While living without a car may seem like an undreamed of foreign concept to some urbanites, local Chicagoan Mike Doyle actually cherishes life without the polluting metal structured behemoth. A native New Yorker christened a “born-again Chicagoan”, Mike is the scribe behind Chicago Carless, and has used his popularity to help win the removal of ill-conceived cameras atop the Millenium Park fountains, improve street signs, and challenge the CTA’s judgment. Funsherpa sits down with carless Mike and discovers urban secrets of Chicago and the beauty of Chicago’s railcars.
What benefits do you see in not owning a car? Have you been able to convert people to give up their cars?
I managed that conversion pretty recently, actually. But there’s no question about owning a car for me–like a million other hard-core New Yorkers, I have no idea how to drive one. I never learned how to drive a car as a teenager, have never had a license, and can count the number of times I’ve pumped gas–for others–on one hand. And I have no intention of learning. Ever. Have you experienced the soul-sucking nature of neighborhoods solely accessible by automobile? Sure you have. How eager are you to live in Schaumburg? Or Bolingbrook? Give me a transit-connected city or near-suburban address any day. Life is short. Why be bored by the place you live?
Are there ever times when you wish you had a car? Why or why not?
As a native New Yorker, my motto has always been that I was born to take public transit or be driven around by cute guys. There are plenty of cute guys in Chicago (especially the wonderful Texas-expat I’m dating right now), so I’m always able to get out to Ikea when I need to. Otherwise, I abide by my longstanding life choice to maintain an urban lifestyle in a major city. Chicago fits the bill perfectly.
You seem very knowledgeable and interested in urban details. How did that interest begin?
Before I could read I would spend hours at a time sitting at my grandmother’s windowsill in Richmond Hill, Queens, watching the elevated rumble by on Jamaica Avenue. My grandmother would take me into “the city” (NYC code for Manhattan) on weekends to visit her friends working in major Midtown department stores, so I got hooked on the subway and dense urbanity pretty fast. In the late 90s, I began working at the New York City Transit Riders Council, where I was eventually named Associate Director. So by the time I left New York, it was my job to know all I could about public transit there.
What 3 aspects of New York’s public transportation system would you bring over to Chicago?
I far prefer living in Chicago to living in New York City–my adopted home is a much friendlier, more humanizing place. That extends to transit. Chicago has many things NYC doesn’t: systemwide automated announcements; windows that aren’t etched beyond all recognition; buses that actually get where they’re going without getting bogged down in traffic. The only thing this town needs–and it needs it badly–is a state government that truly understands the importance of funding for public transportation. Annual transit-funding “doomsdays” are ridiculous–and make Chicago look penny-wise but pound-foolish to outsiders.
In our humble opinion, public transportation seems to wrestle against optimizing convenience versus coverage. Where do you think Chicago’s transportation system stands in the tradeoff between these two factors and what can be done to improve it?
You don’t take transit much in this town, do you? The great majority of Chicagoans live within a half-mile walk of a bus or L train (usually a bus.) Most of the major gaps in service are temporal, not geographic. Some key bus lines stop running too early on weeknights and weekend evenings (examples: the Addison bus in Lakeview, the 40-series buses in Bronzeville, and route extension on Milwaukee and Western avenues), and the ridership would probably support running a 24-hour Brown Line service now. Unfortunately, given our latest funding crisis, those temporal gaps will likely grow larger.
What does Mayor Daley think of you?
Mayor Daley’s office knows my name, so he–or his staffers, more likely–either loves me or hates me. Considering the questions about bone-headed mayoral decisions I’ve raised on my various local bylines over the years (a missing Red Line stop at Washington/State? covered-up violence at the 2009 Independence Eve fireworks?), my money’s on the latter.
What are your thoughts about the dormant Chicago Post Office? What would you rather see in its place?
A post office. Have you seen the building the USPS replaced it with? Fug-Lee.
What neighborhood do you live in? Can you name us some of your favorite things to do in your neighborhood without a car?
I live downtown and consider the entire area from Roosevelt north to Chicago and the Kennedy east to the lakefront my neighborhood. From my apartment at Marina City, the Loop is a 40-floor elevator ride and 60-second stroll across the State Street Bridge away, so I walk most places down here. I think people who drive in downtown Chicago are idiots and deserve the stress and expense of trying to find parking in the most transit-connected downtown between NYC and San Francisco.
What are your favorite CTA stops? Why?
I have favorite railcars. I’m going to miss the old, blinker-door 2200s still running on the Blue Line when they start getting replaced by new cars next year. They’re not the classic, old green-and-cream cars, but they’re as close as anyone can get to feeling like they’re Bob Newhart wending his way home to Emily at the end of a Windy City workday.
What is the craziest thing you’ve ever seen happen in any of Chicago’s public transport systems?
There’s a regular act of public kindness I see all the time on the L: operators holding trains for connections and re-opening doors for late-arriving customers just before the train leaves the station. Sometimes I even see operators stop a train to let latecomers on (anyone who takes the Blue Line from the CTA’s super-long Logan Square station sees this all the time.) Those are really nice things for CTA operators to do. They would get you fired from New York City Transit. I may be the one New Yorker who’s never believed NYC to be the greatest city on earth. My mark of a great city is one that doesn’t slam its transit doors in your face as you try not to be late for work in the morning.