Discussion related to commuter rail and rapid transit operations in the Chicago area including the South Shore Line, Metra Rail, and Chicago Transit Authority.

Moderators: JamesT4, metraRI

  by MACTRAXX
 
Guys: My name is MACTRAXX and I am new to RR.Net. My uncle was a CTA motorman from 1958 to 1986 and I visited Chicago on a regular basis from 1973 to 1988. My uncle retired in 1986. I became interested in the CTA and its operations. I got quite used to the route names and lines. I remember that the CTA began to color-code its lines on their maps in the late 70s. I have no problem with this-it helps riders with identifying and traveling lines in the system. What I do not like is re-naming the line names - which were well-established - in favor of a color. I just cannot get used to calling the EVANSTON EXPRESS and the SKOKIE SWIFT the Purple and yellow lines ,for example. The CTA was right in re-routing the Dan Ryan with the Howard line and Lake with Englewood/Jackson Park lines - a sensible move. I remember hearing about the cartoon characters L.E.Jack and HoDar - a interesting way for people to get used to the new names. The point that I am getting at is re-naming a line with a well-established and known name in favor of a color is NOT a good idea. Systems such as WMATA in Washington where this was done from day one it is different than a full name change which is what happened in Boston with the MBTA. The colors there have some meaning - noted by MBTA and they are: Red Line-Color of Harvard University(on this line) Blue Line - goes thru underwater tunnel and serves beachfront communities Green Lines - Serves many parks and preserves and Orange Line- The original name of Washington Street where the el ran on was Orange Street. I hope to hear pro and con on this and thank you for your time. Thanks Alot - MACTRAXX

  by MikeF
 
Considering the official adoption of the color names occurred 12 years ago, I think you've missed the boat on the debate. There is a whole generation of CTA riders now who have only known the routes by their colors and will give you blank stares if you ask them where to board the Ravenswood or the Douglas train.

For the record, I agree with you, the best compromise was the '80s style when the old names were used in combination with the color coding. But the colors-only approach seems to be easier for people unfamiliar with the system, and it better fits the ADA scheme.



Image
"Get on the track with L.E. Jack
and in the car with HoDar!"

  by byte
 
MikeF wrote:For the record, I agree with you, the best compromise was the '80s style when the old names were used in combination with the color coding. But the colors-only approach seems to be easier for people unfamiliar with the system, and it better fits the ADA scheme.
Yeah, before the airports were connected to the system, the CTA could have gotten away with keeping the names-only line identification system, but I think a lot of the reason to change them to color-coded was because people from other areas were getting on the trains, and "Green Line" or "Blue Line" is a lot easier to remember to a newcomer than "Lake - Englewood/Jackson Park" or "O'Hare - Cermak/Forest Park."

  by MACTRAXX
 
Mike F and Byte: Thanks for the replies. I did not visit Chicago hardly at all in the 90s. In fact,I did not set foot in Downtown Chicago from NOV 89 to the early part of 2000 and I only visited the SW side and S suburbs maybe three times the entire decade of the 90s. I kept track on Chicago rail thru my contacts at NRHS. I stared at a CTA map from the early 90s a bit yesterday-I noticed that it was not unprecedented to change a line or station name. One that comes to mind was changing the Milwaukee line to the O'Hare line with the opening of the O'Hare station extension in 1984. When did the CTA change the names Congress and Douglas to Forest Park and Cermak branches? When did the CTA stop using the term North-South for the lines using the State St. Subway? or for that matter West-Northwest for the Dearborn Subway lines? I think a reasonable compromise would have been to use both color and name - Midway Orange line or O'Hare Blue is a thought here. Thoughts on changing the name of stations: Has the CTA changed any station names recently? some that comes to mind is Desplaines Rd. now Forest Park and River Road now called Rosemont. Why not River Road-Rosemont? A couple of cities where Color names were never accepted were Philadelphia and NY City. In Phila.,the Market Frankford line is blue and the Broad Street Line is Orange. The trains are striped accordingly. The sub-surface trolleys/light rail are green;the PATCO Lindenwold line to NJ is red;the Route 100 Norristown rail line is purple and the two suburban light rail lines 101-MEDIA and 102-SHARON HILL are brown. SEPTA tried to force the use of the color names on riders back around 1990. They just never caught on-just one group of timetables were printed that year with only the color names. For a couple of years afterward,the color name was included in parentheses and then quietly dropped. The color coding on signage,trains and stations continues to this day on the MFSE and BSL. the other lines I listed strictly use the colors for signage and maps only. PATCO has red pinstripes and the PATCO logo is in red on their trains. In New York City when the Subway map was re-designed in the 1980s the original thought was to color code and then re-name the lines for the colors. Lines that used 8th Avenue (A,C,E) were blue;lines that used 7th Avenue(1,2,3) were red and lines that used Lexington Ave.(4.5,6) were green. the color coding helps riders find the lines serving major employment as well as cultural areas in the city. The NYCTA realized that NYers would never go for it so it was never implemented. The color coding itself was never a problem-but the potential line re-naming was. Having multiple routes along a trunk line - as in NYC was a compounding factor. You are right-since the color names were instituted in Chicago many young riders have grown up with it and know know only the color name. A knowledgable buff said something to me about color-coding:literacy: People that are not as literate as others will remember the color brown more than Ravenswood or green more than Englewood. Englewood(63/Ashland) is a very familiar spot to me - my uncle was based there for a substantial portion of his CTA career as a motorman. Getting off track a little here - is that triangular pylon W/the old CTA logo still there? I remember the tail tracks to the west of the station at that point went a substantial distance - I remember that the thought was to extend this line to Midway Airport-only 4 miles away but the white ethnics to the west of Western avenue were adamantly against any rapid transit line extension. I had to get used to the strict racial divide in Chicago-I recall a major racial dividing line was Western Avenue. My relatives lived in the area of 78/Kedzie avenue on the SW side. I should post a topic on CTA as well as Chicago memories. Again thanks to all - MACTRAXX
Last edited by MACTRAXX on Tue Jul 18, 2006 11:34 am, edited 1 time in total.

