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The Chicago L route map overlaid on the city of Detroit. Credit: reddit user northsider1983

What would it look like if you took a platoon of helicopters and airlifted the entire Chicago L system and dropped it on Detroit? It would look like the map you see above. The map was made by a reddit user, who goes by the handle “northsider1983.”

The map gives a sense of the scale of both cities, and their very different transit options. Detroit, of course, doesn’t have a rail system. It has the People Mover, which covers all of 2.9 miles. It’s pretty arguable whether Detroit even has a functioning bus system these days (though there was a time when Detroit’s streetcar system was far more extensive than today’s L).

But Detroit’s transit dreams still have some life left in them. Businessman Dan Gilbert said again this week that he expects the new light rail line along Woodward Ave. “will be in the ground by the end of this calendar year.”


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Contenders seek spurned transit funding. The city of Troy, Michigan rejected federal funds to build a mass-transit center. Now other suburban Detroit municipalities are lining up in hopes of claiming part of the $8.5 million. A U.S. Congressman pledged to have the money allocated to Royal Oak and Pontiac. The Detroit Free Press reports today a high-speed “turnaround area” for buses could be built in Pontiac while a rail facility could be built in Royal Oak. Meanwhile, Troy has faced a backlash for its decision. Gov. Rick Snyder wrote a letter saying he was “disappointed” in the decision, and Magna International, which employs more than 1,000 in Troy, said it will no longer seek expansion or job creation in the city.

2. Wisconsin fight not over yet? The Wisconsin Supreme Court could be asked to reopen a controversial case about collective bargaining legislation because a justice who presided in the original hearing received free legal service from an attorney involved in the case. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports Dane County district attorney Ismael Ozanne is “taking a hard look” at asking the Supreme Court to reopen the case. Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman cast the deciding vote in a ruling that said state legislators had not violated the open meetings law when mulling the controversial legislation, which allowed a decision to limit collective bargaining for public workers to stand.

3. EPA mandates could cost Ohio. Many utilities in Ohio and elsewhere must cut 90 percent of the mercury emitted from their power plants under toughened air pollution limits announced Wednesday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “This is a great victory for public health, especially the health of our children,” said an EPA spokesperson. Industry representatives say the new rules mean more expensive electricity for customers and job losses because older plants may shut down rather than overhaul. The Columbus Dispatch says Ohio typically ranks No. 1 in the nation for the amount of toxic pollutants emitted by industry, largely because of power plants that burn coal.


Detroit Rail Plan Dies: An ambitious plan to build a light rail corridor in Detroit has died, the Detroit Free Press reports. Instead, the federal government is recommending that the city get high speed buses, which will run on dedicated routes from the suburbs to the city. The Transportation Department had awarded the city $25 million last year to get light rail rolling. But financial issues with the project, and the city’s own financial woes caused the government to change course, the paper said. The death of the plan ends a four-year lobbying effort to win a light rail system.

Chicago Companies Plan to Hire: About 15 percent of companies in the Chicago area expect to hire more employees in early 2012, and about two-thirds of companies expect to keep staffing levels the same,  according to a survey by Manpower. A small number, about 12 percent, said they planned to eliminate positions in the first quarter. Job prospects appear best in manufacturing of non-durable goods, the wholesale and retail sector, financial activities, education and health care. Employers in construction, transportation and utilities expect to cut jobs.

Texting Ban Boost: The author of a legislative proposal to ban texting-while-driving in Ohio tells our partner station ideastream that her bill is getting a big boost from a recommendation by the National Transportation Safety Board. The five member board has unanimously called for all states to ban not only texting-while-driving, but also talking on cellphones while driving, even when motorists use a hands-free device. State Rep. Nancy Garland’s proposed texting ban has passed the Ohio House of Representatives, but has hit a roadblock in a Senate committee


Chicago’s Union Station is an imposing legend in the railroad world. For generations, it has been the place where east meets west. It’s the spot where many Midwesterners arrive on their first train ride. And it was featured in North By Northwest, the Alfred Hitchcock film starring Cary Grant.

Chicago's Union Station

But the station, which was last remodeled in 1992, has become crowded and inefficient. The third busiest rail terminal in the United States, it handles more than 300 trains per day and 120,000 passengers. Many proposals have been floated for rethinking Union Station — and now, officials are trying again.

The station is the subject of a new master plan that is scheduled to be presented Thursday night, Writing in the Chicago Tribune, Rob Hilkevitch says local officials want to be sure the station can handle increased traffic that’s expected when Sara Lee moves some of its operations to Chicago’s West Loop, as well as demand from commuters. 

Among the goals, Hilkevitch says, are:

1) Increasing capacity to handle more trains

2) Building a bus terminal so that commuters can transfer more easily to their connections

3) Launching an east-west transit system that would link the terminal with Michigan Avenue, and eventually Navy Pier (the city’s most visited attraction, and home to our partner station WBEZ)

4) Easing congestion with cars and bicycle riders

Cary Grant and crew rehearse in Union Station, via ShortKnightHitchBlog.org

It isn’t the first time such promises have been made, Hilkevitch says: “Remember architect Helmut Jahn’s proposal for a separate high-speed rail station east of the old post office? Or the original Daniel Burnham proposal for Union Station with an office tower? Union Station has seen more deconstruction, like the demolition of the original concourse building in 1968.”

The public will get a chance to weigh in Thursday, the Tribune reported. CDOT and Amtrak will hold a public meeting from 4 to 7 p.m. CT in the Union Gallery, just off the Great Hall in Union Station. It will be an open-house format with experts and visuals explaining ideas under consideration. A narrated presentation will be made at 4:30 p.m. and again at 6 p.m.

“This is a chance for people to see the thinking that has gone into these issues” and offer feedback, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told the Tribune.

A final Master Plan report will be issued in early 2012.

Are you a Chicagoan or a visitor who uses Union Station? What would you like to see happen with it?