WBEZ | Transportation http://www.wbez.org/tags/transportation Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Fare Game: When do CTA Buses Break Even? http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/fare-game-when-do-cta-buses-break-even-113884 <p><p>The midnight ride started it. Actually, it was about half past midnight. That&rsquo;s when Fred Pineda, who moved to the city seven years ago to attend the University of Chicago, would climb aboard the #6 bus to take him back to Hyde Park once he was done partying downtown. Fred says he made the trip often and &ldquo;usually there would only be about four or five of us on that bus, especially during weekdays. I was thinking, &lsquo;There&rsquo;s no way the CTA is making money off this route.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>Fred has since moved to the North Side, and hasn&rsquo;t taken that trip in a while. But a question from those days has stuck with him, the same question he&rsquo;s posed to Curious City:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>How many fares does it take for a bus to get to the break even point?</em></p><p>The &ldquo;break even point&rdquo; is that sweet spot where the amount of cash coming into the farebox on a given bus line matches what is going out to cover the bus&rsquo;s operating costs.</p><p>This is a big question for the second-largest public transit system in the country. Just in the first half of this year, about 869,000 weekday trips were taken on CTA buses. The agency spends $764 million to maintain that service, with a good chunk of that amount coming from public funds.</p><p>Technically, the CTA <em>could</em> break even &mdash; &nbsp;at least on paper. To get at exactly how, we ran a two-part thought experiment. The first looks at what the break even point actually is, while the second investigates what the CTA would have to change in service, pricing, and access in order for bus operations to pay for themselves.</p><p>In laying out the serious financial gymnastics required to create a wholly self-sufficient CTA bus service, we realize this story is more complex than finding a magic price point: There&rsquo;s often an impulse to make people who use a service pay its full cost, but when it comes to public transit, even some fiscal watchdogs agree that the goal of &ldquo;breaking even&rdquo; is not all it&rsquo;s cracked up to be.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Breaking even</span></p><p>To answer Fred&rsquo;s question, we have to determine what CTA buses earn, and compare that to what it costs to run the system. Most of the CTA&rsquo;s expenses fall into one of two categories: 1) overall costs (fuel, driver salaries, maintenance, and administration); and 2) capital costs (the price tags for new buses). According to transportation figures which the agency reports to the federal <a href="http://www.ntdprogram.gov/ntdprogram/">National Transit Database</a>, the CTA lines up fare collection data against its overall operating costs and excludes capital costs, since operating costs are where the bulk of the annual budget is directed.</p><p>The CTA&rsquo;s overall bus costs added up to $764,280,757 in 2013 &mdash; the latest year for which data are available.</p><p>In that same year, CTA buses earned $298,824,494 just in fares, or 39 percent of what it spent on its overall costs. The remaining 61 percent was mainly paid for with state and city subsidies deriving from sales taxes and Chicago&rsquo;s real estate transfer tax.</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/fareboxrecoverycomparison.PNG" style="height: 388px; width: 620px;" title="" /></div><p>Although the CTA prefers not to look at its bus service through the &ldquo;break even&rdquo; lens, some of its buses do cross that threshold in certain circumstances, according to Yonah Freemark, a city planner who specializes in transportation and development policy for the <a href="http://www.metroplanning.org/people/staff-member/?id=67">Metropolitan Planning Council</a>.</p><p>Freemark bases his calculations on RTA data, as well as figures from the National Transit Database. He says it costs about $132 per hour for the CTA to operate a bus. Therefore, Freemark figures, in order to cover the full cost of its operations over a single hour, one bus would have to earn $132 per hour at the farebox. That covers costs for the driver, gas, administration, and maintenance. (Again, it leaves out capital costs, such as the bus itself.)</p><p>With a <a href="http://www.transitchicago.com/fares/">full fare set at $2 per person</a> &nbsp;(<a href="http://www.transitchicago.com/fares/">o</a>r<a href="http://www.transitchicago.com/fares/"> </a>$<a href="http://www.transitchicago.com/fares/">2</a>.<a href="http://www.transitchicago.com/fares/">2</a>5<a href="http://www.transitchicago.com/fares/"> </a>i<a href="http://www.transitchicago.com/fares/">f</a> <a href="http://www.transitchicago.com/fares/">y</a>o<a href="http://www.transitchicago.com/fares/">u</a> <a href="http://www.transitchicago.com/fares/">p</a>a<a href="http://www.transitchicago.com/fares/">y</a> <a href="http://www.transitchicago.com/fares/">c</a>a<a href="http://www.transitchicago.com/fares/">s</a>h)<a href="http://www.transitchicago.com/fares/"> </a>a CTA bus would seemingly need just 66 passengers to come aboard during that hour in order for that bus to break even. But in 2013, the <em>average</em> rider only paid about a dollar per trip. This is because, in compliance with state and federal regulations, the <a href="http://www.transitchicago.com/travel_information/fares/reduced.aspx">CTA offers a large number of riders free or reduced fares</a>, including students, seniors, people in the military, and disabled passengers. There are also unlimited ride passes, and multiple rides taken via transfers.</p><p>&ldquo;Given the fact that the average passenger on a bus is only paying about $1 per trip,&rdquo; says Freemark, a bus needs about 132 riders over the course of an hour in order to cover its costs.</p><p>With 128 bus routes operating throughout Chicago and 35 suburbs, it seems that if you add up all of the service hours throughout the entire CTA bus system (math that the CTA has been reluctant to do or share, citing considerations of staff time), you are likely to find that (a) most buses most of the time do not break even, and (b) breaking even is most prone to occur during peak hours, and not on every line.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">The cost of breaking even</span></p><p>The CTA has not announced plans to raise fares any time soon, and actually, a thought experiment may help understand why: What if the CTA wanted to break even? That is, what if the agency paid for all of its bus operating costs solely with what it earns from bus passengers?</p><p>According to Freemark, the fare price would have to skyrocket. &ldquo;You would need to increase the fare to $5.12 per trip,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s an increase of 156 percent.&rdquo;</p><p>That new $5.12 figure would be the equivalent of today&rsquo;s &ldquo;full fare&rdquo; price of $2.00. Under this scenario, reduced fares for veterans, seniors, and children would also rise proportionately, and Freemark&rsquo;s math accounts for the effects of free transfers and monthly passes. The bottom line, though, is that higher sticker price would fetch enough bus fares to cover the bus system&rsquo;s operating costs.</p><p>Freemark&rsquo;s take on this: &ldquo;Doing that would immediately result in a significant decline in the number of people taking the buses.&rdquo;</p><p>Freemark points to the <a href="https://hbr.org/2015/08/a-refresher-on-price-elasticity">concept of price elasticity</a>. As the price of something goes up &mdash; a candy bar, or a gallon of gas &mdash; the number of people willing to pay goes down. Transit elasticity, Freemark says, has a formula that&rsquo;s about -0.4, meaning every time fares increase by 10 percent, the number of riders drops by 4 percent. A full fare of $5.12 would equate to a price hike of 156 percent; Freemark expects CTA bus ridership would fall by 62.4 percent.</p><p>To test this thought experiment, we run our hypothetical price hike by Chicagoan Quinn Naughton, a regular bus rider who says &mdash; thought experiment or not &mdash; the CTA should never consider such a dramatic increase in fares.</p><p>&ldquo;People should protest, people should actually revolt,&rdquo; he says, adding that under our scenario, he would have to move &mdash; probably out of Chicago.</p><p>If the CTA wants to break even, Freemark says, the agency has a couple of other options, like increasing ridership. But, he warns &ldquo;if we more than doubled the number of people riding the bus everyday, you&rsquo;d need many, many more buses, so you&rsquo;d dramatically increase the cost of operations of the bus system.&rdquo;</p><p>Translation: You&rsquo;ll just end up spending more than you recover in fares. Freemark says faster buses with dedicated lanes and traffic signal priority would certainly boost ridership, and may bring the buses closer to breaking even. But that scenario would require political changes as well as new capital funds to adapt infrastructure.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Fending for itself</span></p><p>So far, our experiment&rsquo;s gone into the mechanics of what policy-makers and transit planners call the &ldquo;<a href="http://publictransport.about.com/od/Transit_Funding/a/The-Basics-Of-Transit-Funding.htm">farebox recovery ratio</a>,&rdquo; which compares the money collected from transit riders and operating costs. Again, CTA&rsquo;s recovery rate for its bus system was close to 39 percent in 2013. Why doesn&rsquo;t the agency try to break even?</p><p>Some of the answer has to do with the consequences Freemark laid out: If CTA hiked bus fares, it might actually lose riders. But another part of the answer is that the agency&rsquo;s not required to break even. The state of Illinois requires agencies under the Regional Transportation Authority &mdash; including CTA (bus and rail combined), Metra, and Pace &mdash; to collectively meet a 50 percent farebox recovery ratio, meaning that those agencies earn at least about half of their operating costs just through fares.</p><p>The farebox recovery ratio was originally established to prevent transit agencies from building more train and bus lines than the public would use.</p><p>Laurence Msall, President of the <a href="https://www.civicfed.org/">Chicago Civic Federation</a>, a nonpartisan research group that studies fiscal sustainability, says the recovery ratio mandate also ensured that the CTA, along with the other agencies, &ldquo;wasn&rsquo;t running significant deficits, that it was collecting as much as it could in terms of the farebox, and that we weren&rsquo;t giving away the system.&rdquo;</p><p>In recent years, the region has consistently met or surpassed the state-mandated minimum, but on occasion there are calls for CTA to adopt plans to boost recovery rates. (Just one example: During the transit funding crisis of 2007, representative <a href="http://ilga.gov/house/transcripts/htrans95/09517001.pdf">Dave Winters of Rockford argued for fare increases and higher recovery rates</a> in Chicago-area transit agencies: &ldquo;The users of those services need to carry their own weight.&rdquo;)</p><p>As for the CTA&rsquo;s own take on the &ldquo;break even&rdquo; idea, agency spokeswoman Tammy Chase says &ldquo;that&rsquo;s not a calculation that we ever make or would. It&rsquo;s moot for us.&rdquo; She says the agency regards public transportation as a public service, &ldquo;not just providing customers service from Point A to Point B. It&rsquo;s broader than that; there&rsquo;s a broader economic good, for all of the public. It&rsquo;s more than a ride to us.&rdquo;</p><p>Still, the agency does pay attention to basic laws of economics. For example, Chase says CTA determines bus routes based on the projected needs of riders: &ldquo;We pay attention to ridership demand, where the most riders are.&rdquo;</p><p>That translates into a metric the agency calls &ldquo;productivity,&rdquo; or the average number of passengers on a bus during one hour. &ldquo;You want to be ideally between 35 and 55 customers on a bus,&rdquo; Chase says. The CTA&rsquo;s most common buses seat around 35 passengers. &ldquo;If you&rsquo;re getting to above 50 riders, some are standing. It&rsquo;s still a comfortable experience. If you&rsquo;re getting to around 70 people, that&rsquo;s a crowded bus.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://interactive.wbez.org/curiouscity/cta/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/CTA%20productivity%20screen%20grab%20embed2.png" style="height: 413px; width: 620px;" title="" /></a></div><p>Chase says CTA adjusts schedules, the number of buses and even the size of buses to hit a standard for normal service hours. The overarching goal, she says, is to have no passenger in the city wait more than 30 minutes before the next scheduled bus arrives.