Monday, June 2, 2008

Developing Harper Court: What Evanston Can Teach Hyde Park

posted by chicago pop


Optima Towers, 1580 Sherman Avenue, and Borders Location
13-story, 105 Units, Mixed-Use. Completed 2002.

This blog began with a bit of overheard conversation, so it seems appropriate to continue the tradition.

Back in the day, nearly a decade ago, I was living in a flat in Hyde Park's doppelganger neighborhood -- Rogers Park -- and working up in Evanston. Across the hall was a colleague who was doing the same.
We both confronted Evanston just moments before it began its transformation. "It's a nice town, but it's just kind of boring," said my neighbor, shortly before moving to Wicker Park.

No more.

As most people know, Evanston has reinvented itself. The interesting thing is that what happened in Evanston could happen in Hyde Park.

Now that the Harper Court parcel is finally up for redevelopment, there is potential to develop these assets in a way that helps reverse decades of relative decline in Hyde Park's struggling commercial district. Just like what happened in Evanston.

As of 2005, the benefits of Evanston's approach were measurable. Downtown Evanston has increased the total number of retailers in its central district by 27% since 1997, boosted total retail sales by 11.2% between 2000 and 2003, has added to the housing stock while keeping its parking requirements lower than surrounding suburbs.

As a result of increased business activity, Evanston has been able to lower its taxes to levels not seen since 1971. Though similar values would not accrue directly to Hyde Park, they are indicative of the improved health of the local economy, some portion of which would be captured by the 53rd Street TIF, and, when this expires, by the local school districts.

Sherman Plaza
25 stories, 253 Units, 1,600 Car Parking Garage, Mixed Use, Completed 2006


Evanston as Example of Smart Growth

The Evanston build-out is considered by progressive urban planners, such as those who prepared the EPA report from which much of the data below is taken,* to be a model of successful smart-growth, transit-oriented development (TOD). It is now a case-study used to demonstrate a few things about how to redevelop urban centers around a commercial district well-served by transit -- exactly the situation that describes Hyde Park's Harper Court and east 53rd Street.
  1. It is possible to add density to a district without significantly increasing traffic congestion. This is possible when:
  2. Full advantage is taken of existing transit infrastructure by placing density within walking distance of transit stations, or using innovative transportation solutions to link to transit from further away.
  3. Entertainment and a 24/7 district are the anchors of "downtown" redevelopment.
  4. A successful project will be market-driven and demonstrate close cooperation between multiple actors -- municipal authorities, citizen's groups, master developers, Federal and State funding and regulatory agencies, and merchants. And perhaps most importantly:
  5. There is a market for walkable, high-density urban environments. The long-term trends are shifting towards this type of real estate, despite the current market downturn.**
By 2005, many of the goals of Evanston's nearly two-decades old planning process had been achieved. They included the addition of 2,500 new housing units, 2.5 million square feet of new office space, the addition of a 175 room Hilton Hotel, construction of Evanston's first high rise in 20 years, the building of a new 1,400 space parking garage, and -- at the center of it all -- a new multimodal transportation center at Davis Street, which facilitates 1,477 weekday transfers between CTA, Metra, and Pace riders, and is used by over 1,000,000 transit riders annually.

Davis Street Station
Federally Funded and Completed in 1994
Source: http://www.chicago-l.org/stations/davis.html

Evanston, a fairly affluent inner-ring suburb, nonetheless had to deal with a dying commercial core and rising taxes well into the 1990s. It was able to revive its downtown and improve its financial standing by leveraging its urban assets -- multi-modal transit access, a safe and vibrant 24 hour district supported by high residential density -- to effectively compete with low-density, low-tax suburban municipalities.


Evanston as A Model for Hyde Park: Parallels and Limits

There are a few very large differences between Hyde Park and Evanston that should be noted at the outset. Hyde Park is not a municipality with the power to collect taxes, issue bonds, and fund major public goods like the new Evanston Public Library. And unlike Evanston, Hyde Park is not a gateway to a string of wealthy northern suburbs, but is surrounded by considerably poorer neighborhoods.

