January 16, 2004

Shelve Red Line shuttle plans now

Since last year's S.G. elections, a number of people have made arguments for a Red Line shuttle bus, most recently S.G. Transportation Committee chair Joe Anzalone in Tuesday's Maroon. Economically and logistically, they're mostly sound arguments (with at least one glaring exception in Anzalone's column), and maybe $8,243 for such a luxury is reasonable. But two things must be understood: it is a luxury, and it's a luxury that's less beneficial than Anzalone implies.

First, Anzalone says that the #55 bus rarely meets its "advertised waiting times of 15 to 20 minutes." During the proposed hours the shuttle would run, 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., the #55 starts out hitting its stops every 12-15 minutes. This increases to every 20 minutes, and after 1a.m. every half-hour. I think this is why he's noticed that it "tends to become less consistent the later it gets." In my personal experience, the waiting times quoted in the #55 schedule seem about right, and I wouldn't hesitate to bet that the longer waiting times Anzalone cites come during the wee hours. I've rarely waited much longer than a half-hour, and, frankly, anyone who gets disappointed when a CTA bus is late probably gets disappointed a lot. As to the 70-minute waits Anzalone claims students are accustomed to, where that number comes from. I'd like to know.

I'll grant that waiting for the #55 is frustrating; that's why I tend to rely on the #6, which has extended its hours to 1 a.m. Admittedly, I live at a #6 stop, so I don't have to walk "at least a mile" to get there. But I regularly walk that far for class, parties, my job, and the like. While I'd like to be able to tell my professors that walking at least a mile to get somewhere is "infeasible," I doubt they'd buy it. I wouldn't, and I don't buy it here.

Of course it's not infeasible to walk a mile to class—i.e. during the day. Safety's the real concern here. But dealing with safety issues is part of living in a city, and sometimes it takes planning to minimize risk. If you're worried about walking around alone, get friends to go with you. If you're worried about walking a mile across campus with a group of friends at night, the curmudgeon in me says you worry too much. The more reasonable me says to get off at Shoreland or Stony Island if you feel that you have to, and take one of the buses that stop there. Or, when all else fails, take a cab. It's expensive, but so is carousing around Chicago on Friday and Saturday nights.

But don't tell the administration that it's not doing its job if it doesn't put down $8,000 for a bus route. Making it easier for students to go to clubs, movies and restaurants on the weekends isn't imperative (Anzalone's word, not mine). It might be a favor, it might even be a good thing, but it is by no means an obligation.

I'd even argue that would be worse off with such a service. Learning to navigate Chicago like a grown-up is not a bad goal, and every time we ask the University to shell out our money in loco parentis, that's one more lesson unlearned. During my couple years in Chicago, I've progressed from "being scared walking across campus after midnight" to "being scared taking the #55 alone after midnight" to "being scared when I ended up at 59th and Indiana alone at 3 a.m." (Even that, in retrospect, shouldn't have frightened me; what mugger with even the most basic economic sense would be in a blighted industrial area at that hour in mid-December?) I'm proud that I've shed most of my irrational fear of the city, and I'm envious of those who handle Chicago more gracefully than I do because they experience the city we live in better than anyone I know.