Chicago 2016 Olympics: Where's the Transit Legacy?

by crandell | 02/08/2009


As we wait for Chicago 2016 to make its final Bid Book public, I thought I'd take a moment to review what the last iteration of our Olympic plan said about transportation. I think one of the major selling points for Chicagoans is the promise of "legacy" projects that will improve our quality of life following the games -- and I do believe the Olympics certainly have the potential to be good for our city. The Chicago 2016 website claims this as one of 16 benefits to the city: "Hosting the Games will fast track key capital projects, especially transportation related initiatives, to coincide with the Olympiad." We balance the budget risk of the games against this legacy daydream and hope the games will draw enough funding to make the dreams a reality.

So what kind of legacy is promised for transit? The Chicago 2016 Applicant File offers a very general, preliminary look at the games. On the opposite end of the spectrum from real capital improvements, the document describes temporary dedicated lanes and other short-term capacity adjustments:

"With anticipated improvements and maintenance, the existing mass-transit infrastructure will sufficiently meet the demands of spectators, the workforce and volunteers. Furthermore, for the entire period of the Games the city will expand overall transport capacity by adding targeted bus routes, increasing the number and size of 'park and ride' facilities, and amassing additional shuttles, railcars and drivers."

Is existing transit sufficient, even for residents today?

But the plan does also touch on long-term projects. Proposed permanent transit improvements mentioned in the document include the CTA's express airport service via Block 37, the purchase of new railcars, the Brown Line capacity expansion project, the CTA's Circle Line and Metra's STAR line. Rather than just accepting the idea that these projects mean the Olympics will be great for our city, I'd suggest a few questions to test whether these really are Olympic legacies. Can they be completed? Would they be completed regardless of whether the Olympics comes to Chicago? Are they the smartest investments for our city? If they don't stand up to these tests, that kind of changes the equation for whether the Olympics are worth the risk to the city's future financial security.

What most caught my eye on this list is the CTA's express airport service, which not only had major budget overruns, but also stalled completely and resulted in the loss of a major train station -- the Washington Red Line stop. Mike Doyle (of Chicago Carless fame) recently covered this latest development for Huffington Post: Who Stole the 'L' Stop at Washington/State?. The Applicant File cites a 2008 completion date for this project, which is just plain fallacy, and exposes the Olympic committee's lack of familiarity with our transit system. This project should serve as a warning for the Chicago Olympics -- the proposed infrastructure projects could turn into major budget problems that may leave our infrastructure more scarred than improved.

The purchase of additional railcars is already a done deal as far as I understand. The Brown Line capacity expansion project is also a done deal and is almost complete. Neither of these are Olympic legacies since they'd be completed regardless and likely will receive no additional funding.

Then there's the Circle Line and the STAR line, and the jury's still out on whether these are the best investment decisions for us considering other options out there (Bus Rapid Transit, Red Line Extension, Ogden Streetcar, etc.). All of these projects could potentially benefit from the increased attention and federal funding the Olympics could bring (though Bus Rapid Transit may happen regardless). Let's just hope that federal funding would be invested wisely.

I'll look forward to learning more in the final Bid Book when it's released next week.

Well, now we know: the bid

Well, now we know: the bid book contains no lasting transit improvements. We seriously expect to compete against Tokyo? Just one train station in Tokyo moves twice as many passengers every day as the entire CTA. They have the capacity to move huge crowds, while CTA practically shuts down on dual Cubs-Sox home games (a fraction of the attendance one day of Olympics will generate).

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Yeah, the bid book is a

Yeah, the bid book is a let-down. In the words of an anonymous someone I know who has been a hold-out Daley advocate, "my verdict: i want the olympics but it is definitely time to look around for a new mayor."

I concur. The bid book is a

I concur. The bid book is a big disappointment and is starting to look like lots of contract and even more corruption.

Here's a link to the petition against the games if anyone wants to sign on.


One thing is for sure,

One thing is for sure, Chicago is going to be a very crowded city in 2016 and that puts a hard burden on those responsible with transportation. There's still time for making the right adaptations, having a car is not the best choice apparently. I won't have to worry about that where I live, I still have my car in Gatwick parking it's actually convenient to park it there and leave it during my departures.

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