The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The Ohio Feeder must die

The Ohio Feeder runs about 2 kilometers from Chicago's River North nightlife area to the Kennedy Expressway (I-90/94). As former Milwaukee mayor John Norquist told Streetsblog on Friday, just like San Francisco's Embarcadero Freeway and Seoul's Cheonggyecheon, we need to remove the Ohio Feeder:

Swapping the expressway extension for a surface-level boulevard would be an obvious choice to make this part of town safer, more efficient, more environmentally friendly, more vibrant – and more profitable. "Instead of making it harder to get to River North from the Kennedy, it would expand River North closer to the Kennedy."

SF actually saw travel times shorten when the Embarcadero Freeway was removed after being damaged by an earthquake, Norquist noted. "At rush hour, a boulevard carries more traffic because drivers move at the optimal speed. More and more research is piling up about the harmful aspects of urban freeways, including sprawl, pollution, congestion, and increased travel times. And you can't build a coffee shop on a freeway."

Transforming the Ohio Feeder into surface road, similar to what was done with Milwaukee's Park East Freeway "really won't require a change on every part of it," Norquist he said. "The bridge over the Chicago River was built in 1962 and fixed up in 1992. It's going be due for a rehab soon anyway. And it's not like you have to teat the whole freeway down. Much of it is practically at-grade, so you could turn it into a boulevard pretty easily."

With the redevelopment of the former Chicago Tribune printing plant 200 meters to the north, and the potential for having unimpeded bike, pedestrian, and (yes) car traffic between Kinzie and Chicago, it would transform the neighborhood. We might be stuck with the Kennedy and the Dan Ryan, as abominable as those two highways are; but we can—and should—open up River North to development west of Orleans by removing the ugly scar connecting it to the Kennedy.

Watching for Air Force One

The President arrived in Chicago a little while ago, but sadly I haven't seen either his airplane or his helicopter. Apparently he's just a couple of blocks from me. I'll wave if I see him.

Meanwhile:

Finally, London houseboats, which one could pick up for under £40,000 just a few years ago, now go for £500,000 plus thousands in costs, pricing out the lower-income folks who used to live on them. They seem pretty cool, but good luck finding a mooring.

When opponents become cartoon villains

If South Dakota governor and unapologetic puppy-killer Kristi Noem (R, obviously) becomes the XPOTUS's running mate this year, the GOP will have outdone its own Doctor Evil mindset. And yet, that is not the worst thing happening in the world today:

  • A California judge has ruled a recent state law requiring municipalities to undo discriminatory zoning laws unconstitutional, though it's not clear how long that ruling will stand.
  • Do you own a GM car made in this decade? It may be spying on you, and sharing your driving history with your insurance company without your consent.
  • After a non-profit group suggested merging the CTA, Metra, and Pace, the Illinois House has started the legislative process to do just that.
  • Ezra Klein takes us through the history of the infamous Noe Valley public toilet in San Francisco, which took years to get through the planning process, increasing its cost at every step.
  • Remember: public policy led to the proliferation of trucks masquerading as cars that endanger pedestrians, pollute neighborhoods, and generally look ugly.

Finally, Josh Marshall points out that while he (and I) support the basic aim of student protests against the Gaza war—Israel must stop killing people in Gaza—we do not support the groups organizing those protests at Columbia and other universities, almost all of which call for the destruction of the Jewish state. I'm also somewhat anxious about the normal propensity of young people to demand easy answers to complex questions becoming a democracy-ending problem later this year. I mean, if you think students are always on the right side of history, I need to direct your attention to China in 1966 and one or two other examples. Children don't do nuance.

The rise of Global Tetrahedron

The satirical newspaper The Onion just got bought by a newly-formed LLC called, yes, Global Tetrahedron. Longtime Onion readers will probably recognize the name; I had to remind myself.

Other events in the past day or so:

Time to fetch Cassie from school.

Scattered thunderstorms?

