WBEZ | Transportation http://www.wbez.org/tags/transportation Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en 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 Morning Shift: Is procrastination really a problem? http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2014-04-14/morning-shift-procrastination-really-problem-110017 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/by L-T-L.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>With tax day looming, we tackle the procrastination problem...or is it a problem? Plus, Malian musical guest Sidi Touré.&nbsp;</p><div class="storify"><iframe allowtransparency="true" frameborder="no" height="750" src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-is-procrastination-really-a-problem/embed?header=false&amp;border=false" width="100%"></iframe><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-is-procrastination-really-a-problem.js?header=false&border=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-is-procrastination-really-a-problem" target="_blank">View the story "Morning Shift: Is procrastination really a problem?" on Storify</a>]</noscript></div></p> Mon, 14 Apr 2014 08:40:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2014-04-14/morning-shift-procrastination-really-problem-110017 Chicago to Mexico, by bus http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/chicago-mexico-bus-109747 <p><p><em><strong>This story is made for your ears. Please push play above! </strong></em></p><p>Every week, hundreds of people board coach buses in Chicago and travel to Mexico. I used to live in Mexico, and have taken the 2,000-mile trip nearly a dozen times to and from Zamora, Michoacán. On my most recent trip, I brought a tape recorder along, and made this audio travelogue.</p><p><em>Your attention please. Everybody with your tickets on your hand! </em><em>Por favor, todos tengan su boleto en la mano, que ahorita se lo voy a quitar!</em></p><p>The soundtrack of a bus trip to Mexico consists of the driver on the public address system, the 45 other passengers and their snores, cries,the rustle of plastic bags, cell phone conversations, back-to-back movies shown on the six screens suspended from the ceiling, the bus driver&rsquo;s radio, and always, the drone of the bus engine .</p><p>Every time you start one of these trips, you consider the variables. And you hope. Sleek paint jobs and tinted windows mean these buses almost always look better on the outside than they do on the inside. The small amount of legroom can be alarming, and uncomfortable. Other variables: the temperature, the smells.</p><p><em>How lucky are we? </em>I ask our driver.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Oh, beautiful, beautiful! We got Wi-Fi, we got a switch where you can recharge your battery. </em></p><p>The driver tells me his approach to the job: make everybody happy. His immediate strategy involves 80s music on the radio (for him) and back-to-back movies (for us). <em>Lethal Weapon 3 </em>is in progress as we board. It&rsquo;s repeated later in its entirety, for those who boarded late.</p><p>Chicago is connected to a world of small Mexican towns that most people have never heard of. If I want to visit my mother-in-law in provincial Mexico, I can walk to a bus station in my Chicago neighborhood and buy a direct ticket to Zamora, Michoacán (well, they call it a direct ticket, you&rsquo;ll see what that means).</p><p>The ride takes 48 hours, two days and two nights. And, no, there is not a sleeping car.</p><p>Like most people on the bus, my family of five is here for one reason: during peak travel seasons, it&rsquo;s a lot cheaper than a plane.</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/INSIDE.jpg" title="Variables inside the bus: legroom, temperature, smell. (WBEZ/Linda Lutton)" /></div><p><em>Welcome and good afternoon, ladies and gentlemens. Thank you for choosing El Expreso. I&rsquo;m sorry for the de-late. </em></p><p>The names of the bus lines traveling to Mexico are meant to make you think the trip will fly by. There&rsquo;s El Conejo, the Rabbit. Tornado. We&rsquo;re traveling this time on El Expreso (right.)