  by F40CFan
 
I personally do not like the color names. It makes the system loose its unique flavor. Many cities have a color line now adays, but how many have a "Ravenswood"?

I think its easier to tell where the "Congress - O'Hare" train is going, rather than the "Blue Line".

I also think they should reinstitue the A/B skip-stop service at least during rush hour.

  by MACTRAXX
 
F40c: I agree with you. What you said about the color names is right on. The CTA should re-institute the A/B skip stops for the rush hours-it makes sense. The Market-Frankford line in Philadelphia does this - it helps speed things along. Thanks - MACTRAXX

  by octr202
 
Interesting debate. One thing the colors do provide is consistancy with most rail transit systems in the US. I think at this point, NYCTA and SEPTA that haven't adopted a color system. Transit riders from other cities are often inclined to look for colors, and associate different colors with different lines.

Also, the color names make a bit more sense if expansions are factored. Here in Boston, if they hadn't adopted color names, the "Cambridge-Dorchester Subway" would be something like the "Alewife-Cambridge-Dorchester-Quincy-Braintree Subway" by this point. Red Line is a bit simplier.

I'm not sure to what extent the colors were responsible for this, but I found the El to be very easy to navigate last month as a first time visitor. Perhaps the combination of colors, consistant use of destination points in identifying platforms, and the lack of "inbound" or "outbound" made it easy to find my way around. I don't think I got lost once in five days. I thought the "white on color" or "color on white" changes for signs were good too, to help spot the different branches more easily.

Losing the historical context is tough on folks like us though, even if it does improve the systems for the general public. Ask around again in 10-15 more years -- it'll get easier to think of it that way. :wink:

  by F40CFan
 
Another down side to the colors is that you can run out of different ones. For example, there is talk of a "silver" line. There was also speculation about a "grey" line. I'm thinking that those two different colors aren't going to be very different at all.

I think that every city should keep some of their traditions. As for making it easier for visitors, they still need a transit map to show them where they want to go. At that point, the name is irrelevant.

  by MikeF
 
MACTRAXX wrote:When did the CTA change the names Congress and Douglas to Forest Park and Cermak branches?
At about the same time the colors were officially adopted.
When did the CTA stop using the term North-South for the lines using the State St. Subway? or for that matter West-Northwest for the Dearborn Subway lines?
Again, at about the same time the colors became offical. Of course, "North-South" and "West-Northwest" weren't really ever official route names, since the EH/JH and CM/DM names were always used simultaneously.
I think a reasonable compromise would have been to use both color and name - Midway Orange line or O'Hare Blue is a thought here.
That is exactly what is done on nearly all signage. Platform signs and train destination signs use the destination, such as "Midway" or "Loop" on a background of the route color. In fact, the only place I can think of where the color is used alone is at station entrances, where there may be a sign reading "Orange Line Trains" or "Blue Line Trains."
Thoughts on changing the name of stations: Has the CTA changed any station names recently? some that comes to mind is Desplaines Rd. now Forest Park and River Road now called Rosemont. Why not River Road-Rosemont?
I don't know the reasoning behind changing "Desplaines" to "Forest Park" and "River Road" to "Rosemont," but I would suspect it simply has to do with making the location of the station more apparent.
A knowledgable buff said something to me about color-coding:literacy: People that are not as literate as others will remember the color brown more than Ravenswood or green more than Englewood.
A good point. So why should we not make the system easier for people with poor literacy, many of whom rely on the CTA to get around?
Getting off track a little here - is that triangular pylon W/the old CTA logo still [at Englewood]?
Yes.

