The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Building a new train to Milwaukee

The High Speed Rail Alliance advocates extending the Metra UP-North (my line) all the way to Milwaukee:

Hourly trains departures will bring Chicago and Milwaukee closer together, strengthen the economic and social ties between them, and help revitalize both city centers.

Wisconsin and Illinois set a goal of 14 daily roundtrips, which is close to hourly, in the mid-1990s. More recently, the Federal Railroad Administration’s Midwest Regional Rail Plan called for 24 daily roundtrips.

But heavy freight traffic between Techny and Rondout on the existing route has made the current goal of 10 daily roundtrips difficult to achieve.

Here’s the value of bringing the UP-North into the picture:

  1. Almost no freight traffic. There are no freight trains south of Lake Bluff, and there are just one or two, daily, north of Lake Bluff.
  2. Stations in the Kenosha and Racine city centers will create synergies between these cities’ downtowns—and channel more passengers onto the trains.
  3. Downtown stations in Evanston, Lake Forest, and Waukegan will provide additional traffic and connections to Metra’s local trains.
  4. Metra’s ten daily Chicago-Kenosha roundtrips provide a strong foundation for this expansion.
  5. At one time, limited-stop trains made this trip in 75 minutes.

I especially like that they used a photo of the new Ravenswood station on the cover.

I'll be on trains for a couple of hours today; Brews & Choos reviews to come.

Feeling stuck?

The New York Times had two opinion pieces today that seemed to go together.

In the first, literary critic Hillary Kelly notes the prevalence of pop-culture stories about people not so much in dystopia, but stuck in something else:

On one sci-fi show after another I’ve encountered long, zigzagging, labyrinthine passageways marked by impenetrable doors and countless blind alleys — places that have no obvious beginning or end. The characters are holed up in bunkers (“Fallout”), consigned to stark subterranean offices (“Severance”), locked in Escher-like prisons (“Andor”) or living in spiraling mile-deep underground complexes (“Silo”). Escape is unimaginable, endless repetition is crushingly routine and people are trapped in a world marked by inertia and hopelessness.

The resonance is chilling: Television has managed to uncannily capture the way life feels right now.

We’re all stuck.

What’s being portrayed is not exactly a dystopia. It’s certainly not a utopia. It’s something different: a stucktopia. These fictional worlds are controlled by an overclass, and the folks battling in the mire are underdogs — mechanics, office drones, pilots and young brides. Yet they’re also complicit, to varying degrees, in the machinery that keeps them stranded. Once they realize this, they strive to discard their sense of futility — the least helpful of emotions — and try to find the will to enact change.

I think she has a point. And just a few stories later, we get a glimpse of why that kind of story may reflect the experiences of our 2020s existence. Urbanist Stephen Smith has studied residential elevators, here and in the rest of the world, and concluded that the particular failings of the way we build elevators in the US reflect larger failings that have held us back from addressing problems that Europe and the rich Asian countries have already solved:

Elevators in North America have become over-engineered, bespoke, handcrafted and expensive pieces of equipment that are unaffordable in all the places where they are most needed. Special interests here have run wild with an outdated, inefficient, overregulated system. Accessibility rules miss the forest for the trees. Our broken immigration system cannot supply the labor that the construction industry desperately needs. Regulators distrust global best practices and our construction rules are so heavily oriented toward single-family housing that we’ve forgotten the basics of how a city should work.

Similar themes explain everything from our stalled high-speed rail development to why it’s so hard to find someone to fix a toilet or shower. It’s become hard to shake the feeling that America has simply lost the capacity to build things in the real world, outside of an app.

Behind the dearth of elevators in the country that birthed the skyscraper are eye-watering costs. A basic four-stop elevator costs about $158,000 in New York City, compared with about $36,000 in Switzerland. A six-stop model will set you back more than three times as much in Pennsylvania as in Belgium. Maintenance, repairs, and inspections all cost more in America too.

The U.S. and Canada have also marooned themselves on a regulatory island for elevator parts and designs. Much of the rest of the world has settled on following European elevator standards, which have been harmonized and refined over generations. Some of these differences between American and global standards only result in minor physical differences, while others add the hassle of a separate certification process without changing the final product.