But there are real parallels that make it worthwhile to look closely at how Evanston was able to turn itself around, and ask if the same strategies could be replicated in Hyde Park. The parallels can be grouped into the categories of disadvantages and advantages.

Like Evanston, Hyde Park proper has relatively few large lots open for development. This offers a strong incentive to develop for density, to build up where it is difficult to build out. Like Evanston, Hyde Park is moderately isolated from major expressways and airports (unlike certain suburban localities), has suffered from population loss and stagnation, and has experienced severe erosion of its commercial center.

On the positive side, both communities are attractively situated on the shore of Lake Michigan, which has historically been a zone of higher-density development. Both lie at comparable distances from downtown Chicago (Hyde Park is 2 miles closer). Both communities are known for their diversity, though Hyde Park is considerably smaller (Evanston has 74,000 residents to Hyde Park's roughly 50,000). Both communities are well served by north-south heavy rail lines. Although Hyde Park has no CTA rail link within its borders, it does have several heavily used bus routes, and more convenient access to Lake Shore Drive.

Evanston and Hyde Park, of course, both host major private universities, both of which play large supporting roles in the local economies, and both neighborhoods are known for their charming architecture, walkable layout, and notable historic districts.

Finally, although Hyde Park is a city neighborhood and not a revenue-gathering municipality, it is conceivable that the revenue-gathering 53rd Street TIF District, at the direction of a focused and determined 4th Ward alderman, and with the active support and foresight of Chicago planning agencies, could help spark, finance, and manage the multiple partnerships that any significant development centered on Harper Court will require.

Century Theater Complex, 1715 Maple Avenue, with Adjacent Parking Garage


Making Room for the Market, Nudging Smart Growth

Planning for Evanston's downtown renaissance spanned two decades. It drew upon multiple funding sources, and required consistent leadership and community commitment over time. It required accommodation to some conventional market realities, such as the construction of a large and subsidized parking garage for out-of-town visitors, and the use of subsidies to encourage emerging market trends, such as the preference for walkable living environments with easy access to public transportation.

All of this could stand as a model for the redevelopment of Hyde Park's Harper Court.

Further, the example of Evanston should immediately put to rest an either-or vision of development in Hyde Park that argues for either absolute community or absolute market control of what goes on. As for the market, it must certainly "lead" as it did in Evanston and the evolution of the eventual retail and service mix.

But markets are most effective when the goods, services, and instruments of exchange have all been standardized, and investors know exactly what they are getting. The real estate market, for example, knows very well how to finance and build suburban shopping malls and suburban subdivisions. It has much less familiarity with inner-city, mixed-used, transit-oriented projects, and therefore needs encouragement.

On the other side of the either-or, the fear that the University will control development for its own purposes should also be put to rest. The days of Urban Renewal and large Federal block grants administered by the University are gone. The University itself does not have the expertise to pull off urban mixed-use development that is transit oriented, although it is an essential player. Likewise, the "community" alone, however represented, will need to compromise and work together with market-driven actors who need to make a profit.

In urban redevelopment, partnerships are the name of the game. No one actor can go it alone. That means making yourself attractive to at least some developers. We'll see if, given the conspiratorial world-view of many more vocal old timers, this is something that can happen in Hyde Park.


*See Cali Gorewitz and Gloria Ohland, Communicating the Benefits of TOD: The City of Evanston's Transit Oriented Redevelopment and the Hudson-Bergen Light-Rail Transit System [pdf]
**See survey of relevant market research in Christopher B. Leinberger, The Option of Urbanism: Investing in a New American Dream, Chapter 5.

35 comments:

Zig & Lou said...

Chicago Pop, well done. A thoughtful, solution based post.

Let the nay-saying begin...

Oh, and the Z&H ceiling installation has begun. Progress, sweet, sweet progress.

Elizabeth Fama said...

Side note: my friend Paula pointed out to me that the revitalization of Evanston has had it's own share of community activism.

Ben said...

