Tagged with " Chicago"

Chicago ranked the most road congested city

Jan 28, 2011 by     Comments Off    Posted under: Transportation

Google map showing real time traffic on a Thursday morning. The red indicates near bumper to bumper traffic.

The traffic study that was released last week will be a surprise to no one who travels around the Chicago area in a vehicle. It confirms what many drivers had long thought was true—Chicagoland ranked at the top of the list as the area with the most congested roadways in the country.

The new 2010 Urban Mobility Report issued by the Texas Transportation Institute measures congestion in 439 urban areas in the U.S. in an attempt to identify the problems facing urban travelers.

The study found in Chicago commuters spent an extra 70 hours a year in their cars in 2009. The national average was 34 hours.

According to a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago commuters now have the longest delays, a distinction has Los Angeles long held.

But it’s more than just time being wasted in our cars. Money is too. Congestion costs each commuter and extra $1,738 on average in 2009, reports the Tribune.

All this may ring very true with Chicagoland drivers, but although the Urban Mobility Report receives a lot of media attention it is by no means a comprehensive study on overall mobility.

“The report is actually a very crude way of looking at congestion and is quite arbitrary. It just measures traffic and not public transit and mobility in the broad sense,” says Hani Mahmassani, director of the Northwestern University Transportation Center. “What I’m more concerned with is the ability to move trucks and freight and merchandise and the logistics of that.”

Chicago has long been a hub of freight transit, and congestion can be detrimental to the city’s status in this arena. That may not seem like a big concern to the average Chicagoan, but according to Mahmassani, when Chicago becomes too incompetent to move freight around efficiently it effects the city’s overall economy all the way down to consumers who have to pay more for goods.

Traffic, of course, effects freight mobility, but so does aging bridges, construction and a host of other complexities. The Federal Highway Administration has studied the freight transit issues in Chicago in hopes of combating them. There’s also an initiative called CREATE, a massive undertaking to improve and increase the efficiency of the region’s rail infrastructure and quality of life of Chicago-area residents. The overall goal is to reduce traffic congestion, deliver shorter commute times, better air quality and increased public safety. You can read more about the initiatives here.

Plans for the near future and beyond are also in the works. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning recently debuted “Go to 2040,” a regional plan with recommendations for officials and local businesses to improve quality of life in Chicagoland. You can learn about the comprehensive regional mobility plan here.

CTA Prepared for Cold Weather

Jan 28, 2011 by     Comments Off    Posted under: Transportation

Keeping the trains and buses running is a year-long job for the Chicago Transit Authority. During the winter months, its difficulties are compounded by freezing temperatures and varied snowfall.

“Cold weather ages transportation infrastructure at a troublesome rate in a difficult way,” said Joseph Schwieterman, professor of DePaul University. “Especially the chilling and thawing process is extremely hard on roads and railroad tracks.”

The CTA prepares for the winter months in advance, said CTA Spokeswoman Noelle Gaffney. Many of these preparations include ensuring that the proper tools and equipment are available should the need arise. The CTA garages stocks are updated in case equipment or machinery needs to be replaced and conducts regular inspections, she said

In addition to preparations, the CTA constantly checks current conditions.

“There’s a lot we do in advance of winter that we just we’re going to need to have done,” said Gaffney. “But we also monitor the weather and if there is sleet or snow forecast, we respond accordingly with making sure the proper resources and staff are in place when snow does come.”

Trains are outfitted with sleet scrapers that remove ice from the rails as trains pass. Additionally, de-icing fluid is sprayed onto the rails when ice builds up. Snow plows are placed on the front cars to handle any snow banks that might pose a problem, Gaffney said.

Additionally, in case of difficulties that normal train operations can’t handle, CTA workers are on call to fix winter-related problems using special heavy equipment, she said.

“The other thing for trains when it gets really cold, switches freeze and that’s a huge problem for the CTA and Amtrak, especially when you have snow mixed in,” Schwieterman said.

Snow would become caught in the switches, preventing movement. Sometimes the electrical circuitry controlling the switches would freeze as well, but is not as common, Schwieterman said. To handle this particular problem, the CTA has heaters at switch locations which are activated by track workers allowing operations to continue and prevent derailment, Gaffney said.

The CTA doesn’t forget about the customers either. The station heaters are checked before the season and during times of snowfall, the CTA staff and outside firms are sent to shovel sand to prevent people from slipping, Gaffney said.

Ultimately, when it comes to cold weather, it depends on the conditions. How heavy or light the weather is and how long it lasts determines the CTA’s response, she said.

Rolling out the new CTA train tracker

Jan 28, 2011 by     Comments Off    Posted under: Transportation

Want to know when the next train’s coming? Don’t worry – there’s an app for that.

In January, the Chicago Transit Authority officially rolled out its beta version of the CTA Train Tracker , available as a mobile application for smart phones and on the Internet. The authority’s bus tracker has already been in place since last year.

In the press release, the CTA stated that estimated arrival times are generated through a combination of scheduling information and the data collected by the QuicTrak program, “which monitors signaling systems and indicates when a portion of track is occupied by a train. Average transit time is determined by measuring how long it takes a train to travel a portion of track and by averaging the travel times of the last five trains to move across a portion of track, the CTA can calculate the estimated arrival times for trains at each station.”