</p><p>Adjustments only go so far, though, and the agency does keep run some low-productivity lines. Chase says those examples exemplify how the CTA emphasizes public service over bottom line considerations like breaking even. Several buses provide essential transportation, if only to relatively few people: say, to those who might have no alternative for getting to school, to work, a pharmacy or grocery store.</p><p>Interestingly, even the Civic Federation&rsquo;s Laurence Msall says the break even idea is &ldquo;not a reasonable expectation,&rdquo; and the government needs to subsidize public transit in some form.</p><p>&ldquo;There is a very strong argument to be made that if Chicago, if the State of Illinois was in better financial shape, that it should be investing more in the public transportation system,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;We basically should be reducing even more the cost of riding the CTA to attract more riders or to expand the system.&rdquo;</p><p>Msall says the CTA has struggled with inefficiencies in the past, but right now, he thinks, the system can&rsquo;t get cheaper. It just costs too much to operate. It&rsquo;s worth the price, because CTA buses earn their keep everyday by cutting rush hour traffic and improving air quality.</p><p>Chicagoan Sarah Erwin, who relies almost solely on the CTA system to get around, agrees.</p><p>&ldquo;If you could have really great public transportation, you wouldn&rsquo;t have to have as many cars,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;We don&rsquo;t own a car. We specifically chose Lakeview where we can walk or get public transit or a Zipcar to where we need to go. So, it&rsquo;s vital to us.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">More about our questioner</span></p><p>Fred Pineda got his doctorate at the University of Chicago in medical physics. Now he works at the university developing MRI technology. It makes sense that a science guy would ask such a numbers-heavy question. But Pineda, a native of Mexico City, also regularly rides the CTA, where he spends about two hours on his daily commute. &nbsp;</p><p><em>Christopher Johnson is an independent producer and reporter based in Chicago.</em></p></p> Fri, 20 Nov 2015 17:20:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/fare-game-when-do-cta-buses-break-even-113884 Export-Import Bank renewal included in House-approved transportation bill http://www.wbez.org/news/export-import-bank-renewal-included-house-approved-transportation-bill-113664 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/AP_221286814508.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>In adopting a six-year transportation bill to fund highway and transit projects Thursday, the House also approved the revival of the Export-Import Bank, which has been idle since its charter expired in June.</p><p>A similar bill has already been approved by the Senate, including a provision that renews the Ex-Im Bank&#39;s charter. Before the legislation goes to President Obama, the two chambers will have to iron out differences between the two bills.</p><p>Titled the&nbsp;<a href="http://transportation.house.gov/strr-act/#top2">Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act</a>, the House measure authorizes up to $325 billion in spending to repair and replace America&#39;s roads, bridges and rails &mdash; but it only provides funding for the first half of the bill&#39;s six-year window.</p><p>NPR&#39;s David Schaper reports:</p><blockquote><div><p><em>&quot;After 35-short term extensions over the last several years, this long-awaited long term transportation spending plan does provide state and local planners with needed certainty that some federal funding will be flowing for the next three years.</em></p><p><em>&quot;But critics point out that with no increase in the federal gas tax and no other new funding sources, this bill just holds spending on highway and transit construction projects flat, even though costs are rising.&quot;</em></p></div></blockquote><p>The House&#39;s version of the bill doesn&#39;t include limitations on the Ex-Im Bank, an entity that had been targeted by conservative Republicans who said it amounted to &quot;corporate welfare,&quot; as&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/10/25/451749399/supporters-in-congress-make-new-attempt-to-revive-the-export-import-bank">NPR&#39;s Jim Zarroli reported</a>&nbsp;last week.</p><p>&quot;Created during the Depression, the Ex-Im Bank provides insurance and loan guarantees to overseas buyers of American products,&quot; Jim said. He added, &quot;The bank also provides guarantees to U.S. companies doing business overseas to ensure they get paid.&quot;</p><p>After its charter lapsed, the Ex-Im Bank posted a note to its website explaining that it would attempt to manage a &quot;$107 billion portfolio of outstanding obligations&quot; until it is back in business.</p><p>When it approved the transportation measure, the Senate did so by a 64-29 vote. The House approved its version by a vote of 363-64, but not before holding votes on more than 80 amendments &mdash; a process&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/house-passes-highway-bill-with-export-import-bank-renewal-1446740235">The Wall Street Journal</a>&nbsp;says was the first test of new House Speaker Paul Ryan&#39;s &quot;inclusive leadership style.&quot;</p><p>Some of the amendments that were defeated,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/11/05/us-usa-congress-transportation-idUSKCN0SU2G320151105#FDTSROlqlSc4uYe6.97">Reuters says</a>, &quot;would have prohibited financing help [from the Ex-Im Bank] for countries with sovereign wealth fund assets of more than $100 billion or involving U.S. exporters whose chief executives earn more than 100 times the median U.S. wage.&quot;</p><p>&mdash;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/11/05/454900331/export-import-bank-renewal-is-included-in-house-approved-transportation-bill" target="_blank"><em> via NPR</em></a></p></p> Thu, 05 Nov 2015 16:43:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/export-import-bank-renewal-included-house-approved-transportation-bill-113664 Emanuel: Springfield lawmakers “have to” break stalemate, help Chicago http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-springfield-lawmakers-%E2%80%9Chave-to%E2%80%9D-break-stalemate-help-chicago-113486 <p><div>Another agency in Chicago is looking to deadlocked Springfield for help balancing its books, but Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that&rsquo;s OK, because state lawmakers will eventually come through on their obligations.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Chicago Transit Authority officials say their 2016 budget will be balanced, but only if they get the normal level of funding from the state.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t think I&rsquo;m usually seen as an optimist or keep hope alive is my operating theory,&rdquo; Emanuel told reporters at the Addison CTA Blue Line stop. &ldquo;Look, they have to and will in the end of the day resolve their problem. And their breakdown. They&rsquo;ll have to pass their budget and they&rsquo;ll have to meet their responsibilities.&rdquo;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Emanuel joined CTA president Dorval Carter Jr. Thursday to announce the details of the agency&rsquo;s budget proposal. Carter said the CTA would not increases fares or cut services to balance their $1.475 billion budget, but it will need state funding to fill about 20 percent of the spending plan as it has in years past.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/IMG_1583.JPG" style="height: 300px; width: 400px; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px; float: right;" title="Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CTA President Dorval R. Carter, Jr. announce details of the agency’s 2016 budget. (WBEZ/Lauren Chooljian)" /></p><div>Carter said he&rsquo;s been in &ldquo;productive conversations&rdquo; with lawmakers in Springfield. But as Illinoisans know well, the state is in its fourth month without a budget.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;I can&rsquo;t speak for the governor or for anyone else in terms of where they&rsquo;re going to go or what they&rsquo;re going to do,&rdquo; Carter said. &ldquo;What I can say is I&rsquo;m managing my budget efficiently.&rdquo;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The budget calls for eliminating 100 positions in what officials call &ldquo;non-customer facing areas.&rdquo; It also projects continued growth in ridership. &nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The CTA isn&rsquo;t the only Chicago agency counting on the state. The Chicago Board of Education<a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-board-education-passes-budget-banks-imaginary-money-112740" target="_blank"> unanimously approved a multibillion dollar budget </a>that relies on almost $500 million from Springfield, even though the Illinois General Assembly hasn&rsquo;t agreed to send the Chicago Public School district any additional money.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Meanwhile at City Hall, aldermen are hemming and hawing over whether to support a $543 million property tax increase that relies on Governor Bruce Rauner signing a bill that would lessen state-mandated police and fire pension payments. And an Emanuel supported bill that would double the current homeowners&rsquo; exemption and lessen the blow on homeowners who he said can least afford the additional property tax pain has only passed through one committee.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Aldermen have said that their &ldquo;trust issues&rdquo; with Springfield could affect whether or not they support the mayor&rsquo;s budget.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><em>Lauren Chooljian covers Chicago politics for WBEZ. Follow her<a href="http://twitter.com/laurenchooljian" target="_blank"> @laurenchooljian</a>.</em></div><div>&nbsp;</div></p> Fri, 23 Oct 2015 13:58:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-springfield-lawmakers-%E2%80%9Chave-to%E2%80%9D-break-stalemate-help-chicago-113486 How strictly do Chicago police enforce bike traffic laws? http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/how-strictly-do-chicago-police-enforce-bike-traffic-laws-112992 <p><p>If you ride a bike, ask yourself: Do you stop at every stop sign? How about every red light? If the answer is no to either of those, well, technically you&rsquo;re breaking the law.</p><p>But it&rsquo;s the more egregious behavior from cyclists &mdash; weaving through cars, cutting people off, running red lights despite oncoming traffic &mdash; which our questioner,<a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/how-strictly-do-chicago-police-enforce-bike-traffic-laws-112992#lowy"> Chicagoan Ron Lowy</a>, sees all too often.</p><p>Sometimes he&rsquo;s even looked on as cyclists bike the wrong direction down a bike lane, no hands on the handlebars, while text messaging. &ldquo;I&rsquo;m not making this up,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>Lowy is a cab driver, usually considered the sworn enemy of bicyclists. But here&rsquo;s the thing: Lowy is also a dedicated cyclist. He commutes by bike almost everyday and rides for pleasure and exercise. But what he sees around him, at times, looks incredibly dangerous, enough for him to ask Curious City:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>How strictly do Chicago police enforce bike traffic laws?</em></p><p>Getting an answer to Lowy&rsquo;s question matters because, for one, Chicago streets are not as safe as they could be. <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-bike-deaths-illinois-met-20141027-story.html">A 2014 safety report found that Illinois</a> had the fifth-highest number of bicyclist fatalities in the nation, a total of 29 in 2012, a steady increase from previous two years. In Chicago, the number of deaths of bicyclists has<a href="http://www.redeyechicago.com/news/local/redeye-fatal-bike-crashes-chicago-20150111-story.html"> surged in the past two years</a>, from three in 2013 to eight in 2014. It&rsquo;s a troubling shift the city&rsquo;s transportation commissioner calls &ldquo;significant.&rdquo; If one aim of bike traffic law is to prevent dangerous behavior on the part of bicyclists, it&rsquo;s fair to ask how often police nab offenders.</p><p>But here&rsquo;s another reason to consider how strictly the city enforces its bike rules: The city&rsquo;s encouraging residents to ride bikes and even commute by bike. If those long-term plans pan out, Chicago could see more and more bicyclists on the road, competing with cars and pedestrians for space.