multiple taps of their Ventra card at the turnstile. Officials say customers would tap their card, and after not immediately seeing a green &ldquo;Go&rdquo; signal, they&rsquo;d tap multiple times or move to a different lane. As of Tuesday, Cubic said they added a new &ldquo;processing&rdquo; screen to show riders the system is working before it lets them through. Engineers will also be upgrading the Ventra software over the weekend to try and bring processing times down on card readers to two-and-a-half seconds or less. CTA officials said that&rsquo;s happening 95 percent of the time--but the other 5 percent of the time, processing times varied from three to 10 seconds, sometimes more.</p><p dir="ltr">Claypool said the issue that&rsquo;s upset him the most is the long wait times for callers trying to reach a customer service agent, calling it a &ldquo;self-inflicted wound.&rdquo; The CTA chief said on one day last month, the center was overwhelmed with 20,000 calls. Some customers couldn&rsquo;t get through to an agent at all, while others waited, and waited - in some cases, for more than 30 minutes. Cubic has hired more customer service agents since then, and plans to expand further.</p><p dir="ltr">No timeline has been set for when the Ventra rollout will continue. Wunderle said he can&rsquo;t really give a &ldquo;best guess&rdquo; how long it will take the company to address the CTA&rsquo;s three benchmarks, only estimating &ldquo;weeks&rdquo; when pressed by a reporter.</p><p dir="ltr">Other interesting Ventra facts:</p><ul><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">The entire Ventra contract lasts 12 years: The two years allotted for engineering the system are almost up. The next 10 years of the contract will be for the service.</p></li><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">Cubic paid $92 million up front toward the transition: installing card readers, vending machines, call center operations, etc.</p></li><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">CTA lawyers will be looking into how many fares they&rsquo;ve missed because of bus drivers waving people through when there seemed to be problems with the Ventra card</p></li><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">50 percent of CTA riders are now using Ventra cards</p></li><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">Card readers will now display a &ldquo;low balance&rdquo; screen that lets customers know their Ventra card balance is under $10</p></li></ul><p dir="ltr"><em>Lauren Chooljian is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/laurenchooljian">@laurenchooljian</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 06 Nov 2013 13:30:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/final-phase-ventra-rollout-suspended-developer-apologizes-109094 Six high schools pilot special Ventra card http://www.wbez.org/news/six-high-schools-pilot-special-ventra-card-108557 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/VentraKids.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-5a15757f-ca84-6264-e09e-ca2abe762bd2">Riding public transportation could get a bit easier for some Chicago Public School students.</p><p dir="ltr">At six of the city&rsquo;s public high schools, students are getting a single card that serves as both a student ID and a transit card. The pilot schools are Alcott College Prep, Al Raby School for Community and Environment, Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, Lincoln Park High School, Morgan Park High School and Southside Occupational Academy.</p><p dir="ltr">Micheala Sharp is a junior at Lincoln Park High School, but lives in the Austin neighborhood on the West Side of the city. She takes two buses for a total of about an hour and 15 minutes to get to school every day. As she explained how she got to and from school every day, she encouraged me to get a piece of paper. It&rsquo;s complicated.</p><p dir="ltr">That&rsquo;s because in the past, students have had to use a variety of different paper cards in order to get on buses or trains with reduced rates. Many students rely on the Chicago Transit Authority to get to and from school because CPS does not provide busing to all students.</p><p dir="ltr">Since the beginning of 2013, students used a &ldquo;student fare card&rdquo; and paid 75 cents per ride between 5:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. Outside of school hours, students between age 7 and 11 could carry a separate card to pay the &ldquo;reduced fare&rdquo; rates offered to senior citizens and people with disabilities ($1 for the bus, $1.10 for the train). Students between age 12 and 20 had to pay full fare and carry a separate, regular fare CTA card.</p><p dir="ltr">Under the new Ventra system, all students will get a single hard plastic card, which will know what rate to charge them based on the date, time of day and age of the person registered to the account. All CPS students will get this type of &ldquo;smart&rdquo; card.</p><p dir="ltr">On the second day of school, when students started using the cards, the Chicago Tribune <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chi-cta-ventra-card-20130827,0,941710.story">reported glitches</a> parents were having with student accounts. According to the Tribune, parents said the online balance appeared to be zero after having loaded money on the card.</p><p dir="ltr">CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase said they are working through glitches and if anyone has issues, they should alert the CTA.</p><p dir="ltr">Chase told WBEZ that the goal is to move all high school students in CPS to a combination ID card, like those being piloted at six high schools this year.</p><p dir="ltr">Members of the Mikva Challenge Youth Commission had advocated for a more streamlined student fare card system. In 2010, students recommended a combination ID card similar to the one being piloted this year, but one that would also link a Chicago Public Library account.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Free fares for students?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Last year, Mikva also worked with the Mayor Rahm Emanuel on another <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/mayor/press_room/press_releases/2012/august_2012/mayor_emanuel_ctaandcpsannouncefreefarecardpilotprogram.html">privately-funded pilot program that gave 100 students at five high schools</a> free fare cards last school year. Data collected from the program showed a five percent increase in attendance.