As kids in the 1970s we dreamt of flying cars and arcologies. As I shuffle through middle age in the 2020s, I dream of the social safety net and built environments that Europe takes for granted. Give me a train to New York that takes 5 hours and the end to people going bankrupt because of a treatable illness and you can keep your flying car.

Sticky weather + cooped up with Covid = 2pm shower

Cassie and I have gone on two walks today, the first for 3.2 km and the second for 4.25 km, despite the really uncomfortable 26°C dewpoint. I mean, it's really gross out there. Fortunately because of the way dogs get rid of excess heat, it didn't bother her as much as it bothered me—the air is only 28°C, after all. But we both felt a lot better when we got back to my air-conditioned house. (Fun fact: my thermostat is set for 25°C, but the dewpoint inside is closer to 15°C which makes all the difference.)

Another person who values comfort over just about everything else is Chicago Transit Authority president Dorval Carter, who on Thursday took a "legislative tour" of the transit system he ostensibly runs, prompting Chicago Tribune reporter Alice Yin to arch an eyebrow:

[T]he sight of many Chicago-based politicians partaking in the tour with Carter — who himself has drawn heat for not using CTA buses and trains more — raised the question why do they need a guide to familiarize them with their own city’s public transit agency?

[Chicago mayor Brandon] Johnson’s office did push the effort via a flyer from his intergovernmental affairs office that reads: “Legislative Tour featuring CTA, Chicago Park District, Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus and Chicago’s Urban Historian Sherman ‘Dilla’ Thomas.” His IGA head, Sydney Holman, also gave remarks, the CTA statement noted.

The description says the four-hour tour began at CTA’s headquarters in the West Loop before stopping at three locations “while experiencing transit as everyday Chicagoans on a quick Green Line ride on Chicago’s West Side.” Barreto’s post, meanwhile, said 10 state representatives, two state senators and seven aldermen joined Wednesday.

The flyer also notes: “Limited paid street parking available and one public lot at 180 N Jefferson $16.50 for 6 hours.”

I have a friend who works at Amtrak's head office because he loves trains. He and his wife took a 7-day vacation earlier this year, starting on the 46-hour Empire Builder train from Chicago to Seattle. Would it kill Patrick to maybe take the Red Line once in a while? Or maybe get a job doing something where he doesn't have to get a tour of the place where his customers spend all their time after having the job for several years?

Long but productive day

I'm trying to get home a little earlier than usual, so this will be a lazy post. Stuff to read:

  • Hillary Clinton, who has debated both President Biden and the convicted-felon XPOTUS, has thoughts on tomorrow night's event.
  • Dana Milbank doesn't mourn Rep. Jamaal Bowman's (D-NY) loss last night, and neither do I.
  • If you hate corporations, you might want to support President Biden's increase to the corporate income tax as well as to his proposed increase in the share-buyback tax.
  • The village of Wheaton, Ill., would rather have 165 car crashes and multiple pedestrian fatalities on a stretch of stroad by a school and retirement community than spend $865,000 on a traffic light. (I mean, better that they didn't build the stroad in the first place, of course.)
  • A new report says that cancelling New York City's congestion tax will kill 100,000 jobs.

Finally, today is the 50th anniversary of the very first time a UPC got scanned in a grocery store. Happy shopping.

Slow news day yesterday, not so much today

Lunchtime link roundup:

Finally, People for Bikes has consistently rated Chicago the worst major US city for biking, principally because of our 50 km/h speed limit. If only we'd lower it to 40 km/h, they say, Chicago would immediately jump in the ratings to something approaching its peers.

Really lucky timing this morning

I woke up at my usual time this morning, noticed how dark it was, checked radar, and got Cassie out the door less than 10 minutes later. Because by the time I had her to day camp and got myself to the Metra platform, it looked like this:

Waiting for the train, I got this:

But what luck, it let up just as the train arrived. The photo doesn't do it justice: those are horizontal rain bands, and I was standing behind a window.

By the time I got down to Ogilvie, we had this:

Again, just a bit of light rain as I walked the 300 meters from OTC to my office.

