Being a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has been very exciting these past couple of weeks. As well as observing protesters marching outside of the capitol, I also spent some time inside the capitol building as well. One of the days I was there, balloons were released from the ground level up towards the ceiling of the decorative dome. One of the balloons launched up above our heads took the shape of a pair of trains, attached with a banner that read “High Speed Fail.”
This sign was in reference to the dissatisfaction with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s decision to reject federal funding for a high-speed train that would have connected Madison to Milwaukee. People cheered as the sign was displayed above us.
Decisions like this are not moving us in the right direction. A stronger focus on public transportation would have helped to shift communities away from the dependence on oil that is supported by driving individual cars. In fact, Scott Walker asked permission to use the funding that would have gone towards the trains to help improve highways.
Public transit has sparked debate in Evanston as well. Recently, examination of the plans to renovate and repair the CTA Purple and Red lines has been in the news with the launch of the North Red and Purple Modernization Project. The current infrastructure was built between 1900 and 1922, so it is no surprise that upgrades will be necessary in the coming years. The purpose of this project is to accomplish such things as reduction in travel time, providing access for persons with disabilities and supporting overall economic development within the area.
Several project alternatives have been proposed. One of the most controversial includes the closing two el stations in Evanston at Foster and South Boulevard. In this proposal these stations would be closed primarily for the purpose of increased speed, while in their place additional access points to the other stations would be added.
While I agree that renovations and upgrades to the current system must be made, I do not think that including fewer stations is necessarily the correct approach. Making public transportation less accessible to patrons is sure to discourage its use on a large scale.
I was recently forwarded an e-mail written in opposition to the closing of the stations, which made note of the neighborhoods in which these stations are located. Most of these areas are residential, with many apartment and condominium complexes. A large selling point for these areas is their proximity to these CTA stations. Their elimination would not only be an inconvenience for residents but, as was brought to my attention, could lower property values as well. I also recognize that the businesses located around these stations may suffer if the stations cease to exist.
Most importantly, eliminating these stations is not an effective way to attract patrons to use CTA services and public transportation in general. Public input was only accepted until Feb. 18, so my hope is that Evanston voices were heard in support of these stations. Final plans are being worked on in the following year and construction will not begin until at least 2012.
However, if elimination of the train stops is pursued, I would encourage the CTA and Evanston to continue supporting public transportation and alternative options to personal vehicle travel.
One way to do this is with bike friendly routes along the train line. The recent bike routes and lanes around Evanston already account for many of these areas. Putting in more stations for locking up bikes in visible areas for safety and security is another necessity. Taking precautions such as making sure transit areas are properly lit for patrons that choose to walk is important for nighttime travel.
An economic incentive in support of public transit may include options for frequent commuters such as discounted fares. Students at 22 Chicago colleges and universities are already eligible for the CTA’s U-Pass program that provides “automated fare cards that allow unlimited rides on all CTA trains and buses for the duration of an academic term.”
Back in Madison, our heavily debated bill includes cuts to the Madison Metro bus system funding. I hope that our local governments will take support of public transportation seriously. The federal funding for high-speed rail provides a valuable precedent, and now state and city governments should follow suit.
With government support people can begin to change their ways and not only support public transportation but also begin using it themselves.
— Ms. Gendel, a graduate of Evanston Township High School, attends the University of Wisconsin