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Best single-purpose fake Twitter account

City Life No Comments »

Unlike Facebook and Google, Twitter does not penalize its users for adopting fake names or otherwise harmlessly misrepresenting themselves. This makes it a wonderful place for comedians to be what they’re not, whether a borderline-illiterate spokesperson for Burlington Coat Factory or an angst-ridden Roomba. Some of the most popular fake Twitter accounts aren’t active for very long—they plug into a current controversy and present a blunt or refreshing take on it. When the CTA began its excruciating transition to the much-loathed Ventra card system, local Twitizens took some comfort in the idea that a PR flack might Tweet things such as “Has your #Ventra Card been lost or stolen? Don’t worry! They won’t be able to activate it, either.” Or “Get on board with #Ventra! The new way to pay for some horrible crime you must have committed in a past life!” It seemed that someone out there really did understand the Ventra experience.

Best of Chicago 2013

Best new idea for public transportation

City Life No Comments »

Bus rapid transit on Ashland Avenue
Urban planners from across the country are watching Chicago to see if we can build the nation’s first “gold-standard” BRT corridor. The CTA wants to convert two of the four travel lanes on Ashland to bus-only lanes, with center-running buses stopping every half mile at median stations, creating an El train-like experience. Rush-hour bus speeds would be nearly doubled to 15.9 mph, which is what’s needed if we want to make transit an attractive alternative. However, the plan faces stiff opposition from residents who are freaked out about the street reconfiguration and the prohibition of most left turns. Who will win the battle of Ashland?

Best of Chicago 2013

Best CTA success story

City Life No Comments »

The Red Line South reconstruction
When the CTA announced it was shutting down the Red Line from Cermak to 95th for five months to replace 10.2 miles of track, many predicted the $425 million project would cause major headaches for South Siders. However, if the work were only done on weekends it would have cost $75 million more and taken four years. The agency minimized the hassles for riders by providing solid alternative service, including frequent shuttle buses, so that many commutes were actually shorter during the rehab. When the line reopened on October 20, customers were rewarded with a ten-minute-shorter trip from 95th to Roosevelt on silky-smooth rails.

Best of Chicago 2013

Best guess about why the CTA decided to implement the new Ventra card system

Audience Choice, City Life No Comments »

The transit agency says it had no choice because Cubic Transportation Systems, the company that made the Chicago Card, stopped manufacturing magnetic strip cards. The CTA was glad to get out of the banking business by having Cubic take over managing the new Ventra machines. The agency stands to save $50 million in operations costs over the next decade. That’s great in theory, but the launch has been rife with glitches, including dozens, or even hundreds, of cards showing up in the mail for a single person. Hopefully, a few months from now these growing pains will be just a memory.

AUDIENCE CHOICE: Money Audience Comments: “A dare”; “Color coordination with Divvy”; “To encourage people to move to another city”; “To frustrate, confuse & anger their customers”; “some politician needed to make a deal for his brother-in-law”; “someone, somewhere, got a kickback”; “Because there’s nothing more amusing than a frustrated Chicagoan repeatedly running their torso into a locked turnstile”

Best of Chicago 2013

Best new CTA station

City Life, West Loop No Comments »

Green/Pink Morgan
Two attractive stations debuted this year, Yellow Oakton in Skokie and Green/Pink Morgan in the West Loop. The latter features sleek green canopies sheltering customers as they wait for their rides, plus a fully enclosed glass skybridge between the platforms, great for photographing the trains and skyline. Downstairs, sidewalks on both Lake and Morgan Streets have been widened to make room for the station houses and artistic, circular bike racks, the product of a design competition. The whole facility is an architect’s delight, and a relative bargain at only $38 million.

