March 2, 2004

The proposed Red Line shuttle is the wrong solution for the wrong concerns

It appears that the proposed Red Line shuttle is in the process of becoming a reality. Perhaps it would have been better for me to voice my objections to the idea somewhat earlier, but at the very least I should oppose it now, particularly because there appears to be a notable lack of dissent.

My objection is utilitarian: this shuttle is meant to be a very specific solution to a set of very specific problems. As best I can tell from the proposal, the shuttle is an attempt to deal with the following concerns as they relate to the Garfield Red Line stop. Many students here take the Red Line to get between Hyde Park and the rest of Chicago—55th Street is the major artery into and out of Hyde Park and the quickest route to and from the Red Line. Some students seem to feel that the #55 bus is unacceptably unreliable and that this particular bus stop is an especially miserable one at which to wait for a bus. There are also some issues of safety. But the Red Line shuttle isn't the best way to address these concerns.

By way of comparison, let me describe how I imagine this shuttle working. It would be another evening campus bus. The route would be: Garfield/Red Line to 55th/Ellis to 57th/Ellis to 57th/University to 55th/University to Garfield/Red Line. The shuttle would run every 30 minutes and would be staggered with the normal #55 route. The net effect would be that the maximum scheduled wait for a bus would be shortened from 30 minutes to 15 minutes.

So how well does this address the above concerns?

Reliability: I've waited for the #55 bus at several stops along 55th Street or Garfield. I've waited for it at all hours of the day, night, and weekend. I've waited for it for longer than 30 minutes exactly once. As I recall, there was a traffic accident. Barring extenuating circumstances, I've found the #55 bus to be pretty reliable. I humbly submit that this is a reasonable wait for a bus.

Safety: There are a couple of responses to this concern. One is simply that it's not the University's job to protect us from the rest of the city. Of course it's the University's job to make sure we live in a safe environment, but there's no reason they need to coddle us. The second response to this concern is that the shuttle isn't going to make it any safer to wait at that stop. That stop is just as safe as any other bus stop in the city—in fact, it is safer than most. There is a very low occurrence of crime there, and there is a low chance of something bad happening.

Comfort: Especially in the winter, it is uncomfortable to wait there—it's very open to the elements. You have wind blowing north and south along the Dan Ryan and east and west along 55th Street. I agree that this is a legitimate concern, but again, the shuttle won't do very much to improve the situation. More importantly, there is a way of resolving this problem that is much more efficient: a windshield.

The astute CTA customer might have noticed a huge wind barrier at the Sox-35th Street stop. So let's put one up at Garfield. While we're at it, let's put in a smaller shelter as well. Or even one of those heat lamps. They can also put in a button to call the attendant if there's a problem. That would do more for safety than the shuttle proposal.

"But won't that benefit people not associated with the University?" Yes, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, some people would point out that the CTA would probably be willing to help fund the project. Hell, they might even volunteer to fund the whole thing themselves. But let's say they don't. So the University and the CTA split the bill for this barrier. And let's say word about this arrangement gets out into the larger community. Some members of the non-University community might see this as a gesture of the University's good will and desire to be an actual neighbor. Some people might even be so bold as to suggest that this would reduce feelings of ill-will or resentment that community members might have towards the University.