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Measuring enforcement</span></p><p>First, some bad news. Ideally, it would be best to answer Lowy&rsquo;s question with precise figures about how many bicyclists are on Chicago streets, then follow with an apples-to-apples comparison of how often police ticket riders versus how often they ticket motorists. The data we have in hand can&rsquo;t tell that story, but &mdash; and here&rsquo;s the good news &mdash; we did obtain data on how often the city enforces bike traffic laws and what types of behavior attract tickets.</p><p>Responding to<a href="http://llnw.wbez.org//bike%20laws%20CPD%20FOIA%20response%201.pdf" target="_blank"> our Illinois Freedom Of Information request</a>, the Chicago Police Department reports issuing 13,150 traffic-related tickets to bicyclers between 2006 and August of this year. &nbsp;(<a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/how-strictly-do-chicago-police-enforce-bike-traffic-laws-112992#trends">Here are the trends</a> and <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/how-strictly-do-chicago-police-enforce-bike-traffic-laws-112992#type">breakdown by ticket type</a>)</p><p>What to make of this figure, though? Have the thousands of tickets issued by the CPD translated into an awareness of bike traffic enforcement?</p><p>To get a better sense of this, we head to <a href="https://www.facebook.com/ChicagoCriticalMass">Critical Mass</a>, a monthly mass ride through downtown Chicago that doubles as a rally for greener modes of transport. There, we ask folks their impressions of bike laws and how the city enforces them.</p><p>Among the crowd, we ask a cyclist named Lily whether she&rsquo;d ever gotten a ticket on her bike.</p><p>&ldquo;No, you can get a ticket? I didn&rsquo;t know you could get a ticket,&rdquo; she says.</p><p>When asked what she thinks might warrant a ticket for a traffic violation, she provides a short list: &ldquo;Improper crossing? Improper turning? Running stop signs. Running over people?&rdquo;</p><p>(Yup, yup, yup, and yup. These are all ticketable.) &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/TICKET%20DUO%20FOR%20WEB.png" style="height: 465px; width: 620px;" title="Michael Gilewicz got a $70 ticket at the intersection of Addison and Clark streets and carries it around with him. (WBEZ/John Fecile)" /></div><p>At the same Critical Mass event, we manage to find Michael Gilewicz, who got a $70 ticket at the intersection of Addison and Clark streets. The ticket is such a novelty to him that he carries it around, almost like a trophy. Whipping it out, he explains that he&rsquo;d gotten pulled over for speeding, biking against the flow of traffic and disobeying red lights. Michael says when the judge read off the list of infractions, he looked at her and laughed.</p><p>&ldquo;Yeah, I was,&rdquo; he laughs.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://llnw.wbez.org//bike laws indesign.pdf" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/rulestobikeby.png" style="height: 225px; width: 300px; float: right;" title="Continue to see our own version of Chicago's bike rules" /></a></div><p>The apparently low level of awareness of tickets or ticketing comes as no surprise to Ron Burke, the executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance, a local organization advocating for better biking, walking and transit.</p><p>&ldquo;There is too little enforcement of traffic policies across the board in Chicago and even in the suburbs,&rdquo; Burke says. &ldquo;Whether that&rsquo;s the case for people driving, walking and even riding a bike.&rdquo;</p><p>Burke says that while well over 90 percent of traffic injuries and fatalities are caused by motorists, bike behavior factors in, too. It&rsquo;s important, he says, that we encourage good behavior across the board. And that, he adds, is done by enforcing the road rules and issuing hefty fines for those who don&rsquo;t follow them.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;"><a name="type"></a>When city police enforce bike laws, what are they targeting?</span></p><p>In Illinois, traffic laws apply to cyclists, so when CPD targets cyclists, it&#39;s for those state statutes as well as city ordinances that apply to bikes.</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/Number_of_reported_bicycle_violations_by_type%2C_2006-2015-__chartbuilder.png" style="height: 299px; width: 620px;" title="" /></div><p>Within the 9 years of CPD data available to us, &nbsp;the most frequent violation is <a href="http://www.amlegal.com/nxt/gateway.dll/Illinois/chicago_il/title9vehiclestrafficandrailtransportati/chapter9-52bicycles-operation?f=templates$fn=altmain-nf.htm$q=[field%20folio-destination-name:%279-52-010%27]$x=Advanced#JD_9-52-010">9-52-020, &ldquo;Riding bicycles on sidewalks and certain roadways.&rdquo;</a> (The ordinance covers riding on certain non-bikeable roads like Lake Shore Drive, but the vast majority of infractions involve sidewalks). Similar data obtained from Chicago&rsquo;s Department of Administrative Hearings show that over the past year, tickets for riding on the sidewalk are way up. In fact, between 2013 and 2014 sidewalk-riding violations more than doubled, to 4,467 from 2,082.</p><p>Burke says that while enforcement is lacking everywhere, when cyclists do get ticketed it&rsquo;s usually the riders who are doing the most dangerous types of riding.</p><p>&ldquo;Riding fast on a sidewalk in a crowded pedestrian environment,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;Blasting through an intersection and potentially hitting a pedestrian.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;"><a name="trend"></a>A trend in Chicago&rsquo;s bike enforcement</span></p><p>In recent years, as the number for cyclists rise, Chicago and other cities around the country have started to ticket more frequently.</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/Number_of_reported_bicycle_violations_by_year%2C_2006-2015-_Amount_chartbuilder.png" style="height: 349px; width: 620px; border-width: 1px; border-style: solid;" title="" /></div><p>The Chicago Department of Transportation and city police have been conducting stakeouts around the city, targeting intersections with high crash rates. There, they crack down on risky behavior of bicyclists and motorists.</p><p>CDOT and the police are conducting more and more of these safety stakeouts. According to CDOT data, they&rsquo;ve already hit a record so far this year: 126 stakeouts, with more than 2,000 warnings given to cyclists. The first year the city began recording the events, in 2011, they conducted just 62 such stakeouts. &nbsp;</p><p>Incidentally, some Chicago-area suburbs are seeing the same trend in enforcement. Several North Shore communities have also started cracking down on group cycling. This summer, from late July and into August, the <a href="http://www.cityhpil.com/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=429">Highland Park Police Department joined forces with four other city police departments</a> to conduct enforcement and education stops for cyclists and motorists. The action came after the departments received numerous citizen complaints about cyclists&rsquo; behavior along several well-traveled North Shore paths.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Fostering a cycling culture</span></p><p>As Chicago ramps up its bike enforcement, it&rsquo;s also encouraging more residents to bike. It&rsquo;s busy building a better cycling infrastructure with two-way bike lanes with their own traffic lights. It also launched <a href="https://www.divvybikes.com/about">the bike sharing program, Divvy</a>, and placed bike borrowing stations across the city.</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/flickr-chicago%20bicycle%20program%20infrastructure%20making%20FOR%20WEB.jpg" style="height: 414px; width: 620px;" title="Chicago bicycling infrastructure is improving, but cyclists are often confused about bike laws. (Flickr/Chicago Bicycle Program)" /></div><p>Still, all this momentum raises the question: If the city is investing so much in a better biking culture, shouldn&rsquo;t it be even more explicit and consistent about what type of behavior it expects from cyclists?</p><p>Burke says it should and he credits the city for conducting the high-profile stakeouts. He says he&rsquo;s impressed with how much the city has increased them while at the same time including the ATA and their <a href="http://chicagocompletestreets.org/your-safety/education-encouragement/ambassadors/">Bike Ambassador program</a> in the stakeouts. This approach, he says, makes these enforcement actions educational as well.</p><p>But Burke also predicts that over time, more and more cyclists will follow the rules of the road. He chalks it up to &ldquo;pack mentality.&rdquo;<a href="http://www.ucdenver.edu/about/newsroom/newsreleases/Pages/More-cyclists-on-road-can-mean-less-collisions.aspx"> As more people bike, they are more likely to comply</a> with common sense safety and less likely to be influenced by the few rogue cyclists who choose to ignore the law.</p><p>&ldquo;You get more people on bikes. You actually start to get better behavior on average of cyclists,&rdquo; Burke says.</p><p>What&rsquo;s more, data suggest that<a href="http://www.cpr.org/news/story/some-cyclists-obey-laws-some-dont-cu-denver-researcher-wants-know-why?utm_source=Facebook&amp;utm_medium=Social&amp;utm_campaign=FBCPR5434"> better biking infrastructure also builds more complaint riders</a>. Just six months after the city built the two-way protected bike lanes on Dearborn Street, complete with their own traffic signals, compliance with red light traffic laws<a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-06-10/classified/ct-met-getting-around-0610-20130610_1_cyclists-signals-bike-traffic"> was up 161 percent</a>, according to the city.</p><p><a name="lowy"></a>Our questioner, Ron Lowy, says he thinks despite the shiny new bike lanes, some folks will always choose to break the law. That is, until Chicago takes a stand.</p><p>&ldquo;They ride carelessly because they know they&#39;re not going to get fined for it,&rdquo; Lowy says of reckless cyclists. &ldquo;But the bottom line is you can&#39;t blame anybody but the city of Chicago.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/question%20asker%20FOR%20WEB_0.jpg" style="height: 394px; width: 300px; float: left;" title="Questioner Ron Lowy at WBEZ. " /><span style="font-size:24px;">About our questioner</span></p><p>A self-described &ldquo;man about town dude&rdquo;, Ron Lowy is a musician, cab driver and bicycle advocate.</p><p>Lowy lives in Uptown, but drives his cab all around the city. And over the years, he&rsquo;s seen quite a few accidents of bicyclists hitting cars, cars hitting cyclists, cyclists hitting pedestrians. &ldquo;A majority of them,&rdquo; he says, &ldquo;was not the car&#39;s&rsquo; fault.&rdquo;</p><p>Lowy agrees with the ATA&rsquo;s Ron Burke; more enforcement would make cyclists, pedestrians and motorists safer. But he is also more nuanced about whether bikes and cars should be treated as equals&mdash;subject to all of the same rules of the road.</p><p>&ldquo;Depending on the situation, bikes are a different story than cars,&rdquo; Lowy says. He believes crowded and highly trafficked thoroughfares should be tightly enforced. But side streets, during off peak hours when there is little traffic, not so much. &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I&#39;d be lying if I said I never disobeyed the law,&rdquo; Lowy says. &ldquo;[But] I don&#39;t run red lights. I&#39;ll run neighborhood stop signs, but I slow down dramatically and look&hellip;common sense is a big part of this.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Meribah Knight is a freelance journalist in Chicago and reports for WBEZ&rsquo;s Curious City. Follow her at<a href="http://meribahknight.com"> meribahknight.com</a> and on Twitter at <a href="https://www.twitter.com/meribah">@meribah</a>.</em></p><p><em>Curious City intern John Fecile provided research and reporting for this story.</em></p><div>&nbsp;</div><p>&nbsp;</p><div>&nbsp;</div></p> Fri, 18 Sep 2015 16:45:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/how-strictly-do-chicago-police-enforce-bike-traffic-laws-112992 Beyond the rattle and clatter: When the CTA 'L' is your neighbor http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/beyond-rattle-and-clatter-when-cta-l-your-neighbor-112173 <p><p>Our questioner Eleni Chappen is a web developer living in Chicago&rsquo;s Ravenswood neighborhood. She got interested in the quirks of living next to the CTA elevated train tracks while riding the Brown Line, where she spotted what she thought might be her dream home: a yellow house with a pool in the backyard located right on a curve along the route.