WBEZ | Transportation http://www.wbez.org/tags/transportation Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Beyond the rattle and clatter: When the CTA 'L' is your neighbor http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/beyond-rattle-and-clatter-when-cta-l-your-neighbor-112173 <p><p>Our questioner Eleni Chappen is a web developer living in Chicago&rsquo;s Ravenswood neighborhood. She got interested in the quirks of living next to the CTA elevated train tracks while riding the Brown Line, where she spotted what she thought might be her dream home: a yellow house with a pool in the backyard located right on a curve along the route.</p><p>&ldquo;I always wondered what goes on in there,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;I imagined them never being able to open their windows, because it would be so loud. Or them have to wear earplugs all the time. Or they&rsquo;d be having dinner and the spoons and forks are all shaking.&rdquo;</p><p>So she submitted this question:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>What&#39;s it like to live in a home that&#39;s directly adjacent to CTA tracks?</em></p><p>We found many people who reported what you&rsquo;d expect: Residents spoke of not being able to open windows and having things rattle throughout the house when a train rumbles by at a clip. But we also learned more surprising details about life near the tracks. One family off the Brown Line says the noise from the CTA has gotten worse, even, since renovations that allow the train to go faster. At the same time, one renter off the Red Line says life has grown quieter with the addition of newer train cars.</p><p>Maybe most surprising of all, everyone we spoke to says they&rsquo;ve adapted to the noise and the shaking the train brings. And there&rsquo;s a kicker. One expert tells us residents (neighbors to the tracks or not) should expect the CTA train lines to eventually get quieter, as the agency updates to newer train models and lines are revamped with noise mitigation in mind.</p><p>Until then, though, we found some folks to talk about what it&rsquo;s like to live with the &quot;L&quot; as your neighbor.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Mary and Floyd</span></p><p><span style="font-size:18px;">Homeowners, Brown Line</span></p><p>When Mary and Floyd bought their yellow house right off a curve on the Brown Line 25 years ago, the fact that it was so close to the &quot;L&quot; didn&rsquo;t faze them. They had always loved the look of the house and figured the rumbling of the &quot;L&quot; would soon become white noise. And it did, for many years. But since the renovations of the Brown Line were completed in 2009, Mary and Floyd say the noise has gotten much, much worse. In fact, they think it&rsquo;s affected their hearing. &ldquo;The train is just so loud,&rdquo; Floyd says. &ldquo;One morning I expect to wake up and it&rsquo;s in our bedroom. That sort of scares me.&rdquo;</p><p>Lately, the frustrations over the noise have been compounded by the fact that their property taxes keep going up, despite the impact of the noise. But this, Mary says, has a very real impact on their property value. Years back she says they put the house on the market for a while. &ldquo;Over 50 percent of the people that saw that it was by the train they wouldn&rsquo;t even come into the see it,&rdquo; Mary says.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/MARY%20outside%20WEB.jpg" style="height: 427px; width: 320px; float: right;" title="Mary and Floyd have owned a yellow house off the curve of a Brown Line train for the last 25 years. Mary says she has a love-hate relationship with the train. (WBEZ/Logan Jaffe) " /></div><p>We called Landon Harper, a broker with @Properties who has been selling real estate next to the &quot;L&quot; for more than a decade, and asked him if it&rsquo;s harder to sell when the noise of the &quot;L&quot; is factor. He says there is a definite discount for homes that abut the train versus those a few blocks away. But the market is strong, he says. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s all about finding the right buyer.&rdquo;</p><p>While Mary is trying to dispute her taxes, neither she nor Floyd has ever logged an official complaint with the Chicago Transit Authority. And, in fact, few people do. CTA says the agency only received seven complaints in 2014. And that is half the number from the previous year.</p><p>Mary and Floyd, semi-retired and in their mid-60s, admit there are strange quirks about living so close to the tracks. Like when the vibrations of the train cause her china to move around inside her cabinet. Or when blobs of tar and large bolts and pins come flying off the tracks. There have been two fires on the tracks from sparks, Mary says. And in the parking lot under the tracks people come and park their cars to do, well, you know what. &ldquo;The workers &hellip; they called this Lovers Lane,&rdquo; Mary quips.</p><p>Despite all her gripes, there are also charming and funny things about living next to the &quot;L,&quot;&nbsp;says Mary, who asked we just use her first name. Mary has a pool out back where she swims all summer long. Frequently her friends and neighbors &mdash; or the men who moved her couch &mdash; tell her they see her out swimming. &ldquo;I guess everyone on the train sees me swimming,&rdquo; she chuckles.</p><p>Mary says she has a love-hate relationship with the train. And she wrestles with it every day. Is it worth it? When she looks at her surging tax bill and the train comes screeching around the corner, it&rsquo;s hard to see the upside. But when she hears the jingle of the <a href="http://www.transitchicago.com/holidaytrain/#media" target="_blank">Christmas train</a> as it barrels down the track, or sits with a glass of wine at dusk and watches the glowing train go by, she feels connected to her city.</p><p>&ldquo;You see these people and you think, there is a whole world out there,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;There is a whole world of the city: museums, bars, restaurants, and these people are going and coming and there you are, watching it all.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Daphne Karagianis, 29</span></p><p><span style="font-size:18px;">Renter, Green Line</span></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Curious%20City%20Daphne%20selects-1%20WEB.jpg" style="height: 401px; width: 600px;" title="Daphne Karagianis lived in an apartment next to the Green Line for two years. (WBEZ/Shawn Allee) " /></p><p>The first night Daphne Karagianis, 29, spent in her apartment, an arm&rsquo;s reach from the Green Line off Kedzie and Lake, she almost cried. &ldquo;It felt like the train was inside the apartment. It felt like the place was falling down,&rdquo; she says. Daphne&rsquo;s apartment was so close to the train stop that she could hear the announcements from inside. (The most disconcerting, she says, was when the stress calls came through for someone needing assistance on the platform.) &nbsp;Regardless of all that, however, it took only about a month for her to get used to the sound.</p><p>What she never got used to, however, was the feeling of living in a fish bowl. If she wanted to open the curtains, it meant CTA riders were staring into her living room. &ldquo;When I went on the train line I could see inside our house, the couch and the cat,&rdquo; she says.</p><p>Despite the fact that the train was so close, &ldquo;it felt like you could reach out and touch it.&rdquo; Daphne says she never made a connection to a stranger, though she did ask her friends to wave as they pulled into the station on their way hang out at her place.</p><p>Daphne lived in the apartment for two years until this spring, when she moved to Logan Square. She said her move had nothing to do with the train, and she&rsquo;d even consider renting near one again &mdash; though she would never <em>buy </em>a place so close to the tracks.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Collin Ashmead-Bobbitt, 34</span></p><p><span style="font-size:18px;">Red Line, Brown Line, Purple Line</span></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Bobbit1 (3) WEB.jpg" style="height: 400px; width: 600px;" title="Collin Ashmead-Bobbitt pays $500 a month in rent, but his apartment backs up to the Red, Brown and Purple CTA lines. (WBEZ/Jesse Dukes)" /></p><p>Recently, WBEZ engineer Collin Ashmead-Bobbitt, 34, got a text message from his buddy. &ldquo;You doing laundry?&rdquo; it said. Collin was confused. &ldquo;How do you know? Are you here?&rdquo; he responded. &ldquo;Nope. Headed downtown on the Red Line and saw you go outside with your laundry basket.&rdquo;</p><p>It&rsquo;s just one of the many quirks about living in an apartment next to the train tracks. Others include stacking his books vertically to prevent them from getting jostled and falling off the shelf, to hanging pictures with four to five nails per frame. &ldquo;I&rsquo;ve gone through a lot of wine glasses,&rdquo; he adds. Collin, an audio engineer and video editor, has lived in his Lincoln Park West apartment, a converted cottage house, for more than four years. At $500 a month the place is a steal. But it also backs up to three train lines: the Red Line, Brown Line and Purple Line.</p><p>&ldquo;When there is two southbound trains and an immediate follower and two northbound trains and an immediate follower, the apartment kind of rumbles,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>Despite the constant noise and vibrations, Collin says he&rsquo;s confident it&rsquo;s not a health risk for his hearing.</p><p>&ldquo;My ears and eyes are my life and I would not live in a situation where I thought it would be damaging to both those senses,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;As an audio engineer and a film editor I rely heavily on them.&rdquo;</p><p>It&rsquo;s been more than four years since he moved into the place. Even he admits the first few weeks were an adjustment period. &ldquo;I considered buying earmuffs,&rdquo; he says. But soon, the sounds of the train became such white noise that life seemed off kilter when they weren&rsquo;t around. When he went to visit his mom in a suburban neighborhood in upstate New York, &ldquo;all I heard was crickets,&rdquo; Collins says. &ldquo;It really freaked me out that there was no trains and no sirens. The soundscapes of the city were so far away.&rdquo;</p><p>Even Collin&rsquo;s cat, Mr. Venkman, likes watching the train from the window. &ldquo;He gets excited when it comes,&rdquo; Collin says.</p><p>And when it doesn&rsquo;t come? Well, that&rsquo;s even worse in a certain way.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s the lifeline of the city,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;And when you don&rsquo;t hear it you definitely know something&rsquo;s up and you should turn on the radio.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/ELENI%20WEB.jpg" style="float: left; height: 240px; width: 320px;" title="Question-asker Eleni Chappen, left, says the yellow house owned by Mary, right, has been her dream home since she first saw it riding the CTA's Brown Line. (WBEZ/Logan Jaffe)" /><span style="font-size:24px;">Our Questioner, Eleni Chappen</span></p><p>When we called Eleni Chappen, 27, to ask her more about why she posed this question to Curious City, we did not expect that she was actually now sort of living it.</p><p>Ironically, since asking this question she&rsquo;s moved jobs and works in Ravenswood in an office sandwiched between the Metra and the Brown Line. And she&rsquo;s realized something: &ldquo;After a while, you do kind of ignore it.