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Chicago ranks third in public transit "friendliness"

A change of pace.

I can't be the only one around here who is a little tired of posts about where Huberman is working now and who's the boss at the CTA.

Don't get me wrong, Of course it's important But for one day, I figure we can talk about how others outside Chicago perceive the CTA. 

So, when Travel and Leisure magazine last year looked at America's Favorite Cities, Chicago ranked third in "public transportation and pedestrian friendliness." Portland is No. 1, followed by DC. Portland, I get it. But I wonder if folks who attended the inauguration think that Chicago ranks behind DC.

I think it's always good to get an outside perspective. Have a good weekend.

And Go Steelers!

--Kevin <-- Pittsburgh native


My dad's name is Kevin and he's a Steelers fan too. The funny thing is that he's from Michigan and I don't think he's EVER been to Pittsburgh (I have though :D).

My brother and I have wondered whether this is the year my dad will finally have a heart attack from yelling at the television, or just put a fist through it.

DC is definitely much more transit friendly. Its a smaller city, but it has a more extensive subway system and a great bus system. Can you tell I miss living in DC?

There doesn't seem to be any explanations of the rankings.
Do they mean that CTA employees are friendly?
All I know is that when my smart card doesn't register correctly on the bus, all I usually get out of the driver is an unintelligible grunt.
So I touch it again & sometimes a third time & then the driver usually waves on.
The real problem is the touchpads which don't give a useful acknowledgment of the card & the beeps aren't loud enough & the flashes can't be seen half the time.

I can believe it. I often hear visitors rave about public transit in Chicago (especially now with the slow zones removed from the O'Hare branch of the Blue Line). Having transit to both airports is a major plus for tourists.

DC's zoned-based fares are not very tourist-friendly, but they have electronic train arrival time signs which are nice.

I haven't been to DC since I was in fifth grade (which is, uh, let's see ... about 20 years ago now), but as I recall, you can take transit pretty easily to all the major tourist areas. So it's not surprising that the system would rate highly with tourists.

Plus, the "pedestrain friendliness" is coming into play, I'm sure. With the exception of Arlington National Cemetary, most of the major DC tourist sites are all within walking distance of each other. It's definitely a tourist-friendly spot.

In other news, it appears that the readers of Travel & Leisure find Chicagoans rather unattractive. Guess I should stay home more often.

Stephen: When you say the DC metro is more extensive, what do you mean? The CTA and metro are both about 106-107 miles in total. Chicago and its metro region are bigger than the DC metro region, so maybe it's the relative size you mean? The difference for me is that most of CTA's 107 miles is within the city of Chicago, while a much larger portion of the DC metro is in the suburbs.

I love the metro and spent a lot of time in DC growing up, then more time as an adult when we moved to Baltimore. The DC metro is fast, clean and efficient compared to the CTA (although it is beginning to show its age already -- we aren't the only ones facing construction delays), and it is great for suburban commuters and tourists, but I have always found that it isn't that great for getting around within the city itself.

Going to Mt Pleasant, U street, Adams Morgan, etc. is not as easy as getting to the Air & Space Museum, and it is very hard to make crosstown trips. People I know who are residents of the district itself have commented that the system, while great, seems to serve the needs of commuters and tourists better than those of residents. Here in Chicago, because the system was mostly built before the Car Age, most rail lines serve urban neighborhoods.

What both the CTA and metro need are more crosstown rail routes (For instance, subway or light-rail lines along Ashland and Western, even the much-maligned Circle Line) and more suburb-to-suburb service (Metra's Star line and/or a similar CTA line/the long-delayed Purple line in the DC area).

I was there for the inauguration, but decided to walk into the district from Virginia rather than use the metro that day. Despite the crowding and some incidents reported in the news, overall the metro did a great job of informing people beforehand and keeping things running the day of. I have serious doubts about CTA's ability to handle the same situation -- something to think about for the Olympics.

Boston is WAY more pedestrian-friendly than Chicago, and plenty more transit-friendly.