</p><p>Every two-day bus trip starts with a little welcome speech. And every speech includes some variation on this rule:</p><p><em>El baño. Favor de usar el numero 1 si es posible, porque el numero 2 está un poquito fuerte y no queremos que vaya un olor fuerte en la estancia.&nbsp; </em></p><p>Do NOT use the bus bathroom&mdash;basically, unless you&rsquo;re dying. Absolutely no Number 2.</p><p><em>We do not want strong odors on the bus</em>, the driver says. <em>Hay que tener mucho respeto por las demás gentes. </em></p><p>From the moment you buy your ticket, you&rsquo;re stepping into a different world, a world you do not control, a world where things will not go as planned, small things and big things.</p><p>The 1 pm bus leaves at 2:30 pm. That&rsquo;s not too bad.&nbsp; The Wi-Fi? Actually&hellip; no Wi-Fi.</p><p>Last year, we were stranded for 20 hours in Matamoros. Another time, one of the side windows of the bus just fell out. The driver went back to look for it on I-35&mdash;no luck. So we just kept going, the 100-degree Texas heat blowing through the bus all the way to Dallas.</p><p>These bus companies have been sued over accidents; I try not to think about that when I buy the tickets.</p><p align="center">* * *</p><p><em>Please do take advantage of this stop, because the next stop won&rsquo;t be until Jackson, so it&rsquo;s quite a ways. Go ahead and take advantage of it. </em><em>Aquí 25 minutos. 25 minutes. </em></p><p>If you do this trip a few times, you get to know all the stops: Effingham, Illinois; Matthews, Missouri&mdash;that&rsquo;s where we are right now. The sound of the bus is everywhere. Even when you&rsquo;re not on it, it&rsquo;s idling nearby. We look pale, dazed under the fluorescent gas station lights.&nbsp;</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/MATTHEWS%20TRAVEL.JPG" title="Matthews, Missouri (Credo Duarte)" /></div><p>Next will be Jackson and McComb, Mississippi; Lafayette, Arkansas; Houston, Beeville, and McAllen, Texas. And on the Mexico side: Monterrey, Matehuala, San Luis, Celaya, Zamora.</p><p>We pack the TA Travel Center bathroom. We brush our teeth, line up for the toilet, spray deodorant, change the babies. Little by little you get to know where everyone is from, where everyone&rsquo;s going, places that have sent generations of immigrants to the Chicago area, mostly: Michoacán, Zacatecas, Jalisco. The college student from Beloit is going to Durango.</p><p><em>Yeah, so it&rsquo;s like, another 13 hours after Houston. I don&rsquo;t even know&hellip; I get motion sickness, so I&rsquo;m like half awake, half asleep the whole ride. </em></p><p>She&rsquo;ll come back in a week, do this all again but in reverse.</p><p>The lady from Guanajuato, I feel like I know her life story. (Would this ever happen on a plane?) How her daughter got married at age 16, how she made a deal with God to get her immigration papers...</p><p><em>&hellip;Y agarré a mi niño y me pase a la recámara. No lloraba, pero &iexcl;se imagina todo lo que estaba pasando! Que de una manera y de otra y no había manera de pasarme. &nbsp;Y yo agarré y me hinqué y yo le dije, &lsquo;Señor, tú sabes&rsquo;&mdash;ahora sí como que lo obligué&mdash;&lsquo;tú SABES que yo TENGO que estar con mi esposo. Yo no sé como le vas a hacer, pero tú me vas a llevar.&rsquo;&nbsp;&nbsp; Y al otro día, que me dice la prima, &ldquo;Oye, &iquest;por qué no sacas otra vez tu pasaporte&hellip; </em></p><p>8 hours down, 40 to go.</p><p>The movies stop and the lights get turned off at 11:30 pm. The clatter of the bus over the highway is rhythmic. Snores follow, the click click of video games continues.&nbsp; Low voices talk on phones with girlfriends back in Chicago.</p><p align="center"><strong>* * *</strong></p><p>While the bus companies in Chicago sell you &ldquo;direct&rdquo; tickets to little towns in Mexico, that doesn&rsquo;t mean you&rsquo;re riding the same bus all the way. In Houston, we all get off.