&rdquo;</p><p>But that still didn&rsquo;t really answer the heart of her question: If one could adapt, was living next to the &quot;L&quot;&nbsp;a smart investment? Could it be a best-kept secret of Chicago real estate?</p><p>&ldquo;Maybe I am scheming secretly to buy a house next to the tracks,&rdquo; she says. &quot;Is it less than a normal house?&rdquo;</p><p><em>Meribah Knight is a freelance journalist in Chicago and reports for WBEZ&rsquo;s Curious City. Follow her at&nbsp;<a href="http://www.meribahknight.com/" target="_blank">meribahknight.com</a>&nbsp;and on Twitter at&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/meribah" target="_blank">@meribah</a>.</em></p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 10 Jun 2015 13:31:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/beyond-rattle-and-clatter-when-cta-l-your-neighbor-112173 Changes in taxi industry leave cab owners underwater http://www.wbez.org/news/changes-taxi-industry-leave-cab-owners-underwater-111920 <p><p>If you were looking for a good return on investment in the last few years, it was hard to beat a Chicago taxi medallion. Medallions, which are city-issued licenses to operate cabs, increased in value at least fivefold between 2006 and 2013. But now after huge shifts in the industry, many owners are deep underwater on their medallion loans, and some say they&rsquo;re nearly worthless.</p><p>&ldquo;I haven&rsquo;t written a new taxi loan in well over nine months? Ten months?&rdquo; said Charlie Goodbar, an attorney and taxi fleet owner. &ldquo;The access to capital&rsquo;s disappeared.&rdquo;</p><p>Chicago limits the number of medallions to roughly 7,000. Without those metal plates affixed to the hood, a taxi cannot operate in the city. Goodbar has facilitated hundreds of medallion sales over the years. But today, would-be buyers are finding it nearly impossible to find loans to purchase medallions.</p><p>&ldquo;I probably have put together at least 20-30 percent of all transfers, at some point probably more than half,&rdquo; said Goodbar. &ldquo;And as a market-maker, and as a license broker, and as an attorney, and someone who&rsquo;s in the lending business, how in good faith can I make a market when I can&rsquo;t value the asset or value cash flow?&rdquo;</p><p>Disruption in Chicago&rsquo;s taxi industry &mdash; both from the entry of competing rideshare services, and changes to city policies affecting medallion owners &mdash; have turned the business model on its head in just two years. At one time, investing or lending in a medallion purchase was a sound business decision, because cab owners could make a good living.</p><p>&ldquo;It was a way for an immigrant family to move up the social ladder and economic ladder through the use&nbsp; of leveraged financing in the taxi industry, and a lot of hard work,&rdquo; said Goodbar.</p><p>But today, Goodbar said it&rsquo;s nearly impossible to find a bank willing to lend money for a medallion purchase, and so the avenue that many immigrants once took is increasingly closed off.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" height="233" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Taxi%20medallions%202.0.jpg" style="float: left;" title="" width="350" /></div><p>You can tell by looking at the numbers. Between 2011 and 2013, when the market was robust, an average of 30-40 medallions changed hands monthly. But starting in February of 2014, that number dropped sharply, and never recovered. In 2015, only seven medallions were transferred in the first three months.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s no buyer in the market,&rdquo; said Shyam Arora, a medallion owner. &ldquo;So it&rsquo;s a piece of garbage.&rdquo;</p><div id="responsive-embed-taximedallions">&nbsp;</div><script src="http://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-dailygraphics/dailygraphics/graphics/taximedallions/js/lib/pym.js" type="text/javascript"></script><script type="text/javascript"> jQuery(document).ready(function(){ var pymParent = new pym.Parent( 'responsive-embed-taximedallions', 'http://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-dailygraphics/dailygraphics/graphics/taximedallions/child.html', {} ); }); </script><p>Arora is one of those immigrants who found success in the taxi industry. He came from India in 2002 and bought a medallion a few years later. Today, he has three. He and his son drive two of the cabs during the day, and he leases the third. At one time, he had as many as four drivers for his small fleet &mdash; but those days seem long ago.</p><p>On a recent early morning, he took one of his cabs to a city-owned site on the South Side for an annual taxi inspection.</p><p>&ldquo;This inspection process is stressful, very stressful,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>This day, he was especially nervous. The car is a 2010 Toyota Prius with a whopping 313,000 miles on it. Arora knew inspectors would be looking for even the smallest flaw to take it out of operation.</p><p>&ldquo;Yesterday I spent $200 to the mechanic and the day before yesterday I paid $100 for detailing,&rdquo; he recounted.</p><p>He also got the engine cleaned, and drove an hour out to the suburbs just to pick up a small paint marker that he could use to cover minor exterior nicks. Altogether, he estimated spending $500 to get the car in tip-top shape &mdash; about three days&rsquo; earnings.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m losing nowadays, every day, in my business,&rdquo; said Arora. Three months ago, he fell behind on his mortgage and medallion loan.</p><p>Arora explained that most of his income comes from leasing his taxis to other drivers, rather than driving his own cab. But amid a shortage of taxi drivers in Chicago, he&rsquo;s struggled to find people to use his taxis. That&rsquo;s meant his vehicles sit empty about one-third of the time, while he still foots the bill for their medallion loans, the car payments, taxi affiliation fees and other expenses.</p><p>Even when Arora does have drivers, he said it&rsquo;s gotten much more difficult for them to find passengers. He blamed rideshare companies like UberX, Lyft and Sidecar for stealing business.</p><p>&ldquo;When you don&rsquo;t get a customer for an hour, the [taxi] driver gets so frustrated, he goes to Starbucks or he goes home,&rdquo; explained Arora.</p><p>Arora would love to sell his medallions and be done with it. But he knows he won&rsquo;t find a buyer at a good price. Plus, he&rsquo;s facing the same dilemma that homeowners once did during the recent housing crisis. Many borrowed significant sums of money against their homes as housing values increased, only to find themselves underwater on those loans once the market settled.</p><p>Similarly, Arora and many other owners borrowed heavily against their medallions while they increased in value. Arora said that helped his family get through the recession.</p><p>&ldquo;Medallions were the source of feeding everybody &mdash; every expense we have,&rdquo; he explained.</p><p>But now, he owes $600,000 against his medallions, and he knows that nobody will buy them for anything close to that amount.</p><p>Arora believes his only way out may be a loan modification. Goodbar says medallion lenders have every reason to cooperate.</p><p>&ldquo;There will be shakeout in the market, the lenders will have to work with the borrowers,&rdquo; he said, &ldquo;because I think the last thing a large medallion lender wants is a bunch of medallions sitting in a drawer.&rdquo;</p><p>Arora hopes that&rsquo;ll be true in his case, because he wants to stay in the taxi business.&nbsp; Otherwise, he&rsquo;s looking at filing for bankruptcy.</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef">@oyousef</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>.</em></p></p> Tue, 21 Apr 2015 19:06:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/changes-taxi-industry-leave-cab-owners-underwater-111920 Union Station to get a facelift http://www.wbez.org/news/union-station-get-facelift-111491 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Union%20Station%20stairs.jpg" title="The staircase at Union Station will get an upgrade as part of $12 million in renovations. (WBEZ/Greta Johnsen)" /></div><p>Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-union-station-funding-met-20150128-story.html">last week</a> that Chicago&rsquo;s landmark Union Station will be getting some repairs, thanks to $12 million from the station&rsquo;s owner, Amtrak. Emanuel said the station hasn&rsquo;t been keeping up with a changing transit system.</p><p>&ldquo;Union Station, given it&rsquo;s the third busiest rail hub, is actually fighting below its weight class,&rdquo; Emanuel said.</p><p>The renovations are being called a &lsquo;first step&rsquo; toward expanding and modernizing the historic building. There is a <a href="http://www.unionstationmp.com/">Master Plan</a> for the whole structure &mdash; $500 million worth &mdash; but that&rsquo;s a long-term project.</p><p>I asked <a href="http://twitter.com/leebey">Chicago architecture critic Lee Bey</a> to show me around Union Station.</p><p>&ldquo;It isn&rsquo;t enough to get as far as you&rsquo;d want to in a building like that, but it&rsquo;s a good first step,&rdquo; Bey said about the $12 million in upgrades. &ldquo;And spent the right way it&rsquo;ll bring a bang that&rsquo;s quick and visible, and will then allow transportation officials to be able to rally other money and other assistance to it over time. And time is of the essence.&rdquo;</p><p>He says beneath the crowded concourse and the dirty platforms that annoy many commuters, Union Station is still a work of art. Especially if you enter through the Great Hall on the east side of the building.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Union%20Station%20Great%20Hall.jpg" title="Union Station's Great Hall. (WBEZ/Greta Johnsen)" /></div><p>Sunlight streams in from huge windows high above us.</p><p>&ldquo;You&rsquo;re like a king,&rdquo; Bey said. &ldquo;You come in and you&rsquo;re greeted by marble and beautiful columns and this grand space on the inside&hellip; you know, just to ride a train.&rdquo;</p><p>The area is simple and massive, almost like a museum or an elegant old theater.</p><p>&ldquo;What I&rsquo;m really impressed about in this building&hellip; is the volume,&rdquo; Bey said. &ldquo;The volume of the interior. And how few spaces there and in the city or any place where you can walk into a space like this&hellip; there&rsquo;s enough foresight by Amtrak and ownership to just let this space be what it needs to be. And that&rsquo;s beautiful.&rdquo;Like the Great Hall itself, train travel has a nostalgic sensibility.</p><p>Places like Union Station were often travelers&rsquo; first impression of Chicago as they arrived, or the last thing they saw as they left.</p><p>We stand under a coffered ceiling, looking up at a marble staircase with gilded handrails.</p><p>Yep, that staircase.</p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="349" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/QJpRSf4q-hI?showinfo=0" width="620"></iframe></p><p>It&rsquo;s the staircase where the gangster bloodbath from <em>The Untouchables</em> was filmed.</p><p>It still makes a nice photo, but the stone stairs are worn deeply in the center from nearly a century of travelers&rsquo; shoes. Pieces are gouged out.</p><p>Fixing this staircase is part of the $12 million of repairs, along with the limestone facade out front.</p><p>The money is also meant for better, more energy-efficient doors and a more spacious passenger waiting area.