A public meeting on the CTA's proposed Red-Purple bypass project will be held today, Thursday, May 22nd, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., at the 19th District Police Department, 850 West Addison.
|The Belmont crossover today (click images for larger view)
The joke, of course, turned out to be on the big cities, themselves. Far from securing their economic future, the expressways emptied out the cities and greased the skids for the exodus to the suburbs, even while slumming up the neighborhoods now fallen beneath the highways' deep, derelicting shadows.
Now, city after city has realized its mistake, and taken sometimes massively expensive initiatives to heal the scars the expressways and other overscaled infrastructure created, painstakingly stitching the urban fabric back together. Boston spent billions to cover its downtown Central Artery beneath parkland. After the 1989 Loma Prieto earthquake caused major damage to the double-decker Embarcadero Freeway, San Francisco didn't repair, but demolish, returning one the city's most iconic vistas back to its citizens, and restoring the Ferry Building district to its status as one of the city's great amenities.
Dumb, clout-heavy Chicago still doesn't get it. Other towns learn from their mistakes. Chicago just ups the ante.
|image courtesy of the Chuckman Collection
So, is the plan to find ways to divert more of that traffic away from the interchange? Of course not. The plan is to continue to force as much traffic as possible -even through traffic that never stops downtown - squeezing through the Circle Interchange. Spending $500 million to add capacity that will be inadequate by the time it comes online, the reconstruction includes building still another ramp that will pass mere yards from residents' bedroom windows and make Greektown look like a off-ramp hick town.
roller-coaster like overpass to eliminate switching delays north of the Belmont Brown/Red/Purple line stations. Just four years ago, the CTA spent $530 million to renovate the entire Brown Line, extending platforms to accommodate eight-car trains and rebuilding 18 stations, including completely new platforms at Belmont and Fullerton. Now, just for this overpass, the CTA is proposing to spend $320 million.
That's right. In a city closing schools by the dozen and facing financial disaster from pension payment obligations, Emanuel wants to spend a third of a billion dollars to eliminate delays that don't exceed three minutes on far less than half of train runs.
But wait - there's more!
The CTA's propaganda campaign for the project is a rich collection of misdirection, evasion, and downright lies. The Reader's Ben Joravsky actually clocked more than 30 trains with a stopwatch, and the typical delay was 25 to 30 seconds. Max was 40 seconds. I also ride the Brown Line every workday, and I've been watching how long I'm held up at Belmont. Often, it's not at all. And when I am delayed, it's seldom more than 15 seconds. Usually by the time the “We are waiting for signals ahead” announcement finishes, the train is already moving.
So we're going to spend a third of billion dollars to cut 15 to 30 seconds from our travel times. Hey, we're expecting Uncle Sam to foot the bill, so it's not real money anyway, right?
What's really depressing about this is how local media look at this kind of thing with a compliant shrug. Greg Hinz of Crain's Chicago Business recently did a thorough dissection of what a waste of money the proposed Illiana Expressway would be. But when I saw him recently on television being asked about the overpass, his reaction was something no deeper than “sure - why not?”
The CTA makes a lot of other suspect claims, including projecting that traffic through the intersection will double over the next 15 years. It also laughably claims credit for the retail surge on Southport through the rebuilding of the Brown Line station, and suggests that the construction of the Belmont overpass will spur a similar miracle along Sheffield and Clark. Like the opportunity of being in the shadow of trains cars loudly passing overhead on a soaring trestle is an irresistible magnet for new businesses.
Not that the CTA actually has any intention of letting you see the full visual impact of the overpass. As in the latest remake of Godzilla, the monster is kept out of sight not, as in the movie, to build suspense, but as a permanent strategy to defuse public outrage. Like a realtor hiding a huge septic tank behind bushes in photographs of a house they're trying to sell, the CTA's project renderings carefully conceal the worst of the overpass behind buildings that don't exist, and for which no developer has as yet stepped forward, or even been rumored.