The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Tropical heat in Chicago

I exaggerate.

But officially, at 8:51am this morning O'Hare reported a temperature above -7°C, finally ending our 12 days of frigid temperatures.

Parker got a real walk this morning, and he's about to get another one. And no boots! Most of the salt has been brushed away from the sidewalks.

Of course, it's supposed to snow later today. But it's also forecast to hit -1°C today and (gasp!) 8°C on Wednesday.

Anyway, I'm happy, and Parker appears to be, that walking outside does not immediately result in bits of our faces freezing off.

Good news and bad news about the weather

The good news: our cold snap is almost over. Temperatures will rise all day tomorrow and actually get above freezing tomorrow evening.

The bad news: We're about to tie a record for the longest period where the temperature stayed under -7°C in Chicago history:

Charles Mott, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Chicago, said it’s unlikely the temperature Saturday would get above -7°C, which would tie a record of 12 days of temperatures that haven’t gotten out of the teens. Many days the thermometer has registered only single digits and even below zero.The high Saturday at O’Hare was expected to be no more than -7°C degrees.

Christmas Day was the last time the mercury rose above 20 degrees, according to the weather service.

By staying so cold, Chicago will have tied the record of 12 days in a row of temperatures below -10°C degrees, which has happened only twice before since records have been kept, in 1936 and 1895.

Today it was at least warm enough to walk Parker for 15 minutes. But it's still not warm by any reasonable definition.

Zoning out

All the news yesterday and today has talked about Mike Wolff's new book, and how it puts into black-and-white terms what we already knew about the President. I'm reading a lot of it, and I've even pre-ordered David Frum's new book, coming out a week from Tuesday.

Fortunately, Chicago magazine published an article today about the origin of time zones in the United States, which is political but only in the nuts-and-bolts sense and not really in a partisan way. And Chicago has the story because, basically, Chicago invented time zones:

America was divided into its (mostly accepted) time zones in Chicago. Which makes sense. Chicago was and still is the biggest railroad town in the country, and the railroads were, in both the United States and Europe, the catalyst for the creation of time zones. In fact, there’s a historical argument that the challenges of scheduling trains inspired Albert Einstein’s development of the general theory of relativity...

Take this time and distance indicator from 1862: when it was noon in Philadelphia, it was 12:04 in New York, 12:06 in Albany, 12:16 in Boston, and 11:54 in Baltimore. Meanwhile, it was 11:10 in Chicago, 10:59 in St. Louis, and 11:18 in Indianapolis. Synchronizing relative time across cities might have inspired Einstein’s thought experiments, but it was a poor way to run a railroad.

In 1880 Britain officially adopted Greenwich Mean Time. The Canadian railway engineer Sandford Fleming and the astronomer and meteorologist Cleveland Abbe, chief scientist of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, began correspondence about a worldwide system of time zones, proving themselves persistent advocates of what Fleming called terrestrial time. Their work was presented at the Third International Geographical Congress in Venice in 1881, the General Conference of the European Geodetic Association in 1883, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1881 and 1882.

Such a system was politically messy, requiring the coordination of governments for which time zones had political symbolism. But the railroads had only the bottom line to consider.

And so, the standard time zone was born. And at this writing, according to the Time Zone Database (of which I am a contributor), there are only 494 of them.

Not as cold as yesterday

It turns out I'm still right about two things I said yesterday: First, yesterday did set the record in Chicago for the coldest January 1st on record when the temperature only managed to get up to -17°C. (The previous low-maximum record was -15°C set in 1969.)

Second, last night's overnight minimum temperature was a full half-degree C warmer than the overnight low on January 1st. So far, then, January 1st is still the coldest day of 2018.

That said, I did not enjoy my commute this morning.

Cold open

Just 3% of New Year's Days have been this cold in Chicago since we started keeping records in 1871. The normal temperature range for January 1st is -9°C to -1°C; right now it's -17°C, noticeably warmer than the overnight low of -23°C. That overnight temperature actually tied for the second-coldest January 1st on record. Only 1969 was colder. If the daytime temperature stays where it is, we'll set a new record for the coldest January 1st in history.

The forecast calls for warming temperatures next weekend, but with a string of -17°C–degree nights until then. It discourages me from leaving the house. Even Parker hasn't liked going outside the past two days, despite his boots and two fur coats.

The silver lining to this frozen cloud is that there is a real possibility that today will be the coldest day of 2018. Despite what people believe about Chicago, days below -18°C are pretty rare: even during the Polar Vortex of 2014 when we set the record for most days at that temperature, we only had 26 of them. And it's even less likely that we'll stay below freezing for the entire month of January; the record for that is 43 days, set from 28 December 1976 to 8 February 1977. We'd have to go through February 5th without getting above freezing to set a new record.

In other words, the probability of having any more days this winter dropping down to -23°C is pretty small.

At least, that's what I told myself when I walked Parker this morning.

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.