</p><p>Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari says Union Station sees about 300 trains a day, which is the same number that came through in the 1940s and 50s. More than 100,000 people move through Union Station every weekday.</p><p>The difference is, more than ever before, they&rsquo;re commuters rather than long distance travelers.</p><p>&ldquo;The crowds are sort of begging for this building to be more than just a place where you get off trains,&rdquo; Bey said. &ldquo;To make this more useful again, you&rsquo;ll have to do the cosmetic fixes, of course. But you&rsquo;ll also have to put spaces in here that do what the old spaces did &mdash; give you that embrace when you come in or that kiss goodbye.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Greta Johnsen reports and anchors weekends on WBEZ. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/gretamjohnsen">@gretamjohnsen</a>. </em></p></p> Tue, 03 Feb 2015 11:44:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/union-station-get-facelift-111491 Are Chicago's shorter yellow lights unsafe, or just unfair? http://www.wbez.org/news/are-chicagos-shorter-yellow-lights-unsafe-or-just-unfair-110955 <p><p>Chicago&rsquo;s red light cameras are under increased scrutiny, after a <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/watchdog/redlight/"><em>Chicago Tribune</em> investigation</a> found glitchy cameras may have issued thousands of tickets in error. The report also found many yellow lights are slightly short of the city standard of three seconds.</p><p>WBEZ has been looking into yellow lights too &mdash; and we&rsquo;ve found something else. Many traffic experts say Chicago flouts industry best practices with how it programs its traffic control devices &mdash; and one engineer says it may be &ldquo;entrapping&rdquo; drivers into running red lights.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Should I run? Should I stop?</span></p><p>Our inquiry started with Pavel Gigov, a North Side resident who, incidentally, is not a transportation engineer. Gigov drives a car, and like many of us, he&rsquo;s gotten a red light camera ticket or two. He got one in April at an intersection he normally drove through on his way home from work, and thought something was strange.</p><p>&ldquo;The light turned yellow and my immediate reaction was, OK, let me figure out what to do,&rdquo; Gigov recounted. &ldquo;And before I could actually even put my mind around what the decent thing to do is &mdash; should I run? should I stop? &mdash; it was already red and I was in the middle of the intersection.&rdquo;</p><p>The intersection was at W Peterson Ave. and N California Ave., in Chicago&rsquo;s West Ridge neighborhood. The streets are pretty wide: each has six or seven lanes across, and like many Chicago roads, the speed limit is 30 miles an hour.</p><p><iframe frameborder="0" height="450" src="https://www.google.com/maps/embed?pb=!1m16!1m12!1m3!1d209.6174687124326!2d-87.69939310755217!3d41.99043739075356!2m3!1f0!2f0!3f0!3m2!1i1024!2i768!4f13.1!2m1!1scalifornia+ave+peterson+ave!5e1!3m2!1sen!2sus!4v1409930061367" style="border:0" width="600"></iframe></p><p><em>Gigov received his red light camera ticket at the intersection of W Peterson Ave. and N California Ave. Like many Chicago intersections, the streets have a speed limit of 30mph.</em></p><p>Gigov said the moment he crossed into the intersection, he saw the flash of the red light camera going off.</p><p>&ldquo;And I knew that there was something that was going to be in the mail pretty soon,&rdquo; he laughed.</p><p>Sure, enough, Gigov got a $100 ticket in the mail. He paid it, but still, he wondered: wasn&rsquo;t that yellow light kind of short?</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Is it safe? Is it fair?</span></p><p><a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdot/supp_info/red-light_cameraenforcement.html">Chicago&rsquo;s Department of Transportation says</a> the city&rsquo;s yellow light intervals &ldquo;fall within the guidelines of the Federal Highway Administration&rsquo;s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, and adheres to recommendations by the Institute of Transportation Engineers.&rdquo; That&rsquo;s half-true.</p><p>First, the true part: <a href="http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/htm/2009r1r2/html_index.htm">the MUTCD does, indeed, recommend</a> that yellow lights fall between 3 and 6 seconds. At the intersection where Gigov got his ticket, a frame-by-frame video analysis of the traffic signal showed that the yellow light lasts exactly three seconds &mdash; the minimum recommended under the MUTCD guidelines.</p><p>But three seconds falls short of what the yellow light interval should be, if the city were to follow ITE recommendations as it claims. Gigov said he worries that in flouting best engineering practices, Chicago may put drivers at risk. Particularly at red light camera intersections, where each traffic violation could bring dollars into the city&rsquo;s coffers.</p><p>&ldquo;Are we trading in accidents for revenue?&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Unfortunately in the City of Chicago, that&rsquo;s a legitimate question.&rdquo;</p><p>The city claims it implements a blanket policy on yellow light intervals, regardless of whether there&rsquo;s a red light camera: three seconds when the speed limit is 30mph or lower, and four seconds when it&rsquo;s 35mph or higher. &ldquo;Chicago&rsquo;s yellow times are more than adequate for a driver traveling the speed limit to react and stop safely,&rdquo; it states on the <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdot/supp_info/red-light_cameraenforcement.html">CDOT website</a>. The policy bucks a growing trend among transportation agencies nationwide.</p><p>&ldquo;The idea of a constant time is not typical,&rdquo; said James Taylor, a retired traffic engineer in Indiana.</p><p>While there&rsquo;s no federal mandate that requires transportation agencies to follow a method in determining yellow light intervals, Taylor said more places are adopting a <a href="http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/nchrp_rpt_731.pdf">mathematical equation</a> that has been developed by the Institute of Transportation Engineers.</p><p>&ldquo;It keeps getting more and more widely accepted,&rdquo; said Taylor, &ldquo;as opposed to the system you&rsquo;re talking about where we just say let&rsquo;s just make all of them three (seconds), or three-and-a-half, or something like that.&rdquo;</p><p>A 2012 <a href="http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/nchrp_rpt_731.pdf">survey</a> of more than 200 transportation agencies in the U.S., Canada and Germany, found only 6 percent timed their yellow light intervals the way Chicago does. By contrast, the largest chunk &mdash; almost 40 percent &mdash; used the ITE equation.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Using the ITE formula</span></p><p>The ITE formula for the length of yellow lights factors in the specific conditions of an individual intersection, such as speed limit and the grade of the road. It also uses numerical assumptions based on extensive field studies.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="Y=t+(1.47V/2a+64.4g)" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/yellow-light-fomula-1.png" style="height: 64px; width: 200px;" title="" /></div><div class="image-insert-image ">Where:</div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>Y = total clearance period (in seconds)</em></div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>t = perception-reaction time (usually 1 second)</em></div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>V = 85th percentile approach speed (mph)</em></div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>a = deceleration rate (ft/sec&sup2;)</em></div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>g = percent of grade divided by 100</em></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">The equation assumes a perception-reaction time, <em>t</em>, of one second for the average driver, based on field measurements. In other words, it takes about that long for a typical driver to see that the light has changed to yellow, and to decide what to do.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">The fraction shown in the equation calculates how long it should take to decelerate to a stop, based on a typical driver&rsquo;s approach speed (<em>V</em>), a comfortable deceleration rate (<em>a</em>), and the grade of the intersection. Traffic engineers recommend using the 85th percentile of approaching traffic to determine a typical approach speed. If that hasn&rsquo;t, or cannot, be measured, a commonly accepted approximation is to add 7mph to the speed limit. &nbsp;Field studies have also found that a comfortable deceleration rate, <em>a</em>, for drivers is 10 ft/sec&sup2;. In Chicago, the grade of the street, <em>g</em>, is negligible, so we assume it to be zero.</div><p>Plug the numbers in for the intersection where Gigov received his yellow ticket, and it yields a yellow light interval, <em>Y</em>, of 3.7 seconds &mdash; that is, 0.7 seconds longer than it actually lasts. Studies show that could significantly change outcomes at an intersection.</p><p>&ldquo;Increasing the yellow by one second would decrease violations by 50-60 percent, and reduce crashes by 35-40 percent,&rdquo; said Davey Warren, a transportation engineer who spent most of his career with the Federal Highway Administration.</p><p>That agency has been pushing transportation departments nationwide to adopt the kinematic equation. In fact, in 2012 it made a change to the MUTCD that would require agencies to switch to engineering practices to determine yellow light intervals by mid-June of 2017.</p><p>Many traffic engineers were surprised to hear that Chicago does not already use widely-accepted engineering practices to calculate its yellow light intervals.</p><p>&ldquo;There is a general rule with engineers, you should be following the best accepted practice unless they can document valid reasons for not doing so,&rdquo; said Warren.</p><p>WBEZ requested multiple times to interview someone at Chicago&rsquo;s Department of Transportation. The department didn&rsquo;t respond. The department also failed to respond to a request under the Freedom of Information Act for its programming instructions for traffic control devices.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">After the yellow, comes the all-red</span></p><p>But before you worry that the city&rsquo;s putting drivers at risk by skimping on yellow light times, there&rsquo;s a twist. In addition to recommending a mathematically-derived yellow light interval, transportation engineers also recommend something called an <em>all-red interval</em>. That&rsquo;s a brief moment after the yellow light, where the lights are red in <em>all directions</em>. It gives a chance for cars still caught in the intersection to finish crossing before the opposing traffic gets a green.</p><p>The ITE recommendation for the all-red interval has changed over time. However,a 2012 <a href="http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/nchrp_rpt_731.pdf">study</a> by the National Cooperative Highway Research Board proposed the following guideline for the calculation:&nbsp;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="R=(W+L/1.47V)-1" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/yellow-light-fomula-2.png" style="height: 59px; width: 200px;" title="" /></div><p>Where:</p><p><em>R = all-red clearance interval (seconds)</em><br /><em>W = intersection width (ft)</em><br /><em>L = length of vehicle (ft)</em><br /><em>V = 85th percentile approach speed (mph)</em></p><p>It&rsquo;s worth noting that there&rsquo;s some debate over subtracting the number 1 on the right side of this equation. The &nbsp;ITE contemplates both possibilities. The NCHRP study found in field studies that it typically takes one second for drivers to perceive and react to a change to green after the all-red interval. So in its conclusions, it recommends subtracting that reaction time, to keep traffic flow more efficient.