</p><p><em>Si se encuentra Marcela Gálvez, puede pasar a la Taquilla Número 2. Marcela, Marcela Gálvez&hellip;</em>(And continuing over the PA system: &iquest;<em>Tú eres Marcela? &iquest;Es tu mamá?</em> )</p><p>And that&rsquo;s when I meet Eliseo Orejel. He&rsquo;s traveling with his wife and three kids. They&rsquo;re from LaGrange, and it just so happens they&rsquo;re also travelling to Zamora.</p><p>Eliseo is surrounded by suitcases.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Here--everything, up to there. Because we&rsquo;re allowed 400 pounds. Two 40-pound bags per (person), and we&rsquo;re five. I&rsquo;m like 345 pounds. But more than half of this is staying over there, so&hellip;.</em></p><p>Eliseo&rsquo;s kids like the bus.</p><p><em>Do you think we&rsquo;re going to have any adventures on this bus trip?</em> I ask. They immediately know what I mean by &ldquo;adventures.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Yes! I think so!</em> They say. They recount past adventures. <em>Like, one time a wheel popped. We could just feel like the bus was getting lower on the back. And it took a long while. And then it popped again.</em></p><p>I can top that! One time I actually <em>drove</em> the bus. Well, it was a passenger van at that point, but still!&nbsp; The driver wanted to make some extra cash by dropping a señora off at her out-of-the-way village, up in some hills. &nbsp;It was rainy season, and we got stuck in the mud. So I drove, the driver and my husband pushed, and our kids watched from the edge of the muddy farm field.</p><p><em>Los que vienen de Chicago! Las personas que vienen de Chicago! Van a ir con Flecha Roja. Aquí a la Ventanilla 3.</em></p><p>Mexico has a great bus system. The buses are modern. They run on time. Most everything is computerized. These international immigrant buses hand out paper tickets. They oversell seats. They never know how many people to expect, or what their final destinations are.</p><p>After an hour or so in Houston, we are issued new handwritten paper tickets. And we&rsquo;re on our way, though for some reason Eliseo, the guy going to the same place we are, is not on our new bus.</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/HANDWRITTEN.jpg" title="" /></div><p><em>Bienvenidos al autobus Flecha Roja...</em></p><p>Our feet are swollen from sitting so long. People doze. Behind me, a señora talks on her cell phone. &nbsp;</p><p><em>Next time I&rsquo;m going by plane,</em> she tells someone.</p><p>The granddaughter traveling with her gets on the phone next, with an older sister. &nbsp;Then there are miles and miles of Vanessa, age 9:&nbsp;</p><p><em>I&rsquo;m so lucky, Lupe&mdash;because you can&rsquo;t touch me. I&rsquo;m all the way over here; you&rsquo;re all the way over there. You can&rsquo;t do nothing. </em></p><p><em>I&rsquo;m bored! </em></p><p><em>Oh, um&hellip; did you find those little ligas to make the bracelet? It&rsquo;s so HOT in here.</em></p><p><em>Lupe, oh! I saw a Marilyn Monroe shirt! It&rsquo;s pretty&hellip;I can&rsquo;t&mdash;I&rsquo;m on the bus! How can I buy it? I&rsquo;m on the bus!</em></p><p>One thing about traveling on these bus lines: Every time we pull into a station, we wonder two things: what will the next bus be like&mdash;are we trading up or down? And when will it leave?</p><p>When we get to McAllen, it&rsquo;s dark already.</p><p><em>Bueno, sí. Buenas noches. Vamos a bajar de esta unidad, se les va a entregar el equipaje, y ésta unidad se va a retirar, y se va a acercar la siguiente unidad, en la que van a abordar&hellip;</em></p><p>Things don&rsquo;t go well. Not everyone fits on the next bus, we&rsquo;re told. Or perhaps it is the luggage that does not fit&mdash;there are conflicting stories. The official says he&rsquo;s only boarding to three cities.</p><p><em>Ahorita se van a subir aquí: Irapuato, Salamanca y Celaya. Tengo otro autobús, no más necesito despachar este primero&hellip; </em></p><p>It does not matter that other destinations, including ours, are practically next door to these three cities, he&rsquo;s only boarding to these three cities. The family from Salvatierra has been told there are no buses there until morning.