Teaching an Old 'L' New Tricks

Should we be expanding a flawed system?

By Matt Bartosik
|  Friday, Aug 14, 2009  |  Updated 9:37 AM CDT
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Teaching an Old 'L' New Tricks

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The CTA has approved extensions of the Red, Orange, and Yellow Lines. But shouldn't we focus on old projects rather than new ones?

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On Wednesday, the CTA Board approved proposals to extend the Red Line to 130th Street, the Orange Line to Ford City Mall, and the Yellow Line to Old Orchard Mall in Skokie. CTA Chairwoman Carole Brown has said that if everything goes according to plan, the projects will be ready by—you guessed it—the possible 2016 Chicago Summer Olympics.

So let's get this straight, while the rest of our system suffers through slow downs and cut service, the CTA has the gall to extend the misery further into the 'burbs?

Admittedly I was impressed to see the Brown Line stations renovated. But that was one success in a sea of missteps.

Let's recap the some of the more egregious misses:

• The Blue Line has been under heavy reconstruction for the past couple of years, causing many O'Hare travelers to miss their flights.

• The CTA, due to lack of funding, has recently threatened to cut lines, lay off employees and raise fares.

• Several 'L' stations have only one (occasionally functional) heat lamp, a ridiculous notion in a city known for its cold snaps.

• As of May, 56 'L' stations aren't handicapped-accessible. Only four of the 10 elevated stations in and around the Loop, the city's busiest transit area, are equipped with elevators.

• And don't get me started on the giant hole in the ground (Block 37) and missing train station (Red Line-Washington) that cost us $213 million.

But of course, part of the problem is the financial system itself.

"The Federal Department of Transportation sets aside specific money for major new start projects rather than renovations or maintenance ones," said self-described transportation geek John Gatiss, "so if you're a city like Chicago with a mature, aging transit system, if you want to compete for any portion of that 'new start' money, then you have to plan to expand your system."

Many city residents, however, are frustrated to hear about transit projects that are suburb-oriented when there are so many in-city transportation issues. They have no use for a long list of possible extensions to places like Schaumburg, Old Orchard, Lombard, etc.

That's not to say that they never go to these places, but if they ever did, they wouldn't do it by 'L' train. Especially considering it takes over an hour just to get from the Loop to O'Hare.

Take Metra if you need to leave the city.

I fully empathize with those South Side residents that currently live in a "transportation desert." I'm not against new projects; I'm proud of the impressive transit system Chicago has and would like to see it expand.

But I would rather see a smaller, excellent system than a broadly-expanded, half-a**ed one.

Matt Bartosik, a "between blogs" blogger, lives, works, and plays in the city.

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