May 15, 2009

Weekend woes: Blue Line shut from Grand to Western

Once again, the Blue Line will be closed from Grand to Western starting at 10 pm Friday through 4 am Monday for slow zone repair work. Bus shuttles will serve stations in that stretch.

Certainly this is an inconvenience, but the CTA says the end is near. CTA Tattler quoted a CTA spokesperson on Monday that "the slow zones that were put into place due to the work will start being lifted in June as the replacement of ties progresses. In a nutshell, that means we are at about the peak of what the slow zones will be for this phase and it will start to ease up next month."

Spring arrives! With parades, farmers markets, bike races and walkathons causing bus reroutes, it makes me think that just maybe spring really has arrived. Check the CTA's Weekend Service Change report to see if your bus route is affected.

May 14, 2009

Wringing extra life from a dying Chicago Card/Plus

ChicagoCardPlus_press My Chicago Card Plus was on death's door. I could see a hairline crack in it, and it stalled in registering at the reader. But I was going out of town for a few days and knew I wouldn't be using the card and could have a new sent, so I wanted to wring another day or two of life out of the card.

That's when I remembered this tip from Windy City Mike via the LiveJournal El Community:

"One of the CTA folks at the Lake station showed me a nice trick last night. You hold the upper righthand corner (if you're looking at it from the back) up to the very top of the circle (where it lights up). That way you're putting the transmitter within the card nearly directly adjacent to the receiver within the turnstile."

And yes, it does work -- for awhile at least. Eventually it will totally give up the ghost. I will say that the card had actually lasted me for more than two years -- the longest ever. So that was a plus.

And the morning I was leaving town I ordered a new Chicago Card Plus at the CTA Web site. They say it will take 5-7 business days to arrive by mail. But mine got to me in four business days, amazingly enough.

One other thing I found on these card -- keep them away from other similar cards, such as an ID to gain you entrance to lock doors at work. I used to keep them together, but my Chicago Card Plus failed very quickly. I've kept them separate since and have been happy I did.

Do you folks have any other tips, tricks or quips about the cards? And how about that blast from the past? Thanks to the Tribune for the photo of former CTA President Frank Kruesi at a press conference.

May 13, 2009

Celling that makes you cringe; hockey Overheard

I just cringe when I hear crying fights on the phone. Last week it was a young woman in her late teens who seemed to have her head on straight -- except perhaps for her choice of boyfriends. She made quite the scene as she yelled/cried on the phone to her boyfriend at 7:30 am on the Red Line headed toward the Loop:

"Why do you always do this to me? Don't you know how critical today is? It's homework day and it's test day. If I don't go to school I'll get a big fat zero.

"You think I'm out screwing around? I'm going to school dude! It's $15,000! I work all day. I have to be at school at 5:30. What don't you understand about that." 

More sobs. More tears.

What would Dan Savage say? DTMFA!

Timely Overheard for hockey fans. "Do you know what hockey is?" asked the guy talking to his girlfriend at the Red Line Monroe stop. (It was during the clinching playoff game for the Hawks on Monday night.)

"Yeah! Awesome!"

"No. Boring!"

Another stereotype, shattered. 

Go Hawks!

May 12, 2009

Newest Bus Tracker features: email and text alerts

Starting Monday, May 18, CTA riders can get estimated times for bus arrivals at preferred stops via scheduled email or text message. And by the summer, the CTA will test-pilot "on-the-go" two-way texting for riders to get arrival times for the next four buses at a specific stop.

These cool new features expand on the CTA's promise to get more information into the hands -- and communications devices -- of its riders.

"To accommodate customers’ varying schedules, e-mail subscriptions can be created for various bus route(s), bus stop location(s) and directions of travel. In addition, the alerts also can be customized to be sent within a designated time frame, at intervals from five to 30 minutes, and on any day of the week."

For the "on-the-go" text messaging pilot, the CTA will assign bus stops included in the pilot a unique ID number that riders can include in a text to a designated number.  In reply, riders will get the estimated arrival times of the next four buses.

We should note that the CTA always refers to "estimated arrival times" under Bus Tracker, but these times calculated via their GPS system, not taken from the printed schedules.