</p><p><em>&hellip;que para Salvatierra van a salir hasta mañana. &iquest;Cómo lo vamos a hacer?</em></p><p>He promises he has two other buses in the wings, but nobody quite believes him, and nobody wants to sleep in McAllen.</p><p><em>Aquí tengo tres autobuses! Le digo! Los estoy acomodando. </em></p><p>Finally, another bus does show up&mdash;and so does Eliseo Orejel&mdash;the guy with the 345 pounds of luggage.</p><p><em>Nos volvemos a encontrar! What a mess, now it&rsquo;s REALLY messed!</em> he greets us.</p><p>As we get underway, the passengers debate which bus line is the worst.</p><p><em>&iexcl;Ésta es la línea más garra esta que hay! </em></p><p>At this point, we&rsquo;ve been traveling 30 hours. We&rsquo;re 6 hours behind schedule. This is our third bus. &nbsp;And that is the context for what happens next.</p><p align="center">* * *</p><p>The driver gets on the loudspeaker.</p><p><em>OK, aaah. &iquest;Me escuchan? </em></p><p>Can you hear me? The driver asks. We&rsquo;re right on the border now.</p><p><em>OK, &iquest;Me escuchan? </em></p><p><em>&iexcl;Sí! </em>the passengers shout.</p><p><em>OK. Damas y caballeros, ah bueno. Aquí es una revisión fiscal. Aquí vamos a bajar con los oficiales de la fiscal, de aquí de la aduana. Me da pena decirles, me dice el oficial que vamos a bajar todo, todo el equipaje que traigan en las cajuelas, todo lo que traigan aquí arriba del autobús también, vamos a pasar a revisión, allí adentro de la banda. </em></p><p>Ladies and gentlemen, he&rsquo;s says. We&rsquo;ve come to a fiscal checkpoint. I hate to tell you this. But the customs official has let me know that we are going to have to take everything&mdash;everything&mdash;off the bus. Everything we have in the compartments underneath the bus, everything inside the bus. And we&rsquo;re going through customs.</p><p><em>Pero, me hace un comentario. Me dice que si le juntamos una cooperación, evitamos bajar todo nuestro equipaje. Ya es a consideración de ustedes. </em></p><p>However, the bus driver says, the customs official has mentioned something: If we take up a little donation, he says, we can avoid customs completely.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Ya eso, ya es a consideración de ustedes. No sé si ustedes quieren, nos juntamos una cooperación para entregarle al oficial, para que no bajemos todo nuestro equipaje. </em></p><p>This kind of shakedown has happened on every bus trip I&rsquo;ve ever taken to Mexico.</p><p><em>How much already?</em> one passenger shouts.</p><p>The driver suggests a $5 donation per person, which passengers revise to $5 per family. We&rsquo;ve been charged $20 per family before, but if you go higher than that, people without much luggage&mdash;or people without anything that might interest a customs official&mdash;start to grumble.</p><p><em>Ténganlo a la mano y yo lo recojo. Ténganlo a la mano.</em></p><p>Have your money out, the driver says. I&rsquo;ll come by to collect.</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/BRIBE.JPG" title="However, the bus driver says, the customs official has mentioned something: If we take up a little donation, he says, we can avoid customs completely. (Credo Duarte)" /></div><p>Once he&rsquo;s been through the bus, the driver steps out into the cool Reynosa air&mdash;he and another guy in a button-down shirt compare big wads of cash. Inside the bus, the passengers shake their heads and joke.</p><p><em>Welcome to Mexico! &iexcl;Te están dando la bienvenida!</em></p><p>When the driver comes back, we drive right under the checkpoint with the giant red letters that say MÉXICO.</p><p>Incredibly, we change buses two more times after this, including in Monterrey, where a young official tries a trick I have never heard before:</p><p><em>Miren, salidas a Moroleón, Guadalajara, Celaya, Morelia, Cuernavaca, Acámbaro, no hay nada. Está todo lleno aquí en la ciudad de Monterrey. No hay nada hasta para el día 3, 4 de enero&hellip;</em></p><p>He tells us there will be no buses to any destination for 10 days. &nbsp;So when one appears only two hours later and our names are called, it feels like a gift!