Chicago’s O’Hare set to become world’s busiest airport again?

Officials suggested O’Hare Airport is on pace this year to become the world’s busiest airport:

O’Hare International Airport is on pace to again be the world’s busiest airport, a designation it lost a decade ago, Chicago city officials noted Wednesday.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport wrestled the top honor away from O’Hare in 2005 and has held onto it since, according to the official flight count by the Federal Aviation Administration. Before that, O’Hare had bragging rights to the title since the dawn of the Jet Age, when it surpassed the number of flights at Midway Airport, which had been the leader.

From January to August of this year, more than 580,000 flights departed or landed at O’Hare, according to the FAA. City officials say part of the growth is due to international passenger volume, which through the first half of the year rose 8 percent at O’Hare, to 5.2 million passengers, and rose 15 percent at Midway, to 289,300 passengers. In the last 18 months, O’Hare and Midway International Airports welcomed six new international airlines and added dozens of new destinations.

“O’Hare isn’t just the busiest airport in the world, it’s an asset for the City of Chicago,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement. “These new gains will help us attract new businesses and solidify our place as the best connected city in the U.S. and around the world.”

A distressing lack of data here as we get some numbers about the flights at O’Hare but no data about Hartsfield. But, if true, this would give something Chicago to brag about again (reinforces Chicago’s position as a transportation hub which is part geography in the middle of the country and located near the southern end of one of the Great Lakes as well as the construction of transportation infrastructure) though I suspect frequent fliers will be less thrilled.

Additionally, is there any correlation with this data and the recent rise in complaints about noise from O’Hare?

Why is Midway nowhere close to the food options of O’Hare?

Eater rates the restaurants at O’Hare and Midway Airports and it isn’t even close: O’Hare is a lot better. Here is the top 8 at O’Hare:

1. Tortas Frontera;  2. Wicker Park Sushi Bar; 3. Wolfgang Puck Cafe; 4. Berghoff Cafe; 5. La Tapenade; 6. Big Bowl; 7. Beaudevin; 8. Garrett Popcorn.

City institutions plus big names at O’Hare. In contrast, the top 8 at Midway seem like what you would find at a shopping mall food court:

1. Manny’s; 2. Potbelly; 3. Pegasus on the Fly; 4. Harry Caray’s Seventh Inning Stretch; 5. Lalo’s; 6. Gold Coast Dogs; 7. Reilly’s Daughter

Perhaps there are some good reasons for this like more passengers at O’Hare (the 6th most passengers in the world), more space at O’Hare (more and bigger terminals plus more passengers provides more room for restaurants while Midway has one food court and then some scattered small options), and a wider range of passengers at O’Hare (Southwest dominates Midway, more first-class and international passengers at O’Hare). One way to boost Midway’s profile would be to improve these food options. It is the smaller airport and has more budget flight options but it was the first passenger airport in Chicago and has a unique place as such an urban airport in a global city.

But, knowing that this is Chicago, I wonder how much food contracts differ between the two airports. Even as O’Hare is more lucrative, why doesn’t Midway have any major name or food choice? Harry Carey’s might have the biggest name recognition (ironic it is located in the South Side airport) but it isn’t exactly known in the restaurant world for great food. Is there something odd about how restaurants at these airports are chosen?

Elgin-O’Hare highway project to take 12 years to complete

I saw the news that the Elgin-O’Hare highway extension just received the final approval from the federal government. But, one piece of information in the story stunned me:

The action, which was expected, allows the Illinois Tollway to proceed with the $3.6 billion project, which will take an estimated 12 years to complete.

Twelve years? Chicagoans are used to a lot of construction but this seems like a really long time. Here is a brief schedule according to the Elgin O’Hare West Bypass FAQ page:

Construction of the Elgin O’Hare West Bypass project could be initiated by the Illinois Tollway as soon as 2013, and would extend through 2025. While the staging plan will be refined as the Tollway advances project design, the general sequencing described in the Tollway’s Move Illinois Program includes: widening of the existing Elgin-O’Hare expressway and upgrading the I-90/Elmhurst interchange to full access, followed by the extension of the Elgin O’Hare Expressway. When the Elgin O’Hare construction is complete construction would begin on the south leg of the west bypass, with the final piece being the north leg of the west bypass. The phasing of the improvements is intended to provide the most benefit to the public as early as possible while complementing other Tollway improvements on adjacent facilities such as I-90 and I-294.

In fact, this might be the best argument I have heard for constructing highways earlier rather than latter. In addition to costs which continue to grow over time, it can often be quicker to build when there is less development.

Two more thoughts on Daley’s speech on campus: lack of partisanship and regional cooperation

I’ve already written two posts about Mayor Daley’s visit to campus (see here and here). But a few days later, two themes, a lack of partisanship and an emphasis on regional cooperation, continue to stand out for me as I have thought about how this talk fits with my research on suburbs. Here is why these two themes matter:

1. To start, many people might look at Daley’s visit to the suburbs as strange, particularly since he came to Wheaton, a community known both for its political and religious conservatism. Daley is quite well-known for being a Democrat and one who sits atop a broad Democratic machine in Chicago. And yet, Daley stressed that many issues facing cities and municipalities are not partisan issues. Rather, they are issues of serving the people and having a balanced budget.

On one hand, we could view this as Daley simply knowing his audience: with a more conservative crowd, Daley might have been unwilling to sell a Democratic agenda. But on the other hand, this idea of a lack of partisanship is quite common in suburban government. While certain communities are known to be more Democratic or Republican (roughly, further out suburbs are more Republicans, inner-ring suburbs are more Democratic), local mayors and councilman (or alderman) rarely run on party platforms. Rather, their “parties” tend to be called things like “Citizens to Improve Wheaton.”