</p><p>Across transportation engineering literature, the standard length of a vehicle, <em>L</em>, is 20 feet, and again, the approach speed is approximated by adding 7mph to the speed limit.</p><p>At Gigov&rsquo;s intersection, where the streets were approximately 60 feet wide, the formula above yields an all-red clearance interval of 0.47 seconds. That means a vehicle that was caught in the intersection when the light turned red, would still have about half-a-second to finish its transition before opposing traffic gets a green light.</p><p>It turns out, the actual all-red clearance interval at the intersection of W Peterson Ave and N California Ave alternates between one and two seconds. Both of these are much longer than the formula recommends.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/yellow-lights-2.png" title="" /></div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>At a typical intersection in Chicago, where speed limits are 30mph, the city sets yellow lights at three seconds, followed by an all-red clearance interval of at least one second. By comparison, best engineering practices recommends a yellow light of 3.7 seconds, followed by an all-red clearance interval of .47 seconds. Experts say that while the total clearance times are close (4 seconds and 4.17 seconds, respectively), the misallocation of time between the yellow and all-red intervals may entrap drivers into more violations.</em></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>Data on actual yellow lights from CDOT&rsquo;s website and field measurements at intersection of W Peterson Ave. and N California Ave. Recommended calculations based on the<a href="http://www.ite.org/bookstore/IR-113.pdf"> kinematic equation</a> developed by the Institute of Transportation Engineers.</em></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><span style="font-size: 22px;">&lsquo;Entrapping drivers into running red lights&rsquo;</span></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Together, the yellow light and the all-red interval add up to what&rsquo;s called a &ldquo;change period.&rdquo; That &ldquo;change period&rdquo; at the intersection where Gigov got his ticket equals the three-second yellow light, plus one or two seconds for the all-red interval -- a total of four or five seconds. Engineering practices would yield a nearly similar result: a 3.7 second yellow light, followed by 0.47 second all-red interval, totaling 4.17 seconds.</div><p>The difference is, Chicago shortens the yellow portion of the change interval, and lengthens the all-red portion.</p><p>&ldquo;So from a safety standpoint, it&rsquo;s probably OK, but the thing is they&rsquo;re misallocating the times,&rdquo; said Warren, &ldquo;and so they&rsquo;re basically entrapping drivers into running red lights.&rdquo;</p><p>In other words, Chicago&rsquo;s yellow light intervals may not be unsafe, but they may be unfair.</p><p>Gigov said if the city wants to win back public trust when it comes to its use of red light cameras, it should use to the most up-to-date engineering guidelines when it programs its traffic control devices.</p><p>&ldquo;You&rsquo;re the city of Chicago, and your fiduciary duty is to serve residents of the city, and not to increase the revenue in such a borderline shady way,&rdquo; said Gigov.</p><p>Last year, anger over red light camera tickets in Florida prompted a reexamination of yellow lights. It turned out, yellow lights in that state were also timed contrary to engineering formulas. So Florida&rsquo;s Department of Transportation mandated the lights be lengthened.</p><p>Gigov said he hopes Chicago will do the same.</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her </em><a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef"><em>@oyousef</em></a><em> and </em><a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud"><em>@WBEZoutloud</em></a><em>.</em></p></p> Fri, 17 Oct 2014 08:11:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/are-chicagos-shorter-yellow-lights-unsafe-or-just-unfair-110955 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 bunch.</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 After the accident: Metra and pedestrian fatalities http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/after-accident-metra-and-pedestrian-fatalities-110875 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/170234239%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-Jvys6&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>Frequent commuters are all too familiar with the pangs of delays: the groans induced by announcements made over a train intercom, or the confusion created when train or bus operators suggest alternative routes, thanks (or no thanks) to weather, mechanical failures, or backups.</p><p>Chicago-area Metra riders are no strangers to these feelings, but often these delays are brought on by another, more heart-dropping reason: pedestrian accidents and fatalities. It&rsquo;s not uncommon for up to 1,300 Metra riders to be held on a train for more than an hour while investigators gather at the scene to determine what happened.</p><p dir="ltr">And while many wonder why so many of these accidents happen, or how they can be stopped, a Curious Citizen (who chose to remain anonymous) had us consider this question:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>How can a thorough investigation of Metra fatalities be performed when trains are up and running 90 minutes after a fatality?</em></p><p>It&rsquo;s a bit of a loaded question, of course, as our questioner is basically asking whether a 90-minute timeframe is sufficient to gather evidence.</p><p>From the first moment we spoke with the questioner, we knew this would be sensitive topic, for sure, but experts did make themselves available to explain how pedestrian death investigations work, and they were also willing to address the &ldquo;90 minutes&rdquo; figure directly. And the question&rsquo;s important, too. The issue of pedestrian fatalities by train is regularly <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-metra-suicides-met-20140825-story.html" target="_blank">in the Chicago-area news</a>. Also, anyone involved &mdash; a victim&#39;s family,&nbsp;commuters on the train, taxpayers in Illinois &mdash; deserves to know exactly what&rsquo;s going on outside that train once tragedy strikes.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">The extent of the problem</span></p><p>Pedestrian fatalities by Metra trains, or any type of train, for that matter, are not new phenomena. Train deaths, both intentional and accidental, have been an issue for rail officials across the world. <a href="http://gazebonews.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/ian_savage_438_manuscript.pdf" target="_blank">But as Northwestern University researcher Ian Savage found out</a>, these incidents are happening in Illinois more than any other place in the United States.</p><p>According to Savage, one of the main reasons is Chicago&rsquo;s position as a national rail hub.</p><p>&ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s a combination of the number of trains and the geography,&rdquo; Savage said. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re fairly flat around here, and if you go out east, you&rsquo;ll find many more hills. Because trains [there] can&rsquo;t get up steep grades, you have to level this out by digging cuts, you make embankments, so you end up with a lot more natural grade separation. And here in Chicago, we have little natural grade separation.&rdquo;</p><p>Savage looked at data from the Illinois Commerce Commission from 2004 to 2012, and accounted for 338 pedestrian deaths by train within the six-county Chicago area. (Notably, Savage&rsquo;s research did not include the Chicago Transit Authority&rsquo;s elevated trains). Put another way, the area saw one pedestrian death by train every 10 days. Approximately 47 percent of the incidents were suicides.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/metra%20graphic%20mockup%203%20final_2.png" title="" /></div><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/metra%20graphic%20new%20stats2.png" title="*Data from Chicago metropolitan region, 2004-2012. Note: Does not include CTA data. Non-motorized persons include pedestrians and bike-riders. Source: Ian Savage, Northwestern University " /></div></div><p>According to Savage, these fatalities happen for a variety of reasons. When it comes to accidents, many times people don&rsquo;t understand how dangerous trains really are.</p><p>&ldquo;In some cases, crossings are designed in a way that good people are lead into making bad decisions. And I think that perceptions of speed are very difficult,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;d never think about jaywalking across an interstate because there are cars every few seconds. But there are five, 10 [minutes], half an hour where there&rsquo;s no activity on train tracks. So you can always get led into this cognitive assumption that nothing&rsquo;s coming, when something is.&rdquo;</p><p>And while the complexity of suicide makes it difficult to understand the reasoning behind individual deaths, Savage said the frequency and high number of occurrences is likely connected to the availability of trains around Chicago. Through his research, Savage stumbled on a study from Children&rsquo;s Memorial Hospital that looked at methods of suicide. They found that the use of trains in the Chicago area was more than four times the national average.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Metra-related investigations</span></p><p>Beyond the magnitude of these fatalities, Metra faces another predicament, one that&rsquo;s different from those of state or city agencies: <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZrzuzWv2wY" target="_blank">Metra prides itself on its timeliness</a> and its ability to get commuters home on time. Its slogan is &ldquo;The way to really fly,&rdquo; and their signs read phrases such as &ldquo;We&rsquo;re on time, are you?&rdquo;</p><p>So when tragedy strikes, not only do Metra officials have to worry about the victim of the incident, but the thousands of passengers sitting on the train. In our question-asker&rsquo;s case, she read that trains were up and running 90 minutes after her friend was struck. (Metra officials say delays that day &mdash; including residual delays for other trains on that line &mdash; ranged anywhere between 30 and 110 minutes.)</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/metra%20photo%201%20LC.jpg" title="Metra signs advertise the agency's ability to arrive places on time, without delay. (WBEZ/Lauren Chooljian)" /></div></div><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s a process in place, a lot of times there&rsquo;s a lot of different factors that are involved in that incident which may extend that investigation, or there may be a train strike where we hit a pedestrian, and that person ends up being fine,&rdquo; said Hilary Konczal, director of Safety at Metra. &ldquo;I mean, we&rsquo;ve hit people and we&rsquo;ve broken a leg or an arm, and we were up and moving in 20 minutes, so it depends on the situation.