This could all be better! Credit: Kevin Tanaka

The Reader’s archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every day in Archive Dive, we’ll dig through and bring up some finds.

Today marks a quarter-century of color-coded el lines. Yes, back in the day, you didn’t ride the blue or brown line. You rode the Douglas or the Congress or the Ravenswood, and if you wanted to get from the far south side to Evanston, you had to take the Dan Ryan and then transfer to the Howard at Lake Street.

Moral of the story (sort of): the el is annoying, but it used to be even worse.

However, that’s still not good enough. In 2011, Ed Zotti, in consultation with Cecil Adams, the resident genius over at the Straight Dope, created his own comprehensive plan to revise the CTA train system.

It’s a wonder. The nut of it is this: the number of CTA riders has increased exponentially in the past few decades, and the system as it is is unequipped to carry them all.

The most obvious solution—add more trains—is unsustainable.

The problem is what’s known among transit geeks as “load balancing.” On an average weekday more than twice as many riders enter the Howard branch of the Red Line as the Dan Ryan branch—115,000 versus 51,000. If the CTA simply sent more Red Line trains south from Howard in the morning to pick up north-side crowds, they’d unload downtown, then run largely empty down to 95th Street.

Extending the line to 130th Street will make matters worse. The trip from Howard to 130th and back will take more than two and a half hours. Most trains will have time to make just one run before the busiest part of rush hour is over. Upshot: too many trains on the south end of town, too many waiting passengers up north.

The trick, therefore, is to add service on the north side without throwing the rest of the system out of whack. The obvious way to do that is to carry more passengers on Brown Line and Purple Line trains, which circle the Loop and head back north.

Zotti’s plan incorporates existing train lines, but adjusts the schedules and transfer points to make commutes from all corners of the city more pleasant. It doesn’t require the building of new el or subway lines.

When he was done, he showed it to former CTA planning officials. “The sachems thought it was worthy of serious study,” he wrote, “and as far as they were concerned, that was the point.”

Best of all, even readers approved!

Last fall when the Wilson stop renovation was finally complete (after the stripping of several generations of pee), the CTA decided to make it a transfer point between the red and purple lines. Undoubtedly it made the change because the Straight Dope recommended it.

If only Ed Zotti and Cecil Adams were running the city!