Homelessness: The True Image of a National Emergency

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

The concept of a “national emergency” dominated media coverage in recent weeks, driven by President Donald Trump’s decision earlier this month to demand federal funding to build the wall on the nation’s southern border.

This controversial use of presidential power certainly raised questions, primarily:

  • Is there, indeed, a crisis along our border with Mexico in terms of illegal entry, drug smuggling and other criminal activity?
  • Does this president, or any president, have the constitutional authority to declare a national emergency and demand federal funds without Congressional approval?

Perhaps there have been true national emergencies taking place here in the United States for a prolonged time in our history; but, they just don’t make headlines.

Note the image within this post. This lady shared a CTA Blue Line car with me, other Chicagoans and visitors one morning this week.  Most passengers on this train probably were headed to work, school, an appointment or home.

From what’s depicted here, this lady was probably going to none of the above.

Look closely, she’s there, behind the glass partition, wearing a brown jacket and maneuvering a cart loaded with sacks containing what’s likely her worldly possessions.

As she was about to exit at the Jackson station platform, I handed her some cash, about what I would spend on two beers these days, minus tip.

She paused, smiled, said thank you and put the bill in her pocket. I sensed dignity in this lady by the way she looked at me, responded to my offer and effectively moved her cart and belongings off the el car and onto the platform.

I hope the President or someone within his administration recognizes that homelessness is a true national emergency, and it’s taking place in many, many other cities and towns across the nation. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, more than 550,000 in this nation are homeless.  Here in Illinois, more than 10,000 experience homelessness.

After my encounter with the lady, I continued on with my work day, then I headed home.

My regret is that I all I did was give this lady some money. My hope is that she finds a true home someday soon.

Advertisements

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.

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.

See You on the 606, Chicago’s Way Cool Linear Guideway

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

A view of the 606 trail from the inbound CTA Blue Line.

A view of the 606 trail from the inbound CTA Blue Line.

For decades, I traveled on the Chicago Transit Authority Blue Line elevated train between home in various neighborhoods on the North Side to and from downtown. On every trip, I passed over a long-abandoned railroad spur known to most as the Bloomingdale Line. It was aptly named because much of the line ran parallel to Bloomingdale Avenue.

But during all those years, I never ventured onto the Bloomingdale, even though many types of people used the line, reportedly for both pleasure (jogging) and surreptitious activities (gang initiations).

Following years of work from dedicated people and sparked by a $95 million makeover, the Bloomingdale was re-christened June 6 as the The 606, Chicago’s newest linear park/trail.  The 606, which goes from Ashland Avenue on the east to Ridgeway Avenue on the west, spans 2.7 miles of a reclaimed Chicago transportation route.

Taking a rest break at Damen Avenue.

Taking a rest break at Damen Avenue.

So I had to visit.

On a bright and glorious Sunday afternoon, Susan and I rode our bikes from home in Avondale a few miles south to the entrance at Humboldt Drive. The 606 was crowded that day, but not in an uncomfortable way. We had to veer around pedestrians on occasion, and only a few times did we encounter a fellow cyclist who simply had to pass fellow trail users in a sprint.

Already, there are concerns over gentrification and concerns over crime on Chicago’s popular new route to get from here to there and not encounter a motorized vehicle. But that’s expected with a resource that’s new, cool and popular.  On my morning and evening Blue Line commute, I always observe people using the 606.

As a “transit guy” of sorts these days, I noticed many modes (that’s transit talk, you know) of transportation on this guideway (yes, this is a real word, but only used by transit people) during our visit:

  • Cycling
  • Pedestrian
  • Scooter (non-motorized)
  • Skateboard
  • Baby Carriage (three and four-wheel types)
  • Walker
The western end of the 606 trail provides a view of what's left of Chicago's industrial might.

The western end of the 606 trail provides a view of what’s left of Chicago’s industrial might.

Once the Bloomingdale Line  functioned partly as a freight spur that brought raw materials to the many small manufacturing industries that lined both sides of this unique urban trail. Most businesses, if not all, are gone, replaced in some areas by townhomes.

But I hope that funds are raised soon to erect historical signs that chronicle the industrial history of the surrounding streets before the foundries, warehouses and assembly plants shut down in the 1970s and 1980s.  A lot of effort and money went into giving this urban guideway a new purpose; but we shouldn’t forget what this uniquely Chicago transportation resource was originally designed to do.