</p><p dir="ltr">The future of that program is unclear. A spokeswoman in the Mayor&rsquo;s office said they&rsquo;re exploring ways to continue that program with the help of private donors.</p><p dir="ltr">For the past couple of years, all CPS students, and accompanying adults, have been able to ride for free on the first day of school. CTA officials say they plan to continue this plan going forward.</p><p dir="ltr">CPS also provides free transportation, either a yellow school bus or a CTA pass, to homeless students, according to Rene Heybach, director of the Law Project at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. On Tuesday, she said it remained unclear how homeless children and their parents would be transitioned to the new Ventra system.</p><p dir="ltr">CTA spokeswoman Lambrini Lukidis said homeless students will remain covered under the new Ventra system.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The Chicago Transit Authority has been working with CPS on ways to administer the program which are the most efficient,&rdquo; Lukidis said in an email statement. &ldquo;Until the STLS program transitions to the new fare system, students in the program can continue to use the magnetic stripe cards which are issued by their schools.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Lukidis also said any &ldquo;free&rdquo; rides, like those offered on the first day of school and on New Year&rsquo;s Eve, are actually funded by private donations.</p><p><em>Becky Vevea is a producer for WBEZ. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZeducation">@WBEZeducation</a>.</em></p></p> Thu, 29 Aug 2013 09:28:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/six-high-schools-pilot-special-ventra-card-108557 CTA wants local artist Theaster Gates to create work at a Red Line station http://www.wbez.org/sections/art/cta-wants-local-artist-theaster-gates-create-work-red-line-station-108046 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Screen Shot 2013-07-14 at 11.33.22 AM.png" alt="" /><p><p>The Chicago Transit Authority wants a well-known local artist to create two pieces for a Red Line station.</p><p>Theaster Gates is an award-winning artist who has a show at the city&rsquo;s Museum of Contemporary Art now. He&rsquo;s known for exploring the intersection of art and urban planning, such as his <a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Ftheastergates.com%2Fsection%2F117693_Dorchester_Projects.html&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNHJBPUMGolava_MSEMpGT1tjlVzEw">Dorchester Projects</a>.</p><p>Gates doesn&rsquo;t know what the CTA art would look like yet: He says he&rsquo;d base his design on input from residents.</p><p>Local colleges and community groups would help him with the installations, and so would high school students in an apprenticeship program.</p><p>&ldquo;I want them to see that process and understand that architect and builders and developers and planners help shape that work along with artists,&rdquo; Gates said.</p><p>The proposed artwork is part of a larger renovation to the aging CTA Red Line terminal at 95th Street. The CTA board is expected to vote on the project Monday.</p><p>Lee Jian Chung is a WBEZ arts and culture intern. Follow him @jclee89</p></p> Sun, 14 Jul 2013 11:29:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/sections/art/cta-wants-local-artist-theaster-gates-create-work-red-line-station-108046 Six tunnels hidden under Chicago’s Loop http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/six-tunnels-hidden-under-chicago%E2%80%99s-loop-107791 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-assets/curiouscity/tunnels/index.html" target="_blank"><img a="" alt="" below="" class="image-original_image" download="" file="" fit="" for="" get="" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/CCTunnels new topper.jpg" the="" title="Drawings by Erik Nelson Rodriguez of the Illustrated Press. Click on the picture above for a full-sized graphic or click &quot;Download the graphic!&quot; below to get a file fit for printing!" to="" /></a></div></div></div></div><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F97891205&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>Karri DeSelm works in the JW Marriott Building, on the corner of LaSalle and Adams in downtown Chicago. Her building, the last designed by famed architect Daniel Burnham, was completed in 1914, and underwent major renovations two years ago. Karri says that at the time, her boss told her that she had been down deep into the building&rsquo;s basement, where she had seen the entrance to a secret tunnel that ran underneath the Loop.</p><p>That got Karri wondering:</p><blockquote><p><em>&ldquo;I have heard there is a network of layered tunnels under the city. Is this true, and if so, what was the purpose of the tunnels when they were designed and built?&rdquo;</em></p></blockquote><p>For starters, it&rsquo;s true &mdash; there <em>are</em> many tunnels underneath the Loop. We found no fewer than <em>six different sets of tunnels</em>, including the tunnels connected to Karri&rsquo;s building.</p><p>Each of the tunnels we found was at some point, or continues to be, a critical part of Chicago&rsquo;s infrastructure. The city would be lost without these tunnels. Sometimes they&rsquo;re hidden, and sometimes they&rsquo;re just overlooked, taken for granted by the people who walk above them. But trust us &mdash; 2.8 million people would notice the tunnels&rsquo; absence because they&rsquo;d have no reliable source of clean tap water, no flood control and no crosstown &ldquo;L&rdquo; service in the Loop.</p><p>And the tunnels that aren&rsquo;t still in use are more than just odd architectural remnants or historical curiosities. They may be obscured from sight and from memory (or even sealed off), but they&rsquo;re still an important part of the city&rsquo;s built environment. As one source put it, we ignore the tunnels at our own peril. When we erect new buildings downtown, we do so in a densely layered maze of infrastructure, both old and new.