Apparently today was world car free day. In practice, traffic was awful, the worst it's been since the traffic jams returned after Labor Day. So bad I abandoned my first route to work in favor of a second route that ended up being worse and resulted in my being late to work on a day I was sure I'd be early. The bitch of it is, Chicago's transportation infrastructure really is more or less adequate for the core task of getting people to work in the morning and home in the evening. That's why traffic really isn't that bad over the summer, when most rush hour drivers are actually on their way to work, and a large share of workbound commuters are using public transportation (my office, unfortunately for me, is not located in the central business district, but in another neighborhood, much like the one where I live except less affordable - and being neither downtown nor suburban, it features neither easy transit access from home nor parking). But every year once Labor Day weekend is over, the horrible traffic meltdown returns. The reason? Public school is back in session.
I haven't heard this discussed enough when people talk about planning, or at all really. But the largest cause of Chicago's horrible traffic jams is people driving their kids to school, not people driving to work. For one thing, if you work in the central business district you can probably find another way to work other than driving yourself alone in your personal automobile. The infrastructure, as I said above, is designed to help you achieve this. But faced with abysmal test scores and the resulting environment of selective enrollment and charter schools, few middle class parents are actually allowing their kids to be (mis)educated at their local public school, which is typically right down the street from their houses. Instead, they have picked the public or private school they feel best fits their children's needs and yet will allow them to attend, regardless of where it's located, and then resigned themselves to driving them to school every day and then driving to work. Part of the reason is the relative rarity of yellow school buses in Chicago - but then, how do you design a bus route that transports kids from neigborhoods all over the city to your school? And the existing public transit system, while adequate for transporting workers from many neighborhoods to work, do not allow for crosstown transportation of school children in less than two hours if neither the child's home nor school are centrally located. Such a route would typically involve several bus transfers as well, potentially leaving school age children standing by a busy street in a crime ridden neighorhood for up to 20 minutes several times a day - not an ideal situation.
So our substandard education system is directly negatively impacting the environment and our quality of life in a way most of us don't seem to recognize or understand. There's probably some deeper insightful point to make here about modern society or something, but I'm tired and I just don't have it in me.