Tag: commute

Tricks and Time

Swimming competitively in high school taught me the value of time down to a second.  A split second, as it turns out, is a lot of time.  I worked hard for years, trained twice daily in the early morning, in the cold, in the peak of summer time bliss to shave down a split second of a time in a race.

So when the train takes 8 minutes to arrive, and the connecting train takes 10 minutes to arrive, sometimes I get stressed over all those nanoseconds of wasted time when I could be at home in bed, or at work on the clocking getting paid, precious time wasted in my schedule chopped full of rest, fun, and personal projects.  I am concerned about getting back home as soon I can and soaking in the bath tub.

That 18 minutes, though, of time waiting for the iron chariot to arrive at the platform stop, is not really that much time.  It is only 3 minutes longer then 15, which is nothing but a wink in time.  It’s a coffee break, it’s a gossip break, it’s a few text messages on the phone.

Funny thing is, though, that as I was hyping myself for not being mad at myself for not running to catch the train, for telling myself that I can be a few minutes late to work- I have all day after all, the train that I ended up boarding got stuck on the rails for a full 30 minutes- no moving, locked inside with the explanation about a delay happening.

Ironic, that even the most well intended pep talks, isn’t always enough.  Fortunately though, there is always tomorrow, with a new train to catch, and new minutes to idly pass while dreaming of maximum productivity.

Just Another Day

Walking to the train station on a surprisingly sunny winter afternoon, on a short 6 minute walk to the platform, the number of people that you pass by is equally as stunning as the seemingly early spring Friday morning.

Four Uptown residents stand in line waiting for the bus, pressed up against the outside wall of an old Chicago building-the inside of the worn brick wall of this particular building lies the dying soul of an old premier jazz club, frequented by the greats of a bygone age- an iconic club that has been swinging for over 100 years.

The first person that I pass is giggling to himself like he has just heard the best joke ever told.  Either he is still drunk, or just generally delusional, it is hard to tell.

Next in line is an old man with his hand out begging for money.

The third man, tall and in a straight green jacket is standing perfectly still, silently waiting for the bus to arrive at the stop, successfully ignoring the world around.

The fourth person refuses to wait next to the old jazz club wall, instead teeters near the curb, obnoxiously not following social protocol by being in the way of the sidewalk traffic.

After the line of bus soldiers, a man, seemingly homeless, stands in the middle of the sidewalk for no other reason than producing another obstacle in the early morning course to catch the train.  After the standing man, with his arms held up to the sky for no reason,  comes the cook at the local taco joint- the place who’s doors are directly in front of the bus stop like a welcome matt, rounds the living statue with a hot bowl of soup in his hands.  I also like soup for breakfast, and we nod to each other hello, happy soup to you.

I turn left and cross the street, nod hello to the guy who is always on that side of the corner, in front of the bank, with the cardboard sign in his hands.

I cross the street again, and at the other side is the local chain coffee shop, with a line of beggars combing over the patrons just like the line of people requesting coffee.  Outside these doors is the lady who sells Street Wise who has a rotating wig collection, an inclination for daily change that I can admire.  She keeps the same speech, though, preaches the same spiel to every passerby- yells it almost in a high pitched plea.

After this last Uptown persona, I dodge in between the slow walking shuffles of the working class, run up the stairs after I beep my fare card, hoping to catch the train that just pulled into the station nested high on the elevated track line, chugging me downtown to work and to prosperity, on the electrified iron balance beams that jet me on my early morning trans-city commute.

Friday Night Rush

Tucked away in the corner of the train I am surrounded by the calm masses that are in a hurry to get home. Sardined in my seat, squished in my spot, silently we wander wayward towards home.  The subdued rush is content with the distraction found in the small handheld phone. Conversations rage on silently, games are individually studied with concentrated attention, eyes are trained at the tiny yet enthralling miniature screen. The train car packed with people, without an inch to give on all sides, remains quiet.  There is nothing to say to the fellow strangers, nothing to talk about on this trip away from the week of work.  Only the gentle sway of the train teetering on the parallel tracks, rocking us like children to our final destination, is the full extent of the action in this crowd.  The silent soldiers of the work force are content passing through the dark and rainy evening.  The train gradually empties as I slowly speed home, fresh air fills the vacated spaces.

