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Column: Chicago Needs Overhaul To Land '16 Olympics

This story was written by Lee Feder, Daily Illini

Despite what many students think, Chambana is not Chicago. There is a very large Chicago contingent here, but the feel, attitude, pace of life and urbanity are quite different. Despite this, Champaign-Urbana residents, as well as all Midwesterners, should be excited about the prospect of Chicago hosting the 2016 Olympics. Without substantial improvement in public transportation, however, the event will never come to the Windy City.

When it received a third place ranking among finalist cities, reporters and bid workers highlighted the categories in which Chicago did not fare particularly well. While all theoretically valid, the clear weakness in the Chicago bid is urban transportation. In the U.S., we love us our cars, highways, traffic, and gasoline. Sadly, personal transportation is, as we are only now realizing, the most inefficient mode of people movement, and Chicago's mass transit system is pathetically lacking.

For those unfamiliar with the Chicago Transit Authority congratulations, you have never been painfully frustrated by a 2 mile El ride that lasts a half hour. Or waiting for a train only to have it arrive too full to alight. The El, while beloved by baseball fans and Lincoln Park goers alike, needs billions of dollars in improvements and service expansion to cope with higher public transit ridership and the hypothetical Olympic crowds. I do not have several billions of dollars for the upgrades, neither does the city, and we KNOW the state doesn't, so Mayor Daley and his Olympic team must find a solution.

In an ideal world, Chicago would start from scratch with its urban rail system and install light rail (think trolleys) in downtown areas as well as an extensive subway network linking commercial areas not accessible by the El to the popular neighborhoods. Over the long-term, the city would almost certainly save on operating costs because they could severely reduce, or ultimately eliminate, their urban carcinogen also known as a bus system. Buses pollute, slow traffic, and are outrageously expensive to maintain (anyone seen the price of gas lately?). Light rail and a subway would reduce rider stress on the El, freeing it perform amazing feats, like running on time, while being more cost-effective.

As more areas of the city evolve into safer neighborhoods and as Chicago empowers more minorities (creating a morally acceptable alternative to the euphemistic "gentrification"), the number of social and commercial areas in the city will increase and diversify. This will further strain the lousy public transportation system, especially since gas prices will likely never drop below $3-$3.50/gallon dollars in my lifetime. The only solution is a greatly improved rail network.

Americans are slowly catching up to the rest of the world in terms of transportation. Chicago wants to manifest its beauty and elegance by fulfilling my childhood dream of hosting the Olympics. Before we realize those goals, we have to figure out a way to get there.

Lee is part of the real world and works a day job. But don't cry for him, Champaign-Urbana, the truth is he likes it.

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