</p><p>To help wrap our heads around Karri&rsquo;s question, we worked with Erik N. Rodriguez of <a href="http://illuspress.com/">The Illustrated Press</a>. Based on our reporting, he created the graphic above, which shows six different kinds of tunnels, how deep underground they are and how they&rsquo;re situated relative to one another. Note, though, that the drawing is a composite; it shows what can be found at different depths across the Loop, but not necessarily beneath any single street address.</p><p><strong>1. The Pedway</strong></p><p>File Chicago&rsquo;s Pedway under tunnels you may not know you know. You may have seen the system&rsquo;s distinctive black and gold compass logo marking the entryways of skyscrapers downtown without knowing what they signified.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/CuriousCityTunnelsThumbs-1.jpg" style="float: left; height: 200px; width: 300px;" title="" />Short for &ldquo;pedestrian walkway,&rdquo; this maze-like system of semi-public hallways connects the basements of more than 50 Loop buildings, including municipal buildings like City Hall and the Thompson Center, shopping centers like Macy&rsquo;s and Block 37, and a few newer residential buildings, like the hypermodern Aqua tower. The Pedway also snakes through two CTA stations, a Metra station and several underground parking garages along Michigan Avenue.</p><p>Although the Pedway provides a climate-controlled alternative to Chicago&rsquo;s sidewalks, it&rsquo;s more than just a thoroughfare. Under its fluorescent lights and beige ceiling tiles you can get your haircut, get a clock fixed, grab coffee, shop for a blender or order new license plates.</p><p>Perhaps that&rsquo;s why Amanda Scotese offers walking tours of the Pedway through <a href="http://www.chicagodetours.com/">Chicago Detours</a>, her unconventional tourism company. As Scotese&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.chicagodetours.com/images/chicago-pedway-map-detours.pdf">carefully researched Pedway map</a> illustrates, this system of tunnels is a disconnected mishmash. Although the Chicago Department of Transportation technically oversees the Pedway, many sections are owned by other government entities, while still others are privately owned and controlled by the management of whatever building they pass underneath.</p><p>Case in point: During a recent afternoon rush hour visit to the Pedway, Scotese, our question-asker Karri and I were stymied by a section of the Pedway under City Hall that closed promptly at 5 p.m.</p><p><strong>2. CTA tunnels</strong></p><p>File these tunnels under those you probably take for granted. Although the city prides itself on its extensive network of elevated trains, two downtown subway tunnels also move commuters through the Loop. These tunnels are now owned and operated by the CTA, and in 2012, the combined &ldquo;L&rdquo; stops inside the two tunnels <a href="http://www.transitchicago.com/assets/1/ridership_reports/2012-Annual.pdf">served an average</a> of 82,343 passengers every weekday.&nbsp;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/CuriousCityTunnelsThumbs-2.jpg" style="float: left; height: 200px; width: 300px;" title="" />The first tunnel runs beneath State Street and serves the Red Line. The second goes under Dearborn Street and Milwaukee Avenue and serves the Blue Line.</p><p>The city began digging the two subway tunnels in 1938, with the help of money from FDR&rsquo;s New Deal and the Works Progress Administration.</p><p>Meant to accommodate crosstown &ldquo;L&rdquo; traffic, which could become snarled in the Loop, the tunnels range from 20 to 60 feet underground. Steel and concrete tubes 200 feet long housed the tunnels as they passed under the Chicago River.</p><p>As was the case with previous public works, the opening of the State Street subway tunnel in 1943 was cause for celebration: The curators of the transit history site <a href="http://www.chicago-l.org/">Chicago L</a> <a href="http://www.chicago-l.org/operations/lines/state_subway.html">describe the festivities</a> this way:</p><blockquote><p><em>Between 10:25 and 10:45 a.m., ten special trains arrived at State and Madison to unload their passengers. At 10:47 a.m., Mayor Kelly cut a ceremonial red, white, and blue ribbon strung across the northbound track, officially giving the new subway to the city.</em></p></blockquote><p>The Dearborn Street tunnel, delayed by World War II, was completed in 1951.</p><p><strong>3. Freight tunnels</strong></p><p>Of all the tunnels under the Loop, the 60 miles of freight tunnels 40 feet underground are the most extensive. They also happen to be unique to Chicago.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/CuriousCityTunnelsThumbs-3.jpg" style="height: 200px; width: 300px; float: left;" title="" />Dug by a private company between 1899 and 1906, these tunnels were meant to hide many miles of telephone cable. But transit historian Bruce Moffat says that somewhere during the construction process &ldquo;the company&rsquo;s promoters decided to build very large conduits &mdash; large enough for freight trains.&rdquo;</p><p>Tiny freight trains, that is. The tunnels were only seven feet tall and horseshoe-shaped, with concrete walls and tracks running along the floor. Meaning ... these freight cars were no bigger than small dumpsters.</p><p>This literal underground railroad delivered coal and freight to the sub-basements of prominent buildings in the Loop: City Hall, the Tribune Tower, the Merchandise Mart and dozens more.</p><p>The tunnels stretched from 16th Street to River North and the Field Museum. Remarkably, the tunnel system followed the street grid above so, to this day, you can navigate the freight tunnels using an ordinary Chicago street map.</p><p>That is if you could get inside. Most of the tunnel entrances were sealed in 1992, after a construction crew driving pilings into the Chicago River punctured the tunnels, flooding them and the buildings to which they were connected.</p><p>(We thought these freight tunnels were so interesting that they warranted their own radio story. Stay tuned, as it will air during WBEZ&rsquo;s June 21 broadcast of <em>All Things Considered</em>.)