The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Link round-up

Today is the last work day of 2017, and also the last day of my team's current sprint. So I'm trying to chase down requirements and draft stories before I lose everyone for the weekend. These articles will just have to wait:

We now return to "working through lunch," starring The Daily Parker...

 

Paying taxes will be less fun in Illinois next year

Due to a combination of city, county, regional, state, and federal policies, just about every tax and fee I pay is going up next year. My initial math suggests my Federal taxes will remain almost exactly the same, thanks to the increased individual exemption that covers my itemized deductions only because I'm renting out the flats I own. But my state taxes went up in July by 67%, my property taxes (on those flats) are going up, and even my gas bill is going up.

The Tribune explains how I'm not alone:

[T]he average property tax increase for the owner of a $250,000 home will be an estimated $97. Owners of a home worth $500,000 can expect a $369 tax hike. That’s because the larger homeowners’ exemption shifts the burden of paying property taxes to higher-priced homes and commercial properties.

  • Other tax and fee hikes start sooner. The CTA fare increase of 25 cents per bus and “L” ride goes into effect Jan. 7, raising the price of those rides to $2.25 and $2.50, respectively. For people commuting to and from work 50 weeks a year, that’s $125 more out of their pockets. The cost of a 30-day pass will go up by $5, to $105. Those increases will help fill a hole left by state public transportation funding cuts, CTA officials have said.
  • In February, Metra is boosting fares for one-way tickets by 25 cents. The cost of 10-ride tickets is going up by $4.25, to $7.75. Monthly passes will increase by $9 to $12.50, depending on the length of the trip. The price of $8 weekend passes will rise to $10.
  • Taking an Uber or Lyft in Chicago will cost more too. The start of the year brings a 15-cent increase to the 52 cents already charged for ride-sharing trips. The Emanuel administration expects to collect $16 million for CTA projects.
  • Also taking effect with the new year are higher fees charged to every cell and landline phone billed to a city address. Those fees are going up by $1.10 a month, to $5. The cost to a family with three phone lines is an extra $39.60 a year. The money will be used for emergency services costs and technology upgrades, freeing up about $30 million in general city funds for the city to spend as it sees fit.

Also going up: the city entertainment tax, city vehicle licenses, park and forest-preserve district taxes...the list goes on. It costs a lot to run a city the size of Chicago, and the Federal government under the Republican party is hosing us good. Subsidizing Mississippi and Alabama annoys me, especially when the people I'm subsidizing revere other people who tried to leave the United States so they could preserve human slavery.

A lot of people feel the way I do. My vote won't do much, because I live in a bright-blue state with Democratic representation in both the House and Senate; but in Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania—states that went to Trump by the narrowest of margins—other people are going to be pissed off. The next election is in 313 days. Let's see how it goes.

Divvy income falls as rides and service area increase

Chicago's take of Divvy bike-share income was 31% lower in 2016 than in 2014 and 2015 as the city expanded the program into the South and West sides:

Divvy income fell from $2.86 million in 2014 and $2.84 million in 2015 to $1.97 million in 2016, a 31 percent drop, according to the city Department of Transportation figures. The city said it is improving its outreach to get more people to try Divvy and expects its income for the program to be about as high this year as in 2015.

Transportation officials said the expansion to black and Latino neighborhoods on the South and West sides was an attempt to increase diversity in a program that was launched four years ago in mainly white, affluent neighborhoods. But the South and West sides pose challenges to Divvy because they tend to be less affluent and have more impediments to biking, such as fewer bike lanes, cycling advocates say.

The city makes the bulk of its Divvy income from station advertising and Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s sponsorship. In three of the past four years, it lost money on bike rental operations. After a small profit of $45,859 on 2015 operations, it lost $752,011 on operations in 2016 — its share of a total operational loss of $1,756,420 shared with Motivate and the biggest loss in the program’s history.

The differences between neighborhoods are stark. In the low-income West Side neighborhood of Austin, for example, there are 14 Divvy stations that saw a total of 1,339 trips from July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2017. Affluent lake-bordering Lincoln Park, by contrast, has 36 stations that saw 452,727 trips during that time period.

The DePaul study said high unemployment rates reduce ridership because the system’s main function is to serve work commuters. It also noted that areas with more kids and seniors also see less Divvy ridership. Divvy is not for children under age 16.

The program remains exceptionally popular near me. One of my friends, who lives near Wrigley field, has taken almost 365 Divvy rides this year. But as the you get farther from the Loop, the bike share looks less attractive. (Ever try to ride one of those behemoths 15 kilometers in less than 30 minutes?)

I'm glad the city and Federal government are subsidizing the program as a mass-transit program. Mayor Rahm Emanuel famously said that "Divvy is a bigger threat to cabs than Uber," and he's probably not wrong (depending on how you measure things).

No more daily PE in Illinois

For my entire school life, from Kindergarten to 12th grade, I had daily gym class. In 1957, Illinois became the first state to require all kids to have daily PE. This was the case until this school year:

The law cuts daily PE to a minimum of three days per week and, starting in seventh grade, students involved in interscholastic or extracurricular athletic programs could skip PE. Those moves and more were touted as a way to save money, but some fear the changes will push PE to the back burner of the curriculum lineup, even as physical education has been supported by public officials, including former first lady Michelle Obama, as a way to combat childhood obesity.

In the Illinois Report Card data released each year, the Illinois State Board of Education notes that 60 minutes of physical activity per day can improve academics and prevent childhood obesity, diabetes and heart disease. “For students of all ages, physical education provides opportunities to learn motor skills, develop fitness, build team skills, strengthen problem solving abilities, and learn about healthy lifestyles,” ISBE said.

