Public transportation consternation

It’s difficult not having a car on campus. Despite this, I still manage to travel to downtown Lake Forest by borrowing vehicles, biking, or using my own two legs. Lake Forest College, however, bills itself as “Chicago’s National Liberal Arts College.” Part of that tagline involves actually getting students into the city to take advantage of its resources

While the College is doing a commendable job of facilitating this goal by offering tickets and organizing trips to events in Chicago, one obstacle literally lies in its path – the 30 miles between Lake Forest and Chicago.

Unfortunately, that distance presents an increasing dilemma with the problems plaguing the public transit system.

This past weekend, my friends and I took a trip to the Museum of Contemporary Art during which the RTA and CTA effectively failed us at every step. Arriving at the Metra station to see a crowd of people, we expected to take the 12:24 train into the city. Several minutes after the train was due to arrive, an announcement came on the loudspeaker saying that the train had derailed in the Waukegan train yard and was cancelled. Had Metra bothered to make the announcement beforehand, the crowd would have dispersed so that newcomers could discern that something was wrong. It did not. Nor did it bother to send another train out.

Metra is the only public link from Lake Forest to the city. As students, it is our first choice of transportation. Most of my friends with cars elect to leave them on campus and take the train to Chicago in order to save money on gas and avoid city driving. However, on this particular Saturday when the train station was packed with students, Metra cancelled one of only five our six trains that were logistically feasible to take into the city. What if this had happened during a weekday? Instead of having only disgruntled students without a ride, Metra would have workers complaining as well.

Somewhat dismayed, our group drove to Evanston to pick up the CTA Purple line and then connected to the Red Line. While the Purple line ran effectively, the Red line saw perpetual track construction and signal maintenance characteristic of the CTA. Speeds rarely exceeded 10 mph. And of course the Red Line subway was closed, so we were forced to get off at the ‘Chicago’ above-ground stop and make a longer hike to the MCA. We had planned to be in the city by 1:30 p.m. but instead arrived around 3:00 p.m.

Capping off this dismal public transportation experience, we gave ourselves 20 minutes to catch a bus for a five-minute ride to the train station on our return trip. In those 20 minutes, not a single bus showed and we missed the train back. The CTA is requesting $10 billion over the next five years plus $400 million every year. Hopefully this amount of money will do more than simply maintain the level of service it currently provides.

It is extremely frustrating to know that Chicago is so near and yet so far. The city offers opportunities for academic, cultural, and social pursuits. Unfortunately, with travel times of upwards of one hour (an hour is okay, but it’s two or three hours that make the trip untenable) it is almost not worth the effort of making a trip unless one intends to spend the whole day. Maybe next time I plan on making a trip to Chicago, I’ll make sure my bike tires are inflated.

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