</p><p><strong>4. Cable car tunnels</strong></p><p>Between 1882 and 1906 it was the cable car network, not the &ldquo;L,&rdquo; that served as Chicago&rsquo;s main form of public transit. In fact, Chicago&rsquo;s cable car system was once the largest and most profitable of its kind.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/CuriousCityTunnelsThumbs-4.jpg" style="float: left; height: 200px; width: 300px;" title="" />The technology that powered cable cars &mdash; a single, continuous underground cable &mdash; wasn&rsquo;t compatible with the drawbridges that carried most other traffic over the Chicago River. Tunnels, though, could extend cable car service beyond the Loop to the city&rsquo;s North and West Sides.</p><p>The first two cable car tunnels made West Side service possible via Washington Street and North Side service possible via LaSalle. These tunnels were expanded from remnants of pedestrian and wagon tunnels dug at the same locations in 1869 and 1871. In fact, just a few months after it opened, the LaSalle Street tunnel served as a major escape route during the Great Chicago Fire.</p><p>Sitting 60 feet below ground, these new cable car tunnels were deeper than their predecessors, but they also happened to be steeper. The new tunnels had a 12 percent grade &mdash; three times the rise of today&rsquo;s CTA trains.&nbsp;</p><p>A private company built a third cable car tunnel between Van Buren and Jackson Streets in 1894. All three tunnels were later adapted for electric street cars, which replaced cable cars beginning in 1906.</p><p>But both means of transit ultimately fell out of use. When the &ldquo;L&rdquo; became ascendant the cable car tunnels were abandoned and sealed.&nbsp;</p><p>They&rsquo;re still there, though, and there&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/dynamic-range/search-chicago%E2%80%99s-abandoned-cable-car-tunnels-107715">plenty more to read about their remnants</a>.</p><p><strong>5. Water tunnels</strong></p><p>In 1867 Chicago built an intake crib two miles out in Lake Michigan to collect fresh drinking water for the growing city. Earlier efforts to collect water closer to shore had failed. If this fact inspires a big yawn from you, consider that at this point the city was still dumping sewage into the Chicago River, which fed directly into the lake.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/CuriousCityTunnelsThumbs-5.jpg" style="float: left; height: 200px; width: 300px;" title="" />This new crib fed water to the Pumping Station at Chicago and Michigan Avenues via a five foot tall, oval-shaped, brick-lined tunnel more than 10,000 feet long. At the time it was considered an engineering marvel. The crib-and-tunnel solution to water collection proved effective enough that Chicago built seven more intake cribs before 1935.</p><p>Those intake tunnels now feed through the city&rsquo;s two filtration plants, but at least one tunnel was taken out of service and sealed when a portion of it collapsed near Lake Shore Drive in 1998. Officials also shut down portions of the drive during repairs, fearing the collapse might be a hazard for motorists.</p><p>But the city is tight-lipped about what other parts of this infrastructure remain in use. We wanted to know where the remaining tunnels are located and how deep underground they are, but the Department of Water Management denied our request.</p><p>Tom LaPorte, the department&rsquo;s spokesperson and Assistant Commissioner, said the department feared such information might make the city&rsquo;s water infrastructure more vulnerable to terrorist attacks.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re the world&rsquo;s largest water treatment facility,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Anything that&rsquo;s going to put us at risk we&rsquo;re not going to do, even for WBEZ.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>6. The Deep Tunnel</strong></p><p>The Deep Tunnel is rarely referred to by its full name, the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan (TARP). But its nickname is apt; at a maximum depth of 350 feet it&rsquo;s the deepest of the six sets of tunnels we&rsquo;re treating here. When Chicago&rsquo;s freight tunnels flooded in 1992, the water was drained into here.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/CuriousCityTunnelsThumbs-6.jpg" style="float: left; height: 200px; width: 300px;" title="" />This network of giant overflow sewers was built to prevent flooding and cut pollution in the region&rsquo;s waterways. When heavy storms hit the Chicago area, excess rainwater funnels into the Deep Tunnel system rather than into the lake.</p><p>The tunnels&rsquo; depth is not the project&rsquo;s only stunning statistic. As <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tunnel_and_Reservoir_Plan">one writer</a> put it, &ldquo;the mega-project is one of the largest civil engineering projects ever undertaken in terms of scope, cost and timeframe.&rdquo;</p><p>Phase 1 construction, a network of nearly 110 miles of tunnels designed to store 2.3 billion gallons of water, began in 1975 and was not completed until 2006. Three enormous reservoirs, designed to store an additional 14.8 billion gallons of water, are set to be completed by 2029.</p><p>The Deep Tunnel&rsquo;s operator, The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, kindly offered us a tour of the project&rsquo;s south suburban pumping station, which, they told us, has a main chamber &ldquo;the size of two NBA basketball courts.&rdquo;</p><p>We declined their offer, but only for now. Curious City receives so many different questions about the Deep Tunnel and its economic and environmental impact that we&rsquo;re planning a separate story for later this summer digging into that.</p><p><strong>Tunnels aplenty, but running out of space</strong></p><p>So Chicago is chock full of tunnels, at least downtown. There are other tunnels, too, in other parts of the city. Since I&rsquo;ve started my reporting I&rsquo;ve had sources regale me with tales of industrial tunnels that connect factories in Bridgeport, and listeners write in with tidbits about a tunnel that might run under Midway Airport.</p><p>But is the time for tunnels over in this city? Or could we see the construction of new tunnels in the future?