Being a mile and change from the nearest El station, it’s a wonder I manage to hit up locations outside of my home neighborhood. Well, locations that typically don’t have plentiful street parking, anyway.
I was just thinking about some of the up-and-coming neighborhoods, areas that you really didn’t want to touch with a fifty-foot pole back when I was growing up, like Bucktown and Wicker Park, and the increasingly revitalized districts just outside of downtown like Near North/River North. The vibe in any of these places are incredibly reminiscent of their counterparts in New York, which is no small feat considering the population advantage the city holds over Chicago. Time was when even those neighborhoods shut down to rest, but now it seems a jolt of energy has been provided by the gentrification of these neighborhoods.
And you know what? I really have little motivation to go to any of these places. Okay, so maybe what I really am is just lazy, but I like to give some credit to the layout of Chicago’s rapid transit system. It’s too…commuterish, I guess? What I mean is that it’s obvious that the system was designed to funnel workers from the outlying neighborhoods into the central business district and that’s it. Combine that with coverage that in my opinion doesn’t adequately fill the city and what you have is a system that works great for the people who live near it but everyone else pretty much has to take the bus (hardly a rapid transit solution).
If I wanted to go to Wicker Park (for instance) I’d have to take two buses. If I wanted to go to Wicker Park to drink then I’d have to take two buses that already run infrequently enough at night that it’d be a long ride home. It would be slightly better if I lived near the Red Line; then it’d be two trains, but I’d have to ride into downtown to switch to the right train. Or I could do a bus/train combo, which is still not exactly an ideal solution.
I suspect that I was spoiled by the incredible convenience (for the most part) of New York’s subway. Take a look at the system map and at first glance it might seem like a tangled weave of lines, but the practical upshot of it is that you can take the subway pretty much everywhere. I felt no hesitation about taking the A train to Inwood all the way from the Village, or moving all the way out to Jamaica* and commuting to school. The ride was long, but the bulk of the ride was spent on one train and trains are frequent enough during rush hour anyway so transfers aren’t really much of a slowdown, especially compared to the total trip time.
There are parts of Manhattan that can seem worlds away even though they’re really not. This illusion is in no small part caused by the lack of a direct subway path from point A to point B. The classic demonstration of this is the Upper West Side and the Upper East Side. All that separates them is Central Park, but they can seem like they’re on opposite ends of the earth just because you can’t get from one to the other by subway! (Easily, anyway.) If you wanted to, you could take a crosstown bus, but they tend to get very full very fast (on the East Side anyway) and they positively crawl along.
That’s pretty much how it feels for me here back at home. There are perks to this location, like being a stone’s throw away from the lake, but going anywhere by public transportation is a bit problematic. Or, at the very least, rapid transit options tend to be less…rapid. There’s the initial hurdle of getting to the El station, which is a fifteen-minute walk minimum (a bus will take the same amount of time or worse if you factor in wait time and traffic). But then, in order to keep the trip reasonable, you’re limited to destinations located on a rail line, for which fortunately a good number of major attractions qualify, but a lot of neighborhoods still feel like they’re worlds away.
By the way, I hate buses. It always seems like I’m waiting forever for a bus.
* The F train goes all the way out to Jamaica, and I can get to Manhattan for a buck fifty. Or, at least, I used to. It’s two dollah now.
(Totally unrelated, but came up while I was doing research for this entry: Queensboro Ballads by Levi Asher. Wonderful read–at least, I think so.)