Morgan CTA station, 958 West Lake,

Best of Chicago 2012

Best El station

Bronzeville, City Life No Comments »

35th/Bronzeville/IIT, Green Line

This city has a number of memorable El stops, like the Blue Line’s Damen station, with its fascinating view of Wicker Park’s buzzing North/Damen/Milwaukee crotch and the Red Line’s sparkling-clean, Apple-sponsored North/Clybourn stop, complete with a sleek new seating plaza. But we love the Green Line’s 35th/Bronzeville/IIT station for two reasons. Just north, trains zoom through a super-cool, 530-foot stainless steel tube above the Rem Koolhaas-designed McCormick Tribune Campus Center. And while the Sox/35th Red Line stop is a madhouse after baseball games, CTA blackbelts know you can skip the crowds by strolling two blocks east to the nearly empty Green Line station.
South State and East 35th
Audience choice:
Belmont Station (Red, Brown and Purple Lines)
Best audience comments: “The one that’s clean, safe, structurally sound, and doesn’t smell like feet—I forgot the name”; “The Lakes in the Loop (Clark & State): because where else can you head NSWE from the same station?”
Best of Chicago 2011

Best hidden park

Category, Chinatown, City Life No Comments »

Photo: Kristine Sherred

Ping Tom Memorial Park

Nestled along the Chicago River just below the 18th Street bridge in Chinatown, Ping Tom Memorial Park is a little-known slice of tranquility. Featuring a children’s playlot, pagoda-style pavilion and Chinese landscaping elements, the park is notable for the feeling of seclusion it provides. Set across the water from warehouse space and behind the residential cul de sac of Chinatown Square, the place would appear to have been forgotten in the busy hustle of urbanity if it weren’t for its neatly manicured lawns. The CTA train, elevated on concrete piers, runs like a monorail along Ping Tom’s eastern edge.

300 West 19th

Best of Chicago 2010

Best thing you’d like to see CTA spend $3 fare on

Audience Choice, Goods & Services No Comments »

Train tracking

Seasoned CTA riders know that the Blue Line will be under construction for the rest of time, and that the Brown Line-Red Line tangle is not going anywhere soon, so let’s get tracking! In London’s Tube, monitors at every station list the wait time till the next train, which comes in real handy in suppressing homicidal urges when your train pulls in packed way too tight for even Twiggy. Here in Chicago, if we’re going to have to wait fifteen minutes, just tell us. And we’re not asking for anything too far-fetched; the bus tracking the CTA fully implemented this year has already revolutionized travel on that leg of the transit system. In fact, we want train tracking even without the fare increase!

Audience choice:
Cleaner trains, buses and stations

 Best audience comments: 
“Enforcing the “no eating” rule”; “More drivers that go off the script and tell people random things like “Go get ‘em, Tiger!” on the way in to work in the morning”; “Santa Trains. Every Train. Every Day.”; “Signs that tell you which train is coming when you’re paying your fare and can’t tell whether or not to run for the arriving train. Better yet, signs outside the El stop that tell you how many minutes till each train so you can decide whether to go straight in or have a cigarette.”

Best of Chicago 2009

Best next thing for the city to privatize after selling off Midway Airport and the parking meters

Audience Choice, City Life No Comments »

Liquor licenses

Wonder why that beautiful new nightspot that looks like it’s been about to open for a couple of months still hasn’t opened? Probably waiting for a liquor license. Talk to anyone who’s ever tried to open a venue with a license in Chicago and you’ll hear the same nightmarish stories of a costly and capricious process that often spills thousands of dollars in red ink as entrepreneurs play guessing games as to the process and timing. Why not let the marketplace decide? Grant licenses in an auction process, with the highest bidder always getting the next license, and an expedited review of background and facility, as required. Then businesses will at least feel like they have control over their own destiny, rather than wondering if they’ve failed to grease the right palms, or worse.

Audience choice

Audience Comments: “it’s bad enough I haven’t seen the real color of a CTA train in years due to a thick layer of ads. And that hologram in the blue line. I wouldn’t mind riding the SONY line or the Dunkin Donuts line”; “Since these things are done to make the most $ with no regard to the impact on the folks that use them, maximum impact by selling the CTA – Imagine $5 fares!”

