I don’t drive very much. Here in Chicago, I can get around with mass transit or on foot. We run around and do errands once or twice a week, and take the occasional road trip, but for the most part we are not very automotive. I get to work every day by walking about a mile through a pleasant, leafy neighborhood to the El, and then riding downtown to work. It’s about a 15-minute ride. The train stop is in my work building – all I have to do is get off the train and go upstairs.
I had forgotten how wonderful all of that is until this morning, when it took me about an hour to drive about 11 miles – 11 tense, loud, bumper-to-bumper miles packed with jerks fixing their mascara, tailgating, vaguely steering their SUVs while texting – to see my dentist. One guy was shaving. The whole thing just made me want to get out of the car and start biting people, which at certain parts of the trip would have been entirely possible, given that once or twice we were all at a complete standstill for minutes at a time. And then there was the fun-filled return trip. People do this every day. People do this every day! Maybe some of you.
I often complain about mass transit here in Chicago. In New York, you can get around like mad on mass transit, but here it is at best kinda convenient, especially since the service cuts of the past couple of years (hey downstate legislators – you’ve heard that cities are engines of prosperity for entire regions, yes?). It’s also antique -hard to access if you are not physically fit, shabby, rickety.
Some members of our family live in cities without decent mass transit. One of them has to contend with living in Detroit, a sprawling city whose government is now, puzzlingly, shredding its mass transit system, pruning routes and service hard, and in the process ruthlessly cutting people off from their jobs and schools. Other members of our family live in places that don’t have any mass transit at all. I tell you, that changes your whole life. It makes life expensive, it makes you waste resources. Your car owns you.
At times, we think of leaving Chicago, but I have to admit that the mass transit is one reason we stay. We need to know we can have a life without having a car. And we need to know we are part of something bigger that is contributing to the greater good and not adding to a hotter world.
This year, the CTA has embarked on a project to restore the Red Line, the one that stretches north and south all the way from the border of Evanston to 95th street – a run of nearly 25 miles. One reason is that the infrastructure just needs it. Another is that, once the tracks are upgraded and modernized, the Red Line can be extended even farther south. For years there has been talk about extending the line all the way to 130th street. That would cover neighborhoods that are cut off from everywhere else if you don’t have a car – like Pullman, which is historic and charming, but so hard to reach that it might as well be in another state.
This photograph was taken in my neighborhood El station, Logan Square, which last year was refreshed by the CTA’s Renew Crew, so that it no longer looks like a post-apocalyptic hideyhole. It looks fresh, fast and light. This is the station I take for granted. It works. I wish everyone could take service like this for granted.