I read a story about the Fountain Square development in the Trubune a few months ago. I thought is was funny when someone made the comment that the Evanson NIMBY's would never let it be built. To this, someone responded that it would be built because the Evanston NIMBY's didn't even compare to the obstructionists in Hyde Park or Oak Park. Hilarious!

chicago pop said...

Thanks to Beth and Ben for highlighting the Evanston version of our favorite HPP whipping boy, the Hyde Park NIMBY. I thought about tackling the issue in this post, but it was already too long. Now that we've set the stage, maybe in future we can deal with how the "community" responds to some of these development issues.

Passing thought: HP in some ways resembles more these old inner suburbs like Evanston and Oak Park more than other Chicago neighborhoods, and maybe even behaves more like the former than the latter.

Might be because HP was originally a suburb too.

LPB said...

There was an interesting note on the EvanstonNow site that Beth pointed out -- The Center for Neighborhood Technologies poses that the transit-oriented development and density in Evanston has actually led to more affordable housing up there.

See it here: http://www.evanstonnow.com/business/bill-smith/story/2008/06/02/housing-density-makes-evanston-affordable

Now, for some of the folks in Hyde Park who have been making the argument that Hyde Park needs more afforable housing -- not the million-dollar condos rumored to be proposed for the St. Stephens site -- density seems to be the way to achieve their goal. However, I don't recall ever hearing any of them agitate for density and TOD.

Hmmmm.

HistPresD said...

I enjoyed looking at the community activisim link that elizabeth posted. For once it seemed like a great thing to be a Hyde Parker.

I am a recent grad from an urban planning program (MUPP-UIC), and we all pretty much like high density projects, especially if they are located near mass transit.

I do not understand how people do not get that there is a link between high density and stores where people want to shop.

Zig & Lou said...

On the topic of mass transportation. It seems that HP generally does not treat the METRA the way Evanstonians treat the 'el'. The 'el' runs through Evanston like a main artery, whereas, the 'el' just grazes the edge of our extended community; and the METRA is often an after-thought (an example being that the 47th Street METRA platform is a flag stop, with low ridership throughout the day, even as it is a bus interchange).

chicago pop said...

The link between TOD and affordability that exists in Evanston is fortunate, though my sense is that the jury is still out as to whether, in the short term, new TOD, involving new construction, promotes affordability. Not only does it tend to be expensive (because it is new), but because of its desirability/walkability, it tends to get priced up.

But, in older contexts like Evanston, HP, or Oak Park, where you have a rich and varied stock of existing, older housing, it's entirely possible to put in new TOD without necessarily pushing out the lower end of the housing market.

But I agree that all these sorts of reckonings don't seem to be going on in Hyde Park as all these projects come into play. Witness the habitual obsession with parking, parking parking.

chicago pop said...

Z&L: True Evanston does have a little more rail infrastructure than HP proper; although taken as a whole, it's mostly on the east side, skewing accessibility to the lakefront (typical for Chicago).

TOD at Harper Court or 57th would probably have to rely on working with Metra, which fortunately is in (somewhat) better shape financially than the CTA and much better shape physically. The EPA report cited in the post gives some detail as to service improvements, like making it easier to transfer from bus/El to Metra at Davis, noticeably boosted ridership.

Something similar might be workable at 53rd and maybe even 47th, assuming the transit system doesn't implode before then.

Zig & Lou said...

Very nice. In my imaginary world I would like to see a sort-of hub and spoke bus shuttle (this is of course after we have some businesses in place to support my crazy plan) service from the METRA stations running west down 47th, 53rd, and 57th, that could transport visitors (who are also potential customers) to shopping areas (OK, and cultural stuff as well) that are currently 'off the beaten path'. With the planning that is going on around the retail development on Cottage Grove (39th-51st) a shuttle service would be a boon to businesses. (yes, I know timing, timing, timing). In my grand scheme, eventually a shopping loop shuttle service..."dreams, you're talking about dreams..."

Tupper said...

Chicago Pop, run for Alderman already. You guys at this blog really have the right vision & ideas for this community.

ayeff said...

