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Buzzer in Chicago: tidbits about the conference and Chicago transit

The APTA rail conference registration sign in the Chicago Hilton. I’m currently in the registration room, promoting Vancouver’s 2010 conference to other transit agencies and industry folks!

The APTA rail conference registration sign in the Chicago Hilton. I’m currently in the registration room, promoting Vancouver’s 2010 conference to other transit agencies and industry folks!

Hi everyone! I see you all had a busy weekend what with the Golden Ears celebration and all. As for yours truly, I’m writing from the APTA rail conference in Chicago this week!

Me at the booth!

Me at the booth!

TransLink is hosting next year’s rail conference, so I’m sitting at a table promoting it to our colleagues in the registration room.

This is the first time I’ve been to an APTA conference, and the response from transit professionals about TransLink and our city is pretty amazing. (Also amazing: the number of different American accents here. Wow!)

Things I’ve heard from other delegates so far, spanning from Toronto to Texas to Taipei (and this is all true, I swear):

  • “You guys got a really good guy in Mike Shiffer.” (Mike’s our new Vice-President of Planning, and originally from Chicago.)
  • “TransLink? That’s Tom Prendergast, right? He’s a great guy.” (Tom’s our CEO!)
  • “We love your trolley system!”
  • “TransLink? That’s great—we’re really looking to your system as we develop our transit system.”
  • “Vancouver! That’s my favourite city!”

(By the way, we brought the transit buttons from I Love Transit Week, and people are super into them! Although some do ask “What’s MKI and MK II”?)

Panoramic of the registration room from my table. The Chicago Transit Authority is across from me, giving delegates info about the city and system, and at right is the APTA registration booth.

Panoramic of the registration room from my table. The Chicago Transit Authority is across from me, giving delegates info about the city and system, and at right is the APTA registration booth.

There are so many people are here from an astonishing array of places. Virtually every transit system in Canada and America is represented, plus people from France’s national railway, South Korea, Tokyo, and more.

The conference really lets everyone come together to share knowledge, and connect with others about all different aspects of running a rail system—technical, customer service, leadership, and much more. Here’s the full session list if you’re curious. (PS: there are also APTA conferences for buses and other specialties too.)

There are also going to be some great behind-the-scenes tours put on by the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and others. I’m going on three tours and these will make up the bulk of my posts from Chicago – I’m pretty excited about them!

Brief encounters with Chicago transit

The Red Line zooms through Harrison Station.

The Red Line zooms through Harrison Station.

In my limited time here, I’ve been able to ride the Red Line, one of Chicago’s subway (underground) lines in the downtown area, and some of the elevated lines in the Loop. I’ve also seen a few buses pass by, of course!

Chicago’s system is the second biggest in America, offering bus and rapid transit to the city and 40 suburbs. The underground and elevated train systems date back as far as the late 1800s, so the system has a lot of history and great connections throughout the city (including lines to both airports!).

I went down to Harrison station on the Red Line. The first thing I noticed is that the subway stations are really not that far below the surface: just one flight of stairs down and there you are, like some of the Canada Line stations.

The stations are also not really big or elaborate. For the most part, there’s just one long platform and trains on either side (or two platforms with trains in the middle).

The poetry in Harrison Station is written on the station poles!

The poetry in Harrison Station is written on the station poles!

Not every station is accessible by the way – the CTA’s info sheet says just over half of stations are accessible, which comes with the territory when it’s an older system. (Every bus in the fleet is accessible, though!)

And a nice touch I noticed in this station: the poetry on transit is written on the posts! Very nice use of the space. Also, you can see that the rumble strip on the edge of the platform is blue, rather than the yellow we use in Vancouver.

This is the obligatory “train-pulling-into-a-station” video. I don’t know if you can tell from this video, but these trains are loud! When we walked outside by the elevated tracks, the sound of the train screeching around a corner was earsplitting. In comparison, the SkyTrain is much quieter.

Ticket machines in Chicago station on the Red Line.

Ticket machines in Chicago station on the Red Line.

Like our system, you buy your tickets from ticket vending machines. The regular machines are cash only – no credit or bank cards. There are also express machines at select stations do accept credit and debit.

As well, there is is a Chicago Card smartcard available, which you can top up at the vending machines. (A premium version can be topped up online.)

Cash fares are $2.25 for one ride only, not 90 minutes as in our system. Of course this gets cheaper as you buy multi-day passes. Here’s the full fare schedule if you’re interested.

And this video is fun — listen and you’ll hear the voice for the Chicago announcement system is a smooth male radio voice. The buses use the same type of voice for its automated announcements too.

Library Station on the elevated train system in downtown Chicago.

Library Station on the elevated train system in downtown Chicago.

I rode the elevated system in the evening. The stations seem to be in various states of repair. For example, this one above is updated and modern, done in steel and concrete, with an elevator for accessibility.

LaSalle Station on the elevated system in downtown Chicago.

LaSalle Station on the elevated system in downtown Chicago.

Wooden walkways at a Chicago elevated train station.

Wooden walkways at a Chicago elevated train station.

However, this station above is made chiefly of wood, with wood stairs and platforms leading up to the train platform. No elevator at this one either.

And none of this is a judgment on the quality of the Chicago system, by the way: it’s an amazing system, they are great hosts, and I’m sure I’ll learn more this week about why everything is the way it is!

And to cap things off, here is a picture of Chicago’s new New Flyer hybrids:

A new Chicago hybrid bus.

A new Chicago hybrid bus.

Look how they declare “Clean Air Hybrid Bus” right on the side! Not sure if we’ll do the same, but I’ll definitely send this to my colleagues for reference purposes :)


5 Comments

  • By David, June 15, 2009 @ 12:55 pm

    Looks like you’re mhaving a great time out there. Any chance you can pick up some pointers on way-finding? There’s been a lot of negative responses to the Canada Line wayfinding on Skyscaper.com threads. Not sure if Chicago is a good reference, but other agencies may have great ideas.

    Have a great time, looking forward to more posts.

  • By ;-), June 15, 2009 @ 1:07 pm

    I never knew the stations were so beautiful underground.

    Jhenifer, got a little challenge for you while in Chicago. See if you can get a demonstration of Submedia or SideTracks tunnel media. I’d like to hear your opinion if this technology can be applied on the long Canada Line Tunnel for funding or providing wayfinding information. It would be great if we can pipe above ground vista’s to riders in the tunnel to give rider a sense of life above ground.

    I’ve included a link in my id above.

  • By CJ Stebbing, June 15, 2009 @ 1:43 pm

    Don’t have too much fun over there….lol :p

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, June 15, 2009 @ 3:16 pm

    ;-): I’ll keep an eye out for those ads! I’m going on a 6h multimodal tour of the region on Wednesday, so we certainly might see it then.

    David: I believe Canada Line wayfinding stuff is managed by InTransit BC and not us… so there might not be a lot I can pass on to them. Will keep an eye on the wayfinding nonetheless! (So far, it’s sort of different from station to station — the newer ones have great maps even with photos of the street-level scenery, while some that haven’t yet been renovated don’t have the same quality.

  • By ;-), June 15, 2009 @ 7:29 pm

    For those not familiar with SideTrack Technologies, I included a YouTube video (the link is in my Name) that describes how dark subway tunnels between stations can be animated. While focussed on advertising profit, part of the image can possibly be adapted for wayfinding between stations.

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