Best of Chicago 2008

Best idea to fix the CTA

Audience Choice, City Life No Comments »

They say Paris is for lovers. Apparently, it’s also for Mayor Daley.

Over the years, Daley has made no bones in hiding his affinity for the French capital, and Chicago`s beautification has been influenced as such. Yet for all the mayor`s French inspiration, it`s a shame he hasn’t ridden the Paris Metro system. Platforms and tracks are immaculate; trains run on time, round the clock, and with schedule notifications from digital trip advisers. With the CTA falling apart at the half-century-old crossbeams, maybe it’s time for Daley to take a trip through the Parisian trenches.

Audience Choice:
New leadership
Best audience comments: “$1 gas tax with revenues to CTA for massive infrastructure upgrade. Mass transit is the only way forward, cars need to be phased out, make them unnattractive and voila”; “Accept the money from the state”; “Change the state funding formula, at long last!”; “Cleaner trains and stations”; “Common sense: They need someone to actually navigate the system, so they understand that, with all these construction changes, etc, there is confusion — even for those who ride everyday”; “Consider the alternative: Global Warming”; “Cut the number of buses”; “Don`t do construction during rush hour. People get pissed”; “Employ people who actually work, not sit around or sleep on the job”; “fares based on distance like most other cities no more $1.75 rides from 95th/Dan Ryan to O`Hare”; “fix the bumpy tracks”; “Free rides”; “Get rid of the hacks and incompetent lazy workers”; “Give them money to expand service instead of closing it down. If people can`t get to work on time the city as a whole loses money, spend money to make money (economics, you know)”; “Government funding/ everyone who rides donates one dollar once a year/convert buses to run on used cooking oil, also less of the CTA security police following buses. cut them there are lots of cops in chicago. give drivers a direct contact to police for major problems”; “gps technology and automation”; “Increase funding via gas tax”; “Increase Train frequency”; “Invest: Crucial to future of Chicago continuing being the greatest city”; “It`s really unattractive to people `cause most of the buses and nearly all of the trains and train stations are filthy and often scary. Time to fix everything to make them attractive to use: Make all the buses hybrid (they accelerate quicker and are more likely to keep to their time schedules), designate bus lanes only on some of the busiest streets (which would get rid of street parking on main streets: Belmont, Diversey, North Avenue, and more”; “Levy a municipal gas tax (or really any tax) and make it free to ride. Really anything that forces wealthy suburbanites to pay back the urban center they fled from does fine”; “Look at European or South American cities for ideas”; “Look at foreign countries` transit systems like Japan and South Korea. Their trains run fast, smooth, and with little construction. I don`t konw how they`re doing it, but if Chicago looked into it, i`m sure there are MANY things we could mimic”; “Make it a condition of bringing the Olympics to Chicago in 2016: I`m going to write to the IOC and let them know that I live here and I think that any city that can`t support its own mass transit doesn`t deserve the Olympics. Hear me, Dick? I`m not kidding”; “Make the politicians ride it for a month”; “More lines”; “More service!”; “Privatize”; “Raise Gas Taxes”; “Raise rates”; “Reduce payroll. With the ridership in Chicago, there is no reason why they shouldn`t be able to turn a profit. It must be a result of overpaid employees and unneeded positions. Make it work”; “Screw the big-bucks concrete new stations bring back the Coney Island feeling of rickety tracks”; “Smaller bus/more regular service”; “State funding: it`s time Illinois accepted its evil child”; “Tax cars coming into the city”; “Threaten the Olympics: Proposed email and letter barrage to the International Olympic Committee alerting them to the Third World quality of our public transportation system. Nothing would be more likely to garner the Mayor`s attention and intercession”; “Zeppelins.”

Best of Chicago 2007