The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

After 12 long years, we got to use the roof

This morning, for the first time since the inbound Ravenswood platform opened August 1st (and therefore since mid-2011), I actually got to shelter from the weather while waiting for the train:

Rain was falling, but for a few minutes, none of it fell on me. We could stand under a roof and wait for the train to arrive. Of course, since the platform was designed to accommodate a 3rd mainline track some day in the future, we still had to stand in the rain for a brief moment to get on the train, but still. I stood outside on the train platform not cursing Bruce Rauner and seven generations of his descendants.

Oh, and note to self: bring spare socks to the office.

No, there is no nude beach in Rogers Park

That's just one of the absurdities that I encountered over the course of the last 24 hours:

  • A prankster put up an official-looking sign declaring Loyola Beach on the north side of Chicago clothing-optional. Unfortunately no one was fooled.
  • For the 15th or 20th time since its founding, critics accuse the US Navy of adapting too slowly to emerging risks in order to preserve tradition and Mississippi jobs. (Really, this comes up about every 20 years.)
  • Of course, it doesn't help that we currently have no Chief of Naval Operations, Army Chief of Staff, or Marine Commandant, thanks to US Senator Tommy "Never Could Beat Alabama" Tuberville (R-AL).
  • A working group that didn't include historians has proposed how sweeping changes to Chicago-area transit can help it become more like 1960s Baltimore more quickly: concentrate on "financial viability" at the expense of fast, frequent service. Because we really have learned nothing in the last 75 years.
  • Illinois has become the third-largest home of data center space in part because we have a lot of office parks no one wants anymore.

Finally, Arizona continues to allow residential development as if the state has as much available water as Illinois. Because we really have learned nothing in the last 75 years.

Drawing a bright line through the desert

Private railroad operator Brightline has started modestly-high-speed service in South Florida, and has agreements in place to start Los Angeles to Las Vegas service by the end of the decade:

Launching with no federal help, the modern debut of private passenger rail connecting two major metropolitan areas will come to fruition when Brightline riders arrive in Orlando from downtown Miami. The Federal Railroad Administration expects to sign off within days, triggering a three-week testing period before Brightline carries passengers. The company will then set its sights on a $12 billion high-speed railway from Las Vegas to Southern California, a massive undertaking that could put trains traveling at 300 km/h on America’s tracks by 2028.

After operating much like a commuter service through South Florida, the Orlando station will be the nation’s first non-Amtrak passenger train connection between two metro areas in four decades — a project with nearly $6 billion in private investment. Although not a true high-speed operation, the Brightline Florida service will surpass speeds of 200 km/h in some areas — the nation’s fastest train outside the D.C.-Boston region.

Five years after Brightline opened its 67-mile service between Miami and West Palm Beach, passengers fill the five-car trains for sporting events and festivals while commuters use it to get to jobs. Students receive discounted passes for educational excursions.

Brightline uses business tycoon Henry Flagler’s original Miami train station and his Florida East Coast Railway, built in the late 1880s. The station had fallen into disrepair and was surrounded by parking lots. The raised platform is now the hub of 1.5 million square feet of development, with office, commercial and residential spaces built by Brightline’s owner.

The 425 km electrified rail line from Las Vegas to Rancho Cucamonga, where it would connect to downtown Los Angeles via commuter train, is estimated to cost $12 billion — three times the price tag envisioned in the mid-2000s. Brightline submitted a 4,000-page application in April for a $3.75 billion federal grant from the infrastructure law.

If you can get from LA to Vegas in 2 hours, you can charge more than the airlines charge, but you can also charge less. That's about the same distance as Paris to Lyon, which the TGV currently makes in about that time, for about €50 in second class. And an electric train over that distance produces a fraction of greenhouse gasses per passenger than a car or airplane.

Notice that this can only happen with massive Federal subsidies. But that's exactly how all major transportation projects work in the US. Remember the Interstate Highway System, that provided some $500 billion (2023 dollars) in subsidies over 35 years for cars? Not to mention all the other road projects that gave us the ugliest infrastructure in the history of the world.

I hope people use these trains. And I'm really waiting for my 40-minute Chicago-to-Milwaukee train.

Should I retire to the Netherlands?

