Monday, September 10, 2007

The Transit Crisis and Hyde Park

Damen Blue Line platform*

Next Sunday Chicago residents will experience a significant curtailment of one of the City's most fundamental services: transit. Six hundred CTA employees will be let go, 39 bus routes will be eliminated, with a loss of an anticipated 100,000 riders daily. Fares will increase from $0.50 to $1.00 depending on the service.

Hyde Park, for the most part, will be spared the direct impact of cuts in bus service routes. In contrast, several adjacent north-south express lines that had experienced very impressive growth between 2006 and 2007 will be cut:

X3 King Drive Express (growth of 1303.7% from 2006-2007)
X4 Cottage Grove Express (627.7%)
X55 Garfield Express (141.2%)
X28 Stony Island Express (104.3%)

Hyde Park's major bus connector to the Loop, the North Side, and Chicago in general, the X6 Jackson Park Express, will remain. Its ridership increased 7.2% between 06 and 07, the lowest increase of the lot. The key difference, and probably what saved it, is the fact that it has higher annual ridership than any of the others.

What's the upshot of all this for neighborhood politics?

The upshot is that it's all about transit, not parking. If Hyde PARKERS lose what transit service they have, they'll rue the day they worried about insufficient street parking. Congestion and tight parking are classic NIMBY issues because they focus on individual inconveniences, while sidestepping the broader social problem.

Parking is not the primary congestion issue in dense urban environments. Public transportation is the primary congestion issue in dense urban environments. If public transportation is removed from a major city, congestion will become infinitely worse. If public transportation is improved, congestion will be mitigated.

The reason Hyde Park will retain the X6 Jackson Park line probably has to do with its stable ridership, which in turn is guaranteed by the corridor of density along Hyde Park Boulevard between Lake Park and Lake Shore Drive. According to the classic study of ridership and density (Pushkarev and Zupan 1977 -- see Table 1), express bus routes typically require 15 households per acre.

Example of Transit Supportive Density

Think about how to fit at least that many households on one acre and you have an idea of the minimum build-out that Hyde Park and neighboring communities will require to keep this kind of bus service in an age of funding cutbacks. Some corridors -- like Hyde Park Boulevard and stretches of Lake Park -- already have this. But there's no way around this fact: if we want public transportation we have to accept high urban densities. The alternative to this publicly shared good is privately experienced inconvenience.

NIMBYs who block higher density developments -- well represented in Hyde Park by the Council of Neighborhood Pomposities familiar to readers of this blog -- are therefore directly undermining one of Chicago's greatest public assets, its public transportation system. Acting on the basis of claimed entitlements to private space and free parking, NIMBY obstruction makes it more expensive, more time consuming, and just more difficult for everyone else to get around the City of Chicago.

Be sure to think about that this winter when you're waiting -- and still waiting -- for the next bus.

*Photo from the amazing pool at CTA Tattler


Elizabeth Fama said...

You can park your car right in front of your house where my friend lives, in unincorporated Orland Park. And it's quiet at night. Silent as the grave. Come to think of it, a person who likes that sort of thing might describe it as bucolic. My city kids call it "terrifying."

curtsy said...

Wow. We only need to build more high-rise condos to Save CTA! I guess lobbying or organizing for more long-term funding for public transit would just be naive and foolish -- Build and the buses will come!

chicago pop said...

I'm sorry that crusty feels "lobbying or organizing for more long-term funding for public transit would just be naive and foolish," but to a large extent he is right that "build and the buses will come."

curtsy said...

C-Pip -- it IS a surprise that more people don't post here ...

chicago pop said...

Rusty Lock: Indeed -- as our little site tracker tells us that there are no lack of lurkers about! So, despite your occasional apologetics, you are to be praised for at least throwing in your 2 cents. --The CP of HP

SR said...

Most readers don’t comment on blogs much in general. Googling around, I found one guy who says he gets around 10 comments from 300-350 visitors a day, and another posting from one of the guys at the Freakonomics blog at the NYT saying they get around 50 comments per “many thousands” of readers a day. They solicited explanations from non-commenting readers here,, if you’re interested. A lot of the same reasons probably apply with your readers.

One way to get more comments would be to solicit them. Why not ask people why they’re reading this blog? I’m kind of curious myself. (Is there some kind of yuppie revolt in progress, for example, or just a lot of old Hyde Parkers like me enjoying the thrill of heresy this blog represents?)

chicago pop said...

SR: Thanks for the link and stats. I think both things apply (yuppie revolt and thrill of heresy). Plus an outlet for the middling set that doesn't think this wacko activist hangover in the neighborhood helps accomplish anything. I think it's the same reason that the same old folks go to all the community meetings, and so set the tone when they are not necessarily the majority.

A regular reader and friend who grew up here, with faculty in the family, thinks it's because the comments are moderated. He thinks if we opened it up everyone would pile in. The down side would be a huge spike in "nastiness". He thinks it might be worthwhile to do that just for the hell of it, to see the sparks fly. We might try that at some point.

curtsy said...

C-Pap -- "Apologetics"? Me?! Sorry, but I don't believe I belong to your Church.

pc said...

Actually, curtsy, your facetiousness has grounding in reality.

Vancouver increased its downtown population from 47,000 to 85,000 residents from 1991 to 2005. In 1992, 62% of people entering downtown did so in cars; 23% aboard transit. By 2004, only 39% of people entered downtown by car, with 30% arriving on transit.

The really astonishing growth, though, was in walking and cycling, which doubled from 15% to 30% of entries in just 14 years. What were eerily quiet streets are now bustling with commerce.

I might also mention that the world's one profitable subway is in Hong Kong -- and most of its profits come from real estate adjacent to the stations rather than from fares. (It also serves an urban area nearly ten times as dense as Chicago.)