</p><p>&ldquo;I always wondered what goes on in there,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;I imagined them never being able to open their windows, because it would be so loud. Or them have to wear earplugs all the time. Or they&rsquo;d be having dinner and the spoons and forks are all shaking.&rdquo;</p><p>So she submitted this question:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>What&#39;s it like to live in a home that&#39;s directly adjacent to CTA tracks?</em></p><p>We found many people who reported what you&rsquo;d expect: Residents spoke of not being able to open windows and having things rattle throughout the house when a train rumbles by at a clip. But we also learned more surprising details about life near the tracks. One family off the Brown Line says the noise from the CTA has gotten worse, even, since renovations that allow the train to go faster. At the same time, one renter off the Red Line says life has grown quieter with the addition of newer train cars.</p><p>Maybe most surprising of all, everyone we spoke to says they&rsquo;ve adapted to the noise and the shaking the train brings. And there&rsquo;s a kicker. One expert tells us residents (neighbors to the tracks or not) should expect the CTA train lines to eventually get quieter, as the agency updates to newer train models and lines are revamped with noise mitigation in mind.</p><p>Until then, though, we found some folks to talk about what it&rsquo;s like to live with the &quot;L&quot; as your neighbor.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Mary and Floyd</span></p><p><span style="font-size:18px;">Homeowners, Brown Line</span></p><p>When Mary and Floyd bought their yellow house right off a curve on the Brown Line 25 years ago, the fact that it was so close to the &quot;L&quot; didn&rsquo;t faze them. They had always loved the look of the house and figured the rumbling of the &quot;L&quot; would soon become white noise. And it did, for many years. But since the renovations of the Brown Line were completed in 2009, Mary and Floyd say the noise has gotten much, much worse. In fact, they think it&rsquo;s affected their hearing. &ldquo;The train is just so loud,&rdquo; Floyd says. &ldquo;One morning I expect to wake up and it&rsquo;s in our bedroom. That sort of scares me.&rdquo;</p><p>Lately, the frustrations over the noise have been compounded by the fact that their property taxes keep going up, despite the impact of the noise. But this, Mary says, has a very real impact on their property value. Years back she says they put the house on the market for a while. &ldquo;Over 50 percent of the people that saw that it was by the train they wouldn&rsquo;t even come into the see it,&rdquo; Mary says.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/MARY%20outside%20WEB.jpg" style="height: 427px; width: 320px; float: right;" title="Mary and Floyd have owned a yellow house off the curve of a Brown Line train for the last 25 years. Mary says she has a love-hate relationship with the train. (WBEZ/Logan Jaffe) " /></div><p>We called Landon Harper, a broker with @Properties who has been selling real estate next to the &quot;L&quot; for more than a decade, and asked him if it&rsquo;s harder to sell when the noise of the &quot;L&quot; is factor. He says there is a definite discount for homes that abut the train versus those a few blocks away. But the market is strong, he says. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s all about finding the right buyer.&rdquo;</p><p>While Mary is trying to dispute her taxes, neither she nor Floyd has ever logged an official complaint with the Chicago Transit Authority. And, in fact, few people do. CTA says the agency only received seven complaints in 2014. And that is half the number from the previous year.</p><p>Mary and Floyd, semi-retired and in their mid-60s, admit there are strange quirks about living so close to the tracks. Like when the vibrations of the train cause her china to move around inside her cabinet. Or when blobs of tar and large bolts and pins come flying off the tracks. There have been two fires on the tracks from sparks, Mary says. And in the parking lot under the tracks people come and park their cars to do, well, you know what. &ldquo;The workers &hellip; they called this Lovers Lane,&rdquo; Mary quips.</p><p>Despite all her gripes, there are also charming and funny things about living next to the &quot;L,&quot;&nbsp;says Mary, who asked we just use her first name. Mary has a pool out back where she swims all summer long. Frequently her friends and neighbors &mdash; or the men who moved her couch &mdash; tell her they see her out swimming. &ldquo;I guess everyone on the train sees me swimming,&rdquo; she chuckles.</p><p>Mary says she has a love-hate relationship with the train. And she wrestles with it every day. Is it worth it? When she looks at her surging tax bill and the train comes screeching around the corner, it&rsquo;s hard to see the upside. But when she hears the jingle of the <a href="http://www.transitchicago.com/holidaytrain/#media" target="_blank">Christmas train</a> as it barrels down the track, or sits with a glass of wine at dusk and watches the glowing train go by, she feels connected to her city.</p><p>&ldquo;You see these people and you think, there is a whole world out there,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;There is a whole world of the city: museums, bars, restaurants, and these people are going and coming and there you are, watching it all.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Daphne Karagianis, 29</span></p><p><span style="font-size:18px;">Renter, Green Line</span></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Curious%20City%20Daphne%20selects-1%20WEB.jpg" style="height: 401px; width: 600px;" title="Daphne Karagianis lived in an apartment next to the Green Line for two years. (WBEZ/Shawn Allee) " /></p><p>The first night Daphne Karagianis, 29, spent in her apartment, an arm&rsquo;s reach from the Green Line off Kedzie and Lake, she almost cried. &ldquo;It felt like the train was inside the apartment. It felt like the place was falling down,&rdquo; she says. Daphne&rsquo;s apartment was so close to the train stop that she could hear the announcements from inside. (The most disconcerting, she says, was when the stress calls came through for someone needing assistance on the platform.) &nbsp;Regardless of all that, however, it took only about a month for her to get used to the sound.</p><p>What she never got used to, however, was the feeling of living in a fish bowl. If she wanted to open the curtains, it meant CTA riders were staring into her living room. &ldquo;When I went on the train line I could see inside our house, the couch and the cat,&rdquo; she says.</p><p>Despite the fact that the train was so close, &ldquo;it felt like you could reach out and touch it.&rdquo; Daphne says she never made a connection to a stranger, though she did ask her friends to wave as they pulled into the station on their way hang out at her place.</p><p>Daphne lived in the apartment for two years until this spring, when she moved to Logan Square. She said her move had nothing to do with the train, and she&rsquo;d even consider renting near one again &mdash; though she would never <em>buy </em>a place so close to the tracks.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Collin Ashmead-Bobbitt, 34</span></p><p><span style="font-size:18px;">Red Line, Brown Line, Purple Line</span></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Bobbit1 (3) WEB.jpg" style="height: 400px; width: 600px;" title="Collin Ashmead-Bobbitt pays $500 a month in rent, but his apartment backs up to the Red, Brown and Purple CTA lines. (WBEZ/Jesse Dukes)" /></p><p>Recently, WBEZ engineer Collin Ashmead-Bobbitt, 34, got a text message from his buddy. &ldquo;You doing laundry?&rdquo; it said. Collin was confused. &ldquo;How do you know? Are you here?&rdquo; he responded. &ldquo;Nope. Headed downtown on the Red Line and saw you go outside with your laundry basket.&rdquo;</p><p>It&rsquo;s just one of the many quirks about living in an apartment next to the train tracks. Others include stacking his books vertically to prevent them from getting jostled and falling off the shelf, to hanging pictures with four to five nails per frame. &ldquo;I&rsquo;ve gone through a lot of wine glasses,&rdquo; he adds. Collin, an audio engineer and video editor, has lived in his Lincoln Park West apartment, a converted cottage house, for more than four years. At $500 a month the place is a steal. But it also backs up to three train lines: the Red Line, Brown Line and Purple Line.</p><p>&ldquo;When there is two southbound trains and an immediate follower and two northbound trains and an immediate follower, the apartment kind of rumbles,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>Despite the constant noise and vibrations, Collin says he&rsquo;s confident it&rsquo;s not a health risk for his hearing.</p><p>&ldquo;My ears and eyes are my life and I would not live in a situation where I thought it would be damaging to both those senses,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;As an audio engineer and a film editor I rely heavily on them.&rdquo;</p><p>It&rsquo;s been more than four years since he moved into the place. Even he admits the first few weeks were an adjustment period. &ldquo;I considered buying earmuffs,&rdquo; he says. But soon, the sounds of the train became such white noise that life seemed off kilter when they weren&rsquo;t around. When he went to visit his mom in a suburban neighborhood in upstate New York, &ldquo;all I heard was crickets,&rdquo; Collins says. &ldquo;It really freaked me out that there was no trains and no sirens. The soundscapes of the city were so far away.&rdquo;</p><p>Even Collin&rsquo;s cat, Mr. Venkman, likes watching the train from the window. &ldquo;He gets excited when it comes,&rdquo; Collin says.</p><p>And when it doesn&rsquo;t come? Well, that&rsquo;s even worse in a certain way.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s the lifeline of the city,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;And when you don&rsquo;t hear it you definitely know something&rsquo;s up and you should turn on the radio.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/ELENI%20WEB.jpg" style="float: left; height: 240px; width: 320px;" title="Question-asker Eleni Chappen, left, says the yellow house owned by Mary, right, has been her dream home since she first saw it riding the CTA's Brown Line. (WBEZ/Logan Jaffe)" /><span style="font-size:24px;">Our Questioner, Eleni Chappen</span></p><p>When we called Eleni Chappen, 27, to ask her more about why she posed this question to Curious City, we did not expect that she was actually now sort of living it.</p><p>Ironically, since asking this question she&rsquo;s moved jobs and works in Ravenswood in an office sandwiched between the Metra and the Brown Line. And she&rsquo;s realized something: &ldquo;After a while, you do kind of ignore it.&rdquo;</p><p>But that still didn&rsquo;t really answer the heart of her question: If one could adapt, was living next to the &quot;L&quot;&nbsp;a smart investment? Could it be a best-kept secret of Chicago real estate?</p><p>&ldquo;Maybe I am scheming secretly to buy a house next to the tracks,&rdquo; she says. &quot;Is it less than a normal house?&rdquo;</p><p><em>Meribah Knight is a freelance journalist in Chicago and reports for WBEZ&rsquo;s Curious City. Follow her at&nbsp;<a href="http://www.meribahknight.com/" target="_blank">meribahknight.com</a>&nbsp;and on Twitter at&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/meribah" target="_blank">@meribah</a>.</em></p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 10 Jun 2015 13:31:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/beyond-rattle-and-clatter-when-cta-l-your-neighbor-112173 Changes in taxi industry leave cab owners underwater http://www.wbez.org/news/changes-taxi-industry-leave-cab-owners-underwater-111920 <p><p>If you were looking for a good return on investment in the last few years, it was hard to beat a Chicago taxi medallion. Medallions, which are city-issued licenses to operate cabs, increased in value at least fivefold between 2006 and 2013. But now after huge shifts in the industry, many owners are deep underwater on their medallion loans, and some say they&rsquo;re nearly worthless.</p><p>&ldquo;I haven&rsquo;t written a new taxi loan in well over nine months? Ten months?&rdquo; said Charlie Goodbar, an attorney and taxi fleet owner. &ldquo;The access to capital&rsquo;s disappeared.&rdquo;</p><p>Chicago limits the number of medallions to roughly 7,000. Without those metal plates affixed to the hood, a taxi cannot operate in the city. Goodbar has facilitated hundreds of medallion sales over the years. But today, would-be buyers are finding it nearly impossible to find loans to purchase medallions.