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Chicago's Big Bet on the Bus

The Ashland BRT line has become a referendum on the city's evolution.
relates to Chicago's Big Bet on the Bus
Courtesy CTA

CHICAGO—Just ten years ago, living in Chicago without an automobile was considered eccentric behavior. In 2002, a food writer friend moved there from New York and attempted bravely to get by using public transportation, taxis, and her own feet. Her colleagues at the Tribune thought her quite mad, and assigned her pieces in the suburbs ("part of my hazing," she says). Being from Indianapolis, I often described Chicago as what would happen if my home town and New York had a baby: Chicago is Midwestern but urbane, approachable but grand — and somehow both car­-oriented and transit-­friendly.

Ten years has made a lot of difference. We now live in the age of bike-share and car-share, and today Chicago attracts plenty of people, mostly young and single, who would probably rather carry a flip phone than own a car. Yet the late 20th century remains baked into the city's landscape — there are drive-­thru banks a ten minute walk from Michigan Avenue downtown, and big box stores and a strip mall with suburban-sized parking lots around the corner from the Steppenwolf Theatre.