Not Just Bikes celebrates 5 years living in the Netherlands by raving about how the Netherlands' anti-car development patterns make just about every city in the country nicer to live than just about anywhere in North America:

I'm about 3/4 the way through Nicholas Dagen Bloom's The Great American Transit Disaster, having just finished the chapter on how Detroit's combination of racism, suburban/urban hostility, lack of vision, and massive subsidies for car infrastructure while starving public transit gave us the hollowed-out hellscape the city has become. This, after reading the chapter on how Atlanta's combination of racism, suburban/urban hostility, lack of vision, and massive subsidies for car infrastructure while starving public transit gave us the depressing echo of its former glory the city has become. And the chapter on how Chicago's combination of racism, suburban/urban hostility, and massive subsidies for car infrastructure almost—but not quite—overcame the city's history as the country's largest railroad hub with rail-driven suburban development along the Chicago & North Western and Chicago, Burlington & Quincy railroad lines.


I'm nowhere near retiring. And even though I work for an international company,  reporting up to the London office, my team are 100% Chicago-based for the time being. But when I'm old and decrepit 40 years from now, I imagine getting around a country that cares about its public transit might be easier than even one of the most transit-friendly cities in North America.

Annals of the mafia state

Since today is the last Friday of the summer, I'm leaving the office a little early to tackle one of the more logistically challenging itineraries on the Brews & Choos Project. So I'm queueing up a few things to read over the weekend:

Finally, via Bruce Schneier, a report on Mexican food labeling laws, how manufacturers have gone to absurd lengths to skirt them, and how these fights are probably coming the US soon.

Temperature 26, dewpoint 22

I just got back from walking Cassie for about half an hour, and I'm a bit sticky. The dog days of summer in Chicago tend to have high dewpoints hanging out for weeks on end, making today pretty typical.

Our sprint ends Tuesday and I still have 3 points left on the board, so I may not have time to give these more than a cursory read:

Finally, Andrew Sullivan adapts a column he wrote in August 2001 asking, "why can't Americans take a vacation?" One reason, I believe: all the time and money we spend in and on our cars.

What could possibly go wrong?

In an effort to avoid liability for some things, Uber has decided to enter an entirely new area of potential liability:

Uber is rolling out a new safety feature Wednesday in Chicago and other markets that will allow drivers and riders to record audio during the trip to deter and resolve conflicts.

Once enabled, the safety feature will pop up on the app, giving both the driver and rider an option to hit the record button for all or part of the journey. The completed audio file is encrypted and stored on the user’s smartphone for seven days in the event that either party wants to submit an incident report to Uber.

The rollout was slated to go live in Chicago and remaining U.S. markets in phases beginning Wednesday. Uber users will get an email over the coming days to let them know the recording feature is available. Enabled through the app, riders and drivers will be able to activate the audio recording feature at any time during the trip. The recording will end automatically after the drive is completed.

To assuage privacy concerns, the audio files are encrypted, meaning neither the driver nor the rider can listen to them on their devices. The recording can be decrypted if a rider or driver submits the file as part of a safety report to Uber. As in “Mission: Impossible,” the audio file will self-destruct after seven days if no action is taken.

Whoo boy. Cue the subpoenas for completely unrelated lawsuits, both criminal and civil. And only seven days? That seems way too short to me, and will probably seem way too short to a court.

Plus, as the article reminds us, Illinois is a "two-party" state, meaning both parties to a conversation must consent to a recording of it—sometimes. It's a crime to "surreptitious[ly]" record someone without their consent, but not a crime to do it openly. Sometimes.

I understand why Uber wants to do this. But I also have opinions about Uber's lack of transparency and lack of commitment to adequate cyber security measures in the past. This will be interesting.

Auto-oriented development is a radical monopoly

Strong Towns summarizes an essay by Ivan Illich in which he explains how drivers, and not cars, are the product of the automobile industry. Cars, and car-focused infrastructure, create the problems that car ownership is supposed to solve in the first place:

[Illich] looks at the ratio of time invested to not just miles, but the utility we extract from that investment. If driving around for three hours allows me to travel 15 miles at 30–45 mph and accomplish three errands, Illich would focus less on the mileage and speed and more on the utility: should it really have cost me three hours (not to mention the gas) to accomplish these three errands, or is there a scenario in which I could have accomplished them in one half or one third of that time?