The forecast today called for a lot more rain than we've had, so Cassie might get more walkies than planned. Before that happens, I'm waiting for a build to run in our dev pipeline, and one or two stories piqued my interest to occupy me before it finishes:

Finally, after a couple of months of incoherent babbling, Voyager 1—now 24.3 million kilometers from Earth, 22.5 light-hours away, after 46 years and 7 months of travel—has started making sense again. Well, hello there!

Another lovely day

Except for the sun blinding me around 5:30 pm every day due to a quirk in my house's architecture (I will eventually fix it with window treatments), I love sunny spring days. Cassie and I have already spent almost an hour outside and we'll spend another 45 minutes or so when I get back from an odd music gig that I'll describe tomorrow or Monday.

I wanted to highlight just one story from earlier this week, by New Republic's Kate Aronoff, with the accurate and delightful headline "Anything Elon Musk can do a bus can do better:"

Whether on electrification or autonomous vehicles, Tesla has long been hailed as a company uniquely capable of revolutionizing transportation, with Elon Musk portrayed as the big brain in charge. A series of high-profile blunders, though—like Cybertrucks with stick accelerators and a wrongful death settlement—have cast doubt on Tesla’s capacity to speed the world toward an electrified future. Policymakers might want to start asking themselves: When it comes to creating a transportation system fit for our climate-changed twenty-first century, what can Elon Musk do that the humble city bus cannot?

Public buses are an unbeatable value. Here in New York City, $2.90 will get you between and within boroughs, usually just a few blocks from your door. A pilot program initiated last fall included one fare-free route in each borough, in the hopes of eventually making buses free throughout. Boston made a number of bus lines fare-free this year, as well. Olympia and many other Washington municipalities have embraced free buses throughout their entire transit system, following the example set in 2019 by Kansas City, Missouri, and Raleigh, North Carolina. Luxembourg offers free public transit nationwide, and several other countries offer free buses, trams, and trains to people under 18, students, and senior citizens.

The cheapest Tesla, by contrast, costs nearly $40,000, which isn’t counting the cost of insurance, financing, and all the other headaches involved in purchasing and owning a car. Elon Musk has allegedly scrapped plans to make what would have been Tesla’s most affordable offering yet, a smaller car slated to be priced at around $25,000. That announcement had already been delayed for several years, reportedly because Musk demanded that his engineers produce a vehicle without pedals or a steering wheel.

Finally, public buses offer something to the challenge of decarbonizing transportation that Elon Musk never can: scale. If the goal of decarbonized transit is to get as many people moving using as little carbon as possible, then it’s wildly more efficient to invest more public resources into electrifying and expanding mass transit options than in helping a billionaire sell more luxury items.

Aronoff doesn't even need to point out that Musk himself has never invented a single goddamned thing. He leveraged a family fortune made in Apartheid South Africa into controlling shares of several companies that eventually all failed, whether completely or just simply never lived up to the hype.

But Aronoff is right. I've visited London 20 times in the last 10 years and only twice have I had to resort to taking a hired car—once when the Southern Rail went on strike the day I flew into Gatwick last summer, and once when I was well pissed and didn't want to wait for a bus in the rain. Trains and buses cover the entire Southeast region, run all night in most cases, and don't cost all that much. Chicago has them too. Who needs a Tesla truck that will cut your fingers off if you try closing the trunk?

Busy news day

It's a gorgeous Friday afternoon in Chicago. So why am I inside? Right. Work. I'll eventually take Cassie out again today, and I may even have a chance to read all of these:

Finally, a milestone of sorts. The retail vacancy rate in downtown Chicago continues to climb as a longtime institution on North Wells finally closed. That's right, Wells Books, the last adult-entertainment store in the Loop, has closed.

Things we probably could have predicted

The older I get, the less human beings surprise me. Oh, individual people surprise me all the time, mainly because I have smart and creative friends. But groups of people? They're going to be unsurprising and kind of dumb almost always.