Zig & Lou: I strongly agree that HP does not treat the Metra like the L (I don't know how Evanston treats the L, but I know how the rest of Chicago does). I think it is because there is a psychological barrier to taking a commuter rail with a schedule and that runs very infrequently during off-peak. If you're not from HP, you won't think to take the Metra because it is an unknown quantity. Even among HP residents, unless one rides it regularly, one may be unlikely even to remember it's there or consider it as a viable means of travel.

Also, buses just don't cut it, in my view. Their schedules are sometimes just as erratic as the Metra. I lived in NY before Chicago and it almost never occurred to me to take a bus. But it also never occurred to me to take the Long Island Railroad within the city, even though it had stations just like the Metra. You can always count on the L (like the subway) to arrive within a reasonable time and run during most hours of the day.

I think Hyde Park needs an L (there's no other way--improving Metra connections only gets you so far). There is a proposal to convert the Metra line into an L line--it's called the Gray Line. I have no doubt that converting the Metra to an L line would result in many taking the L to go downtown instead of riding buses such as the #6 (so some of the expense would be balanced by savings on running buses). And given that most of the infrastructure is already in place, the change would cost a fraction of what a new L line would cost. I think it would make a huge difference in terms of HP feeling connected to and accessible to the city.

Otto said...

Older contexts, yes, difficult.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Epev3esCykM

Stephen said...

I'm not sure I agree Evanston as a whole has better rail service. True, the city center has good rail service, but Evanston is much larger than HP and some areas are poorly accessible. As to HP, the Green Line may not be within the neighborhood proper, but it is so close as to make that distinction immaterial (it still boggles my mind why the Green Line service all the way to Dorchester was demolished).

Having lived in Lincoln Park prior to moving to HP, the perception by everyone I talked with was that HP was equivalent to living in Indiana. When I told my Andersonville friends HP was in fact slightly closer to downtown than Andersonville, they were shocked. The problem with attracting people from the North Side seems to be people (1) really don't view the Metra as a way of traveling within Chicago; (2) view the South Side of Chicago as a place to go when you want to watch a Sox game; and (3) are generally ignorant of using the bus system unless the bus in question services their neighborhood.

And, of course, there are few incentives in HP right now to bring people from outside the neighborhood here (except MSI). That goes for people living on the North or South sides. Which is, after all, what this blog is all about (unless I'm mistaken).

Finally, I must confess it makes me uneasy when people talk about HP as a former "suburb" of Chicago. Well, so was much of the city of Chicago, including Lincoln Park, Roger's Park, etc. www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/3716.html. It seems to me many of the NIMBY's still operate under the belief that HP is somehow still just a "suburb" that got swallowed up. The fact of annexation is really immaterial, as many communities that were former "suburbs" thrive as Chicago neighborhoods. Thinking needs to shift from viewing HP as a suburb, to HP as a neighborhood. Chicago is our city after all, not HP. It is great to love our neighborhood and want it to thrive (and GROW), but not in isolation of our city.

My overall point is that while it is good to look to Evanston, I think it is much more appropriate to look at other Chicago neighborhoods to determine how best to grow and thrive. Perhaps we should look at Andersonville, Bucktown, Lincoln Square, etc. too.

chicago pop said...

ayeff: Regarding buses, why don't they cut it? Just anecdotally, I know people in NYC who would never take the train because they take cabs all the time. You took the train but would never take the bus. What's the difference?

There are class issues and perceptions involved in all of this -- i.e. the unspoken sense that buses are for poor people -- but in reality, buses do most of the work in America's largest cities and shouldn't be discounted, even for the high-value shoppers that Z&L wants.

A few facts:

So far in 2008, CTA ridership is up 3.2% overall, the biggest growth being on bus service (4.5%), with rail seeing a 1.2% increase.

Similarly, in 2007, not only did the CTA's bus system provide more rides -- 309.3 to 190.2 -- than did rail, but the CTA's buses marked their highest boarding levels since 1994.