The bicycle’s plea

What if there were bike lanes along the train tracks?  How would that change the biking scene in Chicago?  Frankly biking in this city sucks.  Yes there are a few bike lanes, but hardly any are protected lanes- where the bike lane is separated from the direct traffic, tucked in between parked cars and the curb.  Within this great and grandiose city there are the very few that do exist, and those teases lasts for but a short spell, like a lack luster summer romance.

Riding next to full blown rush hour traffic, squeezed in between semi trucks, garbage trucks, and food service trucks, and stopping every 20 feet for a stop sign or traffic light, is not fun.  It used to be thrilling, but now it is just straight up annoying.  Do I want to ride my bike everyday?  No because it is not fun anymore.  Stopping that precious momentum just to rebuild it again to that coasting status takes a lot of energy.  Then stop again as soon as you get going.

Regaining this momentum is a lot different from the experience in the car.  Yes start and stop is annoying, but on the bike it is downright challenging.  This, my driving friends, is why we cyclists cannot stop at every stop sign.  Not only the force required for the sake of movement, it is also the time involved.  In the time it takes to complete the stop, then to go, and finally to pass through the intersection, we are looking at a solid minute.  If instead, I look at the intersection and make sure all parties are reaching their stop, I will continue on my journey.  This agreement saves everyone time.  We are all in a rush.  So please cars, understand that we bikers have already seen you, and are not being jerks if we glide by seemingly unknowingly.

I am not justifying this agreement as a viable solution, do not get me wrong. It is clearly not working.

One ideal solution to the bike conundrum would be to make use of the avenues that already exist in the city: train tracks.  There is one old track line that has been reinvented as a bike and walking path: the 606.  This is a great solution and I want to see more types of this sort of innovative city structure to help carry us into a modern and green city, the type of city that Chicago is promoting, the type of city that adapts to the modern man’s hustle.  I want cycling to be a viable solution, an easy and stress free form of transportation that is not a life and death scenario, as it is now.

The advancement of the traffic jam

Dear Chicago,

Why are we stuck in a Jeffersonian era of traffic control? This constant stopping is slowing down progress, making all commutes much more cumbersome than necessary, creating a road rage anger that is deep-rooted and raw, superbly aggressive and panic-stricken.

The first traffic light was invented in 1868, and after 1920, the design has largely not changed.  Since Woodrow Wilson was president, the traffic light has not been upgraded, the flow of traffic has not been improved upon.  The only update we have gotten in 150 years is that there is a countdown for signal change.  This is not revolutionary, but it is included on the Wikipedia page because there is nothing else to say about this highly important societal tool that impacts just about everyone.

It is beyond time for a change, a drastic change, one that incorporates all this technology to help ease the burden of stopping and starting at regularly controlled intervals. The flow of traffic is not natural like the rushing river, it is sporadic like the ever changing Midwestern weather.  We need a system where the signals monitor the accumulated cars and then makes an informed decision on when to change.  Yes, an informed decision that accounts for multiple aspects, a technological decision based on data and real life events, not arbitrary parameters such as every two minutes regardless of the situation.  A scenario where they don’t blink on set schedule just for the sake of changing.  This is not a difficult or expensive fix, I bet the city could do it on its smart phone.

Same for the stop sign.  Lets make then digital so that you only have to stop if there is another car registered. The sign always says slow, but can change to stop when it is needed.

There needs to be bus priority lanes and traffic signals so that riding the bus is not so slow. Taking the bus is hardly a viable option because of how terribly slow the travel is.  The forever bus, that is what it is commonly referred to. The bus needs to travel faster than the flow of traffic, not slower.

Art and Science in the City’s Sky

I am overwhelmed by the beauty of the modern night, by the complacent dance of airplanes in the big, open, uninhabited sky.  I am astounded by the unnatural movements that dominate the once whimsical night.  The crafted zig zag pattern of overhead headlights feels like science fiction eerie in harmony, amazing with the complete overhaul of world above.

Nature has been transformed away from lure of the night sky mystery into a different meaning here in the heart of the city.

The patterns of the airplanes are distinctive, not abstract like the twinkle of the starry night.  Art is about making mistakes, science does not understand this concept.  Art is messy and bold, physics is well defined and stubborn with its limits.  Science has definitive rules, natures is creative in breaking these carefully ordered and well orchestrated structures of definition.

It barren up there now, in the lonely sky, save for the flying machines.  Modernity and technology may be convenient, but they lack the luster of the dreaming night, the spontaneity of the stars spark, the complexity of astrology’s secrets, the depth of the canvas that looms above.  The nation of galaxies that had been a part of humanity’s eye is now a series of dashes.