</p><p>Sources we talked to said it&rsquo;s unlikely. Most of the tunnels detailed above were built during Chicago&rsquo;s greatest growth and expansion. Chicago had 330,000 residents in 1870, but it boasted over a million just 20 years later. Major works of infrastructure, whether financed publicly or privately, were needed to support and encourage such growth.</p><p>But now, Chicago&rsquo;s population is declining &mdash; as many as 181,000 people left the city between 2000 and 2010 &mdash; even if some parts of town, like the Loop, have grown lately.</p><p>And between all the tunnels already under the Loop and other kinds of buried municipal and private infrastructure, it&rsquo;s pretty crowded underground. While there&rsquo;s no shortage of ongoing infrastructure projects abounding in Chicago, whether it&rsquo;s the <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-09/bloomingdale-trail-reveals-chicagos-idea-grand-city-planning-102655">renovation of the Bloomingdale Trail</a> (sorry, I mean <a href="http://chicagotonight.wttw.com/2013/06/17/sneak-peek-606">the 606</a>), upgrades to the Chicago riverfront or basic maintenance to the city&rsquo;s sewers, only the Deep Tunnel remains on the city&rsquo;s tunnel horizon.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>That means that every tunnel down there now will one day be old. We may even abandon the newer ones someday in favor of better, more efficient solutions that haven&rsquo;t yet been invented.</p><p>For our question-asker Karri, that&rsquo;s a good reminder to pay attention to what&rsquo;s there now.</p><p>&ldquo;You work up in an office cubicle and don&rsquo;t think about [what&rsquo;s underground],&rdquo; Karri said. Exploring that infrastructure now &ldquo;can remind you of a flood, or the original purpose of the area, the history of it.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;I guess that&rsquo;s its value.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Robin Amer is a producer on WBEZ&rsquo;s digital team. Follow her on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/rsamer">@rsamer</a>.&nbsp;</em></p></p> Thu, 20 Jun 2013 19:29:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/six-tunnels-hidden-under-chicago%E2%80%99s-loop-107791 Minorities, women get $82.5 million in CTA Red Line contracts http://www.wbez.org/news/minorities-women-get-825-million-cta-red-line-contracts-107754 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/red line_130618_nm.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>The Chicago Transit Authority says the massive Red Line reconstruction on the South Side isn&rsquo;t just improving ridership for African Americans who live there &ndash; it&rsquo;s also giving them jobs.</p><p>Amid pressure to be inclusive with millions of contracting dollars at stake, CTA has awarded 32 percent of Red Line contracts to businesses owned by minorities and women &ndash; totaling $82.5 million.</p><p>African-American groups have long complained about being shut out of city contracts. They were particularly sensitive to the Red Line renovations because the stations under construction are in predominantly black neighborhoods.</p><p>The five-month CTA project is between Cermak-Chinatown and 95th/Dan Ryan. The contract portion of the renovations is $259.4 million with two prime, or main, companies. Kiewit Infrastructure Company, an international firm, is completing the track work to the tune of $215.6 million and F.H. Paschen, S.N. Nielsen and Associates is in charge of station work for $43.8 million.</p><p>According to the CTA, Kiewit&rsquo;s minority/women contract amount is $65 million and Paschen&rsquo;s is $17.5 million. CTA officials told WBEZ they don&rsquo;t have final numbers regarding the racial breakdown of on-site workers, but they set a mandatory goal for prime contractors: 15 percent of all man-hours must go to the economically disadvantaged.</p><p>The federal program in which these subcontractors qualify is called the <a href="https://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/ofinterest/bus/mwdbe.html" target="_blank">Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE)</a>. It must be 51 percent owned and controlled by a socially and economically disadvantaged individual. The CTA is actually governed by the federal designation, not the city of Chicago. However, there is overlap with DBE companies and city-certified minority/women businesses. Chicago&rsquo;s contract program for minority and women businesses has, in the past, been marred by fraud, abuse and mismanagement. &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;We believe that things have gone very well thus far. The companies that signed on as subcontractors, in particular the DBEs, are working well with the prime (contractors). We&rsquo;re encouraged as we move into the completion of the first full month of construction that things will continue to go well until the Red Line reopens in October,&rdquo; said Stephen Mayberry, a CTA spokesman.</p><p>One of the African-American subcontractors that works for another subcontractor is LiveWire Electrical Systems. The Oak Forest, Ill.-based company is receiving $1 million to retrofit lighting at Red Line stations.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s difficult to get the prime contracts because bonding requirements are very high,&rdquo; said LiveWire&rsquo;s president Shon Harris. &ldquo;It makes it difficult for smaller subcontractors. Right now you just have to cut your deal with the prime and demand that you get a proper share of the work and make sure you perform,&rdquo; Harris said.</p><p>In the past, Harris said one of the biggest difficulties was getting the buy-in of prime contractors. The skepticism can often be <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/race-out-loud/race-and-construction-who-gets-jobs-101415" target="_blank">cloaked in race</a>, Harris said, pointing to trade unions that are dominated by whites.</p><p>&ldquo;To be quite honest, a lot of times they feel you don&rsquo;t have the wherewithal to do the work,&rdquo; Harris said. But Harris said this time around the CTA has stuck to its commitment of making sure African Americans are represented.