</p><p><em>Felipe Ortega! Rosa Nuñez! Linda! </em></p><p>Oh, and the LaGrange family going to the same place we are? Not on this bus.</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/WINDOW%20SIGN.jpg" title="(WBEZ/Linda Lutton)" /></div><p>As we get further and further into Mexico, the frustration in the bus dissipates. Along with all the delays there are also homemade tortillas at a roadside restaurant. Barbacoa tacos. Soup. The warm sun. And the thought of piñatas and weddings and quinceañera parties, all the family waiting for us.</p><p><em>It&rsquo;s been a pretty good trip</em>, the guy in front of me says.</p><p>The bus official at our very last stop &ndash;51 hours down, 4 to go&mdash;sees it like this:</p><p><em>Lo bueno es que ya va a llegar a su destino. Que tenga buen viaje, y bienvenida a México. </em></p><p>The good thing is you&rsquo;re almost there. Have a very nice trip. Welcome to Mexico.</p><p align="center">* * *</p><p>I was not going to tape on the return trip to Chicago. But I could not help myself when this happened&hellip;</p><p><em>BBBBBBEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP. &nbsp;BEEP. </em></p><p>Buses inside Mexico are equipped with annoying, piercing alarms that sound every time the driver goes over the speed limit. These international immigrant buses don&rsquo;t usually have those alarms. But yep, we got one.</p><p><em>BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP.</em></p><p>All night long, no one complained.</p><p>I feel that&rsquo;s a very Mexican response, I tell my Mexican husband.</p><p><em>What would be the point of complaining?</em> he asks. <em>The driver can&rsquo;t do anything but go slower. And we don&rsquo;t want to go slower.</em> But he agrees: if this had been a bus full of gringos, they definitely would have complained.</p><p>The bus beeped all the way to northern Mexico. It was still dark, but ahead I could see a long, thin line of lights running left and right across the highway&mdash; the border.</p><p>The thing about taking the bus to Mexico, you actually physically feel the distance between the two places that make up your life. You feel the border&mdash;with its checkpoints and flashing lights and immigration officials with their walkie-talkies.</p><p><em>Hello, Sir. 10-4, 10-4. </em></p><p>On the way back to Chicago, the bus drivers put on classic Mexican movies, heightening nostalgia for the place we were leaving behind, the narrow black highway stretched out like a thread between Mexico and Chicago, the bus moving along it.</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/TORNADO.jpg" title="(WBEZ/Linda Lutton)" /></div></p> Fri, 21 Feb 2014 08:24:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/chicago-mexico-bus-109747 Morning Shift: To code or not to code http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2013-12-20/morning-shift-code-or-not-code-109418 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Code cover Flickr QualityFrog.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Wired editor Brendan Koerner and tech writer Jathan Sadowski debate the merits of teaching computer science in public school. We examine Americans&#39; shifting belief in a higher power. And, Vic Miguel &amp; Friends bring their ukes down to Studio 6.</p><div class="storify"><iframe src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-to-code-or-not-to-code/embed?header=false" width="100%" height=750 frameborder=no allowtransparency=true></iframe><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-to-code-or-not-to-code.js?header=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-to-code-or-not-to-code" target="_blank">View the story "Morning Shift: To code or not to code" on Storify</a>]</noscript></div></p> Fri, 20 Dec 2013 08:34:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2013-12-20/morning-shift-code-or-not-code-109418