Cases in point:

  • The Arizona Supreme Court's decision allowing enforcement of a pre-statehood, Civil War-era abortion law looks even worse when you learn what else is in the 1864 Howell Code.
  • Chicago's Loop neighborhood has 6,000 unsold luxury condos, with no more new projects underway, in part because developers failed to predict that 3% interest rates wouldn't last forever. This, to me, looks like failing to predict it will rain in Seattle eventually, because it hasn't rained in a week.
  • Forget Detroit and Houston; even ultra-wealthy municipalities like Santa Clara, Calif., have obstinately failed to predict that they would ever have to pay ruinous costs to maintain all the infrastructure they built last century.
  • Young women embracing the role of "tradwife" (i.e., becoming a 1950s-style woman of leisure or "stay-at-home-girlfriend") seem destined to unhappy long-term consequences of becoming someone's accessory.
  • Author John Scalzi provides advice which even he thinks aspiring authors should already know: don't fabricate quotes by living authors to sell your new manuscript because you will get caught.

Finally, author Gary Shteyngart floats off on the maiden voyage of Royal Caribbean's Icon of the Seas, the largest cruise ship ever built, and finds what can only be described as a very specific slice of humanity that would make the Golgafrinchans proud.

One news story eclipsed all the others

Ah, ha ha. Ha.

Anyway, here are a couple other stories from the last couple of days:

Finally, Ohio State wildlife and ecology professor Stanley Gehrt has written a book I will have to stop myself (for now) from adding to my ever-expanding shelf of books I need to read. Gehrt spent decades studying Chicago's coyote population and how well they co-exist with us, tagging more than 1,400 coyotes and collaring another 700.

My only complaint about the animals is they don't eat enough rabbits. I live near several suspected dens, the closest only about 400 meters from my front door. I can't wait to read the book.

As for the risks coyotes pose to humans, he lets us know who the real enemy is: “If you were to ask me, ‘What’s the most dangerous animal out there [for urban dwellers]?’, it’s white-tailed deer,” Gehrt said.

What I learned about Google Maps yesterday

Getting down to Whitestown, Ind., yesterday took about 4 hours and 45 minutes, including a stop to empty Cassie, which isn't great but isn't nearly as bad as I'd feared. Getting home, however, taught me about the limitations of Google Maps in a way I'm not likely to forget.

Here's the first leg of our return trip, from Whitestown to just south of Wolcott, Ind., a distance of 109 km:

That took us 3 hours and 41 minutes, an average of 29.6 km/h. People ride bikes faster than that.

You can see spots where we got off Interstate 65 and followed Google's instructions to take alternate roads, because I-65 had an average speed of a portly beagle. (I'm not making up the comparison. I'm talking about a specific beagle.)

As it turned out, though, Google had no data at all about the alternate roads until people started driving on them. So when Google said "take County Road 50 N to County Road 500 W" because it thought no one was on those roads, that was true until Google told 300 people to take them.

That made getting back on I-65 a new kind of hell as stoplights set up to admit the 2 or 3 cars usually going through an intersection completely failed to clear the 5-km line of cars trying to turn.

We finally learned our lesson, too late, after we gave up on Google Maps and lit out on US-231 towards Wolcott. From that point until we got onto the Dan Ryan expressway in Chicago we averaged about 90 km/h. We ignored Google and paralleled I-65 until it looked like the Interstate had finally cleared up.

The other thing we learned was, if there's a 40-minute line for the bathroom, leave. We found a couple of gas stations with no lines just 5 minutes from "Hub Plaza" on the map above.

And as a bonus, we got to see a magnificent sunset over the fields of central Indiana that we would not have seen from the Interstate.

The total return time from Whitesville to Chicago was 6 hours and 48 minutes.

Next time I travel through rural parts of the US, I'm going to go back to the navigation skills I learned before we had satnav in every car.

One more thing: if the US had the same level of technology and similar transport policies as our peer nations (not to mention China), I would simply have gotten on a high-speed train in downtown Chicago and gotten out in Indianapolis 90 minutes later. Alas, American transportation is still stuck in the mid-1900s, with no likelihood of advancing—especially in a reactionary state like Indiana.

But just to be clear: it was totally worth it. There is nothing like seeing a total solar eclipse. I'm already thinking about going to Spain in 2026.