Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Romans managed it

     That was fast.
     It's been, what, a month since the bright red "Loop Link" lanes opened on Madison and Washington, special bus-only routes designed to more than double the speeds that Chicago Transit Authority buses transverse the Loop, from an average of 3 mph, which is slower than briskly walking,  to a giddy 7.5.
     But just look at at them. A month of being pounded by traffic and what was described as "red pavement" in the city's grandiose plans of last year has revealed itself in the harsh light of January to be more like red tar paper, and is already coming up in big chunks. You can't very well expect drivers to avoid the red lanes if the "BUS ONLY" designation has peeled up and blown away. 
    Already plagued by delays over the past six months and greeted with a chorus of complaints from drivers who suddenly find Loop streets a lot narrower, the $32 million project might not have increased bus speeds, but it's given the downtown a shabby, am-in-Detroit-or-what? feel. 
      If this were in the newspaper, I'd feel obligated to call the city department of transportation  four or five times to squeeze out whatever half-hearted and feeble explanation they'd offer to illuminate What Went Wrong, and what Might Happen Next and why pave-the-road-so-it-doesn't-come-up-immediately technology, which was mastered in Roman times, seems to have eluded the City of Chicago, the City That Works Except When It Doesn't. But if I hear from the city, I'll rush to append it below.  
     In the meantime, the in-depth investigative work that led to these photos delayed my walk to the train a full 10 or 20 seconds one day last week. Additional investigation, which entailed walking down Washington Street on my way into work Thursday morning, showed that the red bus lane there is fine, so perhaps this is a localized screw-up limited to Madison Street's unique ecology, whatever that might be. Perhaps you, in your leisurely strolling, can find further examples of this latest embarrassment. Still, I suppose we should count our blessings, and not complain too much about a screw-up like this. At least no one was killed.



  1. I'm flabbergasted at the shoddy workmanship done by contractors on the streets and highways in the area. If my quality of work was at that level, I wouldn't have a job.

  2. Our city has become a disgrace, in more ways than one.

  3. Romans: engineers and stone.
    Chicagoans: urban planners and red paint.

  4. Chicago...The City of Big Pockets! Okay, who took the bribes for this latest bad joke of a decision?

  5. Simple explanation: The idiot contractor put the red thermoplastic overlay down when it was too cold, because the idiot contractor got the job by bribing various politicians who then told the idiot contractor, finish the job on time or else.
    I saw this a couple of years ago at Clark & Devon, where the gas company ripped up a mile of Clark St. for new pipes, but didn't have the street repaved until mid December, so they put down white thermoplastic for the crosswalk markings at Devon & they were gone in a week!

    1. The street being too cold to have the thermoplastic adhere sounds about right. The guys here use a blowtorch to head up the street before they apply overlays (albeit much smaller ones). I wonder if the snow plows also reduce the lifespan of overlays....

    2. When applied correctly, meaning in warm weather, with the area to be covered by the thermoplastic heated with a torch, the thermoplastic lasts for several years of snow plows, salt & just heavy traffic.
      But Rahm & the CTA wanted the Loop Link done by Jan.1, weather be damned!

  6. I have a hard time believing that those bus lanes were ever going to work in the first place, even if the lanes were marked with emeralds sent from heaven.

    It's a rotten shame that the two major train stations are perched at the opposite side of the city from most of downtown. That was a major pain in the neck during the mercifully brief periods of my life when I commuted downtown.

    Bitter Scribe

    1. There's a simple but somewhat expensive solution to that.
      Move the Wells St. part of the Loop L to Clinton St. & both Union & Northwestern Station would have a direct connection to the CTA rail system.
      I never understood why the Congress St. subway wasn't moved over to under Jackson, it would have a direct connection to Union Station & the same goes for the same line which is under Lake St. at the north end of Northwestern Station. Had it been moved to under Randolph, it also would've been able to have a station at Clinton.
      The transportation planners in this city are at best, halfwits!

  7. I get to see this particular patch of Madison every day from the window of my office at 2 North Riverside.

    The comment from "Clark Street" is correct about the use of thermoplastic overlay-- Prior to reading this, I had already discussed this with one of the civil engineers in my office.

    But there's more to it. If you watched the progress of the construction of the Loop Link lanes east of this point, you might have noticed that the lane pavement was completely removed, and replaced with concrete that is dyed red all the way through. There's no way for that color to come up.

    Why was it done differently? Because the ugly part of Madison in the photo is part of a bridge approach, which in this case is constructed of asphalt. Some other specific areas, like the bridge abutments and the complex structural system of Upper Wacker could not be torn up for replacement with colored concrete.

    There are other options besides the thermoplastic overlay, but they can be more expensive.

  8. The Romans got kickbacks from better contractors.

  9. Actually the Romans were far more corrupt than we. See Trollope's "Cicero." Even supposedly upright characters such as Brutus had no qualms about ripping off the provincials under their care.


  10. Glad to get Clark St's explanation. This happens all the time with the yellow "no parking" paint on the curbs in Forest Park. I was wondering what the problem was.


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