O’Hare Express: An Even Worse Idea Than The Flyover

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Somebody please show Rahm the Blue Line

February 14, 2018
By: Kate Lowe and Janet Smith
train route

Last week, four companies expressed interest in building an express train to O’Hare in response to a request for qualifications from the city. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the project’s most visible advocate, has argued the train would make Chicago more attractive to business and bolster our international image. But as researchers who study urban planning, transit investments and funding, we believe that an express train between O’Hare and downtown Chicago is a flashy solution in search of a problem.

In other words: It’s unnecessary. Worse, it could siphon political will and public resources away from needed projects, while triggering construction and capacity problems.

Here’s why public transportation agencies and the general public should derail this process before momentum takes over: Chicago already has a direct transit connection between O’Hare and downtown: the Blue Line. In fact, among the nation’s 40 busiest airports, a FiveThirtyEight analysis identified O’Hare as a unique example where the train is already a good option for downtown and can often beat a taxi in travel time. Improvements along the Blue Line have sped up the trip, and the recently announced FastTracks program will allow increased frequency. Chicago is already winning the competition for good train access to a major airport.

Beyond being unnecessary, we see risk for harm due to a possible diversion of scarce public resources. While the RFQ clearly states there will be no public funds provided, transportation projections of ridership levels and recouping production costs are notoriously overly optimistic. It’s likely that a funding gap will emerge as cost projections escalate or a construction problem emerges.


We expect that the public sector would then fill the funding gap. This happened in Detroit, where business and civic elites first began planning a privately funded streetcar. Realizing they needed more money, they then turned to the public sector and even had to seek a second round of federal dollars to cover a funding shortfall. The project, which especially benefits those who own land along the streetcar—many of whom pushed for the public spending—will require public operating subsidies when the private operator turns over the infrastructure in 10 years.

Even before detailed planning has started, we see hints of public spending for the express train. Press coverage has already mentioned that the public sector might pay for a station or a station upgrade. Even if the public sector does not fund a cost escalation or a station, the private operator will turn to the public sector for subsidies if ridership and hence revenues fail to match overly optimistic forecasts.

An infrastructure project also comes with trade-offs. Construction causes hassles and pollution in impacted communities—something we have been living with in many parts of our city the past few years.

Furthermore—and perhaps more important—is the question of right-of-way competition between the proposed rail project and existing services that are vital to our metro. The Infrastructure Trust proposed two routes with rights-of-way along existing transit service (the Blue Line and Metra), which could negatively impact the capacity of these services.

If our leaders are going to push for infrastructure investment, let’s see more work to improve our core system (a good example is the FastTracks program, which funds public transit improvements using ride hailing service fees).

Social exclusion and limited transit access impact thousands of residents today. As the Metropolitan Planning Council has found, we all lose out because of segregation. The energy and political will expended on a flashy train to O’Hare could instead be channeled to accelerate efforts at the local, state and federal level to secure funds for the much-needed and high-priority Red Line extension or improvements to bus service. These investments will do more to advance an inclusive and prosperous Chicago and will address transit equity for people who live in our city, instead of a train that rushes the already privileged out of it.

Kate Lowe is a faculty member at the University of Illinois at Chicago who focuses on transportation and planning. Janet Smith is a UIC faculty member and co-director of the Nathalie P. Voorhees Center for Neighborhood & Community Improvement.

link to Crain’s site



CTA Meeting: Flyover Demolition Plans


Red Purple Bypass Neighbors
Demolition and Utilities Relocation Meeting

February 15, 2018
6:30 pm -8:00 pm

Second Unitarian Church
656 W. Barry
Chicago, IL 60657

Please join us to receive information and discuss the demolition and utilities relocation work for the Red Purple Bypass Area. We look forward to seeing you.

If you have questions or need addition information, contact:
LaTrice Phillips-Thompson
CTA Government and Community Relations Officer
at: (312) 681-2709
or: lphillips-thompson@transitchicago.com

You may also contact us at:

or visit: www.transitchicago.com/rpmproject


CTA Meeting Rescheduled: Monday, Oct.23





The CTA appreciates your patience during Major League Baseball playoff season as we work to schedule meetings that don’t conflict with catching Chicago Cubs games!

We have set a new date to present the TOD study updates:

Monday, October 23rd, 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM (Presentation at 6:30 PM)
The Center on Halsted
3656 N. Halsted Street
Hoover-Leppen Theatre – Third Floor
Chicago, IL 60613

Oct. 18 CTA Meeting Postponed

The Cubs are in the playoffs, so we will all be busy watching baseball.
As soon as there is a new meeting date, we will post it.
Go Cubs!

From Alderman Tunney’s office: 
Please note that the Red-Purple Bypass Area TOD meeting originally scheduled for Thursday, October 18th will be rescheduled for a later date. I will share the new meeting date when it is confirmed.

Wed. Oct 18 – CTA Post-Flyover Planning Meeting – Please Attend, Comment!

Bypass Area

Oct. 18, 2017  
6:00–8:00 p.m.
(*Presentation at 6:30 p.m.)

The Center on Halsted
Hoover-Leppen Theatre
3656 N. Halsted Street
Third Floor
Chicago, IL 60613

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), in conjunction with the Chicago Department of Planning and Development, is continuing its redevelopment study to complement the Red and Purple Modernization transit construction project (RPM Phase One). The purpose of this Transit Oriented Development (TOD) study is to encourage specific, community-supported redevelopment strategies for portions of land required for the transit construction project that could be made available for redevelopment after construction.

Because this TOD study is community-driven, we rely on your input. This is the second in a series of three public meetings. The purpose of this meeting is to confirm outcomes of the first round of meetings and provide residents and business owners with an opportunity to:

  • Learn more about the study
  • Review study area planning principles
  • Consider redevelopment site concepts
  • Talk one-on-one with the CTA study team
  • Provide feedback and input on the overall vision for the plan

We look forward to seeing you.
If you have questions or need additional information,
you may contact us at RPM@transitchicago.com
or visit www.transitchicago.com/rpmproject.

You’re Invited: CTA Public Meeting on Post-Flyover Redevelopment

Care about Central Lakeview?
Come see the CTA ideas – and tell them your ideas – for reconstruction after the Flyover is built. Speak up for the future of Clark Street and Lakeview.

May 4, 2017
6:00–8:00 p.m.

The Center on Halsted 

Hoover-Leppen Theatre
3656 N. Halsted Street
Third Floor
Chicago, IL

More about the meeting from DNA Lakeview:

Got Ideas For Belmont Flyover Redevelopment? CTA Asking For Input Thursday 

By Ariel Cheung and Josh McGhee

Chicago Never, Ever Learns

We now are preparing to say Goodbye to Central Lakeview and several blocks of iconic Clark Street – and Hello to blocks of empty, useless lots with overhead cement – all to ‘fix’ a 40-second delay occurring on only 40% of CTA Red Line trips downtown.

This seems a good time to revisit what happened to a huge area of Chicago – thriving businesses, residents and all – so they could create the charming, ugly, gridlocked Eisenhower Expressway.

Excellent WBEZ article: 

When the Eisenhower Expressway
Moved In, Who Was Forced Out?

reported by Robert Loerzel
questions asked by Jillian Zarlenga