How Close Do You Live and Work to the Chicago El?

A map shows the distribution of el stops throughout the city, revealing where’s a short walk, and where’s a long haul, to the city’s public-transportation arteries.

This warms my heart: my college friend Moacir de Sá Pereira, using data from one of my favorite local bloggers, Steven Vance of Steven Can Plan, mapped the city’s el stops in order to show the system’s coverage. The first map shows distances of one kilometer (.62 miles), two and half kilometers (a mile and half), and five kilometers (a little more than three miles). In other words, a short walk, a decent walk, and a long walk or bus ride.

Chicago El Map distance


The second map includes Metra stops:

Chicago public transportation map distance


And the third is el and Metra stops with different perimeter sizes: 200 meters (about one-fifth of a mile), 500 meters (about a quarter of a mile), and 700 meters (less than half a mile).

Chicago el stop map distance


He made that map in order to compare it to his current home of Paris, where the Metro coverage is extraordinarily dense:

Paris metro map distances


Which is exceptional. As he writes, “Anecdotally, I have felt since moving to Paris that one is never, ever too far from a Métro station. This is in contrast with Chicago, where one can be literally over a mile from an El stop…. [O]ne can assert with confidence that there’s nearly no chance that one lives more than 700m from a Métro stop in Paris.”

Obviously Paris is a different type of city: smaller (40 square miles compared to 234) and much more dense (53,890 people per square mile compared to 11,864). But the city also has more than twice as many Metro stations as Chicago has el stops, 300 stations serving 14 lines, compared to 144 and 8. We’re more dependent on buses: Chicago has 140 bus routes to Paris’s 59. Perhaps as a result, public transit use in Chicago ranks well behind Paris, despite the city’s larger population. The question, as always, is which is the chicken, and which is the egg.




3 years ago
Posted by jkristoff

Have an original link to the maps?

This is random, but it's "L" not "El." See the comments.

3 years ago
Posted by 'L'RIDER

Very interesting article however, who ever wrote it certainly did not do all their homework. In Chicago, it's the 'L' and not El.
El is strictly New York City.

3 years ago
Posted by Chicago Magazine

JKRISTOFF and 'L'RIDER: Thanks for your comments. Before posting this story, we did our homework and checked our style guide and the American Heritage Dictionary. We use "el train," not "L."

3 years ago
Posted by sunset_lines

Anyone that knows anything about Chicago knows that the term for Chicago's rapid
transit system is "L". That should include writers for a magazine about Chicago.
The term "el" is strictly Eastern, and represents stunning ignorance about
Chicago. The term "el" just grates when used about Chicago.

Oh, about the maps. Interesting, though I don't see the point of extending the
circles into Lake Michigan. Workers at the water intake cribs probably already
know they aren't within easy reach of a rail station. The comparison to Paris,
though, is instructive.

Your magazine's style guide should be updated to reflect Chicago usage. There are many dictionaries superior to American Heritage. Oxford American is one.

3 years ago
Posted by Moacir

Regarding the portions of this post that are my quoted text, this was my thought process:

1. In draft 1, it was "L" everywhere, which, to me, just looked bad. I tried to remember how I usually wrote it back in the day (and what our paper's style was), but I couldn't.

2. Recalling that it's short for "Elevated," I then changed it to
"el" everywhere. Now it looked weird in comparison to "Métro."

3. Hence, "El."

4. I considered scrubbing every mention and replacing it with "CTA train" to avoid precisely this kind of argument.

I tried to remember what is printed on the CTA maps in the cars, and it only came to me this morning. It's something like:

The ‘ L ’

There is no chance I'm typing that by choice.

3 years ago
Posted by lalala

Man, if Sunset_Lines thinks mistaking "el" for "L" is "stunning ignorance," then I'd hate to hear what he thinks about things that actually matter.

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