The New York Times recently published a provocative piece on upward mobility in the United States, which indicated that it’s harder for the poor to succeed, according to a new exhaustive study.

Chicago Magazine followed suit with their own take from a Chicago angle.

And on Monday, Gawker did their own take, focusing on mass transit and its effects on the ability for the poor to succeed in cities geared toward cars.

On Monday, we put out a map that color-coded all the building structures in Chicago by year built, utilizing city data.

That map was fun, but we wanted to explore the idea of transit. (See map above) While this is not a formal data analysis, it is striking to see urban structures built from 1990-2012, as juxtaposed onto the mass transit lines (CTA). See map below — or REALLY BIG map here.


A couple things to note:

  1. The Green Line was closed from 1994-1996 as part of a massive rehabilitation project.
  2. The Orange Line opened up to the southwest in 1993.
  3. And currently, the south branch of the Red Line is closed to redo the tracks for the entire summer.

White: CTA “L” lines | Green: Buildings from ’90s | Pink: Buildings from 2000s


(View full screen map here.)

Curious to see what others think. Tweet me @ChicagoEl

—Elliott Ramos

By Elliott Ramos

In our recent story on Chicago’s sidewalk cafes, we sought to figure out how and why they were focused on the North Side.

We delved into economic development projects, but also wanted to key in mass transit, which appears to play a big part.

The map below shows the 2012 sidewalk cafe permits alongside the CTA transit routes.

We wanted to get a take as to how people interact with public space as it relates to transit, so we turned to an expert.

Steven Farber, is an assistant professor of geography at the University of Utah. He recently published a study that examined the land use and transportation of 42 major U.S. cities, and the implications those systems have on social outcomes.

Farber said his research indicated that people are spending more time on their commute were not fully engaging in their communities.

“If people are spending more time on their commute, we did find that the first thing that drops out of someone’s life as they engage in more commuting is social-activity participation,” he said.

“People are still going to go shopping. They’re still going to eat; they’re still going to do these mandatory daily activities that they need to do. If you’re going to drive more, there’s only so many hours in the day. The first thing that drops out are the discretionary activities.”

While his researched focused on automobile commuting, it may well have resonance in Chicago.

The concentrations of sidewalk cafés are clustered in neighborhoods with close proximity to CTA “L” stations, especially the Red and Brown Lines. There are nearly a dozen on the block of the Southport Brown Line station and dozens within a 3-6 block radius of the Brown Line Armitage stop and the Red Line Belmont and Addison stops.

While sidewalk cafes are a manifestation of businesses aided by the number of restaurants in an area, density, zoning and streetscapes projects, mass transit plays a big deal as well.

"I don’t see anything insidious in the fact that these establishments  have arisen at these locations," Farber said.

"I think that neighborhoods without those types of opportunities for social contact may not fare as well as neighborhoods that do have these cafes and sidewalks and better streetscapes, so from that perspective, spending money on neighborhoods that are already at a higher socioeconomic level might just further decrease the divide between good neighborhoods and bad neighborhoods or high income neighborhoods and lower income neighborhoods."


By Elliott Ramos

Chicago Transit Authority president Forrest Claypool had some biting words for the Chicago Sun-Times — on its own pages.

On Thursday, the CTA chief penned a letter to the editor, chastising the newspaper’s article on CTA crime that ran on Tuesday.

On Monday evening, the tabloid released an article online, utilizing data analysis about CTA crime.  The front page of its Tuesday print edition ran with the headline: HIDE YOUR iPHONES.

Monday evening, the CTA countered with a release criticizing the analysis as flawed. The CTA’s main point of consternation was the Sun-Times claim of a 21 percent increase in crime.  

The sub-headline of the front page story read: “CTA rail stations hit by 21% spike even with high-tech surveillance.”

In his letter, Claypool said the suggestions are “false and misleading.”

The CTA did not refute whether or not crimes actually happened, but rather what types of crime should be measured and how they were measured.

The premise of the story is that crime increased on or around CTA rail stations despite an increased use of security cameras from 2010 to 2012.

In order to determine that, reporters had to assess which crimes happened near the cameras. The methodology that defined which numbers were used is at the heart of why the CTA says one thing and Sun-Times said another.

Given WBEZ’s commitment to data reporting that helps Chicagoans make sense of their city, we’re hoping to demystify the numbers… with a hilariously long-winded post on data.

The CTA crime story has made its way from online and print to subsequent TV reports.

And before sheer repetition turns this story’s claim into a commonly accepted idea among Chicagoans, we decided to look a little closer at the numbers.

If you don’t want to get into the weeds of data, numbers and variables, then the gist is this:

  • The Sun-Times analysis weeded out more than half of the locations identified as CTA crime to account for areas with cameras, although excluded buses, which all have cameras. It also excluded trains (which are partially fitted with cameras.)
  • Sun-Times also factored in all crime. CTA says violent crime is down. (Although some batteries are actually up.)
  • Theft overall is up because of smartphones, but the problem is not unique to CTA or Chicago. It’s a nationwide trend given the ease of stealing a small, expensive device.
  • The analysis does not take into account ridership numbers, which could vary dramatically depending on time of day.

Read More