&rdquo;</p><p>Konczal said every investigation begins the same way: A dispatcher is immediately notified of anything that happens on Metra railroads or that involves a Metra train. That dispatcher then notifies a control center, which reaches out to the municipality where the incident occurred.</p><p>&ldquo;Normally we get the call first,&rdquo; said Des Plaines Police Chief William Kushner. &ldquo;And we&rsquo;ll get it either from people waiting for the train, or someone driving past. And they&rsquo;ll call that someone was struck by a train or someone just jumped in front of a train.&rdquo;</p><p>The local municipality usually arrives on the scene first because of their close proximity. They&rsquo;ll secure the scene, meet with the train crew, and begin to gather witness testimony. Metra also has its own police force. Its officers do their best to get to the scene ASAP, but it could take some time, as the six-county service area is about the size of Connecticut. Once both departments are on scene, one will take the lead.</p><p><iframe align="middle" frameborder="0" height="420" scrolling="no" src="http://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-assets/curiouscity/metramap.html" width="620"></iframe></p><p><span style="font-size:11px;"><em>Metra rail lines cover six counties and more than 110 municipalities. The service area is about the size of the state of Connecticut, which means travel times for investigators and other responders can be sizable.</em></span></p><p>&ldquo;Usually, if Metra police investigate the incident, we can do it a little quicker. We have evidence technicians on scene 24 hours [per day], and a lot of times local municipality doesn&#39;t have that. They have to call them in, so that may add time to investigation,&rdquo; Konczal said.</p><p>Konczal said his staff constantly network with the over 110 municipalities that Metra travels through, so when an incident happens &ldquo;we have a rapport with them, so we can get traffic moving as soon as possible.&rdquo;</p><p>But depending on the type of accident, and how long it takes to gather all the correct people together, investigations can still take a while. Konczal said if Metra strikes a vehicle, federal regulations require that signals be tested, for example.</p><p>In a fatality situation, officials have to report information to the ICC and the Federal Railroad Administration. Almost all Metra trains have cameras on them now, as do some grade crossings, so film has to be reviewed to determine what happened, and to assess whether it was an intentional death or not. They also have to wait for a coroner to arrive, as he or she has to respectfully remove the remains.</p><p>The Metra Police Department was recently assessed by <a href="http://www.hillardheintze.com/books/metrapolicedept_01_23_14/" target="_blank">Hillard Heintze</a>, an independent council of retired police chiefs. While the group <a href="http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20140122/news/701229709/" target="_blank">found many issues with the department overall</a> (e.g., unclear mission, ineffective or nonexistent policies and procedures, staffing issues, etc.) the report did not address how Metra conducts fatality investigations.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/metra%20investigation%20full.jpg" style="float: left;" title="Metra officials investigate a commuter train accident in 2004 in Chicago. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)" /></p><p>Metra officials say there&rsquo;s no minimum or maximum amount of time that they try and meet for each investigation. Other police departments operate this way as well.</p><p>&ldquo;If there&rsquo;s a fatality, there are no minimums,&rdquo; said Monique Bond, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Police Department. &ldquo;The main thing is to get the victims, whether they&rsquo;re dead or hurt. That&rsquo;s the priority.&rdquo;</p><p>Bond said each investigation varies tremendously, depending on the incident: It could be hours, or it could be one hour.</p><p>But what doesn&rsquo;t change per incident, according to Metra officials and police, is the difficulty of dealing with these fatalities, both for him and his staff.</p><p>Naperville Police Chief Bob Marshall said his department, like many others around the state, provides mental health services for any officer that responds to traumatic events. Naperville recently dealt with two suicides by train.</p><p>Konczal added that Metra staff take the issue of pedestrian deaths personally. &ldquo;They&rsquo;re people. They may be your brother, my sister, your friend, it&rsquo;s just a shame,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;We have employees that go out there. We have the engineer that&rsquo;s traumatized, and the family of the deceased. ... I mean, it&rsquo;s real, and it gets very personal, and at times it gets frustrating.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re constantly looking at ways to educate the public. We&rsquo;re looking at our numbers, the day of the week incidents occur - and it gets frustrating trying to identify how to reduce these risks, without trying to put up some sort of virtual fence. It&rsquo;s just very hard.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Waiting in the wings</span></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/steven%20vance%20bartlett%20station.jpg" title="Signage at Metra's Bartlett station on the Milwaukee District/West Line route indicates safety precautions for pedestrians crossing the tracks. (Flickr/Steven Vance)" /></p><p>Metra, as well as local law enforcement agencies, suggest that some investigations can take far less than the 90-minute figure that started our look into train-related pedestrian deaths. According to Joe Schwieterman, transportation professor at DePaul University (and Metra rider for 23 years), delays of any kind can be difficult to bear.</p><p>&ldquo;You feel the tension on board right away, people start making phone calls, and after five or ten minutes, you know, you start to wonder, &lsquo;Is this gonna be a nightmare?&rsquo; So that speculation starts,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>According to Schweiterman, everyone in the region has been startled by how a fairly small commuter rail system (in the national sense) has such a regular pattern of hitting people. And a lot of it, he said, isn&rsquo;t on Metra.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s a whole series of issues, like willful deaths, and of course just a preponderance of freight trains which makes these crossings very difficult, and even just people dying on the tracks who, you know - drug use along railway tracks - there&rsquo;s a long history of a place where deviants often go.&rdquo;</p><p>But when it comes to whether these investigations are long enough or comprehensive enough, Schwieterman said anything longer than the current delays wouldn&rsquo;t be practical.</p><p>&ldquo;My view is that there&rsquo;s rarely a complex investigation needed,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;When somebody gets hit, the reason that person got hit is important from a data standpoint &mdash; and I mean, of course, for the family it&rsquo;s an absolute travesty &mdash; but from an investigation standpoint we need to know why people are getting hit and how we can fix the problems.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;But it&rsquo;s not like a crime scene, where there&rsquo;s an assailant out there who we have to find, and he may have left a clue behind.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>If you or someone you know exhibits any of the <a href="http://reportingonsuicide.org/warning-signs-of-suicide/" target="_blank">warning signs of suicide</a>, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)</strong></p><p><em>Lauren Chooljian is a WBEZ Reporter. Follow her<a href="http://twitter.com/triciabobeda"> </a><a href="https://twitter.com/laurenchooljian" target="_blank">@laurenchooljian</a></em></p></p> Tue, 30 Sep 2014 17:31:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/after-accident-metra-and-pedestrian-fatalities-110875 Passing through: Chicago's Union Station as Amish transit hub http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/passing-through-chicagos-union-station-amish-transit-hub-110453 <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&#39;s note: In producing this story, producer Katie Klocksin quotes several people of Amish background. In a deviation from most journalistic practice, Klocksin and editor Shawn Allee chose not to publish the sources&rsquo; names out of respect for the Amish culture&#39;s longstanding premium on humility, as well as possible social consequences for participants. The decision was made in consideration of comments on the issue made by Dr. Steven Nolt, Professor of History at Goshen College and author of numerous books on the Amish.</em></p><p>Paul Vaccarello of LaGrange, Illinois, sees Amish people when he passes through downtown Chicago&rsquo;s Union Station &mdash; the nexus of several Amtrak and Metra commuter rail lines.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;ve just always been curious about where they&rsquo;re going, why they&rsquo;re here, if they&rsquo;re actually coming to Chicago or if this is a stop on their way to somewhere else,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>This led him to ask Curious City:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>Is Chicago a large transportation hub for Amish travelers?</em></p><p>Reporting an answer provided Paul an opportunity to hear from people that Chicagoans and suburbanites don&rsquo;t ordinarily cross paths with. Members of the religious group seek to maintain a close-knit rural lifestyle and, though there are Amish settlements sprinkled throughout the Midwest, the nearest one lies 90 miles from downtown Chicago. As we approached an answer &mdash; by checking in with experts and Amish travelers themselves &mdash; we couldn&rsquo;t help but feel we were meeting our regional neighbors for the first time.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">A separate pattern of life</span></p><p>Dr. Steven Nolt, Professor of History at Goshen College and author of numerous books on the Amish, reminded us that adherents belong to a Protestant religious community that is &ldquo;sometimes referred to as &lsquo;the old order Amish,&rsquo; which means they have tried to maintain what they consider the old patterns of life.&rdquo; Typically, they limit their use of modern technology and their communities tend to be in rural areas. These &ldquo;old patterns of life,&rdquo; Nolt said, &ldquo;would be things that encourage community and cooperation and collaboration.&rdquo;</p><p>Nolt noted, though, that there are few technologies that the Amish consider wholly bad. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s their attempt to try to control technology or engage technology on their own terms,&rdquo; he said. &nbsp;</p><p>Relevant to Paul&rsquo;s question, Amish people generally don&rsquo;t own or drive cars, although some will hire a vehicle and driver for transportation. It&rsquo;s common for the Amish to travel on trains or buses. &ldquo;The problem isn&rsquo;t the <em>thing</em>,&rdquo; Nolt said. &ldquo;The problem is when we own and control something, then, that heightens our sense of individual autonomy.&rdquo;</p><p>Nolt described an aspect of Amish life that posed a problem for reporting this story: &ldquo;Amish people, when speaking to members of the media, almost always decline to be identified by name or photographed in ways that would highlight them as an individual. Their concern there is one of humility, of not appearing to present oneself as a spokesperson for the whole group, not wanting to call attention to themselves.