In fact, there has been confusion in various districts about aspects of the new law and whether districts are pursuing waivers correctly.

This fall, Champaign Community Unit School District 4 was moving to get a new five-year waiver to allow ninth- and 10th-graders to skip PE during the time they were involved in an interscholastic sport.

The waiver was withdrawn because it was no longer necessary based on a new provision in the PE law: Now, seventh- through 12th-graders may be excused from PE if they participate in interscholastic or extracurricular athletic programs. The law previously allowed only high school juniors and seniors to be excused under those circumstances.

Meanwhile, administrators in several high school districts told the Tribune they don’t plan to reduce their usual five days of PE, in part because of the complicated scheduling of high school classes as well as the potential difficulties of eliminating full-time PE teachers.

It seems like this change to the law wasn't well thought-out, wasn't well publicized, and wasn't particularly effective. Welcome to Illinois. I'm going to try to find out how my state rep and senator voted on this thing.

Holidays, weather, and Fitbit numbers

Yesterday I spent almost the whole day cooking and eating, while outside the temperature barely got above -10°C. So despite averaging better than 15,000 steps for the entire week preceding, I only managed 7,292 steps yesterday, my 3rd poorest showing of 2017.

The problem is, when I'm working from home, I get most of my steps by taking Parker on long walks. Below about -10°C, even his two thick fur coats aren't enough to keep him warm for more than 10-15 minutes, tops. And below -18°C, forget it; even with boots, his paws get dangerously cold in just a couple of minutes.

The forecast for the rest of the week, unfortunately, calls for brutally cold temperatures every day. Parker and I just got back from his (5-minute) morning walk with -19°C showing on the thermometer. My goal today is just to get above 5,000 steps, which may involve a lot of pacing in my apartment.

That said, thanks to the long weekend and no other responsibilities, I'm actually getting enough sleep. So I have lots more focus and energy. I just can't walk it off very easily.

We're Number...Six?

The Census Bureau released new estimates today that show Illinois has slipped below Pennsylvania, and is now the 6th most populous state. Says Crains' Greg Hinz:

The bureau had no breakdown on what's responsible for the decrease. But recent political infighting likely didn't help, and the state's job growth has been half or less of the nation's in recent years. Also, the state is believed to be attracting far fewer immigrants than in the 1990s and 2000s, something that boosted the state's population then.

Illinois had surpassed Pennsylvania a couple of decades ago, but never was more than 200,000 or so ahead.

Some initial reaction from Democratic gubernatorial hopeful J.B. Pritzker, in a statement: "Just as Bruce Rauner finally admits that he purposefully created a crisis to ram through his special interest agenda, the U.S. Census Bureau confirmed that his damage is done. Rauner's damage drove Illinoisans out of this state, losing talent and wasting opportunities when we needed them most. This failed governor's only accomplishment is decimating our economy and forcing thousands to look for stability elsewhere."

Well, yes, Bruce Rauner may have contributed. But we're stuck with him for another year, so he may not be done hurting us.

Blah day

I'm under the weather today, probably owing to the two Messiah performances this weekend and all of Parker's troubles. So even though I'm taking it easy, I still have a queue of things to read:

I will now...nap.

Lots going on

Yesterday started with a performance on local television and ended with a three-hour rehearsal and midnight showing of Star Wars. I'd already planned to go into work late today, but Parker didn't eat dinner last night and he refused breakfast this morning, so I'm waiting to see if I can get him to the vet.

With that and other things up for grabs today, plus two more performances this weekend, posting might suffer a bit.

The sad history of the Uptown Theater

Chicago's largest auditorium north of the Loop needs saving soon, or it might be lost forever:

At the intersection of Lawrence, Racine and Broadway in Uptown, the massive, once-grand Uptown Theatre, a shuttered movie palace that has awaited restoration for nearly 40 years, is slowly deteriorating. Its reopening—an expensive proposition that would require public and private funds—is key to the neighborhood's vitality and could make it a premier destination for live entertainment.

Preservationists say that because of its decrepitude, something needs to happen fast to save the theater from permanent ruin. "If this isn't resolved soon, this building will continue to deteriorate," says Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago.

A reopened Uptown would, at 4,500 seats, have the largest theater capacity north of downtown (the Auditorium in the Loop has nearly 4,000). Mark Kelly, commissioner of the city's Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events, shares Emanuel's vision that the Uptown would solidify the intersection of Lawrence, Racine and Broadway as a destination for live entertainment. "What would be most desirable is we get a mix of these awesome performance venues at a very high level to accommodate a lot of people," Kelly says. "Then it's a real entertainment district."

The neglect dates to the 1970s, when the Uptown was used primarily for closed-circuit boxing matches and rock concerts by acts including the Grateful Dead and Bruce Springsteen. Accelerating its demise was co-owner Lou Wolf, a notorious Chicago slumlord and felon who purchased the theater in 1980 and shuttered it the following year. Unoccupied and uncared for for more than three decades, the building suffered water damage after the heat was turned off. In 2014, 6 inches of ice covered the grand stairway and 4 feet of water rose in the basement. Broken windows, animal infestation, vandalism and plaster-killing summer humidity followed, along with hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid property taxes.

Fortunately, the city designated a landmark district in 2016 that includes the Uptown, but that only means it can't be demolished. But it still needs maintenance, desperately. I hope someone steps up. I'm looking at you, Rahmbo.