</p><p>&ldquo;I probably have put together at least 20-30 percent of all transfers, at some point probably more than half,&rdquo; said Goodbar. &ldquo;And as a market-maker, and as a license broker, and as an attorney, and someone who&rsquo;s in the lending business, how in good faith can I make a market when I can&rsquo;t value the asset or value cash flow?&rdquo;</p><p>Disruption in Chicago&rsquo;s taxi industry &mdash; both from the entry of competing rideshare services, and changes to city policies affecting medallion owners &mdash; have turned the business model on its head in just two years. At one time, investing or lending in a medallion purchase was a sound business decision, because cab owners could make a good living.</p><p>&ldquo;It was a way for an immigrant family to move up the social ladder and economic ladder through the use&nbsp; of leveraged financing in the taxi industry, and a lot of hard work,&rdquo; said Goodbar.</p><p>But today, Goodbar said it&rsquo;s nearly impossible to find a bank willing to lend money for a medallion purchase, and so the avenue that many immigrants once took is increasingly closed off.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" height="233" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Taxi%20medallions%202.0.jpg" style="float: left;" title="" width="350" /></div><p>You can tell by looking at the numbers. Between 2011 and 2013, when the market was robust, an average of 30-40 medallions changed hands monthly. But starting in February of 2014, that number dropped sharply, and never recovered. In 2015, only seven medallions were transferred in the first three months.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s no buyer in the market,&rdquo; said Shyam Arora, a medallion owner. &ldquo;So it&rsquo;s a piece of garbage.&rdquo;</p><div id="responsive-embed-taximedallions">&nbsp;</div><script src="http://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-dailygraphics/dailygraphics/graphics/taximedallions/js/lib/pym.js" type="text/javascript"></script><script type="text/javascript"> jQuery(document).ready(function(){ var pymParent = new pym.Parent( 'responsive-embed-taximedallions', 'http://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-dailygraphics/dailygraphics/graphics/taximedallions/child.html', {} ); }); </script><p>Arora is one of those immigrants who found success in the taxi industry. He came from India in 2002 and bought a medallion a few years later. Today, he has three. He and his son drive two of the cabs during the day, and he leases the third. At one time, he had as many as four drivers for his small fleet &mdash; but those days seem long ago.</p><p>On a recent early morning, he took one of his cabs to a city-owned site on the South Side for an annual taxi inspection.</p><p>&ldquo;This inspection process is stressful, very stressful,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>This day, he was especially nervous. The car is a 2010 Toyota Prius with a whopping 313,000 miles on it. Arora knew inspectors would be looking for even the smallest flaw to take it out of operation.</p><p>&ldquo;Yesterday I spent $200 to the mechanic and the day before yesterday I paid $100 for detailing,&rdquo; he recounted.</p><p>He also got the engine cleaned, and drove an hour out to the suburbs just to pick up a small paint marker that he could use to cover minor exterior nicks. Altogether, he estimated spending $500 to get the car in tip-top shape &mdash; about three days&rsquo; earnings.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m losing nowadays, every day, in my business,&rdquo; said Arora. Three months ago, he fell behind on his mortgage and medallion loan.</p><p>Arora explained that most of his income comes from leasing his taxis to other drivers, rather than driving his own cab. But amid a shortage of taxi drivers in Chicago, he&rsquo;s struggled to find people to use his taxis. That&rsquo;s meant his vehicles sit empty about one-third of the time, while he still foots the bill for their medallion loans, the car payments, taxi affiliation fees and other expenses.</p><p>Even when Arora does have drivers, he said it&rsquo;s gotten much more difficult for them to find passengers. He blamed rideshare companies like UberX, Lyft and Sidecar for stealing business.</p><p>&ldquo;When you don&rsquo;t get a customer for an hour, the [taxi] driver gets so frustrated, he goes to Starbucks or he goes home,&rdquo; explained Arora.</p><p>Arora would love to sell his medallions and be done with it. But he knows he won&rsquo;t find a buyer at a good price. Plus, he&rsquo;s facing the same dilemma that homeowners once did during the recent housing crisis. Many borrowed significant sums of money against their homes as housing values increased, only to find themselves underwater on those loans once the market settled.</p><p>Similarly, Arora and many other owners borrowed heavily against their medallions while they increased in value. Arora said that helped his family get through the recession.</p><p>&ldquo;Medallions were the source of feeding everybody &mdash; every expense we have,&rdquo; he explained.</p><p>But now, he owes $600,000 against his medallions, and he knows that nobody will buy them for anything close to that amount.</p><p>Arora believes his only way out may be a loan modification. Goodbar says medallion lenders have every reason to cooperate.</p><p>&ldquo;There will be shakeout in the market, the lenders will have to work with the borrowers,&rdquo; he said, &ldquo;because I think the last thing a large medallion lender wants is a bunch of medallions sitting in a drawer.&rdquo;</p><p>Arora hopes that&rsquo;ll be true in his case, because he wants to stay in the taxi business.&nbsp; Otherwise, he&rsquo;s looking at filing for bankruptcy.</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef">@oyousef</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>.</em></p></p> Tue, 21 Apr 2015 19:06:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/changes-taxi-industry-leave-cab-owners-underwater-111920 Union Station to get a facelift http://www.wbez.org/news/union-station-get-facelift-111491 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Union%20Station%20stairs.jpg" title="The staircase at Union Station will get an upgrade as part of $12 million in renovations. (WBEZ/Greta Johnsen)" /></div><p>Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-union-station-funding-met-20150128-story.html">last week</a> that Chicago&rsquo;s landmark Union Station will be getting some repairs, thanks to $12 million from the station&rsquo;s owner, Amtrak. Emanuel said the station hasn&rsquo;t been keeping up with a changing transit system.</p><p>&ldquo;Union Station, given it&rsquo;s the third busiest rail hub, is actually fighting below its weight class,&rdquo; Emanuel said.</p><p>The renovations are being called a &lsquo;first step&rsquo; toward expanding and modernizing the historic building. There is a <a href="http://www.unionstationmp.com/">Master Plan</a> for the whole structure &mdash; $500 million worth &mdash; but that&rsquo;s a long-term project.</p><p>I asked <a href="http://twitter.com/leebey">Chicago architecture critic Lee Bey</a> to show me around Union Station.</p><p>&ldquo;It isn&rsquo;t enough to get as far as you&rsquo;d want to in a building like that, but it&rsquo;s a good first step,&rdquo; Bey said about the $12 million in upgrades. &ldquo;And spent the right way it&rsquo;ll bring a bang that&rsquo;s quick and visible, and will then allow transportation officials to be able to rally other money and other assistance to it over time. And time is of the essence.&rdquo;</p><p>He says beneath the crowded concourse and the dirty platforms that annoy many commuters, Union Station is still a work of art. Especially if you enter through the Great Hall on the east side of the building.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Union%20Station%20Great%20Hall.jpg" title="Union Station's Great Hall. (WBEZ/Greta Johnsen)" /></div><p>Sunlight streams in from huge windows high above us.</p><p>&ldquo;You&rsquo;re like a king,&rdquo; Bey said. &ldquo;You come in and you&rsquo;re greeted by marble and beautiful columns and this grand space on the inside&hellip; you know, just to ride a train.&rdquo;</p><p>The area is simple and massive, almost like a museum or an elegant old theater.</p><p>&ldquo;What I&rsquo;m really impressed about in this building&hellip; is the volume,&rdquo; Bey said. &ldquo;The volume of the interior. And how few spaces there and in the city or any place where you can walk into a space like this&hellip; there&rsquo;s enough foresight by Amtrak and ownership to just let this space be what it needs to be. And that&rsquo;s beautiful.&rdquo;Like the Great Hall itself, train travel has a nostalgic sensibility.</p><p>Places like Union Station were often travelers&rsquo; first impression of Chicago as they arrived, or the last thing they saw as they left.</p><p>We stand under a coffered ceiling, looking up at a marble staircase with gilded handrails.</p><p>Yep, that staircase.</p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="349" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/QJpRSf4q-hI?showinfo=0" width="620"></iframe></p><p>It&rsquo;s the staircase where the gangster bloodbath from <em>The Untouchables</em> was filmed.</p><p>It still makes a nice photo, but the stone stairs are worn deeply in the center from nearly a century of travelers&rsquo; shoes. Pieces are gouged out.</p><p>Fixing this staircase is part of the $12 million of repairs, along with the limestone facade out front.</p><p>The money is also meant for better, more energy-efficient doors and a more spacious passenger waiting area.</p><p>Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari says Union Station sees about 300 trains a day, which is the same number that came through in the 1940s and 50s. More than 100,000 people move through Union Station every weekday.</p><p>The difference is, more than ever before, they&rsquo;re commuters rather than long distance travelers.</p><p>&ldquo;The crowds are sort of begging for this building to be more than just a place where you get off trains,&rdquo; Bey said. &ldquo;To make this more useful again, you&rsquo;ll have to do the cosmetic fixes, of course. But you&rsquo;ll also have to put spaces in here that do what the old spaces did &mdash; give you that embrace when you come in or that kiss goodbye.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Greta Johnsen reports and anchors weekends on WBEZ. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/gretamjohnsen">@gretamjohnsen</a>. </em></p></p> Tue, 03 Feb 2015 11:44:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/union-station-get-facelift-111491 Are Chicago's shorter yellow lights unsafe, or just unfair? http://www.wbez.org/news/are-chicagos-shorter-yellow-lights-unsafe-or-just-unfair-110955 <p><p>Chicago&rsquo;s red light cameras are under increased scrutiny, after a <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/watchdog/redlight/"><em>Chicago Tribune</em> investigation</a> found glitchy cameras may have issued thousands of tickets in error. The report also found many yellow lights are slightly short of the city standard of three seconds.</p><p>WBEZ has been looking into yellow lights too &mdash; and we&rsquo;ve found something else. Many traffic experts say Chicago flouts industry best practices with how it programs its traffic control devices &mdash; and one engineer says it may be &ldquo;entrapping&rdquo; drivers into running red lights.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Should I run? Should I stop?</span></p><p>Our inquiry started with Pavel Gigov, a North Side resident who, incidentally, is not a transportation engineer. Gigov drives a car, and like many of us, he&rsquo;s gotten a red light camera ticket or two. He got one in April at an intersection he normally drove through on his way home from work, and thought something was strange.</p><p>&ldquo;The light turned yellow and my immediate reaction was, OK, let me figure out what to do,&rdquo; Gigov recounted. &ldquo;And before I could actually even put my mind around what the decent thing to do is &mdash; should I run? should I stop? &mdash; it was already red and I was in the middle of the intersection.&rdquo;</p><p>The intersection was at W Peterson Ave. and N California Ave., in Chicago&rsquo;s West Ridge neighborhood. The streets are pretty wide: each has six or seven lanes across, and like many Chicago roads, the speed limit is 30 miles an hour.</p><p><iframe frameborder="0" height="450" src="https://www.google.com/maps/embed?pb=!1m16!1m12!1m3!1d209.6174687124326!2d-87.69939310755217!3d41.99043739075356!2m3!1f0!2f0!3f0!3m2!1i1024!2i768!4f13.1!2m1!1scalifornia+ave+peterson+ave!5e1!3m2!1sen!2sus!4v1409930061367" style="border:0" width="600"></iframe></p><p><em>Gigov received his red light camera ticket at the intersection of W Peterson Ave. and N California Ave. Like many Chicago intersections, the streets have a speed limit of 30mph.