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Traveling by train<a name="map"></a></span></p><p>Paul and I made several trips to Union Station and found Amish people each time. Most were happy to talk with us, provided my large microphone was turned off. Most people, as predicted, declined to give their names. Everyone we talked to confirmed our theory: Chicago <em>is</em> a hub for transportation among the Amish. The people we interviewed at Union Station were all waiting to switch trains. One woman put it succinctly: &ldquo;A lot of Amish travel from one state to the other on Amtrak. &hellip;Every train comes into Chicago and leaves Chicago.&rdquo;</p><p>Our map can clarify this: There, you can see how Amtrak lines cross near or through midwestern Amish communities. Nolt added, too, that more than 60 percent of the Amish live in Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania: states with Amtrak lines. So Paul was onto something: Amish people, by avoiding cars, travel by train throughout the Midwest and the country. Many Amtrak trains converge in Chicago, thus Amish regularly wait for trains and transfers at Union Station.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe align="middle" frameborder="0" height="400" scrolling="no" src="http://interactive.wbez.org/curiouscity/amish/index.html" width="620"></iframe></p><p><span style="font-size:11px;"><em><strong>Map: U.S. counties with extant Amish settlements as of 2010, overlaid with unofficial map of Amtrak rail system lines.</strong> Amish population data: <a href="http://www.rcms2010.org/index.php" target="_blank">Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies</a>.&nbsp;Rough Amtrak line map: <a href="https://www.blogger.com/profile/17241478144408980328" target="_blank">Rakshith Krishnappa</a>.</em></span></p><p>Nolt points out that Amish people aren&rsquo;t likely to use the word &ldquo;vacation.&rdquo; Instead, he says, they talk about trips. &ldquo;I think on one level it&rsquo;s because &lsquo;vacation&rsquo; suggests leisure type activity that doesn&rsquo;t fit with their rural way of life,&rdquo; he said, adding, &ldquo;Their worlds are not as neatly divided as many of the rest of ours are between work and leisure, home and work. There&rsquo;s much more fluidity and overlap between the domains of their life.&rdquo;</p><p>Nolt says it is common for a long-distance trip to be centered around business travel. There are all-Amish trade shows, for example, which are similar to standard trade shows except they are hosted by a local community and attendees stay with local families. &quot;Most people bring their whole family and it kind of turns into a reunion of visiting,&quot; he said.</p><p>For the most part, though, Paul and I met people traveling to visit family members in other states. We met a large family returning home to Kansas from a wedding in Indiana. An Amish woman from Ohio was traveling with several of her grandchildren to visit her cousin and see the Grand Canyon.</p><p>A few Amish people we met were seeking medical care, including a man from Kentucky. &ldquo;We were in Mexico for medical purposes,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;I don&rsquo;t like to see it, but medical expenses in the States anymore are so phenomenal that an ordinary person cannot afford it.&rdquo; He was returning from Tijuana after a successful operation.</p><p>Another medical traveler, an Amish man with a salt-and-pepper beard and a constant grin, cracked jokes with us for a while. After we parted ways with him, though, we ran into him throughout our stay at Union Station. It&rsquo;s not an exaggeration to say he seemed to know every Amish person there that day, which perhaps reveals a benefit of Union Station&rsquo;s being a hub: For the Amish, it provides a space to serendipitously meet far-flung neighbors.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Paul%20Vaccarello%20-%20courtesy%20of%20Paul%20FOR%20WEB.jpg" style="float: left; height: 254px; width: 190px;" title="Paul Vaccarello asked Curious City about the Amish at Union Station. (Photo courtesy Paul Vaccarello)" /><span style="font-size:24px;">Our question comes from: Paul Vaccarello</span></p><p>Paul Vaccarello told Curious City he visits Union Station about twice a month, adding that &ldquo;pretty much every time, I see groups of Amish people.&rdquo; While he was curious about whether the Amish travel by train, he also wondered if Chicago was ever the destination for Amish people on the road. &ldquo;It was interesting to hear they sometimes stop in Chicago to sightsee, go to the Sears Tower and John Hancock building,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Paul said he&rsquo;s not someone who would normally talk to strangers in the train station, and striking up a conversation with someone from a clearly different background can feel like crossing a barrier.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s cool to see they&rsquo;re so willing to talk, and that they don&rsquo;t even really see the barrier,&rdquo; he said.</p><p><em>Katie Klocksin is a freelance radio producer. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/KatieKlocksin" target="_blank">@KatieKlocksin</a>.</em></p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Mon, 07 Jul 2014 15:51:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/passing-through-chicagos-union-station-amish-transit-hub-110453 Rideshare vs. Taxicabs: The inside story http://www.wbez.org/news/rideshare-vs-taxicabs-inside-story-110296 <p><p>The best taxi drivers get to know hotel doormen.</p><p>&ldquo;How you been, John? Everything good?!&rdquo; shouted Saied Sarvinehbaghi out his window as he pulled to the front of the Hilton cab line on a recent morning. &ldquo;You want me to stay here or back up? Stay here? OK. Airport would be nice, John,&rdquo; Sarvinehbaghi chuckled.</p><p>A ride from the Loop to O&rsquo;Hare could bring in more than $40 for a single fare. Chicago&rsquo;s airports are one of the few places left in the city where taxicabs still rule the road. But elsewhere, the competition for fares is growing fiercer by the day.</p><p>Chicago <a href="https://soundcloud.com/morningshiftwbez/rideshare-ordinance-passes-1?in=morningshiftwbez/sets/morning-shift-week-of-may-26">recently passed rules</a> to legalize ridesharing services, which let people use their personal cars to take paying passengers around. The debate over ridesharing has mostly centered on how the service differs from traditional taxis. So WBEZ spent a day with a cabbie, and a night with a rideshare driver to find out for ourselves.</p><p><span style="font-size: 21.81818199157715px;">The taxicab driver</span></p><p>Sarvinehbaghi started driving 35 years ago, soon after he came to the U.S. from Iran for college. At the time, he thought he&rsquo;d only be driving cabs for a couple of years. As a passenger climbs into the backseat and directs him to O&rsquo;Hare, Sarvinehbaghi reflects on why he&rsquo;s stayed so long in the industry.</p><p>&ldquo;This job is good to me because it&rsquo;s exciting, because it&rsquo;s not a boring job,&rdquo; Sarvinehbaghi said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a very addictive job, actually. You get addicted to this job. If you get addicted, it&rsquo;s hard to let go.&rdquo;</p><p>Sarvinehbaghi is not your typical cabbie &ndash; he owns his medallion, which is a city license for a cab. He&rsquo;s had it for about 15 years.</p><p>&ldquo;I didn&rsquo;t buy it,&rdquo; he explained. &ldquo;We had a great mayor called Harold Washington, and he&rsquo;s the one who started giving medallions out instead of selling them, so I was one of guys who won it (in a lottery).&rdquo;</p><p>Most taxi drivers don&rsquo;t own medallions, and in recent years, they&rsquo;ve gotten harder to buy. At times, medallions have sold for as much as $360 thousand. The majority of cabbies lease their cars, with the medallions attached, for $400 to $700 a week.</p><p>Sarvinehbaghi is glad he doesn&rsquo;t pay a lease, but he said he still has expenses. According to city rules, he has to buy a new car every four years and pay for expensive taxi insurance. Despite all that he says he got by just fine until the road recently became more crowded with rideshare drivers.</p><p><span style="font-size: 21.81818199157715px;">The rideshare driver</span></p><p>At about the same time Saied usually ends his shift on a Saturday evening, Dan Burgess is driving into the city from his home in Downers Grove. Burgess, who introduces himself to passengers as &ldquo;Trivia Dan,&rdquo; has done this most weekends for the past year. He drives for ridesharing services UberX, Lyft and Sidecar.</p><p>&ldquo;I like meeting people,&rdquo; he explained. &ldquo;I love the city and the pulse of the metropolis, and I enjoy driving people around and getting paid for it and having a good time. And I thought it would be a fun way to expose people to me and my trivia company and ask them trivia questions on the rides.&rdquo;</p><p>Burgess receives ride requests through his smartphone. Almost as soon as his first carload of Lyft passengers &ndash; three young women going out for a dinner in Lakeview &ndash; squeeze into his back seat, he peppers them with trivia questions.</p><p>&ldquo;Well, if you guys want to play trivia, I&rsquo;ve got trivia questions ready&hellip;&rdquo;</p><p>As Burgess ferries passengers around the city in his 2005 silver Hyundai hatchback, the same scene repeats itself all night.</p><p>When asked, passengers said they prefer ridesharing to cabs because of the convenience. They use their smartphones to summon cars without ever going outside, and there&rsquo;s no hassle with cash or credit cards &ndash; the apps take care of the payment. When the ladies arrive at their destination, they just hop out.</p><p>&ldquo;Alright, so, I just got a text already saying that was &lsquo;50% Prime Time,&rsquo;&rdquo; Burgess said as the passengers exited. &ldquo;Lyft has a promotion going on tonight, so I got time-and-a-half on that.&rdquo;</p><p>Lyft and Uber frequently raise their rates at times of peak demand, or simply to entice drivers to use their app rather than the competition&rsquo;s. Cabs, by contrast, can&rsquo;t change the meter rate.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Ridealongs%202.jpg" style="height: 415px; width: 620px;" title="Dan Burgess, a.k.a. “Trivia Dan,” drives in from the suburbs nearly every weekend to do ridesharing. He uses it as an opportunity to promote his trivia business, and says he shouldn’t be subject to the same rules as cab drivers. (WBEZ/Odette Yousef)" /></p><p><span style="font-size: 21.81818199157715px;">Different rules of the road</span></p><p>After roughly six hours with both Burgess and Sarvinehbaghi, it was clear that the essence of what they do is the same: they drive people places for money. So should they follow the same rules? Dan said &lsquo;no.&rsquo;</p><p>&ldquo;This is a casual experience,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;I might go a month without giving a ride. Nobody has a cab that sits for a month without being used. So why should I fall under the same strict rules as a real cab when I might only give five or ten hours a week, or sometimes even five or ten hours a month?&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s rules and regulation,&rdquo; counters Sarvinehbaghi. &ldquo;It says if you want to transport people in the City of Chicago, you have to be registered, you have to have a medallion, you have to pay the fees and taxes, and have some kind of chauffeurs license, so they know who you are.