The Suburbs

The first album we listened to after getting home from Spain was The Suburbs by Arcade Fire — because, as I explained, all of America is the suburbs. This came home to me as we stepped on board the CTA Blue Line after spending a week riding the Madrid and Barcelona Metro. I love the CTA, and I’ve heavily relied on it for well over a decade of not owning a car. Coming back from Europe, it seemed dirty, clunky, and non-functional. And it was immediately brought home to me how much the train, even in one of the most transit-rich cities in the country, is a consession and an afterthought. Our tracks passed over multiple huge expressways before settling into its route literally between the two sides of an 8- to 10-lane highway. To walk to the stops, you have to cross an expressway interchange and then cross a bridge four lanes of traffic wide. In other lines (and other parts of the Blue Line), stops are more integrated into their neighborhoods, but this kind of pedestrian-hostile design represents a strong pluarlity if not a majority of stops.

And the cars themselves! So many cars! Continue reading “The Suburbs”

Bikers are a menace

The other day, I was hit by a biker while crossing the street. He came out from behind a bus, barrelling at full speed, even though he was approaching a red light. As he tried to stop, he flew over his handle bars, head-butting me in the side of his head with considerable force. I’m basically fine, though the side of my head is still sore.

As I often tend to do, I extrapolated from my own experience to the systemic issues at play: why is the solution to urban congestion to add even more individually-piloted vehicles, which are more unpredictable than cars and which put their riders in greater danger as well? Perhaps it would be better if there were more dedicated bike lanes, etc., but from my experience, bikers chafe at such restraint — indeed, many are arrogant, reckless, and entitled.

I understand that biking is a superior option for many people. I know that urban congestion makes buses, which are often the only transit alternative given the inadequate rail infrastructure of even the most transit-friendly cities, intolerably slow in many cases. I confess that the main reason I don’t bike in Chicago is because I’m scared of biking in traffic. Etc., etc., etc. — basically, I’m not telling you to stop riding your bike, so please don’t respond as if I am.

What I am saying is that the negative side-effects of urban biking under the current transport regime are a case study in how individualized solutions (“You don’t like the bus and don’t want to drive? Ride a bike!”) are not solutions. The real solution would be for the roads to be completely emptied of cars, at which point the only vehicles on the road would be buses (piloted by professionals and generally more predictable) and there’d be plenty of room for devoted bike-lanes.

And of course, given that our elites are unimaginative and unresponsive, probably the only viable political strategy is to build up a grass-roots biking movement that will create pressure for such changes… Sigh — go ride your damn bikes, then.

My ridiculous project

For the last five years or so, I have had an ongoing project of trying to visit as many stops on the Chicago “L” system as possible. I have developed a series of rules for myself in this regard:

  • Sincere usage: I cannot go to the stop simply for the sake of checking it off my list — there must be a good-faith destination for my trip.
  • Transfers count: As long as it’s part of a good-faith trip, getting on or off at a certain stop always “counts” (whether the stop is my final desination or I’m transfering from a bus or a train).
  • Stations, not lines: There is no need to attempt to arrive at each station via all the lines that serve that station (a requirement would make completion on the Loop Elevated all but impossible).

This evening, I reached a major milestone: completion of the Purple Line. I had despaired of ever getting “sincere usage” of the South Blvd. stop, which serves a primarily residential area — but then it turned out that the Dean of Shimer College, who had a get-together for faculty this evening, lives two blocks from the stop. Here is a map documenting my progress as of tonight (black dots indicate stations I’ve visited):
My greatest achievement in this project thus far, which is unlikely ever to be equaled, came in connection with the recently-opened Morgan stop on the Green and Pink Lines, serving the West Loop. The Girlfriend texted me one day asking if I wanted to meet at a restaurant in the West Loop, and I agreed — and when I checked to see if the Morgan stop would be available, it turned out to be the very day it opened. “Sincere usage” on day one!

If anyone has suggestions for plausible destinations at stops I have not yet used, I’m all ears. I’m particularly curious about Racine and Addison on the Blue Line, which seem to be my most notable gaps within the regions I’ve achieved good coverage in.

Lazy Sunday Link Post

Just two links today. The first is a non-blog by Joshua Delpech-Ramey that he calls Darkhorse: Peripheral Visions. Joshua is a good friend of mine who is doing really interesting work on Deleuze, the Heremetic tradition, esoteric thought, theology, in addition to being a musician. I’m hoping he joins in the English language reception of Laruelle and translates Laruelle’s mysticism book (do it!). Check out his website for his occasional writings on all these subjects.

The other is the blog of Roland Boer with the great name Stalin’s Moustache. Boer, for those who don’t know, does really interesting work in politics, philosophy and Biblical studies. He is also something of a publishing machine and his book, Political Myth in the Goodchild, Surin, and Davis New Slant series is very good. Folks like Boer, whose work is similar in style to that of Jacob Taubes, do creative work with the Bible that is fascinating to me. I’m also a big fan of his love of public transportation (he’s organizing a seminar series on a train – fucking epic!), cycling, and traveling by boat (apparently his most recent book on Calvin was written while at sea).