Sign-up will begin next Monday at the Bus Tracker site. More details are in the CTA press release.

Bus Tracker rollout: Fini

It took about a year, but give the CTA credit -- they finished putting almost 150 bus routes on Bus Tracker, starting next Monday, May 18.

Bus Tracker beganin 2006 with the No. 20 Madison as a pilot project. It took two years for the CTA to learn from that project, get the right equipment in place, and figure out how to roll things out most efficiently by bus garage.

I think you'll agree, it's been worth the wait.

Here are the final routes to be added: 

Continue reading "Bus Tracker rollout: Fini" È

May 11, 2009

CTA responds to Blue Line slow zone questions

Last week's report on the Blue Line slow zone work brought out the skeptics and conspiracy theorists. And many of you asked some good questions; I in turn asked the CTA for further clarification.

The questions primarily are: Did the CTA tear out recently replaced concrete ties, and if so, why? And, just what DID the CTA do in 2007-08 and is there any overlap here? If so, why? CTA spokesperson Noelle Gaffney provided the answers, and all quotes are attributable to her. (Bolded words are my own for emphasis.)

Are new concrete ties being replaced? The short answer is NO.

"The ties in question were not installed over the last two years. The bulk of the work under way right now is to replace wooden ties that date back to the opening of the subway. There are, however, some concrete ties that were installed in the late 90’sby the CTA on an emergency basis to replace badly deteriorated wooden ties. There are a limited number of them, mostly around the Division Station. 

"To ensure that we have a consistent product to the highest standard throughout the subway, we are replacing these older ties along with original wooden ties that are about 60 years old now. (The Dearborn subway opened in 1951). The new concrete ties use a special concrete mix that is a better grade than the one used for the 10 year old ties and it is designed to reach a high strength quickly."

Is the CTA "redoing" work done in 2007-08?Again the short answer is no, but they are working in some of the same areas because the CTA didn't have funds in 2007-08 to replace ALL ties.

"Most of the Blue Line slow zone work in 2007 and 2008 involved the northwest end of the branch, from Addison to O’Hare. But over 15,000 feet of slow zones were removed in the subway as well. Ties that were in the worst condition were replaced.  Not every tie was replaced, just those that were most deteriorated and contributing to slow zones at the time.  The federal stimulus program provided the opportunity to go back in and replace the remaining original ties. It would have been great to have had the resources to do it all at once;  we did what we could afford to do."

How long will riders be inconvenienced?

"The phase of work under way right now is the longest phase and is scheduled to finish by the end of August. The slow zones that were put into place due to the work will start being lifted in June as the replacement of ties progresses. In a nutshell, that means we are at about the peak of what the slow zones will be for this phase and it will start to ease up next month. The second phase of work will be shorter and will impact the track between Grand and the south end of Clark/Lake.  And the final phase will cover the rest of the subway to Halsted.

Looking at the big picture -- a marked improvement. Gaffney also noted that the CTA has made much progress in the last two years in removing all slow zones. And she reminds us that the CTA needs capital spending dollars to invest in its infrastructure.

"At the peak in fall 2007, slow zones were in place on more than 22% of the system. We are currently at about 9%, including the zones added due to the Blue Line work. So they have been greatly reduced and work is under way to prevent new ones from occurring. That said, the CTA is a large system as well as an older transit system that needs continual investment to keep it maintained and operating.  Without capital investment infrastructure will continue to age and show its wear and tear."


May 08, 2009

Escalator work to shut Harrison entrance for months; other weekend work

South Loop Red Line riders will have to board the Harrison stop even further south at Polk Street starting Monday, May 11, when the Harrison entrance closes so the CTA can replace the escalator.

The work will extend into October. And it will give college and Jones College Prep kids a little more exercise. Read the CTA release for details about this and how it's part of a greater "escalator modernization project."

Blue Line subway closure. Slow zone work will shut the Blue Line tunnel this weekend from Clark/Lake to Western/Milwaukee, starting at 10 pm Friday through 4 am Monday, May 11. Bus shuttles will stop at all stations in between. Needless to say, "customers are advised to allow extra travel time."