&rdquo;</p><p>Sarvinehbaghi said to get his chauffeurs license, he had to take a class; pass an English exam, a physical, an eye test, and a background check; and have a clean driving record. Uber, Lyft and Sidecar say they perform background and driving record checks, too. But several <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2014-02-14/news/ct-rideshare-background-checks-met-20140214_1_background-checks-ride-sharing-drivers">news outlets</a> have <a href="http://www.nbcchicago.com/investigations/Ride-Service-May-Pose-Risk-to-Passengers-256639641.html">reported cases</a> of rideshare drivers with criminal histories.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s about protecting the consumer in Chicago. People&rsquo;s life is in our hand,&rdquo; Sarvinehbaghi said. &ldquo;I used to work night shift on the weekends, you won&rsquo;t believe how many drunk people I take home, they pass out in the back seat. Young girls, older guys with Rolex (watches), girls with short skirt and practically no clothes on, and I take them where they want to go and I call their parents down and take them.&rdquo;</p><p>But Burgess said ridesharing services weed out bad drivers faster than the city does, because the apps require passengers to rate their drivers after each ride.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s actually more safe because of the rating system,&rdquo; argued Burgess. &ldquo;If there&rsquo;s a problem, you can call support and report a driver, saying I was driving erratically or dangerously or I was under the influence or something. Lyft would turn off my account immediately.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size: 21.81818199157715px;">The cost of doing business</span></p><p>The other big difference between Sarvinehbaghi and Burgess involved their expenses. WIth frustration, Sarvinehbaghi pointed out that his 2014 Toyota RAV4 was only four months old. He bought it with a five-year payment plan, but the city will only allow it to be used as a cab for four years. He said that means in the fifth year, he&rsquo;ll have to continue paying for it, but he won&rsquo;t be able to use it as a taxi. In fact, he&rsquo;d have to buy another new car to use as a cab,saddling him with two monthly car payments.</p><p>&ldquo;This car, $33,000, I paid it. I&rsquo;m paying the car payment,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;I&rsquo;m paying almost $600 a month (for) insurance...stickers, fees, taxes, gas &ndash; you add all this up, it&rsquo;s costing me money to keep this medallion. You know, I work so hard, paying all these fees, and [rideshare drivers] come and do it without paying any fees or anything.&rdquo;</p><p>After expenses, Sarvinehbaghi made roughly $11 an hour during the shift I observed.</p><p>Burgess has it easier. He uses his nine-year old car, which he paid off long ago. Unlike Sarvinehbaghi he is not required to pay for commercial liability insurance. Burgess just needs to cover gas, and pay Uber 15 percent of his earnings.</p><p>During my night shift with Burgess he made about $14 an hour after expenses.</p><p>He acknowledged that rideshare vehicles have been hard on independent medallion owners.</p><p>&ldquo;I really feel bad for some independent cab owner who spent $300,000 on a medallion, yeah, I feel sorry for that guy,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s unfortunate, he made that investment. But it&rsquo;s a new day, and people like getting around this way more than that way.&rdquo;</p><p>Indeed, ride sharing&rsquo;s growing popularity is one reason Chicago&rsquo;s city council decided to legalize the service. Illinois may soon <a href="https://soundcloud.com/morningshiftwbez/rideshare-legislation-passes">follow suit</a> statewide. Sarvinehbaghi said he had planned to pay his sons&rsquo; college tuitions by selling his medallion, but now it&rsquo;s likely to lose much of its value.</p><p>Still, he said if the state allows ridesharing, he may sell his cab and try it, too.</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef">@oyousef</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>.</em></p></p> Thu, 05 Jun 2014 15:21:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/rideshare-vs-taxicabs-inside-story-110296 Illinois' red light on Sunday car sales http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/illinois-red-light-sunday-car-sales-110136 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/148403096&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_artwork=true" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>Judging by how many transportation-related <a href="http://curiouscity.wbez.org/questions/archive" target="_blank">questions Curious City receives</a>, we denizens of the Chicago region are obsessed with getting around and will ask about any <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/question-answered-why-ban-pickups-lake-shore-drive-where-can-they-park-104631" target="_blank">stumbling blocks</a> &mdash; legal or otherwise &mdash; that threaten to get in our way.</p><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/illinois-red-light-sunday-car-sales-110136#julischatz">Juli Schatz</a> of South Elgin is just one fan who&rsquo;s stepped forward with a puzzler related to mobility. Here&rsquo;s the gist of what she wants to know: &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>When did the state of Illinois begin its ban on Sunday car sales, and why?</em></p><p>The short answer? Turns out, auto dealers in Illinois have kept their doors closed on Sundays for more than three decades &mdash; from a law passed in 1982, to be specific. The state legislature sided with a group of dealers who argued that having a mandatory day off allowed employees to be with their families and practice their faith, without worrying that their competitors were open and could steal a sale.</p><p>Here&rsquo;s an excerpt of the <a href="http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/fulltext.asp?DocName=062500050K5-106" target="_blank">law </a>Illinois still follows today:</p><blockquote><p><em><span style="font-size:12px;">(625 ILCS 5/5-106) (from Ch. 95 1/2, par. 5-106)</span></em></p><p><em><span style="font-size:12px;">Sec. 5-106. No person may keep open, operate, or assist in keeping open or operating any established or additional place of business for the purpose of buying, selling, bartering, exchanging, or leasing for a period of 1 year or more, or offering for sale, barter, exchange, or lease for a period of 1 year or more, any motor vehicle, whether new or used, on the first day of the week, commonly called Sunday; ...</span></em></p></blockquote><p>But this story about Sunday car sales goes back even further than the 1980s; Illinois has had this debate since the 1950s, with similar arguments for and against being deployed each time &mdash; including the issue&rsquo;s resurrection today.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Chapter 1: Prairie State car law, in the shade of blue</span></p><p>The state&rsquo;s Sunday auto sales ban is one of many state-level blue laws, which &mdash; as a category &mdash; prohibit certain secular activities on Sundays. It&#39;s a bent the Prairie State apparently shares with several neighbors: Iowa, Indiana, and Missouri also prohibit selling motor vehicles on Sundays. Wisconsin prohibits a dealer from selling on Sundays, unless the operator holds that the Sabbath occurs between sunset Friday and sunset Saturday.</p><p>Illinois&#39; own ban first made its way through the legislature in 1951. Dealers wanted to allow a day off, but any single dealership couldn&rsquo;t close its doors while competitors stayed open. Legislators agreed to a mandatory day off and passed a bill to make it happen, but the story got complicated as soon as the bill hit Governor Adlai Stevenson&rsquo;s desk.</p><p>Stevenson&rsquo;s Attorney General, Ivan A. Elliott, encouraged the governor to veto the bill, saying it likely violated the Illinois Constitution &ldquo;as an interference with the right of an individual to pursue any trade or occupation which is not injurious to the public or a menace to the safety or welfare of society.&rdquo;</p><p>Stevenson heeded the AG&rsquo;s word, and vetoed Senate Bill 504.</p><p>&ldquo;If such a restriction on Sunday trade is sound for automobiles, why should it not be extended to newspapers, groceries, ice cream cones and other harmless commercial transactions?&rdquo; Stevenson wrote in a veto message. &ldquo;Carried to its logical extreme, any business group with sufficient influence in the legislature can dictate the hours of business of its competitors. And if hours, why not prices?&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">A short Chapter 2, and complicated Chapter 3</span></p><p>A nearly identical bill followed a similar path in 1957. House Bill 946 survived both houses, only to be defeated at the hand of Governor William Stratton days after passage.</p><p>The legislature made another attempt in 1961, only this time Governor Otto Kerner signed Senate Bill 597, making it a crime for any person to sell, barter or exchange any new or used motor vehicle on the day &ldquo;commonly called Sunday.&rdquo;</p><p>But some car dealers weren&rsquo;t jazzed about their new schedules. Employees at Courtesy Motor Sales in Chicago had been able to choose any day of the week they wished for their day off, but many of them chose to work on Sundays because they made almost twice as much as they did any other day of the week. Twenty percent of Courtesy&rsquo;s annual sales in 1960 were made on Sundays.</p><p>So Courtesy employees filed an injunction in Cook County Circuit Court that ended up before the Illinois Supreme Court. The salesmen and their lawyers argued the law was unconstitutional, as it singled out one specific group of sellers.</p><p>Attorney Joe Roddy was a senior in law school at the time, working as a law clerk for the State&rsquo;s Attorney&rsquo;s office. As the State&rsquo;s Attorney was responsible for defending the statute, Roddy helped write the briefs. He also penned an article for the Chicago-Kent Law review about the case.</p><p>&ldquo;It was a huge deal,&rdquo; Roddy recalls. &ldquo;I remember a lot of publicity. Because you know, car dealerships, everybody buys a car &mdash; even in the 60s &mdash; and the car dealers wanted to be open on Sundays. So it attracted a lot of publicity because they didn&rsquo;t single out any other industry at that time.&rdquo;<a name="lawshistory"></a></p><p>The Illinois Supreme Court ruled in 1962 that the law was unconstitutional, and the debate died down for a bit.<a name="timeline"></a></p><p style="text-align: center;"><span style="font-size:14px;"><strong><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">TIMELINE: The law&#39;s history</span></strong></span></p><p><iframe frameborder="0" height="650" src="http://cdn.knightlab.com/libs/timeline/latest/embed/index.html?source=0Ai7E2pZ6aCZtdFd5Wllad2gzaWZpQnlGTGwxQzZNY0E&amp;font=Bevan-PotanoSans&amp;maptype=toner&amp;lang=en&amp;height=650" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Blue (law) since 1982</span></p><p>In the 1980s, car dealers across the state wrote state lawmakers, arguing that a mandatory day off would protect the livelihood of sellers and would provide needed time for family or faith. A new bill banning sales on Sundays made its way through the legislature, with major support coming from trade organizations that represent car dealerships.</p><p>But the measure also had opponents.