What’s Hot in Chicago? The Weather and Elon Musk’s High Speed Airport Shuttle

By Edward M. Bury, ARP (aka The PRDude)

What’s the hot topic of discussion around Chicago these days — besides the extreme heat this Father’s Day weekend?

Come on: Wouldn’t you want to ride in an electric vehicle that travels in a tube at 125-150 mph? Photo courtesy of the Boring Company.

Of course, it’s the recent announcement that billionaire entrepreneur and boundary-shattering businessman Elon Musk received approval from the City of Chicago to design, build and operate a high-speed underground transit network to shuttle people between O’Hare International Airport and the Loop.

The concept — small autonomous cars traveling at high speeds within a 17-mile tunnel — is revolutionary in the U.S.  The project would be managed by Mr. Musk’s Boring Company and privately funded, tremendous news for cash-challenged Chicago and the entire region.

But, like any bold concept that’s new, daring and unproven, there are detractors –many detractors in fact — who cite engineering challenges, the need to focus transportation development in other areas and the prospect that Chicago taxpayers will eventually have to pay for the project.

So in a laudable effort to help my city, I offer these three suggestions for Mr. Musk and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on how to strategically communicate plans to build the proposed tunnel transit network.

Build a Coalition of Supporters.  The still-to-be-named network will add another transportation option for people — primarily business travelers — to get to and from O’Hare.  This new mode will have an impact on existing transit options — most notably the CTA Blue Line.  Mr. Musk would be wise to engage the CTA and other transit agencies, taxi and limo services, the ride share companies, metropolitan planning, neighborhood and civic organizations and the hospitality industry. Enlist their input, listen to their concerns. Make the entire public and private community a partner of sorts, rather than an obstacle.

Regularly Share Results of California Project. The Boring Company already is building tunnels under Los Angeles to help alleviate the maddening and chronic auto congestion and even extend existing transit lines.  Regularly communicate the status of this project taking place in another major U.S. metropolitan area — both its successes and stumbling blocks. Do not try to sidestep or hide mistakes because in this digital day and age results of a project of this caliber will get exposed.

Maintain Focus that Groundbreaking Projects Can Work. And, they’ve happened here — 125 years ago.  What I’m referring to is the original Ferris Wheel, which debuted at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Yes, an underground pod carrying a dozen and moving at around 125 miles per hour is a much different transportation mode than a 264-foot wheel that carried more than 2,000 passengers fro a pleasure journey.  Still, engineering experts in the late 19th century maintained that Mr. Ferris’ wheel was not feasible.  (Wonder: How many ferris wheels are in operation today?) Given the success of Tesla and Space X, two other transportation conglomerates, Mr. Musk should continue to point out he and his team can conceive and build the once unthinkable.

Now it’s your turn. As this project moves forward, what communications advice and strategic direction would you offer to the builder and the city?

Chicago’s heat wave is forecast to end Tuesday. The O’Hare to the Loop tunnel will remain a hot topic for a much, much longer time.

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One Image, One Question: March 6, 2017

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

For nearly four years now, I’ve been somewhat of a “transit guy.” That is, I manage public affairs for a research unit that concentrates in four transportation clusters at the university where I work.

Rest assured friends: There were many, many more fellow Blue Line riders who were not shown in this image.

By leading communications for our center, I’ve gained a much better appreciation for the transit industry, the people who manage and plan transportation networks and what it takes in terms of resources and capital to keep systems operating safely, reliably and efficiently.

Which brings me to today’s topic: You guessed it, transportation.

From the image above, taken on my morning commute on the CTA Blue Line, it’s apparent that I had to share the car with many, many other commuters. (That’s o  ne reason why I hunker down in the operator’s compartment at the end of the car.)

And, to put it all in perspective: This image was taken around 8:15 a.m. at the Western Avenue station, meaning the train had five more stops before reaching Clark/Lake, the first station in the Loop.

As you could ascertain, by Western Avenue most likely every car on that run was fully packed, meaning lots of commuters down the line had to wait, and wait, and wait …

The overcrowding on Blue Line trains is not a new phenomenon these days. It’s being driven by societal factors — more mainly millennial-aged people eschewing auto ownership to take public transit — and a dramatic amount of new development along the Milwaukee Avenue corridor in Chicago, as illustrated by a recent report from online site Curbed Chicago.

So, onto the question:

What can be done to alleviate or mitigate overcrowded conditions on the Blue Line?

Your thoughts are most welcome. Being a communicator, my first response would be to build awareness for other modes, like bus and ride share. And, perhaps those will evolve.

And, by the way, I work with some pretty smart transportation research professionals who probably have some thoughts of their own.

The Yerkes Observatory: A Celestial Travelogue at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Little did I know that our tour of the historic Yerkes Observatory along the shores of Lake Geneva, the resort community 90 or so miles north of Chicago, would hit home personally in these two ways:

1. The Observatory was funded by a guy — Charles Yerkes — who made his second fortune in Chicago.

2. Mr. Yerkes, who lived quite the colorful life, was a pioneer in the development of Chicago’s rapid transit rail network.

Loyal followers know that I am a real Chicago guy, and currently I use my public relations and communications skills to support research completed by a transportation research unit at a leading university here. So, it was quite fascinating to learn more about the Observatory, its benefactor and link to Chicago and Chicago transit.

You can learn more about Yerkes from their website. But below are images taken Saturday while Susan and I joined some 40 others in a tour of this fascinating facility, part of the University of Chicago.

Welcome to Yerkes.

Welcome to Yerkes! You can quickly ascertain that the architect was not a minimalist when it came to style and symbolism.

Yes, they have smaller telescopes here, too.

Yes, they have smaller telescopes here, too.

Susan touring the small museum.

Susan touring the small museum, which includes art, artifacts and insight on the lives of the astronomers and their families.

A view of the the Observatory from grounds behind the main entrance.

A view of the the Observatory from grounds behind the main entrance. Yerkes opened in 1897.

Our outstanding guide (man in blue sweatshirt) was passionate and the proverbial fountain of knowledge.

Our outstanding guide (man in blue sweatshirt) was passionate and the proverbial fountain of knowledge on Yerkes — the man and the Observatory.

That's one pretty big telescope, for sure. And, it still works.

That’s one big telescope, for sure. And, it still works!

If you look really close, you'll see the Yerkes Observatory dome across the still frozen Geneva Lake.

If you look really close, you’ll see the Yerkes Observatory dome across the still frozen Geneva Lake in the town of Williams Bay.

Some final personal thoughts: They don’t build ’em like this anymore, and more people should visit this great place, because there’s much more to the Lake Geneva area than water and resorts.