A short list of bus reroutes and train changes can be found at the weekend service changes page.

Happy Mother's Day to all you moms!

May 07, 2009

Acute case of the munchies

Munchies Overheard on the Red Line, from a male high school student:

"Hey Mom, if you go to the Jewels tonight, can you get me some:

  • Starburst
  • Hershey kisses
  • Fruit roll-ups
  • Snickers
  • Sweet Tarts and
  • Doritos

.... Oh, well, I was just feeling kinda hungry...."

(Photo by Conor O'Toole/Medill News Service, via the Windy Citizen.)

May 06, 2009

The straight dope on slow zones, swine flu prevention from the CTA

Since the CTA announced in April that federal stimulus dollars would fund more slow zone elimination work on the Blue Line, we've all had questions. And one of the biggest is: 1. What about all the work done in 2007-08? 2. How is this different? 3. And what's the full scope?

The CTA does a decent job answering those questions on its slow zone elimination page. Such as:

1. "During 2007 and 2008, track tie replacement and other improvements were made to eliminate existing slow zones that were substantially impacting travel times. Using the resources available, construction crews focused on the sections of track that were in the worst shape."

2. "Many track components in the subway, including aging track ties, will be replaced in the coming months to provide even more reliable service in the future."

3. The project is broken into three phases: North of Division to south of Grand, through the summer; south of Grand through Clark-Lake, in the fall; from Clark-Lake through the south tunnel portal past Clinton.

There's other Blue Line work outside the tunnel, currently around Damen.

Slow zone work 

Red and Purple Line work too: Many of you have been wondering about the slow zones around Sheridan and Wilson, plus the Purple tracks from Belmont to Howard. Wonder no more! The CTA says 6,000 feet of slow zones will be removed through 2009.

Swine flu prevention tips. But do we need them anymore? The "big scare" (or shall I say scam) appears to be over. But after  what Biden said last week, the CTA wants you to know what it's doing to prevent the spread. For instance, it's telling employees how to avoid it. And the reminds us riders to keep it clean -- and how the CTA keeps itself clean:

"Because swine flu is spread through person to person contact, CTA riders are advised to take basic precautions to protect themselves and their fellow riders, including frequent hand washing, covering their mouths or noses with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.  The CTA’s deep cleaning procedures include the washing and sanitizing of hand rails, poles and seats and the CTA uses several cleaning agents, including hospital grade disinfectant, that are approved as virucidal against swine flu.  Because CTA vehicles are heavily used, the CTA suggests that to keep their hands clean while traveling, riders may want to consider carrying tissues, hand-sanitizing gels or disinfecting wipes."

(Photo by the CTA)

May 05, 2009

Bizarre clothing options in the "tweener" weather season

The last few weeks constitute what I call the "tweener" season for weather. It's hard to figure out what to wear to work when it's cool in the morning and it's supposed to get warmer.

Guy in funny cap But many of us folks go too far and it's just a little strange.

There's the guy in short sleeves when it's barely 50 degrees. And you wonder, what was he thinking? And of course it's mostly guys, but I've seen a few women with warm dreams.

Yes, there are dreams of summer, but why not WAIT till summer to live the dream? Or at least get past April and early May.

Then there are the strange ones whom I refer to above. Such as the guy pictured here. While this is certainly a crappy photo from my cell phone, it does show the dichotomies wrought by the season. The epitome of the "tweener" season. This guy is wearing a thin vest and tie with the alpine hat.

I suppose it could be a fashion statement.



"This is only a test!" Emergency exercise to shut Washington Blue Line stop, nearby bus routes


CTA I-Go smart card earns Chicago Fast Cities nod


CTA avoids fare hikes by using capital funds to balance budget


Weekend woes: Blue Line shut from Grand to Western


Wringing extra life from a dying Chicago Card/Plus


Celling that makes you cringe; hockey Overheard


Newest Bus Tracker features: email and text alerts


Bus Tracker rollout: Fini


CTA responds to Blue Line slow zone questions

05/ 8/09

Escalator work to shut Harrison entrance for months; other weekend work


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