Even more impressive, according to the CTA itself, was the 2007 growth in discretionary ridership (weekends and holidays -- what we want for Hyde Park). This is before the more recent 2008 fuel price increases:

Weekend ridership showed the strongest rate of growth throughout the year. Saturday ridership in 2007 increased by 1.1 percent over last year and Sunday/Holiday ridership increased by 1.9 percent.

So back to my point: whatever happens at Harper Court and environs should begin not by discounting options for accessibility. All the transit agencies will need to be a part of the package, and then some innovative solutions like more I-Go stations, private shuttles, you name it.

A new rail line would be great, don't get me wrong, and with a new president and the possibility of a major new climate change bill passing both Houses of Congress after 2008, there is a real possibility that the Federal funding needed for this kind of thing might materialize before more of the CTA's junk cars blow up or derail more than they already are. Who knows, maybe Metra could run some late night or weekend express trains to 51-53 if the market was there?

chicago pop said...

Stephen: don't get me wrong, as I mentioned a few comments up, Evanston's rail is skewed to the Lake, as you observe, and much of the city is low-density and not walkable to rail transit. The Green Line, however, is not in Hyde Park, and a lot of people won't consider using it. I know people who do, but they aren't thronging crowds. Put in some reassuring developments along 47th, figure out a way to get rid of the dead bodies that show up occasionally in trash cans in Washington Park, and the masses might take more of a shine to the westward link to the Green Line.

You raise a fair question as to whether Evanston is as useful a comparison as a Chicago city neighborhood. I certainly don't make the case that we should think of Hyde Park as a suburb, and I've slammed the lines of "suburban" thinking that manifest in the desire for easy street parking and phobias about density. We're in a Big City.

The comparison with Evanston, and the reference to the historical origins of HP as a suburb (the first, and much earlier than other annexed neighborhoods on the North Side) are based on what I've tried to suggest are some persistent structural similarities -- didn't even mention the number of people who live and work in the same neighborhood (in th 40-50% range in both cases), and the extensive, solid, pre-WWII commercial districts that give HP a stronger sense of having a commercial "downtown" than many other neighborhoods.

So I agree, we're not a suburb. But we do have some of the bones of one -- in a good way, the pre-WWII kind of way -- and that makes a comparison with a nearby and similarly situated suburb worthwhile.

bornatreese said...

Evanston has low taxes? What is your source for that statement? Also, in comparing Evanston and Hyde Park, please do not minimize the relative spending power of Evanston's neighbors and Hyde Park's neighbors.

chicago pop said...

bornatrese:

I think you misunderstood my comment on taxes. Evanston was able to lower its taxes as a result of its development success. I did not say it has low taxes.

You also ask:
please do not minimize the relative spending power of Evanston's neighbors and Hyde Park's neighbors.

The assumption here is that the relative spending power of Evanston's neighbors is behind its redevelopment success. But my question to you would be, why was that relative spending power -- not only among Evanston's neighbors, but within Evanston itself, not enough to keep Evanston's downtown off the skids for 20 years? Answer: it wasn't.

That's because it's an issue of urban design. Which is what the density argument is all about. Build the density and you will increase the relative spending power locally. Not as significantly as in Evanston, granted, but I don't think HP wants to go quite as high and big as that.

The point is, you can have rich neighbors, and rich neighborhoods, and still have a dead commercial district. So what's really going on? There's obviously more to it than strict income levels.

chicago pop said...

Follow-up to bornatreese (average time-on-site is about 1 minute 20 seconds, so I can see how you might have missed this):

Here is the statement made regarding taxes:
As a result of increased business activity, Evanston has been able to lower its taxes to levels not seen since 1971.

And here is a link to the source, again, as provided in the post, if you want to double-check: Cali Gorewitz and Gloria Ohland, Communicating the Benefits of TOD: The City of Evanston's Transit Oriented Redevelopment and the Hudson-Bergen Light-Rail Transit System [pdf]

ayeff said...

chicago pop: Buses don't cut it for a number of reasons. Stephen said one of them--people "are generally ignorant of using the bus system unless the bus in question services their neighborhood." The difference is between commuters, who may use the bus and Metra, and irregular travelers, who won't. To make HP a thriving business area requires serving the latter group, not the former. It needs to be EASY to get here.