</em></p><p>Gigov said the moment he crossed into the intersection, he saw the flash of the red light camera going off.</p><p>&ldquo;And I knew that there was something that was going to be in the mail pretty soon,&rdquo; he laughed.</p><p>Sure, enough, Gigov got a $100 ticket in the mail. He paid it, but still, he wondered: wasn&rsquo;t that yellow light kind of short?</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Is it safe? Is it fair?</span></p><p><a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdot/supp_info/red-light_cameraenforcement.html">Chicago&rsquo;s Department of Transportation says</a> the city&rsquo;s yellow light intervals &ldquo;fall within the guidelines of the Federal Highway Administration&rsquo;s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, and adheres to recommendations by the Institute of Transportation Engineers.&rdquo; That&rsquo;s half-true.</p><p>First, the true part: <a href="http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/htm/2009r1r2/html_index.htm">the MUTCD does, indeed, recommend</a> that yellow lights fall between 3 and 6 seconds. At the intersection where Gigov got his ticket, a frame-by-frame video analysis of the traffic signal showed that the yellow light lasts exactly three seconds &mdash; the minimum recommended under the MUTCD guidelines.</p><p>But three seconds falls short of what the yellow light interval should be, if the city were to follow ITE recommendations as it claims. Gigov said he worries that in flouting best engineering practices, Chicago may put drivers at risk. Particularly at red light camera intersections, where each traffic violation could bring dollars into the city&rsquo;s coffers.</p><p>&ldquo;Are we trading in accidents for revenue?&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Unfortunately in the City of Chicago, that&rsquo;s a legitimate question.&rdquo;</p><p>The city claims it implements a blanket policy on yellow light intervals, regardless of whether there&rsquo;s a red light camera: three seconds when the speed limit is 30mph or lower, and four seconds when it&rsquo;s 35mph or higher. &ldquo;Chicago&rsquo;s yellow times are more than adequate for a driver traveling the speed limit to react and stop safely,&rdquo; it states on the <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdot/supp_info/red-light_cameraenforcement.html">CDOT website</a>. The policy bucks a growing trend among transportation agencies nationwide.</p><p>&ldquo;The idea of a constant time is not typical,&rdquo; said James Taylor, a retired traffic engineer in Indiana.</p><p>While there&rsquo;s no federal mandate that requires transportation agencies to follow a method in determining yellow light intervals, Taylor said more places are adopting a <a href="http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/nchrp_rpt_731.pdf">mathematical equation</a> that has been developed by the Institute of Transportation Engineers.</p><p>&ldquo;It keeps getting more and more widely accepted,&rdquo; said Taylor, &ldquo;as opposed to the system you&rsquo;re talking about where we just say let&rsquo;s just make all of them three (seconds), or three-and-a-half, or something like that.&rdquo;</p><p>A 2012 <a href="http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/nchrp_rpt_731.pdf">survey</a> of more than 200 transportation agencies in the U.S., Canada and Germany, found only 6 percent timed their yellow light intervals the way Chicago does. By contrast, the largest chunk &mdash; almost 40 percent &mdash; used the ITE equation.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Using the ITE formula</span></p><p>The ITE formula for the length of yellow lights factors in the specific conditions of an individual intersection, such as speed limit and the grade of the road. It also uses numerical assumptions based on extensive field studies.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="Y=t+(1.47V/2a+64.4g)" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/yellow-light-fomula-1.png" style="height: 64px; width: 200px;" title="" /></div><div class="image-insert-image ">Where:</div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>Y = total clearance period (in seconds)</em></div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>t = perception-reaction time (usually 1 second)</em></div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>V = 85th percentile approach speed (mph)</em></div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>a = deceleration rate (ft/sec&sup2;)</em></div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>g = percent of grade divided by 100</em></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">The equation assumes a perception-reaction time, <em>t</em>, of one second for the average driver, based on field measurements. In other words, it takes about that long for a typical driver to see that the light has changed to yellow, and to decide what to do.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">The fraction shown in the equation calculates how long it should take to decelerate to a stop, based on a typical driver&rsquo;s approach speed (<em>V</em>), a comfortable deceleration rate (<em>a</em>), and the grade of the intersection. Traffic engineers recommend using the 85th percentile of approaching traffic to determine a typical approach speed. If that hasn&rsquo;t, or cannot, be measured, a commonly accepted approximation is to add 7mph to the speed limit. &nbsp;Field studies have also found that a comfortable deceleration rate, <em>a</em>, for drivers is 10 ft/sec&sup2;. In Chicago, the grade of the street, <em>g</em>, is negligible, so we assume it to be zero.</div><p>Plug the numbers in for the intersection where Gigov received his yellow ticket, and it yields a yellow light interval, <em>Y</em>, of 3.7 seconds &mdash; that is, 0.7 seconds longer than it actually lasts. Studies show that could significantly change outcomes at an intersection.</p><p>&ldquo;Increasing the yellow by one second would decrease violations by 50-60 percent, and reduce crashes by 35-40 percent,&rdquo; said Davey Warren, a transportation engineer who spent most of his career with the Federal Highway Administration.</p><p>That agency has been pushing transportation departments nationwide to adopt the kinematic equation. In fact, in 2012 it made a change to the MUTCD that would require agencies to switch to engineering practices to determine yellow light intervals by mid-June of 2017.</p><p>Many traffic engineers were surprised to hear that Chicago does not already use widely-accepted engineering practices to calculate its yellow light intervals.</p><p>&ldquo;There is a general rule with engineers, you should be following the best accepted practice unless they can document valid reasons for not doing so,&rdquo; said Warren.</p><p>WBEZ requested multiple times to interview someone at Chicago&rsquo;s Department of Transportation. The department didn&rsquo;t respond. The department also failed to respond to a request under the Freedom of Information Act for its programming instructions for traffic control devices.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">After the yellow, comes the all-red</span></p><p>But before you worry that the city&rsquo;s putting drivers at risk by skimping on yellow light times, there&rsquo;s a twist. In addition to recommending a mathematically-derived yellow light interval, transportation engineers also recommend something called an <em>all-red interval</em>. That&rsquo;s a brief moment after the yellow light, where the lights are red in <em>all directions</em>. It gives a chance for cars still caught in the intersection to finish crossing before the opposing traffic gets a green.</p><p>The ITE recommendation for the all-red interval has changed over time. However,a 2012 <a href="http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/nchrp_rpt_731.pdf">study</a> by the National Cooperative Highway Research Board proposed the following guideline for the calculation:&nbsp;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="R=(W+L/1.47V)-1" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/yellow-light-fomula-2.png" style="height: 59px; width: 200px;" title="" /></div><p>Where:</p><p><em>R = all-red clearance interval (seconds)</em><br /><em>W = intersection width (ft)</em><br /><em>L = length of vehicle (ft)</em><br /><em>V = 85th percentile approach speed (mph)</em></p><p>It&rsquo;s worth noting that there&rsquo;s some debate over subtracting the number 1 on the right side of this equation. The &nbsp;ITE contemplates both possibilities. The NCHRP study found in field studies that it typically takes one second for drivers to perceive and react to a change to green after the all-red interval. So in its conclusions, it recommends subtracting that reaction time, to keep traffic flow more efficient.</p><p>Across transportation engineering literature, the standard length of a vehicle, <em>L</em>, is 20 feet, and again, the approach speed is approximated by adding 7mph to the speed limit.</p><p>At Gigov&rsquo;s intersection, where the streets were approximately 60 feet wide, the formula above yields an all-red clearance interval of 0.47 seconds. That means a vehicle that was caught in the intersection when the light turned red, would still have about half-a-second to finish its transition before opposing traffic gets a green light.</p><p>It turns out, the actual all-red clearance interval at the intersection of W Peterson Ave and N California Ave alternates between one and two seconds. Both of these are much longer than the formula recommends.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/yellow-lights-2.png" title="" /></div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>At a typical intersection in Chicago, where speed limits are 30mph, the city sets yellow lights at three seconds, followed by an all-red clearance interval of at least one second. By comparison, best engineering practices recommends a yellow light of 3.7 seconds, followed by an all-red clearance interval of .47 seconds. Experts say that while the total clearance times are close (4 seconds and 4.17 seconds, respectively), the misallocation of time between the yellow and all-red intervals may entrap drivers into more violations.</em></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>Data on actual yellow lights from CDOT&rsquo;s website and field measurements at intersection of W Peterson Ave. and N California Ave. Recommended calculations based on the<a href="http://www.ite.org/bookstore/IR-113.pdf"> kinematic equation</a> developed by the Institute of Transportation Engineers.</em></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><span style="font-size: 22px;">&lsquo;Entrapping drivers into running red lights&rsquo;</span></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Together, the yellow light and the all-red interval add up to what&rsquo;s called a &ldquo;change period.&rdquo; That &ldquo;change period&rdquo; at the intersection where Gigov got his ticket equals the three-second yellow light, plus one or two seconds for the all-red interval -- a total of four or five seconds. Engineering practices would yield a nearly similar result: a 3.7 second yellow light, followed by 0.47 second all-red interval, totaling 4.17 seconds.</div><p>The difference is, Chicago shortens the yellow portion of the change interval, and lengthens the all-red portion.</p><p>&ldquo;So from a safety standpoint, it&rsquo;s probably OK, but the thing is they&rsquo;re misallocating the times,&rdquo; said Warren, &ldquo;and so they&rsquo;re basically entrapping drivers into running red lights.&rdquo;</p><p>In other words, Chicago&rsquo;s yellow light intervals may not be unsafe, but they may be unfair.</p><p>Gigov said if the city wants to win back public trust when it comes to its use of red light cameras, it should use to the most up-to-date engineering guidelines when it programs its traffic control devices.</p><p>&ldquo;You&rsquo;re the city of Chicago, and your fiduciary duty is to serve residents of the city, and not to increase the revenue in such a borderline shady way,&rdquo; said Gigov.</p><p>Last year, anger over red light camera tickets in Florida prompted a reexamination of yellow lights. It turned out, yellow lights in that state were also timed contrary to engineering formulas. So Florida&rsquo;s Department of Transportation mandated the lights be lengthened.</p><p>Gigov said he hopes Chicago will do the same.</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her </em><a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef"><em>@oyousef</em></a><em> and </em><a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud"><em>@WBEZoutloud</em></a><em>.