  by MACTRAXX
 
Mike: Thank you for the reply! it answers a good portion of my questions on this subject. Things change when you are absent for some time. Oct 02: On the subject of Boston,the terms INBOUND and OUTBOUND are way too far overused there. I personally dislike them - And I would replace them with a TRUE DIRECTION - N,S,E,or W - For example: Quincy Center - Northbound to Boston or South to Braintree. On lines that run thru the downtown area,what may be inbound to one is outbound to another. The only line that it makes sense is the stub end BLUE line. The CTA as far as I remember has not made much use of this term am I right? Thanks to you all - MACTRAXX

  by EricL
 
CTA's now-outmoded "K-D-R" signage largely supported the usage of cardinal directions: "Northbound to Kimball", "Southbound to 95/State", "Northwest to O'Hare" - et cetera. Now, though, those same signs rendered in the current signage standard eliminate the directional verbiage completely, opting simply for "to Howard", "to Loop", "to Harlem/Lake", and so forth.

I'm not sure of the reason for the change, but I suspect it might have caused confusion, particularly on the west-northwest and west-south routings. It may not make sense to the uninitiated that they are heading northbound towards Harlem/Lake, and then turning the corner of Wabash and Lake, they are now headed westbound towards the same destination.

The ultimate Chicago directional anomaly will always be the fact that I-90/94 is signed as east/west, as it should be, even though it primarily runs north/south through the city. :P

P.S.: The automated voice announcements for approaching trains - along with their LED marquee counterparts - use the inbound/outbound terminology... argh!

  by F40CFan
 
"A good point. So why should we not make the system easier for people with poor literacy, many of whom rely on the CTA to get around?"

I disagree, I think it would be much better to improve their literacy.

  by fishcat
 
I've been doing a slow burn on this theme for a while now, and I agree with F40CFan's observation with respect to the CTA's role in the bigger problem: the inexorable dumbing-down of society. This constant stiving to reach the widest fan/customer/patron base (because, of course, that's where the money is) ultimately becomes an exercise in serving the lowest common denominator. Now we're trapped in a market culture that *must* do everything in its power to maximize volume, because a quality-based strategy is seen to only serve a small, unprofitable niche.

I guess that sounds kind of abstract, but nothing exists in a vacuum, and no large organization can afford to challenge the environment in which it operates. So, to take the example at hand, CTA's signage will continue to be less and less informative so as to not intimidate the riding public with too much - gasp - information.

The really interesting part, though, is that the riders with any real choice of modes who make use of the CTA are doing it, in my estimation, largely on their own initiative. That is to say, the CTA is essentially abandoning the savvy rider to his own resources - his own knowledge of and familiarity with the system and ability to incorporate that information when planning his daily activities. The management figures, as Tommy Lee Jones put it in a very funny movie, "A 'person' is smart. 'People' are dumb." That is, our savvy rider can figure out what isn't written down. (side note - measuring the collective knowledge and info accumulated by such riders in ways not directly supported by the CTA might make for an interesting study to those who engage in such pursuits.)

In my experience, however, that type of individual generally views the CTA as either a necessary evil or a ride of last resort, to be avoided if possible. The CTA has clearly conceded the loss of his ridership in the majority of cases - the signage is proof. Today, the CTA's bread and butter are riders it essentially views as "cattle," and since it knows it can afford to treat them as such, it does.

This isn't to imply malevalence on the part of the CTA - my point is more that the business environment in which they operate effectively *requires* them to de-personalize their level of service, because that's how society is trending and that's where the $$$ is. They have to follow along or be left behind forever. Not that I'm trying to be any kind of apologist for their policies, since they're just reinforcing the cyclical nature of the problem in the first place. It's a shame to see society's collective level of pride reflected back at us like this.

  by MACTRAXX
 
Mike F and Eric - One thing I failed to mention before is TIMETABLES. SEPTA uses the described colors on their TTs along with black print. NYCTA uses the line color logo - for example A,C,and E train TTs have their blue circle logo along W/blue trim and black printing on their TTs. Anything to help the rider to me is welcome - MACTRAXX

  by MikeF
 
fishcat wrote:This constant stiving to reach the widest fan/customer/patron base (because, of course, that's where the money is) ultimately becomes an exercise in serving the lowest common denominator. ... Today, the CTA's bread and butter are riders it essentially views as "cattle," and since it knows it can afford to treat them as such, it does. ... The business environment in which they operate effectively *requires* them to de-personalize their level of service, because that's how society is trending and that's where the $$$ is.
The way you describe the CTA's strategy, it sounds as if you think it is a private, profitable corporation. It's important to keep in mind that the CTA is a public agency and is in business to serve the people of Chicago, not to make money. A large portion of those people are the "cattle" to whom you refer, so whatever measures are necessary must be taken to make the system accessible to them.