As an example of the bus vs L problem, I've never ridden the Brown Line out to its northern end, but I have no doubt of exactly where is goes and how often, so if I wanted to go there, I'd just hop on trusting it would go there. I have no idea what buses run to the same place, so I'd have to look it up (that's the psychological hump).

Other benefits: L and subway trains don't get stuck in traffic and have 100% predictable routes that everyone knows. They run at all hours (well in NY, they did) and are frequent. Bus routes aren't obvious, even when standing at a bus stop and looking at the signs. Just the other day, I stood for 20 minutes at Congress & Michigan waiting for a bus that it turns out stopped 100 feet behind me in the arc part of Congress. This was obviously my fault, but it would never have happened with an L.

Also, I think people with money drive or take taxis because they are like private buses. Both are stuck on the same road, but in the car, you get all the benefits of your own vehicle. There is no private equivalent to a train, so trains offer things that you can't get by driving.

Adding late night Metra service at 51-53 wouldn't work because people outside HP would have no idea that it existed. It's Metra (someone in Lincoln Park thinks: "Metra, that goes to the suburbs, right?"). And I do think that the psychological block affects HP residents who don't commute, such as students. I think people underestimate the effect that such little psychological barriers have on people's choices.

chicago pop said...

ayeff: listen, I like trains, I really do, and I have used them a lot when I have had the opportunity. I have also used buses just as frequently, and while I recognize that the "psychological hump" you describe may exist, and have run up against it myself, without any broader data about this kind of thing, I'm afraid right now it's your psychological hump that we are assessing. And it seems to be focused on north side markets exclusively.

Again, more people use the bus than the train in Chicago and New York. And CTA stats referenced above show that the very segment you are interested in, irregular, "holiday shopper" types, has bumped up overall. High gas prices may push that even further. Psychological humps change and can be changed.

And to my knowledge, I haven't seen any data supporting the opposite argument, that those types won't use the bus for recreational/weekend trips. I used to use the 151 all the time to get from Lakeview to Michigan Avenue for shopping and movies. I'd also take the 22 Clark Street bus for recreational purposes, like going out to dinner.

While more rail would be great, I don't think "rail chauvinism" is the answer to all of Hyde Park's problems, especially when there are other things that can be done besides buying more hardware -- and this at a time when Elevated trains are popping off tracks every few months.

But the point, I would argue, is not to dispute which mode of transit is "better", which I think is not that productive -- especially if the model is Manhattan, which is unique in the world, as Richard Gill has argued somewhere else -- but to figure out how best to use what we have and build density on that. If we can include bringing an elevated line down the Metra embankment sometime (more hardware), great. Keep bringing it up and talk to Obama. But there are many other things that can be done in the meantime, or should be considered, and certainly not ruled out as not cutting it.

Zig & Lou said...

"Psychological humps change and can be changed."

Bully (in the parlance of T. Roosevelt).

Greg said...

The L used to come to Hyde Park ages and ages ago... one of the earliest lines brought people to Jackson Park for the 1893 World's Fair. That extension was demolished after the fair ended, but the station before it actually brought people to 63rd and Stony Island... until Jane Byrne had it all shut down and demolished.

http://www.chicago-l.org/stations/stony_island.html
http://www.chicago-l.org/stations/dorchester.html

"When the Green Line closed for renovation in 1994, maps began to list Dorchester as the terminus, anticipating the new terminal facility that was to be built there as part of the line rehab. The new "L" structure from University to Dorchester was built, including signals and interlockings, and a new station mostly completed. This facility, however, was never opened and was actually torn down due to political pressure brought to bear on the CTA® by certain residents of Woodlawn and Reverend Arthur Brazier, who believed the structure over East 63rd Street would further blight Woodlawn and prevent redevelopment. As a result, the CTA® gave up millions of federal dollars invested in the project and rapid transit service was withdrawn from much of the Woodlawn community."

