I am a big transportation nerd. I love planes and trains…not so much automobiles, but boats are cool too. I would rather take any mode of transportation other than a car. Give me a bus, a train, a plane anything. I just think that car travel is so un-urban. I don’t dig it.
Take a look at this article from Chicago Magazine — I like the maps/graphics. Basically every square inch in Paris was within a short walking distance to a subway entrance. Chicago fared pretty well compared to many American cites, but as it branched out people have to take a bus to the nearest train station. That’s horrible.
Part of my French for Travelers class at Alliance Francaise had a few minutes going over the Metro. Many people in the class thought the subway was TOO EXTENSIVE. They thought there were too many options. That is absolutely crap. I thought the Metro was almost perfect. The one complaint I had is that it doesn’t run 24 hours a day. Two of the nights we were in town we had to RUN through the stations to catch the last train of the evening. The last train of the night leaves the end station at 01h15. A new friend (comment on that when I write up the return flight) got stuck across Paris after the trains stopped running, so he had to rent a bike and ride through the streets of Paris (he couldn’t find a taxi either).
The train stations were clean and they all had displays indicating when the next train would arrive. Why is this such a hard thing to have in Chicago? It should be pretty obvious when the next train is arriving — just let us know!
The train cars were wide and spacious. Unlike Chicago the cars were uninterrupted, so you could fit even more people on board — and you didn’t have those crazies moving between cars and hitting you with those heavy doors and making traveling with a suitcase an impossibility.
My favorite part of the Metro was that no matter what time of day/night we were riding we had to wait no longer than 6 minutes for the next train…and that’s when we saw the previous train pulling out of the station. In Chicago we could wait for 15-20 minutes before the next train comes to the station.
I was surprised at the Metro tickets. Tiny little pieces of paper with a magnetic strip were used extensively. Sometimes you needed them to get out of the station as well. There was an option for a reusable fare card, but I didn’t see to many people using these cards though. The fare cards also were tied to the bike rental program — a program that Chicago will be imitating in the spring.
How beautiful are the subway entrances too? Public art is so important, but we don’t seem to focus on that as much as we should here in the US. Compared to most the US Chicago has a great transit system — but it falls short, REALLY short compared to European Cities. A lot of the issues in Chicago is the front line employees — so many of them seem to feel entitled to have a job and if someone needs help or asks a question they are doing you a favor by helping you.