</em></p></p> Fri, 17 Oct 2014 08:11:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/are-chicagos-shorter-yellow-lights-unsafe-or-just-unfair-110955 Why buses arrive in bunches http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/why-buses-arrive-bunches-110941 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/172338843&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>It&rsquo;s a situation that plays out every day in Chicago. Riders show up at a bus stop, and the bus doesn&#39;t show up on time. Then all at once, two appear together.</p><p>The phenomenon is called bus bunching. Corrin Pitluck noticed it often while riding and driving around Chicago, so she put this question to Curious City:</p><p><em>I&rsquo;m interested to know about the urban physics involved in bus bunching, how it happens. I&rsquo;d also like to get drivers&rsquo; perspectives on how they feel about it and how they deal with it and what tools they have to unbunch their buses.</em></p><p>Most CTA bus riders have been frustrated by bunching at least once, but it&rsquo;s not just a problem for them. Bunching is a symptom of a bus system that&rsquo;s not running efficiently, and that creates more street traffic for everyone: bus riders, car drivers and bikers, too.</p><p>And don&rsquo;t be fooled that bunching is simple to combat. Not only is the problem practically inevitable, short-term fixes can sometimes make bus riders feel worse.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">A typical scenario</span></p><p>We watched bus bunching play out on a recent weekday morning at the 66 Chicago bus stop at Chicago and Milwaukee avenues.</p><p>Passengers getting off the Blue Line at Chicago waited for buses downtown, while bus riders worked to get off and board the &ldquo;L.&rdquo; Both groups converged at the bus stop, leaving bus drivers to wait while each got where they were headed.</p><p>Meanwhile, three 66 Chicago buses all rolled east down Chicago toward the stop together.</p><p>&ldquo;Oh, don&rsquo;t get me started,&rdquo; Matt Zachar said while waiting for a bus to arrive. &ldquo;It is inconceivable. I don&rsquo;t understand why one can&rsquo;t just wait and be on schedule like he&rsquo;s supposed to.&rdquo;</p><p>Many riders feel just like Zachar, unable to figure out how two, three or more buses can even be in the same place at once. Bus bunching is ninth on the Chicago Transit Authority complaint list, the subject of around 2 percent of all calls. It seems like there should be something the Chicago Transit Authority can do to keep the buses on schedule.</p><p>That&rsquo;s not always the case, though, according to University of Chicago Professor Donald Eisenstein.</p><p>Eisenstein studies self-organizing systems, like workers in a production line. As a system, buses by design are set up to bunch.</p><p>&ldquo;A bus system by nature has bad dynamics,&rdquo; Eisenstein said. &ldquo;Left on its own, buses will bunch.&rdquo;</p><p>Big gaps between buses, he said, will get bigger, while small gaps will shrink. This reality makes it almost impossible to eliminate bunching on a route unless there&rsquo;s a lot of time between buses.</p><p>&ldquo;Zero isn&rsquo;t a possibility,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;The natural dynamics fight against you. I don&rsquo;t think you&rsquo;ll ever get zero bus bunching, so your goal is to reduce it as much as possible.&rdquo;</p><p><a name="slideshow"></a><iframe frameborder="0" height="450" scrolling="no" src="http://interactive.wbez.org/curiouscity/bus-bunching" width="620"></iframe></p><p><em><a href="http://interactive.wbez.org/curiouscity/bus-bunching/">Click here for a full screen and shareable version</a>&nbsp;</em></p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">&#39;At the mercy of the street&#39;</span></p><p>Mike Connelly, the CTA&rsquo;s vice president of planning, said bus bunching isn&rsquo;t a major issue for the agency. According to CTA performance metrics, only around 3 percent of bus trips experience bunching, which the agency defines as a gap of less than 60 seconds between buses at a stop.</p><p>Of course that percentage is greater during morning and evening commutes, as well as along the busiest routes. Still, for Connelly, bus bunching is a smaller part of making sure the buses are on time and consistent.</p><p>&ldquo;Though everyone may be affected at some point, we feel that it&rsquo;s something we work at and that we have a very high standard for [being] unbunched,&rdquo; Connelly said.<a name="routes"></a></p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="320" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" src="http://cf.datawrapper.de/Z5XAO/2/" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" width="620"></iframe></p><p>The main way the CTA tries to combat bunching is scheduling. Each bus is equipped with a GPS tracker, and four times a year the CTA analyses the data to see if there&rsquo;s a more efficient way to run the buses.</p><p>Next, buses are monitored and controlled at key spots on the route, called terminal points. A street supervisor can speed up or hold a bus back to make sure it leaves that point on time and with enough space between it and the bus in front.</p><p>From there, &ldquo;we&rsquo;re at the mercy of the street,&rdquo; Connelly said. There are a few go-to methods, but each comes with a cost: financial costs to the CTA or potential to frustrate bus riders.</p><blockquote><p><a href="#slideshow"><strong>Check out our visual explanation of bus bunching to learn more about how CTA tries to stop bunches</strong></a></p></blockquote><p><span style="font-size:22px;">A driver&rsquo;s view</span></p><p>The CTA&rsquo;s job is complicated by us, the riders, who need to go to a specific point and in a predictable way, so buses can&rsquo;t always go the fastest or easiest way possible.</p><p>&ldquo;For us, the bottom line is that we carry people, so the people have to be our bottom-line,&rdquo; Connelly said. &ldquo;If we were UPS, where you load the boxes and we go, we could make a choice not to deliver down this street at 9 a.m., because there is something going on this street and we could come back at 2 in the afternoon. That&rsquo;s not our choice. Our choice is that there are people waiting at the stop and we&rsquo;re going to go pick them up.&rdquo;</p><p>While bunching can be an annoyance for riders, it&rsquo;s even more stressful for the drivers themselves.</p><p>Michael Toomey is an 11-year CTA veteran and current bus operator on the 77 Belmont route. He said the main thing he wished customers understood was how the smallest disturbances on the street can lead to big delays on his route.</p><p>&ldquo;[It&rsquo;s] minor factors most people wouldn&rsquo;t notice, like a double parked car that I get stuck behind and the bus behind me comes straight through,&rdquo; Toomey said. &ldquo;So if I become two minutes late on a route that runs every four minutes, that&rsquo;s the same as being 15 minutes late on a route that runs every 30 minutes. I get more stress knowing I&rsquo;m two minutes behind schedule and the next bus is scheduled four minutes back, which means I&rsquo;ve got twice as many people to pick up.&rdquo;</p><p>Drivers can do a few things on their own to stop bus bunching, such as leapfrogging the driver in front of them or skipping unneeded stops. On larger problems they coordinate moves with the control center and street supervisors.</p><p>&ldquo;If I see my coworker in front of me, he has a standing load, I pull up and say &lsquo;Come on, you guys. I&rsquo;ve got room&rsquo; and we work together,&rdquo; Toomey said.</p><p>Though Toomey can spot many bunches starting &mdash; he knows how much time an extra load from the Belmont &lsquo;L&rsquo; stop will add, for example &mdash; he sometimes gets as mystified as riders.</p><p>&ldquo;Some days it&rsquo;s wide open, the next it&rsquo;s bumper to bumper stopped,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s something we as operators ask, too. We&rsquo;re throwing our hands up, expecting something major, and there&rsquo;s not.&rdquo;</p><p>Toomey said he wished customers could see the bunching and delays from his eyes, as a problem they share.</p><p>&ldquo;I rode the bus for years, so I&rsquo;ve seen both sides,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;I wish more people had the opportunities to experience it firsthand, because if people could actually see what was happening behind the scenes they&rsquo;d be more understanding.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Now we have an answer. Who asked the question?</span></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/corrinpitluck.jpg" style="height: 201px; width: 280px; float: left;" title="Corrin Pitluck asked Curious City about how bus bunching works. (Chris Hagan/WBEZ)" />Our question-asker, Corrin Pitluck, takes a lot of trips from her Logan Square home with her kids, heading to school or visiting friends. Both as a CTA bus rider and a car driver, she&rsquo;s been fascinated by bus bunching.</p><p>&ldquo;I might be waiting for a bus and it&rsquo;s clear two buses are coming up, or might be driving and making a right turn and trying to be a good citizen and not turn in front of a bus, but waiting back there a ways behind a queue of buses,&rdquo; Pitluck said.</p><p>Growing up in New Jersey and Southern California, she&rsquo;s seen lots of different types of public transportation, and she&rsquo;s seen how easy it is for a bunch to form.</p><p>&ldquo;I have wondered and shook my fist at this bunching problem for decades now.&rdquo;</p><p>We love that she took this empathic element so seriously. It prompted us to speak with driver Michael Toomey and convey the gist to her.</p><p>She was just as shocked as we were when Toomey told a story of a seven-bus bunch he was involved in early in his career at the intersection of Cicero and Chicago. Utility work and an accident shut down all but one lane, and it took him more than a half hour to go one block.</p><p>&ldquo;Oh my gosh, that&rsquo;s unbelievable!&rdquo; Pitluck said.</p><p>Pitluck said the experience helped her understand the position of drivers and the difficulties they face on the road.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s a lot that&rsquo;s out of their hands,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;They have some tools but they&rsquo;re kind of limited in dealing with this ... that buses bunch.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Chris Hagan is a web producer and data reporter at WBEZ. Find him on twitter </em><a href="https://twitter.com/chrishagan"><em>@chrishagan</em></a><em>.</em></p></p> Wed, 15 Oct 2014 15:10:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/why-buses-arrive-bunches-110941 After the accident: Metra and pedestrian fatalities http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/after-accident-metra-and-pedestrian-fatalities-110875 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/170234239%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-Jvys6&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>Frequent commuters are all too familiar with the pangs of delays: the groans induced by announcements made over a train intercom, or the confusion created when train or bus operators suggest alternative routes, thanks (or no thanks) to weather, mechanical failures, or backups.</p><p>Chicago-area Metra riders are no strangers to these feelings, but often these delays are brought on by another, more heart-dropping reason: pedestrian accidents and fatalities. It&rsquo;s not uncommon for up to 1,300 Metra riders to be held on a train for more than an hour while investigators gather at the scene to determine what happened.</p><p dir="ltr">And while many wonder why so many of these accidents happen, or how they can be stopped, a Curious Citizen (who chose to remain anonymous) had us consider this question:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>How can a thorough investigation of Metra fatalities be performed when trains are up and running 90 minutes after a fatality?</em></p><p>It&rsquo;s a bit of a loaded question, of course, as our questioner is basically asking whether a 90-minute timeframe is sufficient to gather evidence.</p><p>From the first moment we spoke with the questioner, we knew this would be sensitive topic, for sure, but experts did make themselves available to explain how pedestrian death investigations work, and they were also willing to address the &ldquo;90 minutes&rdquo; figure directly. And the question&rsquo;s important, too. The issue of pedestrian fatalities by train is regularly <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-metra-suicides-met-20140825-story.html" target="_blank">in the Chicago-area news</a>. Also, anyone involved &mdash; a victim&#39;s family,&nbsp;commuters on the train, taxpayers in Illinois &mdash; deserves to know exactly what&rsquo;s going on outside that train once tragedy strikes.