"When the Green Line reentered service in May, 1996, Cottage Grove-East 63rd became the end of the line. The Dorchester station was never used and the tracks built beyond University were demolished in September, 1997, with the CTA® forfeiting the federal grant funds they'd received to build the intermodal facility."

See what NIMBYism results in?

chicago pop said...

This facility, however, was never opened and was actually torn down due to political pressure brought to bear on the CTA® by certain residents of Woodlawn and Reverend Arthur Brazier, who believed the structure over East 63rd Street would further blight Woodlawn and prevent redevelopment.

That is one of the more bizarre chapters of CTA history, right there. And, I must say, one of the more prominent cases of human folly in recent history.

Brought to you by the same guy who developed the 47th Street Co-Op location.

A mindset straight out of the early 60s -- Urban Renewal written all over it. Old timers with old ideas -- a problem in every neighborhood.

ayeff said...

Chicago Pop: You say I am "focused on north side markets exclusively." I'm not sure what you mean, but I'll guess that you mean I'm focused on getting people from the north side into HP.

First, on this blog many have discussed how HP needs to become a destination to be successful in terms of attracting businesses. Thriving neighborhoods depend not just on residents but also on those from outside coming in. We can try all we want to get the right stores in place, but until people can get to HP easily, they won't come. This is why I think transit is the primary issue (it's a bottleneck).

Second, I think that people would be more willing to move to HP if there were an L line. The L would thus also serve residents. And as many have noted, we need density.

But the most important point I want to make is directed at your statement regarding the need to buy more hardware to build an L. The brilliance of the Gray Line proposal, and why I think it's totally doable if enough people advocated for it, is that it requires almost no new hardware at all. The tracks are there, the stations are there, the train cars are there. It requires three main things: new signs, more frequent runs (as often as the L elsewhere), and accepting CTA cards. That's it. Maybe the conductors could carry around a portable CTA card reader and scan instead of punching tickets (so no need for turnstiles).

It is definitely true that we can change people's psychological hang-ups. But it takes a lot of work, and where we can satisfy such hang-ups at minimal cost, we should not try to buck human nature. We should accept how people are and adjust to it (this is sort of like the difference between central gov't planning and letting the market decide).

Furthermore, the Metra and some bus routes provide duplicate service, so the change would not just satisfy psychological problems but would consolidate service a bit, maybe saving money (I don't know for sure).

As a side note, you say it is my psychological hang-up. I carry around a mini Metra schedule. Often when I am with friends in the Loop, no one even mentions taking the Metra as a way to get back to HP until I tell someone I have a schedule. That's the hang-up I'm talking about. If it were an L line, everyone would have immediately thought to take it.

Mr. Who Knows said...

Greetings from Evanston,

As Elizabeth pointed out, we do have our NIMBY problems in Evanston too. Most of the causes,and arguments, are the same in Hyde Park and in Evanston.
Hydeparkprogess has been a great inspiration in the battle against the forces of evil.
I have enjoyed the articles by chicagopop. He or she is truly one of the leading intellectuals of the anti-NIMBY movement.

Ben said...

I think HP (and the southeast side) does use the Metra like it's El. Look at how many stops there are in the city versus other lines. I personally enjoy riding the Metra, it's safe, clean, and on time. One major drawback though is that it is not woven into the fabric of the CTA, either from a monetary or physical standpoint. If you are just going downtown, there's no better way in my opinion. But, if you want to get anywhere north or west of downtown, you are going to have to get on the CTA. And why should you have to pay twice as much (Metra + CTA) than you would if you had just taken the CTA. Besides the frequency issue, I think this is an additional reason why HPers may choose the 6 over Metra.

On a related note, it seems as though Chicago has been selected as one of the four remaining candidate cities for 2016, although we are not at the top of this list. A major concern for the IOC appears to be lack of rail surrounding the venues at the lakefront. Interesting.

Alec Brandon said...