</p><p>Months before the Red Line tracks were ripped up, the Chicago Urban League organized meet-and-greets for minority contractors to sit down with major construction firms. The League also compiled a database of 2,000 skilled black construction workers. City contracts and construction jobs can be a boon, especially in areas starved for employment opportunities. Last year a <a href="http://www.epi.org/publication/ib337-black-metropolitan-unemployment/" target="_blank">report</a>&nbsp;found that African-American unemployment in Chicago was 19 percent, the third highest in the country.</p><p>&ldquo;We created real, meaningful opportunities for a range of African American businesses. We created opportunities and access for jobs for skilled workers to get onto the project. It&rsquo;s not just token representation,&rdquo; said Andrea Zopp, CEO of the Chicago Urban League.</p><p>Critics of city contracts have long said the process is a playground for the politically connected. Zopp said many small subcontractors don&rsquo;t have access like the bigger players in town. The League also offers a 10-week contractor development program. Six of the businesses that graduated are currently CTA subcontractors &ndash; including LiveWire.</p><p>&ldquo;We wanted to be involved because so far on many major building projects or construction projects run by the government, African Americans aren&rsquo;t represented,&rdquo; Zopp said.</p><p>One example that many often cite is the recent Metra Englewood Flyover rail project. Last year U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush loudly protested the <a href="http://www.suntimes.com/news/politics/12299737-418/metra-to-delay-englewood-flyover-project.html" target="_blank">paltry number of minority contractors involved</a>.</p><p>&ldquo;We are sick and tired of construction contracts in our communities that bring us all the dust, all the dirt, all the delay but none of the dough,&rdquo; Rush told the <em>Chicago Sun-Times</em>.</p><p>The affirmative action program for city contracts started under Mayor Harold Washington&rsquo;s administration in 1985. In 2010, the city inspector released a report critical of the program. The inspector&rsquo;s investigation uncovered the use of front companies &ndash; businesses pretending to be minority firms to secure city contracts.</p><p>Bob Israel, president of Save Our Community Coalition, is on alert for front companies cashing in on the Red Line renovation.</p><p>&ldquo;It ain&rsquo;t the CTA &ndash; it&rsquo;s the contractors I have my eyes on. Just because they&rsquo;re certified doesn&rsquo;t mean they&rsquo;re legit,&rdquo; Israel said.</p><p>His coalition is an advocate for African-American contractors and tradesmen and so far, he said, one Red Line subcontractor has caught his eye &ndash; Sandi Llano, a white female, received $250,000 to be a community liaison and outreach consultant.</p><p>&ldquo;A Caucasian female?&rdquo; Israel asked incredulously, referring to the fact that mostly black riders are affected by the shutdown along the southern portion of the Red Line. The CTA said it cannot dictate which firms the prime contractors hire.</p><p>Last fall, Israel <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/labor/black-chicagoans-rally-demand-construction-jobs-102776" target="_blank">marched with Ed Gardner</a> and 1,000 others at 92nd and Western in the suburb of Evergreen Park to protest a lack of black construction jobs where a shopping center was being built. Gardner, a millionaire and founder of the iconic Soft Sheen hair care company, said he has met with CTA officials and wants proof of black workers.</p><p>&ldquo;At least let us see what they&rsquo;re doing and when they&rsquo;re doing it,&rdquo; Gardner said. &ldquo;We should have a chance to see a result of their works. I don&rsquo;t know when they [blacks] are supposed to earn these dollars.&rdquo;</p><p>Zopp said the Chicago Urban League efforts show that minority hiring and contracting is feasible &ndash; even when it&rsquo;s not a government project like the Red Line. And though they&rsquo;re not always tied to city rules, she wants private developers to take note.</p><p>&ldquo;If the private developers are truly committed to diversity, this shows that it&rsquo;s doable. Many of those private developers have public support and tax incentives,&rdquo; Zopp said. &ldquo;What we&rsquo;ve proven here is there&rsquo;s no excuse. If private developers won&rsquo;t support the community, we shouldn&rsquo;t support their businesses.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Natalie Moore is WBEZ&rsquo;s South Side reporter. Follow her <a href="http://twitter.com/natalieymoore" target="_blank">@natalieymoore</a>.</em></p><h2><strong>Kiewit Construction Dan Ryan South Team</strong></h2><p>&nbsp;</p><script type="text/javascript" src="//ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/static/modules/gviz/1.0/chart.js"> {"dataSourceUrl":"//docs.google.com/a/chicagopublicradio.org/spreadsheet/tq?key=0Am5Rt8H_U2b1dEc1Y28wclhzOWJIZTM2UnV2alFDWlE&transpose=0&headers=0&range=A2%3AE30&gid=0&pub=1","options":{"titleTextStyle":{"fontSize":16},"vAxes":[{"useFormatFromData":true,"title":"Left vertical axis title","minValue":null,"viewWindow":{"min":null,"max":null},"maxValue":null},{"useFormatFromData":true,"minValue":null,"viewWindow":{"min":null,"max":null},"maxValue":null}],"booleanRole":"certainty","title":"Chart title","animation":{"duration":500},"annotations":{"domain":{"style":"line"}},"hAxis":{"useFormatFromData":true,"title":"Horizontal axis title","minValue":null,"viewWindow":{"min":null,"max":null},"maxValue":null},"width":600,"height":512},"state":{},"view":{"columns":[0,{"label":"","properties":{"role":"annotation"},"sourceColumn":1},{"label":"","properties":{"role":"annotationText"},"sourceColumn":2},{"label":"","properties":{"role":"annotationText"},"sourceColumn":3},{"label":"","properties":{"role":"annotationText"},"sourceColumn":4}]},"isDefaultVisualization":true,"chartType":"Table","chartName":"Chart 1"} </script><p>&nbsp;</p><h2><strong>F.H. Paschen Construction Dan Ryan South Construction Team</strong></h2><p>&nbsp;</p><script type="text/javascript" src="//ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/static/modules/gviz/1.0/chart.js"> {"dataSourceUrl":"//docs.google.com/a/chicagopublicradio.org/spreadsheet/tq?key=0Am5Rt8H_U2b1dEc1Y28wclhzOWJIZTM2UnV2alFDWlE&transpose=0&headers=0&range=A34%3AE48&gid=0&pub=1","options":{"titleTextStyle":{"fontSize":16},"vAxes":[{"useFormatFromData":true,"title":"Left