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Home for the heteronomous

Worshipping the god of convenience

This morning, I came across a man who had kneeled down to pray on the sidewalk, facing a local 7-11. He was basically aligned with the center of the store, making it look as though he was praying to some previously unknown god of 7-11. The snatches of prayer I heard seemed to be in the “your unworthy servant” genre — perhaps he had spilled some of his Slurpy, or made a mess in the condiment area the last time he got a hot dog there.

Another guy I’ve come across more than once, in widely separated areas: an apparent “Jew for Jesus,” who intersperses his prayers with what seem to be Hebrew words along with long, seemingly memorized passages that, as in the preaching clip on the first disc Godspeed’s Tiny Fists, have scripture-like cadences, etc., but don’t actually correspond to any scripture verses I’m familiar with. He seems to favor bus stops, and the worst part is that he will stand right outside the door when people board, so that you don’t know whether to pause and let him on — and you are of course in utter dread of the possibility of him getting on and continuing his discourse. On the occasions when he has actually gotten on, however (sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn’t), he has not preached during the actual bus trip.

A favorite genre of crazy guys talking to the air: black supremacists. More than once, I’ve come across them on the Dan Ryan branch of the Red Line (meaning I’m the only, or nearly the only, white person on board), and I’ve determined that they’re sufficiently confident that God will wipe out the white race that they have no interest in me in particular. On one occasion, however, a white woman travelling to U of C who was not familiar with that type of discourse essentially latched onto me after we both exited a car on which a black supremacist — in this case, one claiming to be the reincarnation of Moses, Jesus, Muhammed, et al. — was elaborating his views. While she seemed to be concerned for her safety, my main complaint was that I was just trying to get some reading done and couldn’t while he was talking — though presumably that’s the least I deserve as a white person.

September 1, 2010 Posted by | public transit, religion | 8 Comments

Mid-sized city public transit: why it sucks

Last year as I was applying for jobs, I did some research into the public transit options at the places I was applying and also tried to get a feel for what’s available in the US more generally. Doing so was difficult, because by and large, public transit websites suck ass. The biggest problem I found was that it’s very difficult to find something as simple as a full system map, which is arguably the first thing someone is going to be looking for. For instance, on the Kalamazoo Metro Transit page, you have to first find the “Bus Routes” link and then the system map is available in the middle of one of the paragraphs there. The map itself is of course virtually unreadable [PDF] — though to be fair, the seemingly random nature of the bus routes merely reflects the fundamental arationality of the street layout in Kalamazoo. They also, somewhat inexplicably, have a map of the main transfer center at the Amtrak station, listing which bus routes typically stop in which bays. A good alternative to looking at this map would be to go to the station and look around, since all the bus bays are visible from the other bus bays — if anything, providing this map only adds to the confusion.

Richard pointed out even worse difficulties on the Indianapolis “IndyGo” site: to find the map, you need to go under “Fixed Route” and select “System and Route Maps.” Once on the resulting page, I spent five minutes poking around before realizing that the huge white space wasn’t the bottom of the page but a “decorative” element separating the system map from the other maps. At least the map [PDF] is more attractive than Kalamazoo’s. Best of all is the Grand Rapids site, whose map is a nice Google Maps overlay (when I looked at it the first time, the routes were different colors — now it doesn’t seem to be working…).

And in what will come as a surprise to no one, this is what you get in place of a map of Flint’s bus routes.

The quality of the web sites might seem like a small matter, but I’ve found that it’s generally reflected in the quality of information available by other means. For instance, at the Kalamazoo transit center, I’ve been unable to find a printed system-wide map — maybe there is one, but I am there pretty often and it’s a bad sign if I haven’t been able to find it yet. In both Flint and Kalamazoo, bus stops are simply labelled “Bus Stop,” with no indication of what routes serve it, while in my brief experience of Grand Rapids last night, bus stops all seemed to be clearly labelled by route and to include route maps right there (this might not be universal, though).

I’m no public transit expert, but it seems to me that providing better communications and information would be the most cost-effective possible way to make public transit more useful to people — it would make life easier for those who have to take transit, and it would go a long way toward making transit seem like a viable option for those who are on the borderline. Even the best service expansion isn’t going to be of much use to people who find the system baffling or intimidating. I think it’s already been proven that providing something like Chicago’s “bus tracker” system, which people can check with their phones or before they leave the house on their computers, improves users’ experience even in the absense of any real improvement in service levels — other midwestern transit agencies have a lot of room to improve the user experience by doing simple things that don’t cost much in the grand scheme.