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">The extent of the problem</span></p><p>Pedestrian fatalities by Metra trains, or any type of train, for that matter, are not new phenomena. Train deaths, both intentional and accidental, have been an issue for rail officials across the world. <a href="http://gazebonews.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/ian_savage_438_manuscript.pdf" target="_blank">But as Northwestern University researcher Ian Savage found out</a>, these incidents are happening in Illinois more than any other place in the United States.</p><p>According to Savage, one of the main reasons is Chicago&rsquo;s position as a national rail hub.</p><p>&ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s a combination of the number of trains and the geography,&rdquo; Savage said. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re fairly flat around here, and if you go out east, you&rsquo;ll find many more hills. Because trains [there] can&rsquo;t get up steep grades, you have to level this out by digging cuts, you make embankments, so you end up with a lot more natural grade separation. And here in Chicago, we have little natural grade separation.&rdquo;</p><p>Savage looked at data from the Illinois Commerce Commission from 2004 to 2012, and accounted for 338 pedestrian deaths by train within the six-county Chicago area. (Notably, Savage&rsquo;s research did not include the Chicago Transit Authority&rsquo;s elevated trains). Put another way, the area saw one pedestrian death by train every 10 days. Approximately 47 percent of the incidents were suicides.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/metra%20graphic%20mockup%203%20final_2.png" title="" /></div><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/metra%20graphic%20new%20stats2.png" title="*Data from Chicago metropolitan region, 2004-2012. Note: Does not include CTA data. Non-motorized persons include pedestrians and bike-riders. Source: Ian Savage, Northwestern University " /></div></div><p>According to Savage, these fatalities happen for a variety of reasons. When it comes to accidents, many times people don&rsquo;t understand how dangerous trains really are.</p><p>&ldquo;In some cases, crossings are designed in a way that good people are lead into making bad decisions. And I think that perceptions of speed are very difficult,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;d never think about jaywalking across an interstate because there are cars every few seconds. But there are five, 10 [minutes], half an hour where there&rsquo;s no activity on train tracks. So you can always get led into this cognitive assumption that nothing&rsquo;s coming, when something is.&rdquo;</p><p>And while the complexity of suicide makes it difficult to understand the reasoning behind individual deaths, Savage said the frequency and high number of occurrences is likely connected to the availability of trains around Chicago. Through his research, Savage stumbled on a study from Children&rsquo;s Memorial Hospital that looked at methods of suicide. They found that the use of trains in the Chicago area was more than four times the national average.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Metra-related investigations</span></p><p>Beyond the magnitude of these fatalities, Metra faces another predicament, one that&rsquo;s different from those of state or city agencies: <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZrzuzWv2wY" target="_blank">Metra prides itself on its timeliness</a> and its ability to get commuters home on time. Its slogan is &ldquo;The way to really fly,&rdquo; and their signs read phrases such as &ldquo;We&rsquo;re on time, are you?&rdquo;</p><p>So when tragedy strikes, not only do Metra officials have to worry about the victim of the incident, but the thousands of passengers sitting on the train. In our question-asker&rsquo;s case, she read that trains were up and running 90 minutes after her friend was struck. (Metra officials say delays that day &mdash; including residual delays for other trains on that line &mdash; ranged anywhere between 30 and 110 minutes.)</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/metra%20photo%201%20LC.jpg" title="Metra signs advertise the agency's ability to arrive places on time, without delay. (WBEZ/Lauren Chooljian)" /></div></div><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s a process in place, a lot of times there&rsquo;s a lot of different factors that are involved in that incident which may extend that investigation, or there may be a train strike where we hit a pedestrian, and that person ends up being fine,&rdquo; said Hilary Konczal, director of Safety at Metra. &ldquo;I mean, we&rsquo;ve hit people and we&rsquo;ve broken a leg or an arm, and we were up and moving in 20 minutes, so it depends on the situation.&rdquo;</p><p>Konczal said every investigation begins the same way: A dispatcher is immediately notified of anything that happens on Metra railroads or that involves a Metra train. That dispatcher then notifies a control center, which reaches out to the municipality where the incident occurred.</p><p>&ldquo;Normally we get the call first,&rdquo; said Des Plaines Police Chief William Kushner. &ldquo;And we&rsquo;ll get it either from people waiting for the train, or someone driving past. And they&rsquo;ll call that someone was struck by a train or someone just jumped in front of a train.&rdquo;</p><p>The local municipality usually arrives on the scene first because of their close proximity. They&rsquo;ll secure the scene, meet with the train crew, and begin to gather witness testimony. Metra also has its own police force. Its officers do their best to get to the scene ASAP, but it could take some time, as the six-county service area is about the size of Connecticut. Once both departments are on scene, one will take the lead.</p><p><iframe align="middle" frameborder="0" height="420" scrolling="no" src="http://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-assets/curiouscity/metramap.html" width="620"></iframe></p><p><span style="font-size:11px;"><em>Metra rail lines cover six counties and more than 110 municipalities. The service area is about the size of the state of Connecticut, which means travel times for investigators and other responders can be sizable.</em></span></p><p>&ldquo;Usually, if Metra police investigate the incident, we can do it a little quicker. We have evidence technicians on scene 24 hours [per day], and a lot of times local municipality doesn&#39;t have that. They have to call them in, so that may add time to investigation,&rdquo; Konczal said.</p><p>Konczal said his staff constantly network with the over 110 municipalities that Metra travels through, so when an incident happens &ldquo;we have a rapport with them, so we can get traffic moving as soon as possible.&rdquo;</p><p>But depending on the type of accident, and how long it takes to gather all the correct people together, investigations can still take a while. Konczal said if Metra strikes a vehicle, federal regulations require that signals be tested, for example.</p><p>In a fatality situation, officials have to report information to the ICC and the Federal Railroad Administration. Almost all Metra trains have cameras on them now, as do some grade crossings, so film has to be reviewed to determine what happened, and to assess whether it was an intentional death or not. They also have to wait for a coroner to arrive, as he or she has to respectfully remove the remains.</p><p>The Metra Police Department was recently assessed by <a href="http://www.hillardheintze.com/books/metrapolicedept_01_23_14/" target="_blank">Hillard Heintze</a>, an independent council of retired police chiefs. While the group <a href="http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20140122/news/701229709/" target="_blank">found many issues with the department overall</a> (e.g., unclear mission, ineffective or nonexistent policies and procedures, staffing issues, etc.) the report did not address how Metra conducts fatality investigations.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/metra%20investigation%20full.jpg" style="float: left;" title="Metra officials investigate a commuter train accident in 2004 in Chicago. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)" /></p><p>Metra officials say there&rsquo;s no minimum or maximum amount of time that they try and meet for each investigation. Other police departments operate this way as well.</p><p>&ldquo;If there&rsquo;s a fatality, there are no minimums,&rdquo; said Monique Bond, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Police Department. &ldquo;The main thing is to get the victims, whether they&rsquo;re dead or hurt. That&rsquo;s the priority.&rdquo;</p><p>Bond said each investigation varies tremendously, depending on the incident: It could be hours, or it could be one hour.</p><p>But what doesn&rsquo;t change per incident, according to Metra officials and police, is the difficulty of dealing with these fatalities, both for him and his staff.</p><p>Naperville Police Chief Bob Marshall said his department, like many others around the state, provides mental health services for any officer that responds to traumatic events. Naperville recently dealt with two suicides by train.</p><p>Konczal added that Metra staff take the issue of pedestrian deaths personally. &ldquo;They&rsquo;re people. They may be your brother, my sister, your friend, it&rsquo;s just a shame,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;We have employees that go out there. We have the engineer that&rsquo;s traumatized, and the family of the deceased. ... I mean, it&rsquo;s real, and it gets very personal, and at times it gets frustrating.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re constantly looking at ways to educate the public. We&rsquo;re looking at our numbers, the day of the week incidents occur - and it gets frustrating trying to identify how to reduce these risks, without trying to put up some sort of virtual fence. It&rsquo;s just very hard.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Waiting in the wings</span></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/steven%20vance%20bartlett%20station.jpg" title="Signage at Metra's Bartlett station on the Milwaukee District/West Line route indicates safety precautions for pedestrians crossing the tracks. (Flickr/Steven Vance)" /></p><p>Metra, as well as local law enforcement agencies, suggest that some investigations can take far less than the 90-minute figure that started our look into train-related pedestrian deaths. According to Joe Schwieterman, transportation professor at DePaul University (and Metra rider for 23 years), delays of any kind can be difficult to bear.</p><p>&ldquo;You feel the tension on board right away, people start making phone calls, and after five or ten minutes, you know, you start to wonder, &lsquo;Is this gonna be a nightmare?&rsquo; So that speculation starts,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>According to Schweiterman, everyone in the region has been startled by how a fairly small commuter rail system (in the national sense) has such a regular pattern of hitting people. And a lot of it, he said, isn&rsquo;t on Metra.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s a whole series of issues, like willful deaths, and of course just a preponderance of freight trains which makes these crossings very difficult, and even just people dying on the tracks who, you know - drug use along railway tracks - there&rsquo;s a long history of a place where deviants often go.&rdquo;</p><p>But when it comes to whether these investigations are long enough or comprehensive enough, Schwieterman said anything longer than the current delays wouldn&rsquo;t be practical.</p><p>&ldquo;My view is that there&rsquo;s rarely a complex investigation needed,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;When somebody gets hit, the reason that person got hit is important from a data standpoint &mdash; and I mean, of course, for the family it&rsquo;s an absolute travesty &mdash; but from an investigation standpoint we need to know why people are getting hit and how we can fix the problems.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;But it&rsquo;s not like a crime scene, where there&rsquo;s an assailant out there who we have to find, and he may have left a clue behind.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>If you or someone you know exhibits any of the <a href="http://reportingonsuicide.org/warning-signs-of-suicide/" target="_blank">warning signs of suicide</a>, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)</strong></p><p><em>Lauren Chooljian is a WBEZ Reporter. Follow her<a href="http://twitter.com/triciabobeda"> </a><a href="https://twitter.com/laurenchooljian" target="_blank">@laurenchooljian</a></em></p></p> Tue, 30 Sep 2014 17:31:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/after-accident-metra-and-pedestrian-fatalities-110875