vertical axis title","minValue":null,"viewWindow":{"min":null,"max":null},"maxValue":null},{"useFormatFromData":true,"minValue":null,"viewWindow":{"min":null,"max":null},"maxValue":null}],"booleanRole":"certainty","title":"Chart title","annotations":{"domain":{"style":"line"}},"hAxis":{"useFormatFromData":true,"title":"Horizontal axis title","minValue":null,"viewWindow":{"min":null,"max":null},"maxValue":null},"width":600,"height":320},"state":{},"view":{"columns":[0,{"label":"","properties":{"role":"annotation"},"sourceColumn":1},{"label":"","properties":{"role":"annotationText"},"sourceColumn":2},{"label":"","properties":{"role":"annotationText"},"sourceColumn":3},{"label":"","properties":{"role":"annotationText"},"sourceColumn":4}]},"isDefaultVisualization":true,"chartType":"Table","chartName":"Chart 2"} </script><p><em>Source: Chicago Transit Authority</em></p><p>Key:&nbsp;</p><ul><li>AA - African American</li><li>H - Hispanic</li><li>AI - American Indian</li><li>C - Caucasian</li><li>AP - Asian/Pacific Islander</li></ul></p> Tue, 18 Jun 2013 14:32:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/minorities-women-get-825-million-cta-red-line-contracts-107754 South Red Line closures just around the corner http://www.wbez.org/news/south-red-line-closures-just-around-corner-107214 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/2721141923_d30f49ae31_b.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The South branch of the Red Line closes Sunday for five months while it undergoes renovation. Chicago Transit Authority officials say nine stops, also known as the Dan Ryan branch, are in desperate need of repair. The CTA will provide a few backup solutions for the more than 80,000 people who ride each weekday. Other groups like PACE, Metra - even the White Sox franchise - are also lending a hand.</p><p dir="ltr">Starting Sunday, service will be shut down between 95th/Dan Ryan and Cermak-Chinatown. According to CTA spokesman Brian Steele, construction crews will rip everything up -- like ties, rails and ballasts - and rebuild the tracks and all but one of the train stations. Steele says the 95th/Dan Ryan stop is scheduled to receive a separate facelift beginning in the first half of 2014.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Remember that the Red Line South opened in September of 1969, just two months after Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon,&rdquo; Steele said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s seen, literally, millions of train trips in that time, and has really served the CTA well.</p><p dir="ltr">Steele says the Red Line has been patched and fixed over the years, but it&rsquo;s to the point where the only way to ensure effective operation of the line is to completely rebuild it.</p><p dir="ltr">That&rsquo;s going to take some time - five months, to be exact. Steele says they looked at other options, like closing down only on the weekends, for example, but he says the five-month plan was the most efficient and cost-effective way to complete the project. Steele says once completed, the trackwork will provide faster and more reliable service.</p><p dir="ltr">To ease riders&rsquo; headaches, the CTA will provide a number of backup options. The CTA website has been upgraded with a <a href="http://www.transitchicago.com/news_initiatives/projects/redsouth/tripplanner.aspx">trip planner</a> that calculates rerouted directions for commuters. CTA is also offering express buses from four of the closed Red Line stations (95th/Dan Ryan, 87th, 79th and 69th) that will go directly to the Green Line Garfield station. Steele said Green Line service and local bus routes will also provide additional service during peak times.</p><p dir="ltr">For riders who think Metra or Pace might be the best option, the three transit agencies are offering a joint fare pass. Riders can buy the cards at stores like CVS or Walgreens. They provide five days of unlimited rides on CTA/Pace and 10 rides on the Metra. The cost of the pass depends on which Metra zone the rider travels to and from.</p><p dir="ltr">According to Metra spokesman Michael Gillis, the agency isn&rsquo;t expecting an influx of riders during the Red Line closures, but says there will certainly be a &ldquo;settling-in period&rdquo; as riders figure out which new route works best.</p><p dir="ltr">Even the <a href="http://mlb.mlb.com/cws/ticketing/groups/gsg/gsg.jsp?loc=soxcta">White Sox</a> are chipping in to help potentially disgruntled commuters, as the Sox/35th stop is one of the stops getting a makeover. The team is offering fans discounts on some tickets to the May 20th, 21st and 22nd games against the Boston Red Sox.</p><p><em>Lauren Chooljian is WBEZ&rsquo;s Morning Producer/Reporter. Follow her<a href="http://twitter.com/triciabobeda"> </a><a href="http://www.twitter.com/laurenchooljian">@laurenchooljian</a></em></p></p> Thu, 16 May 2013 15:04:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/south-red-line-closures-just-around-corner-107214 Bus rapid transit to ‘maximize potential’ of Ashland Avenue http://www.wbez.org/news/bus-rapid-transit-%E2%80%98maximize-potential%E2%80%99-ashland-avenue-106738 <p><p style=""><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Ashland..PNG" style="margin: 4px 0px 0px 0px; float: left; height: 195px; width: 350px;" title="Each direction would have one parking lane and one traffic lane. (Chicago Transit Authority)" /></p><p>The first phase of a closely watched Chicago bus project would &ldquo;maximize street potential&rdquo; along more than five miles of Ashland Avenue for about $50&nbsp;million, city officials announced Friday.</p><p>The project would establish bus rapid transit (BRT) along that congested artery from 31st Place to Cortland Avenue. The city will study possible extensions stretching as far south as 95th Street and as far north as Irving Park Road, according to a statement from the Chicago Transit Authority and the Chicago Department of Transportation.</p><p>&ldquo;Bus rapid transit is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to expand and modernize our city&rsquo;s transit network for the 21st century,&rdquo; Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in the statement. &ldquo;We will work with our local communities to best determine how to maximize the positive impacts BRT would provide to riders, while boosting local economic development and improving quality of life for all city residents.