I have to agree with everyone who is in the anti-bus camp.

I just can't stand buses and I don't think it's a psychological hang up. They never run on time, they tend to get bunched up in traffic, and they stop far too frequently.

Of course, my experience with buses is limited to just a few lines (55, 6, 171, and 172), but still, these problems seem to be systematic of the nature of buses.

EdJ said...

I thik one of the reasons the mayor wanted to pursue the Olympics is to get funding to fix public transportation. And now he has evidence from the Olympic Committee report to try to get funding to bring the Olympics here. The Gray Line concept is probably a way to build lakefront CTA rail. It would create stops along the way to downtown rather than having the usual Hyde Park trips that go express downtown past our neighbors. If we want our neighbors to visit us, we have to start visiting them too.

Stephen said...

I'm a fan of the idea of an L line closer to the lakefront. However, I don't agree the Metra tracks are the right solution.

First, adding additional stops in the city will alienate the vast majority of METRA riders who use it to commute from outside the city or the far south side. You'd effectively add 30-45 minutes onto their commute, and ridership would plummet.

Second, I'm not convinced ridership from within the city would pick up enough to offset the loss in commuters. The METRA track is good for Hyde Park, South Shore, and a few other neighborhoods, but not particularly good for the near south side. I do think the bus system would be preferred for many (I really don't understand the horror of buses - and as has been pointed out, most other people don't share this view as evidenced by ridership trends).

Finally, Chicago is a world class city with the highest sales tax in the country. We should be able to fund NEW transit lines. There are numerous neighborhoods that would benefit by closer L service. I'm not sure Hyde Park would be high on the list, given the proximity of the Green Line, METRA, and express bus service. However, I'm in favor of L transit where everyone is within 1/4 mile from a stop. That's unrealistic, however.

Finally, many of our transportation problems would be solved by cleaning up city hall. The worst part of patronage is not that someone's cousin is doing the work, it is that someone's cousin is charging the city MORE to do the work. The city wastes way too much money paying non-competitive prices. But, as has been pointed out for a century, people in Chicago don't show their disgust in votes.

EdJ said...

The Metra tracks are a good right of way for a new el at a minimum. Remember that if there's an el line there, the Metra trains from the suburbs can become express with fewer city stops.

Stephen said...

It is a good right of way, but in most cases of public transportation, you would like to have residents in close proximity to the tracks. That is true for the METRA tracks in HP, but not for the near south side and other areas. I think if an L line is going to be added, there should be resident density on BOTH sides of the tracks, otherwise the convenience incentive drops off too rapidly.

That is just an opinion, but I'm not a transportation expert. For Chicago, an L along the METRA tracks seems low priority.

Also, I was looking at the article about the Olympic bid, and it looks like there are plans for bus only lanes which would help bas travel.

EdJ said...

Yeah, I read that Rio has those bus lanes already in place.

Anyway, I would guess that they ewill have upgraded service on the Metra tracks at a minimum to move people from 55th Street to the main venue locations at McCormick Place and then bus lines to the Olympic Stadium in Washington Park. Good thing we're getting rid of that ugly sculpture on 55th in advance of the Olympic bid.

ayeff said...

alec brandon: The psychological hang-up applies much more to the Metra than buses, which has all the benefits of the L, but requires knowing the schedule and planning around it.

Stephen: You say "we should be able to fund NEW transit lines." Should is a strong word. I agree, but I don't think it's realistic to expect a new line in HP in the near future given the cost (thus, the Gray Line, which is relatively cheap). Also, completely new L lines require a lot of upheaval and the Metra right of way is already there. Overlaying an L on the Metra line may not be perfect, but the perfect shouldn't be the enemy of the good.

bitplayer said...

Hi guys,

I'm the admin of the facebook group "UChicago Students for a Chipotle in Hyde Park". Upon reading the excellent literature on this site, we'd like to partner with your blog to promote high-quality fast casual dining within Hyde Park. Please contact me at tscong@gmail.com for further details.

Thanks!

Best,
Tom