Fire! Huh heh heh. Yeah.

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Metra Tower A-2, image (c)Marshall W. Beecher

This is awesome. I was a regular Metra UP-West line rider when I lived in Chicago and used to see this on evenings just like the one in the image. The interlocking (a railroad junction) A-2 was always a hoot to pass through at night in the winter (which would describe my usual 5:09 departure from the North Western Station) when they had these going.

You could tell who was a regular rider and who was a tourist – “OMG! THE TRACKS ARE ON FIRE!!!

Um, actually, no.

Well, actually yes, but it’s OK.

Generally, heaters like this have been replaced with gas-fired hot air blowers to keep switches clear but, like position-light and color-position-light signals — both shown here! — they’ve mostly disappeared.

This image is looking almost due east from Western Ave, which passes under just about the spot where there is a gap in the fires.  Metra UP-West  trains use the four ex-C&NW tracks to the left that start at what was the North Western station.  The Metra Milwaukee West- and North Districts, and the Metra North Central Service (and Amtrak’s Empire Builder and Hiawathas) all cross from the right in the distance, on three (or four?) tracks that started a Union Station, through the interlocking and then head NW using ex-Milwaukee Road tracks which would be to the left of the photographer. 

The Pennsylvania position-light signal (three yellow bulbs in a vertical configuration indicating “clear”) is there because the Pennsy’s Panhandle route also joined this line from the right just behind the photographer.  Their passenger trains from that line once made their way to Union Station this way although most Pennsy trains (like the Broadway Ltd) took a different route to get to the south side of Union Station.

There is a plan to move this interlocking (“A-2”) a mile or so in the direction of the image towards the Loop (making it “A-1”) so that they can have more room to spread things out.  This should mean that trains will be able to get through the junction a little faster.  Trains from Union Station crossing here are limited to about 15 mph. 

Oh, and behind the photographer is the Metra California Ave yard that maintains cars and engines from the UP lines and behind and to the left, is the Metra Western Ave yard that does the same for the Milwaukee Districts and North Central Service.

Here’s a map and link to lots of nerd pics.

Do you love transit?

I’m not sure I do.  To me, it’s like saying “I love electricity!”  Well, yeah, doesn’t everyone?

This guy, former chief planner for Vancouver, BC, and now a consultant, has some important points here, most of which should be familiar to folks who follow Jarrett Walker’s Human Transit.

Bicycle Bob and other early influences

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…. I was a car guy.  At least part of the reason that was true was that it was the only reasonable way to get around in the area I grew up in (click the image below to go to the spot, but note the cul-de-sac hell).  The local mall is just out of the thumbnail to the lower right and when I was a kid it seemed like it was way far away.

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A few well-placed cut-throughs would have radically changed my sense of time and distance back then.  You can at least walk on a paved path through that large park near my ancestral home, though I don’t know if it’s plowed in the winter.  Even that has only been paved in the last 20-25 years (yes, I’m that old).

Oh.  And there are no sidewalks.  There are curbs and proper drainage (even if the subdivision was built without those things initially!).  The only sidewalk in my neighborhood was in front of the elementary school.  That’s since been extended, but for decades, the one in front of the school was it.

Bicycle Bob

Anyway, one day, when I was in a junior college chem class, the prof invited a local bike activist to speak to our class.  At a time when I was still rebuilding carburetors (cars used to have these – part of the fuel system – ask your Dad).  So I was skeptical of the fact that he rode his bike year-round and that he’d taken the train out to visit with us.  He was known locally as Bicycle Bob and he recently turned 80.  He wasn’t nearly that old then, of course.

Well, I didn’t really realize what he’d done … well, more like I had probably forgotten what he (and the groups he was involved in) had done.  Guerrilla bike lanes painted at night, outlandish press conferences, a “die in” on the streets protesting traffic deaths.  All this … um … a long time ago (in a galaxy …) long before it was in vogue in most places.  So that was an early influence, even though I haven’t been a cyclist since I became a licensed automobile driver.

I hate to admit it but I am actually old enough to have experienced privately-owned transit service.   It was on its last legs and was finally put out of its misery the about same year that Bicycle Bob visited visited with us.  In fact, I think it was the same semester.  After that point, the metropolitan transit service was extended to our area so you could reasonably get around without a car.  In another indication of how old I am, a monthly (student) transit was $7.  It was at least 4x that to fill the tank in the tank I drove at the time so I used the bus a lot.  Bicycle Bob would be proud, I think.

Sidewalk Ramps

In class the other day (week), we were talking about sidewalks.  Another area that my hometown (the center city, at least) was ahead of the game was wheelchair-accessible sidewalks.  The first attempt wasn’t so successful, however.

Instead of ramps at the corner — “within the arc” — they put them outside the arc for a variety of reasons that they try to explain in the article linked above.   Long story short, they ended up putting them where they belong several years later but I can’t find a relevant link in the google.   (Letter to the editor about their uselessness.)

I had another “early influence”, but I’ll save that one.