Auto-oriented thinking would focus on the mileage and speed: look at how much faster I can travel! Look at how far I can go! But if that mileage is mostly just a product of land use laws that spread destinations apart, then it’s a deceptive metric and one that traps cities into thinking that adding more car infrastructure is the only solution to any mobility-related challenges. This would be an example of what Illich calls a radical monopoly: a system in which a tool is presented as the solution to a problem that it causes in the first place. In our cities, cars are presented as the solution to sprawl, dangerous roads, and disconnected neighborhoods. But these design patterns exist because they are necessary to mandate the purchase and use of cars.

Real transit innovation would require setting different goals and setting out to solve real problems, not problems created to ensure the purchase of a machine. The goal for local transit systems shouldn't be to cover more speed at a faster distance. That’s suitable for traveling the world, not for running errands. When thinking about local transit systems, the goal should be to give people back their time and empower them to get more done in less of it.

In other words, if you need to own a car because everything you need is too far to walk, and also because your city hasn't got any other transit infrastructure, then car-oriented development patterns become self-reinforcing.

Illich does some other math:

The model American puts in 1600 hours to get 7500 miles: less than five miles per hour. In countries deprived of a transportation industry, people manage to do the same, walking wherever they want to go, and they allocate only 3 to 8 percent of their society's time budget to traffic instead of 28 percent. What distinguishes the traffic in rich countries from the traffic in poor countries is not more mileage per hour of lifetime for the majority, but more hours of compulsory consumption of high doses of energy, packaged and unequally distributed by the transportation industry.

Someday, probably sooner than most Americans think, we're going to have significantly less energy to expend on driving cars. Again, this is why I live in Chicago. And why I have very little sympathy for people who choose to live in Schaumburg.

Wait, it's August?

While I fight a slow laptop and its long build cycle (and how every UI change seems to require re-compiling), the first day of the last month of summer brought this to my inbox:

  • Who better to prosecute the XPOTUS than a guy who prosecuted other dictators and unsavory characters for the International Criminal Court? (In America, we don't go to The Hague; here, The Hague comes to you!)
  • After the evidence mounted that Hungary has issued hundreds of thousands of passports without adequate identity checks, the US has restricted Hungarian passport holders from the full benefits of ESTA that other Schengen-area citizens enjoy.
  • The US economy continues to exceed the expectations of people who have predicted a recession any day now. (Of course, every dead pool has a guaranteed winner eventually...)
  • After an unprecedented 31 consecutive days enduring temperatures over 43°C, Phoenix finally caught a break yesterday—when the temperature only hit 42°C.
  • Jake Meador explores why about 40 million fewer Americans go to church these days than in 1995.
  • Remember how we all thought Tesla made cars with amazing battery ranges? Turns out, Elon Musk can't do that right, either.
  • American car culture not only gives us unlivable environments, but also discourages the exploration that people in other countries (and I when I go there) do all the time.
  • We should all remember (and thank) USSR naval Captain Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov, who vetoed firing a nuclear-tipped torpedo at an American destroyer during the Cuban Missile Crisis 71 years ago.

Finally, Chicago historian John Schmidt tells the story of criminal mastermind Adam Worth, who may have been Arthur Conan Doyle's inspiration for Professor Moriarty.

Ravenswood platform opens after 12 years and 3 months

Would you just look at that:

Metra finally opened the inbound Ravenswood platform on the UP-N line after tearing down the previous permanent structure in July 2011.

For the first time since then, we commuters got a solid surface to walk on, shelter from the elements, and (for me, anyway) a 4-minute-shorter walk from Cassie's day care to the Leland Avenue stairwell at the far south end of the station.

They still haven't completely finished, however. The fully-enclosed waiting area with benches and heaters was locked this morning, and the ramp on the north side of Leland still had a plywood barrier. But boy howdy! We won't get rained/snowed/sunned on anymore!

I still want Bruce Rauner to stand on the "temporary" platform for 12 years so he understands what it felt like. Someday, when I'm running Purgatory...