New Year, New Routine

This year I will be commuting to work by plane. I hate flying and feel as though I am taking my life into my hands on every flight. There is only one flight in my whole life I can ever remember really enjoying, and that was the first one on a family trip down to Florida when I was sixteen and flying was still full of wonder (see Louis CK). But it is a necessity for this year as my family undergoes a work transition.

The fear and logistics involved in this commuting pattern actually bode well for my blogging. The flight is fairly short and while I will be able to read, I won’t be able to get much writing done without a sustained period of concentration and boredom. However, I will be looking to distract myself, as I am at this very moment, from the specter of the menacing landscape below. So, blogging.

Who Is John Galt?

Paul Krugman enthuses about trains.

Anyway, my experience is that of the three modes of mechanized transport I use, trains are by far the most liberating. Planes are awful: waiting to clear security, then having to sit with your electronics turned off during takeoff and landing, no place to go if you want to get up in any case. Cars — well, even aside from traffic jams (tell me how much freedom you experience waiting for an hour in line at the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel), the thing about cars is that you have to drive them, which kind of limits other stuff.

I would go further: driving cars is one of the biggest wastes of human experience, time, and potential that there is. I was reminded of this while stuck in DC-area traffic a week or so ago. I had forgotten how bad it is. The only good thing I can think to say about driving is that the less I do it, the more I enjoy it when I do. I used to commute between Ann Arbor and Chicago when I was in grad school (sometimes twice a week — just like William LeBaron Jenney), and I was often highly productive on the train, because it imposed a discipline by eliminating internet, phone, and other distractions, even while it offered the ability to get up and walk around, stretch, and get something to eat or drink. Even when I was not very productive, I was more effective and enjoyed the travel far more than I ever have by car.

Bruegmann Whopper Watch

Way back in the day when I was a distance running coach and aficionado who paid attention to such things, running journalist Scott Douglas started a project called the Galloway Whopper Watch which documented the excessive claims of marathon success made by former elite runner and now walk-run advocate Jeff Galloway. It sadly seems to have gone by the wayside but it was a useful exercise in collecting these extravagant and rather easily falsifiable assertions.

In my mind, the time has come to apply such an effort to the claims of Robert Bruegmann, professor of Art History, Architecture, and Urban Planning at the University of Illinois-Chicago. I have written about Bruegmann’s work before, specifically his work on sprawl. His work of more traditional architectural history, such as a book on Holabird and Roche, is far less objectionable (even useful) and less subject to comment on this blog.

The catalyst for this was his appearance on the Chicago Public Radio local affairs program Eight Forty-Eight yesterday. In it, Bruegmann responded to the typically boosteristic claims of Richard Florida that the economic crisis will aid cities and harm suburbs. However, he launched into his stump speech on suburbs from his work on Sprawl and asserted the following in the course of the interview (my transcription).
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The End of Sprawl

Rallying for stimulus, Obama spoke in Fort Myers today, liveblogged by…the White House.

[Obama] Makes a case for high-speed rail and mass tranit — says the days of sprawl are over. “Everyone recognizes that’s not a good way to design communities.”

I’d like to believe he means to do something about it. I’d also like to see the Amtrak funds cut from the Senate stimulus bill restored in conference to go with the Amtrak funding from last fall.

Review Essay: Railroads and Metropolitan Form

I was asked to write a review essay of four recent books related to the theme of transportation and urban form. My draft version is available on the sidebar. One important book I refer to is David Scobey’s Empire City, a terrific book on real estate in New York in the 19th century.

ANN DURKIN KEATING. Chicagoland: City and Suburbs in the Railroad Age. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.

JOHN HENRY HEPP IV. The Middle Class City: Transforming Space and Time in Philadelphia, 1876-1926. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.

HILARY BALLON. New York’s Pennsylvania Stations. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2002.

DAVID M. YOUNG. The Iron Horse and the Windy City: How Railroads Shaped Chicago. Dekalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 2005.