I would like to point out that Governor JB Pritzker (D) made my morning commute possible today, by restoring funding to the Ravenswood Metra station construction that took 12 years to complete because of his Republican predecessor's ideological cruelty. I really hope that Bruce Rauner goes to hell, and has to stand on the temporary, unsheltered platform for every minute that every commuter had to over the years we waited for the project to resume.

Now we're just waiting for the new Alstom train sets to arrive (probably 3 years from now) and for the electrification of the remaining diesel-powered Metra lines (probably 40 years from now). Apparently, though, adding a third track to the UP-N mainline between Rogers Park and Clybourn might happen before 2035. We'll see.

Gonna be a hot one

I've got a performance this evening that requires being on-site at the venue for most of the day. So in a few minutes I'll take two dogs to boarding (the houseguest is another performer's dog), get packed, an start heading to a hockey rink in another city. Fun! If I'm supremely lucky, I'll get back home before the storm.

Since I also have to travel to the venue, I'll have time to read a few of these:

Finally, the Post examined a Social Security Administration dataset yesterday that shows how baby names have converged on a few patterns in the last decade. If you think there are a lot of names ending in -son lately (Jason, Jackson, Mason, Grayson, Failson...), you're not wrong.

China launches overnight Beijing to Shanghai and Hong Kong service

Imagine an overnight train from New York to Miami that takes 12 hours. China just opened a $165 train that does about the same thing:

From Hong Kong to Beijing, the overnight trip takes 12 hours 30 minutes, and it covers roughly the same distance as a flight from New York to Miami or Los Angeles to Dallas. It complements the 8 hour 15 minute day train that has run for years.

The overnight trip to Shanghai takes 11 hours. The corresponding day train takes just 7 hours 47 minutes.

We can have similar rail lines and options, if we choose to. The Federal Railroad Administration has in fact published plans that call for HSR service between cities of similar (or longer) distances. For example, the Midwest Regional Rail Plan calls for high-speed trains between St. Paul and Nashville, while the Southeast Regional Rail Plan calls for high-speed trains between Nashville and Orlando.

Together, the plans would create a single HSR line of about 1,500 miles. So, a family in St. Paul could board a sleeper train in the evening and be at Orlando’s Disney World by mid-morning the next day—rested and ready to go, instead of stressed out from driving and poorer from a hotel stay.

I will grant two things that make this a difficult problem for the US: the fifth amendment and our psychotic relationship with cars. The first requires that the government provides just compensation for any property it takes, and buying the land to create a grade-separated high-speed rail line would not be cheap. China just kicks people off their land.

The second is that we've spent a century subsidizing cars and building our physical environment around cars, which prevents even reasonable people from understanding the basic economics behind highways. (Or, if you're the Chicago Tribune editorial board, the basic understanding of how traffic works.)

Still, it frustrates me to no end that we're not even discussing it.

In the early autumn I'm going to get on a train in London, change in Paris, and get off the train in Marseille, which will take about 7 hours, depending on how tight I want to make the connection between Gare du Nord and Gare de Lyon. I'll get to St Pancras about half an hour before the train, very likely from a hotel a few blocks away, and when I get off the train in Marseille, I'll have another walk of a block or two to that hotel. Contrast with my flight home from Marseille, which, including half an hour by transit to the Provence airport, customs, emigration in France and immigration into the UK, will take about the same length of time. And then I'll be at Heathrow, an hour from central London.

I once made it from central Richmond, Va., to a friend's apartment in Murray Hill, Manhattan, in just over 5 hours, door to door. So I know the US has the ability to build real high-speed trains. But will I ever see one in my lifetime?

All the (other) things!

As I mentioned after lunch, a lot of other things crossed my desk today than just wasted sushi:

Finally, Taylor Swift fans have roundly rejected Ticketmaster's monopolistic gouging by flying to Europe to catch the Eras Tour, often saving so much money on tickets that it pays for their travel. I personally know one such Swiftie who took her honeymoon in Stockholm, where Swift played earlier this year. It turns out, Europe has stricter rules against the kind of parasitic behavior Ticketmaster perpetrates on Americans.