October 24, 2009 Posted by | public transit | 11 Comments

The black hole of car ownership

To make up for how long it’s been since I’ve read a novel, I’ve decided to read a really huge one: Pynchon’s Against the Day. I don’t have much to say directly about it so far, but when reading it, I get a sensation that I often get when reading about or watching movies about the pre-Fordist era — hearing about all the streetcars, the interurban trains, the massive nationwide rail network, I think, “Man, people were really free to move around back then!” (This sensation is even counter-intuitive when reading Pynchon, who of course views the rail network as a vast paranoid conspiracy choking the life out of the continent.)

Now this thought is kind of paradoxical: I assume people would more naturally associate freedom with having a car, embracing the open road, and that whole thing. Continue reading

March 1, 2009 Posted by | public transit | 4 Comments

As a theologian, I know a lot about urban planning

Today I came across this interesting blog post that went beyond the CTA’s Circle Line concept to create a kind of fantasy CTA map [PDF]. Some aspects of it are out of date at this point — for instance, the Pink Line takes the place of the rather complicated stuff involving the Orange and Brown Lines. As far as the Circle Line itself goes, the idea to extend the circle to 35th instead of Cermak seems great (see the heading “Let’s complete the Circle”). Restoring the old Humbolt Park line also seems like a good idea. But I would do things differently after that point.

Sadly, as a theologian, I don’t know a lot about graphic design, so this post might be hard to follow. [UPDATE: Though I still don’t know about graphic design, I have managed to find a good basic map to draw on to allow you all to follow along. Feast your eyes!


All extensions of existing lines are in the same color, but with thinner lines. The proposed Circle Line is the bright green thing, and the Midcity Transitway is black.] Continue reading

November 17, 2008 Posted by | public transit | Comments Off on As a theologian, I know a lot about urban planning

Plan Your Trip with the RTA!

This is one of the suggested trips from the RTA Trip Planner to get me from Lawrence & Western to Lawrence & Broadway. There is a bus route along Lawrence; I just plugged it into the trip planner to get an estimate for how long the trip would take. (Note: Lawrence runs east-west.)

Next Itinerary – 4800 N WESTERN AVE to 4800 N BROADWAY AVE

at 06:36 PM:
at 06:37 PM:


at 06:39 PM:
at 06:41 PM:


at 06:48 PM:
at 07:00 PM:

It is essentially telling me that I should take a bus one block south, then take another bus back north, and only then begin my journey east. I also note that this trip is the second result; it is followed by a third option that, while impractical, at least makes some minimal sense (for the locals: take the Brown Line to Belmont, then transfer and take the Red Line to Lawrence).

Apparently computers just aren’t up to the task of providing sensible public transit directions. I know that someone is going to say I should’ve used Google Maps or whatever that other one is, but they both suck equally badly. There must be some underlying computer-science problem here.

September 25, 2008 Posted by | public transit | 4 Comments

The Impossible Dream [Updated]

[Update: Readers have requested a graphical representation of my quest. Here it is:

Black dots represent stops “sincerely” visited. Consider all stops in the Loop detail checked off.]

Readers frequently e-mail me asking how my quest to maximize the number of L stops I’ve used is going. I haven’t had much to report recently, but today I made a major breakthrough: the nearly impossible-to-get Jarvis stop on the Red Line. That gives me the entire Red Line north of Roosevelt.

If anyone would like to get some good Middle Eastern food for dinner tonight, I can get the elusive Kedzie stop, thereby completing the Brown Line. My complete record is “below the fold.” Continue reading

September 17, 2008 Posted by | public transit | 26 Comments

Temporary inconvenience, permanent improvement

For the entire semester during which I am TAing a night class, I will be enjoying random reroutes of the Brown Line on the Loop, followed by a single-track zone closer to home. At the very least, I do not usually need to go downtown on the weekends, when the Loop repairs will lead to reroutes that even a transit junkie such as myself finds confusing.

All this work, as well as the three-track work at Belmont and Fullerton, will supposedly be completed by the end of the year — at which point my transit use will likely be much less.

With any luck (i.e., assuming I actually get a job for next fall), all relevant parts of the CTA will be fully rehabbed just in time for me to move away from the city. If I do not get a job for next fall, my consolation prize will be enjoyment of the full powers of the Brown Line. Obviously, I’m torn.

September 7, 2008 Posted by | public transit | 2 Comments