Okay, so it’s a little confusing. But what Chicagoans really care about isn’t methodology, it’s how well the tracker works, right?

So far reaction seems to be positive – in large part because commuters have been waiting for this  for awhile now. The CTA Tattler blog even wrote about the CTA pre-testing the tracker on the Brown line back in April.

The Twittersphere has been praising its introduction, which many say was a long time coming. Twitter user Jose L. Torrez went so far as to call it a “WIN!” while Anne Haley, aka Anniebannanie91 tweeted “Cta train tracker= my bff.”

This screen shot shows the CTA's new online train tracker.

“Train tracker seems to work well,” said Ryan C. Miller, coordinator of orientation and parent programs at the Illinois Institute of Technology. “I’ve not been burned by it – yet.”

Time Out Chicago also did their own little test to see what people’s reactions have been, as did The Huffington Post. Blogger Steven Vance got a chance to try out the tracker before everyone else did. His verdict? It needs a few tweaks for mobile devices but other than that, he’s “extremely impressed.”

So far, it sounds good. Now if we could just do something about those pitiful French -fry warming lights at the stations….and maybe WiFi underground. Yes, please?


Braving Winter on Two Wheels

Jan 28, 2011 by     Comments Off    Posted under: Transportation

Braving Chicago’s Winter on Two Wheels from chicagoloopster on Vimeo.

Our guide features information from local experts about taking the streets of Chicago on your bike during the most bone-chilling conditions.Want more in-depth information about biking during the winter? Check out these informational links and videos made for Chicago bikers:

Metra’s new quiet cars: boom or bust?

Jan 28, 2011 by     Comments Off    Posted under: Transportation

Metra recently rolled out a new concept for riders—designated “quiet cars.”

On January 10, commuters on the Rock Island District line were able to choose to ride in one of two cars reserved as quiet cars. During rush hours, the front and back cars of this Chicago-to-Joliet line are silent, meaning no cell phone talkers, no loud headphones and no audible conversations.

Rock Island is a trial run. Metra is testing the quiet cars on only one line before taking it system wide.

“We expect it to expand. The reason we ran a pilot program is to work out the kinks first,” says Metra spokesperson Meg Riley. They plan to implement quiet cars in all rail lines soon after the test ends in March, as they’ve received mostly positive feedback.

An informal survey Metra sent out to its riders back in October asked for input on whether designated quiet cars might be attractive to riders. They result was a resounding ‘yes.’

“Nearly 90 percent of the emails we got were positive and people thought it was a good idea. And that was with over 1,000 responses,” says Riley.

“I think for the most part people are quiet either way. But you always get people talking on the phone or something like that,” says passenger Joe Fascetta of why quiet cars are needed.

So how quiet is the quiet car? On a recent trip out of LaSalle Street Station during rush hour one car was eerily silent. The loudest sounds were rustling newspapers and the conductor’s hole puncher stamping a passenger’s ticket. Most commuters were quietly listening to headphones, reading or texting. The ride was so quiet a few passengers were asleep soon after the train left the station.

Take a ride on the Rock Island District line and hear passengers’ thoughts on the quiet cars in the report below.

Untitled from Jaydine Sayer on Vimeo.

Construction in Chicago

Jan 27, 2011 by     Comments Off    Posted under: Transportation

If you’re driving, taking the bus or just walking, you’re going to want to avoid the construction hot spots. Here are some of the areas getting work in the Loop at the moment. Tread with caution.

Parkin’ yo’self in Chitown

Jan 27, 2011 by     1 Comment     Posted under: Transportation

Once you’ve managed to survive the traffic on your daily commute, here comes the next fun part – the parking.

Chicago has long had the priciest parking meters in the country, and earlier this month, those rates were raised even more.

As of Jan. 2, the price of hourly Loop parking was increased from $4.25 to $5.00, marking an 18 percent increase. The price boost was agreed to back in 2008 when the city signed a deal to lease its parking meters for 75 years. Just two years ago, motorists only had to pay $3 an hour to park in the Loop.

Neighborhood parking increases from $1.25 to $1.50 an hour and downtown parking outside of the loop such as the Gold Coast, River North, Near North and parts of Lincoln Park, are seeing a 50 cent increase to $3.00 an hour. The changes are being rolled out at the city’s 36,000 metered spots.

Chicago Parking Meters LLC,  which operates the city’s meters, have pointed to technological advances including the ability to use credit cards at the meters as rationale for the rising costs.

As far as parking garages in the loop, early bird rates (arriving between 5 and 8 a.m.) are going to run you anywhere from $12-$20, on average.

And of course, these don’t include the annual residential parking permits Chicagoans must buy- which are currently $25 a year. More parking tips and suggestions available here.

The increase in parking meter rates appears to be a nationwide trend, with hourly rates in New York City rising this month from $2.50 to $3.00.  Rates in Boston also rose, making it cost $1.25 an hour to park in Beantown, up from $1.00. Chicago’s joined in the “priciest parking” segment by San Francisco and Los Angeles, among others.