</p><p>&ldquo;I think it comes with some amazement that a bill like this would come before us. We have heard time and time again from the business community that they would like less regulation by the state, and less mandates,&rdquo; Senator Don Totten argued on the Senate floor at the time. &ldquo;I think this runs contrary to our system of free enterprise.&rdquo;</p><p>The bill ended up making it way through both houses, leaving Governor Jim Thompson with a tough decision.</p><p>&ldquo;Look, I&rsquo;m not a big fan of blue laws,&rdquo; Thompson now says. &ldquo;I think commerce should be open and free.&rdquo;</p><p>And because of that, Thompson says, he did go back and forth on this one.</p><p>&ldquo;It was not a simple decision,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;It was more a complex decision, but I guess what impressed me was the unanimity of the opinion [of] the dealer and the employee group. And the notion that if people &mdash; in order to protect their livelihood &mdash; had to work 7 days a week, that was a pretty tough proposition, especially people with families.&rdquo;</p><p>Thompson ended up signing the bill on July 13, 1982, but the law wasn&rsquo;t implemented until April 1984, when the state&rsquo;s Supreme Court ruled the ban was constitutional. The state has enforced a six-day sales week for dealers around Illinois ever since.</p><p><span style="font-size: 22px;">Ice cream cones and planned purchases</span></p><p>Fast forward to early 2014. It turns out that our question from Juli Schatz question is timely. Much to the dismay of many Illinois car dealers, Republican State Senator Jim Oberweis introduced a bill at the end of 2013 that would allow all dealers to open their doors on Sundays, should they want to.</p><p>Oberweis made the argument that his plan wouldn&rsquo;t <em>force</em> dealerships to do anything. Having government decide when businesses can and can&rsquo;t be open, he says, amounts to too much regulation.</p><p>&ldquo;I believe it is wrong for government to tell a business when they can be open and when they cannot be open. That&rsquo;s what they do in Russia, not in the United States,&rdquo; Oberweis says. &ldquo;And it becomes even worse when we learn that this is an industry supported effort. They decided they don&rsquo;t want to be open themselves, and then they attempt to use government to prohibit competition on those days. That is just fundamentally wrong in my opinion.&rdquo;</p><p>Oberweis says the bill likely won&rsquo;t go anywhere in 2014, as too few Senate Democrats are on board with repealing the ban.</p><p>Dave Sloan, President of the Chicago Automobile Trade Association, says the bill&rsquo;s also likely to fail because both consumers and dealers are happy with the current law. The CATA has been a long-time supporter of the Sunday closing law, and Sloan says he was surprised to see Oberweis&rsquo; bill come up in the first place. In his 20 years at the CATA, including their work running the Chicago Auto Show, he says he&rsquo;s never heard a single complaint from a consumer over not being able to shop on Sundays.</p><p>&ldquo;If the purchase of a car was an impulse buy, like if you were buying an ice cream cone from one of Mr. Oberweis&rsquo; ice cream stores, that might make a difference. But it&rsquo;s a planned purchase,&rdquo; Sloan says. &ldquo;So if you have the opportunity to keep costs lower, and the consumer isn&rsquo;t inconvenienced by that, well, then everyone wins.&rdquo;</p><p>Sloan says a six-day work week helps dealers attract high-caliber employees; he argues it&rsquo;s hard to find full-time salesmen who will commit to working on commission when the dealership is open seven days a week.</p><p>As time goes on, and technology advances, so too do auto sales, according to Pete Sander, president of the Illinois Automobile Dealers Association. He says compared to decades past, many more vehicles are financed during the purchase process. Since banks aren&rsquo;t open on Sundays either, he says, closing a sale becomes difficult, if not impossible. &nbsp;</p><p>And Sander says now that both dealers and manufacturers have websites available 24/7, the average customer only visits a dealership lot an average of one and a half times before purchasing a vehicle. Five years ago, the average customer would visit a sales lot five times.</p><p>&ldquo;By the time they get to the dealer on Saturday, they pretty much know what they want, and whether the dealer has what they want. It&rsquo;s just a matter of negotiating the price of the trade-in, and negotiating the price of the car,&rdquo; Sander says. &ldquo;So it&rsquo;s not like the old going from dealer to dealer to find the right car in the color and model you want, and kicking the tires as we used to do in the old days.<a name="julischatz"></a></p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s a much different commercial transaction now.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Our question comes from: Juli Schatz</span></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/JuliBW.jpg" style="float: left; height: 205px; width: 150px;" title="Juli Schatz, who asked why Illinois banned Sunday car sales. (Photo courtesy Juli Schatz)" />Our look at Illinois&rsquo; ban on Sunday car sales comes courtesy of South Elgin resident Juli Schatz, who says she can&rsquo;t quite put her finger on when, exactly, this seed of curiosity about Illinois&rsquo; ban on Sunday cars was first planted.</p><p>It likely happened, she says, decades ago when her dad helped her shop for a car. Schatz&rsquo;s dad worked five days a week, so he was only free to kick tires or test-drive on weekends. She thought it was strange that Sunday sales were off the table.</p><p>&ldquo;I asked [my dad] and he had no idea why, and that was long before the Internet or anything,&rdquo; Schatz recalled. &ldquo;We actually asked a couple of car dealers while we were shopping for my new used car, and they had no idea.&rdquo;</p><p>Schatz says she&rsquo;s been curious about it ever since. Years later, she worked in ad sales for several newspapers, including the <em>Naperville Sun</em>, and she had car dealerships as some of her customers.</p><p>&ldquo;Same thing,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;Nobody really knew. And some of these dealers had been in business for quite a while and they said, &lsquo;You know, it&rsquo;s just always been that way.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p><em>Lauren Chooljian is a WBEZ Reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/laurenchooljian">@laurenchooljian</a>.</em></p><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div></p> Mon, 05 May 2014 17:05:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/illinois-red-light-sunday-car-sales-110136 New rules of the road possible for Chicago pedicab drivers http://www.wbez.org/news/new-rules-road-possible-chicago-pedicab-drivers-110106 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/Screen Shot 2013-04-09 at 8.37.11 AM_0.png" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago pedicabs could soon have to follow new rules of the road, much to the dismay of many drivers. The City Council is set to vote Wednesday on a slew of new rules and regulations for bicycle rickshaws popular around Wrigley Field and downtown. It would be the first time the city sets any regulations on the growing industry.</p><p>Many pedicab drivers say they&rsquo;re for some regulation, but argue that the ordinance put forth by Ald. Tom Tunney (44) goes too far. Tunney&rsquo;s measure is years in the making, and requires pedicab drivers to get $250 annual licenses for their cabs, to buy insurance, post fare schedules, apply for &ldquo;chauffeur&#39;s licenses&rdquo; to drive the pedicab and other changes.</p><p>But it&rsquo;s the ban on driving on the downtown portion of Michigan Avenue and State Street, and rush hour restrictions in the Loop that has caused the most protest from drivers. At a joint City Council hearing Tuesday with the committees on License and Consumer Protection and Transportation and Public Way, many drivers testified that the bans would put a big dent in their finances, as downtown is not only where many of their patrons are, but it&rsquo;s where they want to be dropped off.</p><p>&ldquo;What health risk to pedicabs pose? What causes more traffic congestion - a double parked limousine? A 50 foot bus making a turn? Or a pedicab in a bike lane? Pedicabs should be part of the solution and not banned from downtown,&rdquo; Chicago Rickshaw owner Robert Tipton said.</p><p>Nikola Delic, owner of Nick&rsquo;s Pedicabs, is one of many drivers that argued that the ordinance discriminated against pedicab drivers.</p><p>&ldquo;If the horse carriages and cab drivers can pick up their fares in the downtown district, I don&rsquo;t see why the pedicabs wouldn&rsquo;t be able to do the same thing,&rdquo; Delic said. &ldquo;Because horse carriages are blocking the same amount of traffic as one pedicab [and] they&rsquo;re moving slower.&rdquo;</p><p>Drivers submitted a petition Tuesday with over 500 signatures. It requests that aldermen take the entire street restriction section out of the ordinance.</p><p>Tunney has said that he&rsquo;s open to changing portions of the ordinance, but the street ban is off the table.</p><p>&ldquo;The ordinance, I believe, will help legitimize the industry, increase public safety and improve the flow of traffic on our congested streets,&rdquo; Tunney said at the hearing. &ldquo;There are...many good and safe operators but we&rsquo;ve certainly had a few problems that this ordinance is designed to address.&rdquo;</p><p>Commissioner Luann Hamilton from the Chicago Department of Transportation said the department would support reducing the restrictions, and they aren&rsquo;t concerned by pedicabs riding on those streets.</p><p>Another sticking point for drivers is a rule that would cap at 200 the number of registered pedicabs allowed in the city. Drivers contest that this rule will kill off jobs, and that 200 is an arbitrary number, as there&rsquo;s no official measure for the number of pedicabs driving around the city. The ordinance would allow for the number to be changed by the licensing commissioner.</p><p>The ordinance sailed through the joint committee vote, with only two &quot;no&quot; votes from Ald. Ariel Reboyras and Ald. Brendan Reilly. Penalties for violating the act could range anywhere from $100 to $5,000, depending on the violation or number of infractions.</p><p>Other pieces of the ordinance:</p><ul><li>Drivers would have to get a doctor&#39;s note stating they&rsquo;re capable to operate a pedicab and pass a geography exam before receiving their &ldquo;pedicab chauffeur license&rdquo;</li><li>All drivers must be 18 or older</li><li>Pedicab operators must have a valid automobile driver&rsquo;s license - from Illinois or another state</li><li>Pedicabs aren&rsquo;t allowed on sidewalks</li><li>Pedicabs are only allowed to carry four passengers</li></ul><p>Tunney&rsquo;s ordinance does not set fares for pedicabs, regulate where they are able to park or designate certain places they can hang out and wait for fares.</p><p>If the ordinance passes the full City Council Wednesday, the new rules and regulations would take effect by June.</p><p dir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-23d1776b-b381-d33a-af9d-cc36336fa4bd"><em>Lauren Chooljian is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her<a href="http://twitter.com/triciabobeda"> </a><a href="https://twitter.com/laurenchooljian">@laurenchooljian</a></em></p></p> Wed, 30 Apr 2014 11:32:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/new-rules-road-possible-chicago-pedicab-drivers-110106