&rdquo;</p><p>WBEZ <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-planners-push-boldest-bus-rapid-transit-option-105187">revealed the Ashland route and the project&rsquo;s key design elements</a> in January. The buses would have a lane to themselves on both sides of a landscaped median. Traffic signals at some intersections would favor the buses. Passengers would board from platforms a half-mile apart. Parking would remain on both sides.</p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/6p1YGHLqDo8" width="560"></iframe></p><p><br />The statement says the design would &ldquo;allow the potential&rdquo; for off-board fare collection, a feature that averts delays from collecting fares in bus doorways. A new CTA video (above) shows that payment taking place at kiosks on station platforms.</p><p>Cars and trucks would have just one lane in each direction&nbsp;&mdash;&nbsp;a plan that has sparked opposition from some business groups along the route. City officials have responded that the project would slow automobiles and trucks just slightly and speed up bus service more than 80 percent during peak hours.</p><p>Transit experts say banning turns across bus lanes is the key BRT intersection treatment. The video renderings of reconfigured Ashland intersections do not show any left-turn lanes.</p><p>CTA spokeswoman Lambrini Lukidis confirmed Friday that the Ashland project will eliminate left turns from the avenue&nbsp;at some intersections. She said her agency is embarking on a study to help determine which ones.</p><p>The elimination of turns is another step that worries the business groups.</p><p>&ldquo;Getting trucks around, where they might turn left into a loading dock now, they&rsquo;ll have to obviously make three [right turns] to be able to do that,&rdquo; said Benjamin Spies, a spokesman for the Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago, which represents 430 member businesses in the Kinzie Industrial Corridor. &ldquo;They&rsquo;re concerned about what this would do to freight traffic.&rdquo;</p><p>The Emanuel administration was also considering Western Avenue for the BRT line but has put that possibility on the back burner.</p><p>The initial Ashland phase, creating a 5.3-mile leg of the BRT route, would link several CTA and Metra lines. It would also improve transit service to the University of Illinois at Chicago, Malcolm X College, the United Center and a cluster of hospitals within the Illinois Medical District.</p><p>&ldquo;One of the things that all of the hospitals talk to us about is a lack of parking,&rdquo; Warren Ribley, the district&rsquo;s executive director, said at a downtown roundtable promoting the BRT project. &ldquo;They all have parking decks that are full. If you drive along Harrison or Congress on any given day, you can&rsquo;t find a parking spot.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;Public transportation is critical to the growth of the medical district,&rdquo; Ribley said. &ldquo;There is going to be growth. That&rsquo;s why this is such an important proposal for us.&rdquo;</p><p>Neighborhoods along the planned initial route include Bucktown, Noble Square, East Village, West Town, University Village and Pilsen. The CTA&rsquo;s No. 9 bus, which runs on Ashland, in 2012 had 10 million boardings, the most of any Chicago route that year, according to the city.</p><p>The city&rsquo;s statement says CHA and CDOT will &ldquo;begin working with local stakeholders on developing a plan&rdquo; for Ashland.</p><p>The project&nbsp;<a href="http://docs.google.com/a/chicagopublicradio.org/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AluraWM750W7dHhKR25IX1RmTzFwUFJBM1lvbWQwSHc#gid=3">has potential to outshine</a> a bus line in Cleveland, Ohio,&nbsp;that transit experts consider the most advanced BRT system in the United States. The Cleveland line includes 4.3 miles of dedicated bus lanes but also some features that slow down the service. Those include tightly spaced&nbsp;stations &mdash; about four per mile&nbsp;&mdash; and&nbsp;turns across the busway.</p><p>Ashland would not stack up to BRT lines in several other countries. The world&rsquo;s&nbsp;most advanced bus system is TransMilenio in Bogotá, Colombia. That Andean city segregates&nbsp;65 miles&nbsp;of busways from traffic using physical barriers and grade separations.</p><p>Chicago has studied BRT options in the Ashland and Western corridor using a $1.6 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Emanuel administration estimates that the project would cost about $10 million per mile. Lukidis, the&nbsp;CTA spokeswoman, said the city would count on further FTA funding for some of the Ashland construction.</p><p>Chicago is planning another BRT project in a 1.1-mile&nbsp;downtown corridor between Union Station and Millennium Park. The project, managed by CDOT, will include a new bus terminal next to the train station. A CDOT spokesman says the city is aiming to finalize the route design this December and finish construction by November 2014. The project&rsquo;s funding includes $24.7 million from the FTA and $7.3 million in Chicago tax increment financing.</p><p>As the city unveiled the Ashland design elements, Emanuel prepared to join former President Bill Clinton at a Friday meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C. Emanuel&rsquo;s office described the topic as &ldquo;innovative and cost-effective ways for cities to invest in local projects.&rdquo;</p><div><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/cmitchell-0">Chip Mitchell</a> is WBEZ&rsquo;s West Side bureau reporter. Follow him on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/ChipMitchell1">@ChipMitchell1</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>, and connect with him through <a href="https://www.facebook.com/chipmitchell1">Facebook</a> and <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/in/ChipMitchell1">LinkedIn</a>.</em></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Fri, 19 Apr 2013 08:14:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/bus-rapid-transit-%E2%80%98maximize-potential%E2%80%99-ashland-avenue-106738