Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Not on My Commute, Yo.

I went yesterday evening to what I thought was a community meeting on the proposed Union Pacific North Line project on the Northside. I was expecting a song-and-dance from the folks at Metra and UPRR about the work that needs to be done, how they’re going to attack it, blah-de-blah. There are a couple of things about the project that I think are worth noting, by way of some backstory on the project itself:
  • There are several bridges that the train travels over – it’s elevated in the city – that are 100 years old. Damn, that’s old. As one might guess, these bridges need work. I can’t argue with this; I want to have a safe commute.
  • I commute primarily from the Ravenswood Station. Metra has noted that this is the busiest station on the UP-N line, which sounds about right, given the traffic I see day in and day out. For being such an important station, it’s not available to a number of people because the current station is not ADA-compliant. Plus, the shelters suck. Busy station + crappy station + need to be accessible = We’re getting a new station. Staffed. With a ramp and much more overhead coverage to protect us from Chicago weather. Again, this is something we can pretty much agree is a good thing. I can’t argue with this, either.
Here’s what I WILL argue with, though: Last night’s meeting was not met for the majority of people who commute via the Ravenswood Station. As my good friend @ProfSwyers put it, after hearing from me about the meeting for all of about 30 seconds, “Oh. That meeting was for the NIMBYs.” Not in My Backyard. The audience of that meeting was the people who live along Ravenswood Ave. This was a meeting to allay their fears about the construction, the noise, the landscaping, the drainage, the parking (theirs and commuters), etc. Even the Tribune described it as a forum to display “plans to rebuild bridges and embankments along Metra's Union Pacific North Line,” a forum to display plans of what the NIMBYs will have right next door.

The meeting was no Q&A, like I’d hoped. Instead, the meeting was 10 or so posters presenting plans for proposed work at different intersections along Ravenswood Ave. There were before and after drawings of the embankments, the parking, and the landscaping. There were numbers of parking spaces and square feet of greenery pre- and post-construction. There was only one posterboard devoted to the station itself; I found it rather uninformative, other than it telling me that the station would be south of Lawrence Ave., where the current (old) station is. As a commuter, I found the meeting to be pretty much useless.

So, like a good PITA (Pain in the Ass, while I’m dropping acronyms), my comment sheet was full of questions. Lots and lots of questions. Here are just a few:
  • How are changing traffic patterns along Ravenswood Ave. going to affect commuters, particularly cyclists?
  • What effect will there be, in terms of the schedules, for the construction of and switching to and from, the new third track, which is making it possible for the north and southbound trains to not be constrained to one track?
  • What amenities will the station have? Does the public have input on them?
  • Will there be increased or decreased numbers of bike racks?
  • Are there community organizations that are committed to partnering in maintaining the landscaping, like the Andersonville Gardens? What about stretches of the train landscaping along industry or in areas with high rental numbers? (I got the idea they want to turn the landscaping over to communities to maintain. Um, what?)
I followed up my questions with a critique of the meeting. Yeah, I’m THAT person. You need to know, though, that there was very little time and publicity for us to voice our concerns the first go around with this project, when they decided they were going to take one of the two tracks offline during construction. The schedule changes were, well, awful. And you know, we could have rolled with a lot of this stuff. Like I noted above, we commuters want to know that we’ll be safe on our trains. Schedule changes? Inevitable. But these were unmanageable. Not only did the times make it more difficult to get to work on time, the trains weren’t on time. The City of Evanston threw a fit about service to the Central Street Station, and eventually, Metra walked away with its tail between its legs, muttering “back to the drawing board.” Having gone through that mess, when we felt helpless and frustrated and ignored, you might understand why a forum for commuters to give input might have been a good idea. People just need to feel like they’re being heard. And, putting those poster drawings online would enable a lot more people to comment, since the window to view the plans was actually pretty short.

But us? We don’t own property along Ravenswood Ave. This project might not be in my backyard, but it’s a substantial part of my work life, as someone who doesn’t have the option to drive because of a disability. I spend 90 minutes every day on those trains, so I’m a little interested in knowing how this project is actually going to affect me. Maybe I should buy a million-dollar house on Ravenswood Ave. and find out.

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