Shaping Up the CTA

Re: “How To Fix the El: The CTA’s Red and Purple Modernization project is a rare chance to rethink Chicago’s rail system. Here’s what we should do,” by Ed Zotti, March 24

Well done! Really crucial is for CTA to do two things at once. Upgrade the physical structures and look to what sorts of service (lines, frequency, stop patterns) that will allow. I laughed aloud when you quoted them as saying they will do one without the other.

I do hope the new mayor will see how that is amusing and impractical, and get the thinking on track for better riding on the rails.

Next article—why are people riding buses less often? Routes not in the right place? This is a reversal of a long pattern—more on bus, fewer on rail. Neither good nor bad, but I am curious. —sjl

Every other major urban transit system has trains with different end points so as to provide more service where there is more demand; why doesn’t CTA already do this? (Compare D.C., Paris, London, Boston, etc.) This could be done with NO CONSTRUCTION AT ALL: just turn some trains back at the existing crossover points short of the end of the line, EXACTLY as is already done with many CTA bus routes. Your plan is clearly superior to all of CTA’s in-house plans—so it will never be taken seriously. CTA has no intention of responding to any public concerns, but pursues its own agenda regardless of all else. A flyover track for the Brown line at Clark could and SHOULD have been included in the just-completed Brown line project, when all four tracks at Belmont were rebuilt, but they didn’t think of it. Nor did they think to move the Skokie terminal out of the main Howard station when it was recently redone so that its few hundred passengers wouldn’t block departures for the Red and Purple lines. Thanks Ed for a great article; too bad it won’t do passengers any good. —Bertjt

Another potential improvement would be to charge different prices at different times. While rush hours are more crowded, it seems likely that other hours have less crowding. By charging different prices, we can encourage people to shift their times of commuting. This would increase average utilization rates and reduce the annual operating losses. (I am quite sure of the last because any government-run transit system loses money.) Another method would be to sell the system to private enterprise which would then have better incentives. But, what do I know; after all, I’m an economist. —ls

Additionally, the CTA doesn’t seem to understand some basic principles of how to get people interested in riding their trains. The riders want to sit down during their 30- to 60-minute trip, they don’t want to stand. Yet the focus of the new cars is to provide more standing room. Forget about express trains and local trains. Put on more frequent trains that make all stops and let riders get a seat for the whole ride. More frequent trains running every three minutes instead of every six minutes would largely end the need for “express” trains that only save a few minutes anyway. Use the outer tracks only for bypassing any trains that are stalled for any reason, e.g. accidents, police incidents, mechanical problems, etc.

Finally, and I know this won’t be very popular, our ride price is too low. Maybe the CTA simply can’t run this service on $2.25 a ride. The tube in London is much more expensive. The subways in NYC and Boston are about the same price as ours, but they don’t actually run much better. Remember, in the days of $4 a gallon gas and $20 parking downtown, $4.50 to $5 a ride is a bargain. Raise the price, give better service and see what happens to ridership. —bajabob

Altering Aelita

Re: “The Queen’s Speech: Composer Dan Schaaf has been tinkering with a mute Martian classic,” by Deanna Isaacs, March 24

It is saddening to read Deanna Issacs’s piece “The Queen’s Speech” and its glossing over the bowdlerization by composer Dan Schaff of both Yakov Protazanov’s Aelita: Queen of Mars (1924) and Dziga Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera (1929). When individuals like Mr. Schaff brazenly alter a film by cutting its running time, doubling its film rate, dropping its intertitles, and adding digital effects, unintended colors, and dialogue, they are distorting the work and how it was intended to be viewed by the artist and in no real sense showing the film but an altered interpretation of it.

When installation artist Douglas Gordon created the exhibition 24 Hour Psycho (1993) based on Alfred Hitchcock’s classic horror film Psycho (1960) he understood that by simply prolonging the film’s duration he was also altering our rigid and ingrained interpretations of the Hitchcock masterpiece, thereby forcing us to reexamine the film. Yet, he also knew this extension of time changed the film into one that was no longer Hitchcock’s but something other and therefore his own. We the viewer would be seeing not Psycho any more than a passerby upon viewing Marcel Duchamp’s L.H.O.O.Q (1919) would be seeing da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

Schaff is quoted in dismissing his lack of basic knowledge of film history when stating that he was unaware that Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1929) was created with an original orchestral score—the remark “ignorance is bliss” underscores his artistic insolence. By distorting the style and content of the films involved Schaaf has laundered the pieces and in a more venal manner taken on the dual role of uninformed editor and censor. He should at least title his reinterpretations something more befitting, possibly “Schaaf’s Drafts.” —Joe Bryl

Deanna Isaacs replies:

The purist in me is with you on this, but then there’s the even greater violence Protazanov’s script (credited to Fedor Ozep) did to Tolstoy’s story. For the record, Schaaf calls his work Aelita, Queen of Mars, the Silent Cinema-Musical. Fortunately, both the novel and the original film are still around for those who want it straight.