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404 South Wells Street, Chicago

If you’ve been to Europe, Asia, or even Portland, Oregon, you might return home to Chicago and wonder about our public transportation system. Is this really the best we can do? Why does improvement come so slowly? Heck, why do the buses come so slowly?

Some say public transit in Chicago is good enough. On track!
Others say it’s as stuck as a broken-down bus. Derailed!

We’ll debate what works and what doesn’t; and how to take our public transit from good to great. And you’ll have a chance to participate. If you care about this issue – and about the quality of life in Chicago, then you’ll want to be a part of this debate. Chicago Debates.

Missed the debate and want to see the highlights? Watch the video on CAF's YouTube Channel!>>

Chicago Debates are lively, passionate, no-holds barred, real, thoughtful, solution-oriented conversations with audience participation. We'll take your questions during the event, also via Twitter, Facebook, and email. And you'll vote on what are the most convincing arguments.

The voting - and commenting - continues on this web site before and after the debate. It's your forum.

  Aaron Renn
Urban affairs analyst and blogger

Lee Bey
Executive Director, Chicago Central Area Committee; and blogger

Christopher Robling
Principal, Jayne Thompson & Associates

Stephen Schlickman
Executive Director, Urban Transportation Center, University of Illinois at Chicago

Mary Wisniewski
Reporter, Reuters

Edward Lifson
Cultural Critic and blogger (moderator)

Future of bus travel

Bus rapid transit in Los Angeles

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is an enhanced bus service that operates at faster speeds, provides greater service reliability, and increased customer convenience. The innovative system offers many features similar to rail transportation—dedicated right-of-ways unimpeded by traffic signals and congestion, fare collection prior to boarding, quick passenger loading and unloading—but built at a fraction of the cost.  Introduced in Curitiba, Brazil in 1974, it has since been built in many cities around the world and several American cities, such as Los Angeles, Cleveland, and Boston, have already introduced elements of BRT on smaller scales with the possibility for expansion.

Since 2010, the Metropolitan Planning Council has been working with the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) and CTA on a BRT Evaluation Study to analyze potential BRT routes throughout the city. While current ridership is an important factor being considered, the study also analyzes potential connections to existing CTA rail and Metra services, impacts of providing transit options in underserved areas, and connections to employment centers and other destinations.

Would you like to see some of the city's most congested arteries, such as Western, Stony Island and Halsted, with new bus rapid transit lines?  What challenges does Chicago face to implement BRT successfully, as other American cities have done?  And how can the City overcome these perceived obstacles?


Importance of good design

Entrance to the renovated Brown Line Addison Station

In the 1909 Plan of Chicago, Daniel Burnham wrote, in reference to suburban train stations, “A delightful station conduces cheerfulness as a man goes to work and as he comes home, while a shabby or neglected station produces the opposite effect.” Many Chicagoans would agree that the importance of good design cannot be understated.  But when considering two recent transit improvements: the renovation of the CTA’s Brown Line stations and the installation of new bus shelters along city streets, many Chicagoans are left wanting more.

The consortium of architects who redesigned the Brown Line transit stations and platforms have been accused of designing them without people in mind.  The elevators and stairs open onto scantily-covered platforms (the canopy-designs were value engineered-out due to budget constraints) and there are few amenities.  There’s a lack of seating and vending machines, and very few stations have connections to restaurants or retail storefronts.

The bus shelters designed by architectural giant Robert A. M. Stern boast a sleek, glass-and-steel design, but they are barely functional: they have gaps where the glass panels mount to the frame, feeding tunnels of cold air onto commuters, and many are dangerously close to the curb for those in wheelchairs. 

How can we transform our transit stations into inspiring environments and ultimately community centers?  How can we up-the-ante on good transit design, in terms of both aesthetics and functionality?  And how can Chicago achieve the quality of design found in other cities around the world without completely blowing its budget?


Future of train travel

Rendering of the proposed West Loop Transportation Center

Several plans have been proposed for expanding train service in Chicago.  The first is the Red Line Extension, which would provide service from the current terminus, at 95th Street, to 130th Street, decreasing transit times for residents of the far South Side and relieving crowding and congestion at the current terminus.  This consists of a new elevated rail line between 95th St and a new terminal station at 130th, paralleling a Union Pacific railroad line through the Far South Side neighborhoods of Roseland, West Pullman, and Riverdale. In addition to the terminal station at 130th, three new stations would be built at 103rd Street, 111th Street, and 115th Street/Michigan Avenue. Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel has expressed strong support of this proposed extension.

In addition, the City of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development, along with the operating agencies of its passenger rail networks–Amtrak, Metra and the Chicago Transit Authority–are working together on plans for a new passenger rail nexus in downtown Chicago: the so-called West Loop Transportation Center.  It would join Union Station and the Ogilvie terminal into a single facility and create a direct connection to the CTA "L" network.  Above that, the Chicago Transit Authority is considering plans to link the northwest and southwest branches of its Blue Line rapid transit using a new tunnel under Clinton Street and is also investigating a new concept of a downtown circulator service which would also call underneath Clinton Street. However, funding has not been secured for this project at this time?

Are these plans going to move us in the right direction? Whatever happened to the plans for the "Circle Line," which was supposed to link-up all of the current lines?  And, finally, what about that boondoggle that became of the attempt to create an express line to O'Hare airport?


   This project is also generously supported by the AIA Chicago Foundation.

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Chicago’s 7: Annual Most Threatened Buildings List Unveiled
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11:30 AM - 12:30 PM

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