I assume T+L meant Portland, Ore.? Portland, Maine, is plenty pedestrian-friendly too, though not so much on the transit. People outside New England seem not to know there are two Portlands.

The Super Bowl party I'm going to is actually a Puppy Bowl party, so my take on the game itself is Go Whichever Team You Favor!


I heard that stimulus bill that passed the House added $3 billion for transit related projects. Granted, this could change when it gets through the Senate, but it's a step in the right direction.

I checked the numbers behind the visitor rankings that led to Chicago rating 3rd overall. I was a little put off that Chicagoans only got 4.02 out of 5.0 for attractiveness. We did rate 4.15 for intelligence, so I guess that should boost our civic self esteem. The Wild Weekend catagory rated 4.36. No mention of whether encounters with the CTA factored into this rating.

If they rode the 151 South of Belmont, we'd do pretty good on the attractiveness ranking.

From the perspective of a traveler, the question could be rephrased as, "Do you need to rent a car if you visit this city?"

For DC, most tourists (and a fair chunk of business travelers) arrive at one of the airports, get's transported to their hotel, get's transported to the mall, and then they walk.

Who ventures beyond that?

I think San Franciso and Boston rank lower than Chicago because even though Chicago has some spread-out destinations popular with travelers, there's a lot of travelers who don't venture too far.

I think it has far less to do with public transportation than it has to do with the private transportation options available to travelers from their hotels.

On the other hand, Portland doesn't have a lot of hotel shuttles running around. Portland ranks higher because, I think, people are amazed that public transportation is as clean and convinent as the private options they have in other cities!

Also, a city block in Portland is about half the size of Chicago, so you can go from downtown to someplace with an address of 20202 NE Whatever St on a non-express bus in less than 20 minutes. Try getting from the Loop to someplace in the 'burbs with an address number that high in less than an hour and a half on the bus. Preception can count a lot to a traveler!

Dare I mention that if we get the Olympics the transportation needs of the visitors will not parallel the transportation needs of the residents? Dare I mention that any dollars spent to make transportation better for those visitors will have little effect on what our residents will need after the games are gone? And that some of the money to build a transportation infrastructure for visitors would drain money away from projects that would help residents?

The bottom line is that the needs, wants and preceptions of travelers to a city will always be very different from those of the residents of those cities.

>>From the perspective of a traveler, the question could be rephrased as, "Do you need to rent a car if you visit this city?"

When I went to Pittsburgh in the summer of 2006, a good friend who grew up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh told me I would definitely need a car. My father and I stayed downtown, took a shuttle from the airport and used the city buses for our one trip out of downtown - to the Carnegie Mellon Museum of Art. The bus we took there was some sort of express bus and my father got to ride free because he's a senior citizen (it seemed so benign back then). We took a regular bus back. PNC Park, Fort Dusquesne and the Andy Warhol Museum were all within walking distance of our hotel. We packed a lot of living into 36 hours.

I'm pretty apathetic about the Super Bowl (I'm with you, Bob S., the Puppy Bowl rocks), but I will support the Steelers out of deference to the Brothers O'Neil and the fond memories I have of my brief visit to Pittsburgh.

[Try getting from the Loop to someplace in the 'burbs with an address number that high in less than an hour and a half on the bus. Preception can count a lot to a traveler!]

I think you're giving tourists too much credit here. In my experience, few people outside of major cities live on a meaningful grid system, and if they do, they don't even know it.

Even here in Chicagoland, once you get outside the city limits, the grid system is of little to no consequence to most people, if they're even on the Chicago grid, which some burbs are and some aren't. Hell, I bet there is a substantial number of people who live in the city who don't understand the grid system.

I doubt the large blocks here in Chicago even register to the vast majority of the people visiting. Tourists, by and large, just don't notice those kinds of things - and what would they be doing taking a bus way out to the burbs anyway?

Also, I know I'm being kind of an ass here, so I apologize ... but 'perception' (not 'preception') is the word you mean.

Ooops. I let my geekiness color my perception on that one.

You're right. I'll concede that normal people probably don't view addresses the same way I do. (Unless they're from Utah where most people have addresses that are unmistakably coordinates on the map.)