For more than a decade now, federal transportation policy and the efforts of numerous cities around the country have emphasized the importance of regionalism in their planning activities, dovetailing with practitioners’ and scholars’ emerging concerns with finding a new model for urban development and the organization of metropolitan space. The 1991 passage of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) codified and reinvigorated a regional approach to transportation, reversing a decade-long devolution of transportation planning. The legislation supported the work of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) in urban regions, allowing them to consider mass transit, among other modes of transportation, in addition to providing for private automobiles in allocating transportation resources. With the power to direct and use federal transportation funding, regionally-oriented politicians and planners were faced with the challenge of improving transportation systems that, for half a century, had provided almost exclusively for the automobile.


So after more than a year of thinking about it, I finally registered with I-GO and took a car out last weekend. I needed it to take out people and camera equipment for an architecture/photography class. In short, it was easy and enjoyable. Even when I realized I was going to be late bringing the car back, I was able to phone in for a 30 minute extension (since it wasn’t immediately reserved) and the problem was solved. Fortunately for me there are two cars a block from our apartment and another about 3 blocks. This is even easier than renting a car from the Budget place 2 blocks away. Seriously, you should think about car sharing.

Awesome. CTA on Google Maps

An improvement in convenience.

CTA riders can now use Google to plan their trips, under a partnership between the Internet search engine company and the CTA.

The service allows customers to enter the start and end points of their trips, and Google will offer ways to get there by bus and train. The transit agency hopes the function will attract more riders.

“Having CTA service information on the universally familiar Google Web site allows CTA to reach a broader audience and introduce them to the convenience of transit at no cost to the agency,” CTA President Ron Huberman said at a news conference.

Whenever we went somewhere new, we had to Google map it and try to figure out where the nearby stations were and best route from there. My tests indicate this will be much easier.

Lance Armstrong is Awesome

He’s opening a bike shop in Austin and advocating for bike lanes and bike stations.

It’s not about the bike sales.

That from Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong, who plans in May to open a bike shop, commuting center, training facility and cafe in a 1950s-era building at the northwest corner of Fourth and Nueces streets.

“This city is exploding downtown. Are all these people in high rises going to drive everywhere? We have to promote (bike) commuting,” Armstrong said Wednesday, gazing up at the towering 360 condos rising next to the site of his new shop. “This can be a hub for that.”

Mellow Johnny’s, named for the nickname Armstrong earned while wearing the Tour de France leader’s “maillot jaune,” or yellow jersey, will be housed in a yellow- and red-brick building next to the music venue La Zona Rosa. It is a block north of the Lance Armstrong Bikeway, a path that will cut east-west through downtown Austin.

Armstrong said he’d like to see Austin evolve into a place like Portland, Ore., where biking is part of the culture and people pedal to work, to restaurants and to run errands. “Walk outside, and the streets are lined with bikes — because they have a safe place to ride,” Armstrong said of the city long known for its bicycle-friendly amenities and policies.

Doomsday 3

Round three in the CTA funding crisis is upon us. Sunday, January 20th, CTA cuts 80+ bus lines and raises fares all over the system unless there’s a funding fix. Round 1 was in September, when the state gave the transit authority on its 07-08 budget year. Round 2 was November, when the state allocated federal grants to CTA. Now…there may be a solution.

Downstate politicians didn’t want to accept a tax increase that would benefit the Chicago region but not the downstaters (they were holding out for public works of their own); the governor wanted to make up the funds by closing corporate loopholes and put CTA as a lower priority than a health care plan.

What’s the fix? An increase in the citywide real estate transfer tax and a bump up in the sales tax within the Chicago 7-county region. Passed by the legislature, the agreement got an amendatory veto from Governor Blagojevich, who gave senior citizens free rides. This looked like it was going to hold things up (the AV has to go back before the legislature), but opposition is falling back into line. Seniors currently pay $.85 to $1.00 fares; losing their fees may mean that the CTA will have to raise fares next year anyway once they see how much of an effect it will have. Great.

I hope this gets approved though I’d rather see a modest fare cut (or freeze) or means testing for the fare cut. It’s something of a pandering move that doesn’t make fiscal sense. But the whole situation was insane.

The map above shows what bus routes would have been cut. I’m personally fortunate that I only need to take buses on extremely rare occasions — some people’s lives depend on the bus system.

UPDATE: The AV passed the house and faces the senate.