May 12 2010

Top 5 reasons why driving in Chicago sucks

Traffic? You're soaking in it.

So, for the first year that I lived in the city, I barely drove at all. I literally would go for weeks without so much as looking at my car.  I bought a mere four tanks of gas for the first twelve months that I lived in Chicago.

However, since I’ve been needing to get to work on time in the mornings for the last few months, I’ve been doing a fair bit of driving, between home in Rogers Park, and work in the West Loop, a commute of about 10 miles.

Now, anyone that knows me well knows that I’m a pretty safe driver.  My philosophy is that it’s more important to arrive safe, in one piece, with no damage to your car, than it is to arrive exactly “on time”.  Consequently, I follow the speed limit (generally), use my turn signals when changing lanes, and I like to do my best to be courteous to others on the road.  In exchange for these little things, the universe has generally tended to be good to me.  I’ve never been in an accident that was my fault.  I’ve gotten a ticket or two before, but you could count them all on one hand.  I’ve never killed anyone.

But I have to say, driving in Chicago is really, really a pain in my ass.  I’m sure it’s the same in every bigger city.  Here’s why:

5. The traffic.

Ok, I know, everyone hates the traffic.  There’s not much that can be done about it.  More people = more cars = more traffic.  It’s unavoidable, but I hate it still.  I mean, it can take me as much as an hour to drive 10 miles in the city.  That’s just ridiculous.

4. Bicycles.

Hey hipster, I know you’re in a rush to get to Whole Foods to pick up some tempeh for your girlfriend’s vegan potluck stich-and-bitch, but that fixed-gear ten-speed you’re riding counts as a VEHICLE.  That means you’re obligated to follow the same laws as every other vehicle.  Which means stopping at stop signs.  Which means not zooming in between cars which may well start moving on you unexpectedly.  Which means signalling when you intend to turn.  Oh, or does your zero-carbon-footprint entitle you to act like you’re the only person on the road? (Edit — this goes for you motorcycle jerks too.)

3. Parking.

So, if you have an Illinois plate and you want to park in the city, you have to buy a city parking permit.  Which authorizes you to park … well, nowhere, actually.  Anywhere you’d want to park requires you to pay.  Now, ok, fair enough, the money benefits the city, right?  Nope.  Actually that parking money goes to a private corporation.  None of it goes to the city.  Unless of course you’re parked illegally, in which case the “Department of Revenue” (oh, the delicious honesty) will ticket you.  Because you didn’t pay the corporation.  Three tickets and it’s the boot.

2. Big-ass trucks.

A week or so ago, I was driving my normal route home, when I discovered that traffic was extremely snarled in an unusual way.  After meandering for about 25 minutes to make it a mile, I saw why.  Some idiot had driven his 18-wheeler under the Loyola Red Line stop without taking into account the clearance for the trailer, and had peeled back the top of the trailer like the lid of a sardine can.

This is why we have truck routes, people.  This is why trucks are prohibited on many roads.  If you don’t know where the truck routes are, YOU’RE NOT QUALIFIED TO DRIVE A FREAKING TRUCK.

1. Taxis.

Seriously, taxi drivers, I hate you.  You are the worst.  Literally, the worst.  Your driving is like a fart on an elevator.  It stinks up the whole place, and latches on to your clothes, so the stink is still around even after you’re gone.  Taxi drivers are such terrible, terrible drivers, that they make MY driving worse, simply by being on the same road as me.

I’ve seen taxi drivers make an illegal u-turn on a one-way street.  I’ve seen them drive over medians so they wouldn’t have to turn around at the end of the block.  I’ve seen taxi drivers break every traffic law you care to name.  And they’re jackasses about it.  They routinely cut off others for no good reason, tailgate, stop short, you name it.

I’m seriously thinking about filing a FOIA request to find out how many accidents in a given month involved taxis, versus how many were simply private individuals.  I’m willing to bet that taxis are the single greatest cause of fender benders in the city.  By a wide, wide margin.

And tell me, who are they constantly talking to on their bluetooth headset?  Is the life of a taxi driver so incredible they all have to narrate it constantly to some mysterious third party?

Wanna raise money for the city?  Just deploy some cops downtown between 4:30pm and 6:30pm on weekdays, with the sole point of ticketing asshole taxi drivers casually breaking the law.  Revenue problem fixed.  You’re welcome.

Feb 25 2009

Layoffs can mean more than lost wages, says author

On Wednesday, Louis Uchitelle, economic reporter for the New York Times, told an audience of nearly 90 faculty and students from the University of Illinois at Chicago that layoffs had gotten out of hand in the United States, and that the consequences of mass layoffs extended far beyond the corporate bottom line.

Beyond the immediate financial impact to laid-off workers, psychological consequences can linger long after a laid-off worker has found a new job, according to Uchitelle.  “Layoffs in themselves are a truly damaging situation,”  Uchitelle said.  “In America, they’ve gone far beyond what’s necessary.”

Uchitelle said he was drawn to explore the psychological impact of layoffs as he researched his book, “The Disposable American: Layoffs and Their Consequences”.  “I consulted psychiatrists,” he said, “and they said, yes, layoffs are traumatic experiences.”

That impact can be seen in workers who give up on finding new employment or settle for any job at all, often undermining the benefits of advanced education and experience.

Uchitelle said for every three people laid off, two years later one of them had dropped out of the job market, one had a job that earned 20 percent less that the job from which they were laid off, and one had a new job making as much as their previous job.  According to Uchitelle, 19 percent of laid off workers take jobs for which they are overqualified after being laid off.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks layoff events involving more than 50 employees.  According to seasonally-adjusted BLS statistics, there were 2,227 layoff events in January, involving nearly 238,000 employees.  That represents a 50 percent increase in layoff events, compared to the previous year.

However, Uchitelle said those numbers don’t take into account buyouts and early retirement, often proposed as alternatives to layoffs.  Uchitelle said that if those numbers were included in the calculations, it might be that 7 to 8 percent of all adult full-time employees suffer from the effects of layoffs every year.

Uchitelle said that it’s important to recognize the people laid off that aren’t getting jobs, and to think about the damage that causes, including the psychological as well as the financial ramifications.

“Skill is part of your sense of self,” Uchitelle said.  He said layoffs tell employees that “your skill doesn’t have value.”  Workers who have been laid off sometimes drop out of the job market completely.  “People felt so burned, they didn’t want to get back into the job market,” he said.  Uchitelle said that workers that had committed themselves to a career were more vulnerable to the psychological impact of layoffs than younger workers just entering the job market.

Uchitelle also criticized President Barack Obama’s address to Congress on Tuesday, and said that the only solution presented by the President was to replace jobs lost to layoffs with newly created jobs, a solution he said was an extension of the policies of prior administrations, and an inadequate solution.  He said that newly-created jobs aren’t equivalent to skilled positions that have been lost.

He said that he was worried that, “when we really start spending money [on economic stimulus projects] we won’t have the skilled labor to do it.”

Possible solutions that Uchitelle said should be considered included encouraging employers to cut wages across the board as a substitute for layoffs, tax credits to companies that avoid layoffs, and government wage subsidies for companies that agree to forgo layoffs.

“That debate isn’t on the horizon,” Uchitelle said.