But I'll still stand on my idea that the ranking relates more to whether someone will rent a car or not. (Although New York doesn't score higher because, well, it's New York.)

On my list of cities that I'm most likely not to rent a car in are:

Portland, OR
San Francisco
Washington DC
Las Vegas

And that's about it.

Notice Las Vegas and Orlando on the list? Neither of those cities have public transportation worth bragging about. Las Vegas is particularly bad. Last time I was on theirs it seemed to be run as if it were a taxi company with drivers checking in by radio as they passed checkpoints.

But as a traveler, I have plenty of options in Vegas and Orlando that aren't available to the natives. And they go the places I want to go, not the places they want to go. (I want to be dropped off at main enterances. They want to be dropped off at employee enterances. And they tend to move about less spontaneously than I do.)

I'm not sure if I would, as a traveler, rent a car in Chicago or not. I'm so confident that Chicago should be as high as number 3.

I'm from the Detroit area, and I come to Chicago rather regularly and use the transit pretty much every time I'm there. Now that I'm familiar with the city and how the transit works, I never have a problem... but before, when I had to ask questions, I'd either get a really helpful person, or someone who couldn't be bothered to open their mouth except to insert food.

Overall, I think for the size of a system and the amount of people put through it every day, it's pretty friendly.

I have NEVER met a helpful CTA employee in all my years of taking public transportation. Do they really exist?

[But I'll still stand on my idea that the ranking relates more to whether someone will rent a car or not.]

No doubt. In my experience, people are very grateful not to have to rent a car.

I don't see why anyone would rent a car when they came to Chicago, at least as long as they were planning to limit their trips to the normal tourist areas, or the north side in general. Less sure about the south and west sides - if people have family to visit out there, or other reasons to stray from the beaten tourist areas, that may be a different story.

[I have NEVER met a helpful CTA employee in all my years of taking public transportation. Do they really exist?]

Yes. This has been another episode of "Simple Answers to Simple Questions."

It's another episode of "Sean Needs to Stop Trolling and Move to Lima, OH."

I've lived in DC or almost a year now. Before living here, I went to Gallaudet University in the late 1980s, early 1990s. I've been back for numerous visits because I have family members here. I can say that the METRO is way better than the CTA.

1) Cleaner.
2) The cars are bigger.
3) Far fewer homeless people using it as a flophouse.
4) The LED display signs actually give useful information like delays and how long until the next train (as a deaf person, I greatly appreciate this)

My boss had friends here from Paris last year toward the end of the summer. They were very impressed with the Red Line. They said it was a lot faster than the Metro and the people at the stations were very helpful. I'm not sure if they meant random people being helpful or station attendants, but anyway, the Parisians were impressed.

The entire Paris Metro smells like a sewer, but the train cars all have rubber wheels so you can enjoy some peace and quiet with the stench. I was surprised that Parisians were fairly helpful in assisting with Metro navigation and didn't live up to the stereotype. I did attempt to speak French; maybe that helped.

[They were very impressed with the Red Line. They said it was a lot faster than the Metro and the people at the stations were very helpful.]

I always chuckle at stories like this. It seems that no matter where you go, the locals like some *other* transit system better. :)

Funny you should bring up this DC ranking. My friend just returned from the inauguration and wrote a post on my blog about it. She ended it praising the DC pub trans system. She was born and raised in Chicago and now live in Seattle.

Paris Metro is a very expensive system to run because of the rubber tires.
The tires create a lot of heat, so it requires fans to cool the tunnels, the tires have greater rolling resistance, so the trains use more electricity to operate & they still need the regular steel rails for switches & when a tire goes flat or blows out.

Montreal has a rubber-tire system also, right? Seems strange to me - I realize that it must be significantly quieter, but it seems like a tremendous expense for the trouble.

I don't really find rubber Metros that much quieter. The noise is just different—instead of the click-clack of metal going over rail joints, the rubber metros "whoosh" as the rubber rolls along the guideways, sometimes quite loudly.

That said, rubber tyre metros sure accelerate a heck of a lot faster.

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