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The Mayor is over in China and is super-excited about the Beijing subway; in response, some of his constituents are at least grudgingly encouraged that something's got him interested in the El, even if he had to fly across the world on a wild-goose chase. He does go to DC here and there, right?
Anyway, aside from the absurdity of the Olympics being the trip to the ice cream stand we get for cleaning our room, after reading about the riches and wonders of totalitarian transit I had a couple questions (not addressed in the article, of course):
How well does it serve the city? Well, Beijing has about 17.5 million people, compared a bit less than 3 million for Chicago (about 10 million in all of the metropolitan area). And Beijing has eight lines running on about 200km of track, compared to eight lines running on about 175km of track in Chicago. Is that a problem? Yes, and they're scrambling to catch up.
The El is dumpy, busted, and slow, all of which are problems of various importance. But it's worth remembering that nicer systems often come at a price; it's a lot easier and cheaper to keep a line clean and efficient when you shut it down for several hours every night (as is also the case on the comparably nice DC Metro). Depending on which sacrifices you make, you get deeper into questions about what constituencies you're serving and issues of safety. Or you can have it all and pay for it; I don't have an answer for you.
"How did Chicago's system compare? What was missing? To name a few things familiar to Chicagoans: Dank station platforms with condensation dripping from the ceiling; graffiti; foul smells; and the cacophony of screeching wheels and beeping electronic systems often heard on the CTA."
...while true, still makes me crazy, because the Trib reporter seems more impressed with the Beijing subway's aesthetics than interested in it as a transit system. Seen as such, it's a little less impressive on balance.