When a problem arises, such as dealing with police or firefighter unions, Democratic or Republican communities might approach the issue in different ways. But at the same time, it is not as if Republicans can dismiss or ban the unions while Democrats can’t simply give in to every union concession. With a more limited budget in many suburbs, city governments have to maintain good levels of service (indeed, good suburbs tend to be marked by a lack of crime and good fire coverage) while still meeting a budget.

Additionally, Daley mentioned the need for businesses in a community multiple times. Whether Democrat or Republicans, communities need businesses to provide jobs for citizens but also to maintain and grow the tax base. This issue of a tax base is not just an abstract matter: it is directly linked to the size of the municipal budget. Therefore, mayors and leaders on both sides have to be pro-business (though their approach might differ somewhat) in order to provide services.

2. A second theme was the need for regional cooperation. Daley was introduced by former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert who said, “what is good for Chicago is good for northern Illinois, and what is good for northern Illinois is good for Chicago.” Daley said something similar that what is good for the suburbs is good for Chicago and vice versa.

Again, Daley might have been playing for the crowd but I don’t think this is a full explanation. One, regional cooperation is needed on certain issues. Daley mentioned O’Hare expansion several times. Although the land is in the City of Chicago, the slow process has involved several suburban communities who have opposed Daley’s plan. Unlike a situation like Meigs Field where Daley could do what he pleased, he has had to work with others on this project. (Whether he wants to work with others on O’Hare is another matter.) Another transportation issue that drew regional emphasis was the fight over whether Canadian National should be allowed to purchase the Elgin, Joliet, & Eastern railroad line. Similarly to the O’Hare issue, this purchase harmed certain suburbs by increasing train traffic while reducing traffic on other lines in other communities. (See the largest regional group opposed to this purchase.)

Two, Daley mentioned regularly meeting with suburban mayors (as well as with big city mayors in the US and around the world). Outside of particular large issues, regional mayors and city managers get together to discuss “best practices.” While there were county groups that did this (like the DuPage Mayors & Managers Conference), Daley brought together mayors from 272 communities across the region in the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus which began in 1997.

At the same time, we could ask why groups like these don’t push harder for tackling larger regional issues like planning or crime. The Chicago region is notorious for having a large number of independent, taxing bodies. The whole region would benefit from a regional planning approach that could start to tackle issues like affordable housing across the region (and not sticking it only in certain less wealthy communities) and containing sprawl (which impacts issues like traffic congestion and pollution levels).

We know historically that the split between cities and suburbs really became clear in the early 1900s when suburban communities no longer wanted to be annexed into the nearby big city. Communities want to work together: just recently, a number of suburban leaders said they were looking for help from new Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (though I also wondered whether these suburban mayors would help Emanuel in kind). Today, these regional groups are better than having no groups but primarily focusing on practical or technical municipal matters leaves a whole range of regional issues left to be tackled. Granted, these regional groups have no binding legislative authority but they could also be leveraged to do big things in a region.

Ultimately, a mayor or city leader has to respond to the needs of one’s citizens. However, many of the issues that mayors face are similar across communities and the challenges are often beyond the scope of just one municipality. All suburban and city leaders need to deal with the tax base, balancing the budget, and thinking about regional issues such as transportation and how to manage growth.

Mayor Daley on campus

Influenced by his connection to former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley was on the Wheaton College campus today for a lecture and fundraiser. Daley gave the kind of speech you might expect at the end of a politician’s career: he highlighted his successes and how much he enjoyed being a public servant. Here are a few things that he said:

1. Chicago is a world class city. He cited a few recent publications (Standard and Poors, Foreign Policy) that have called Chicago a top ten world city.

2. Chicago has been successful because it was “never afraid of changing” and “never lived in the past.”

3. About government spending: the federal government doesn’t have to balance its budget while other forms of government (state, counties, municipalities) do. Government spending has to level off. To help America move forward: we “need confidence,” we need to move away from being “a country of whiners,” and we can compete if we all sacrifice a bit for the common good.

4. Daley said his biggest issue to face was the education system and he hopes the improvement of this system is his enduring legacy. When he first became mayor, he helped stop social promotion. The Chicago schools today teach Chinese, Russian, and Arabic to compete on the world stage. Teacher’s unions have a responsibility to give more (he cited their 6 hour contractual work day while also saying he knows lots of good teachers and he is not blaming them). He said, “education is the cure of all the social ills we have.”

5. The success of Chicago has always been a public-private partnership. He cited Millennium Park as an example. This is what is behind his efforts to make connections with China so that Chinese businesses will see Chicago as the friendliest American city to them.

6. He said he had worked with mayors in the Chicago region, throughout the state, and around the world to discuss common issues. He said numerous times that the common issues they face are not partisan issues.

7. When asked what advice he would give to Rahm Emanuel, he said something to the effect of don’t give advice to people if they don’t ask for it.

Seeing him in person, I was reminded that he can be quite funny, personable, and can connect with a crowd as an “everyman.” He consistently illustrated his larger points with personal stories and interactions he had. His policy recommendations seemed fairly centrist: better education, government has to add value or other contract out or privatize certain services, working together across the region is necessary, government has to work with business leaders to get things done, elected officials and all government workers (teachers, police/fire, etc.) have to work for the people. He told a number of jokes and also several times mentioned advice he had received from his father.

Some other issues were not addressed: the population loss in Chicago in the 2000s, the perception that the city has a crime problem (even though crime has been down – I thought he might highlight this as a success), budget problems in Chicago and where the money from privatization has gone (parking meter deal, the Skyway), corruption in city government, persistent segregation and inequality, the limited number of public housing and affordable housing units (even with the notorious projects, such as Cabrini-Green, being closed), Daley’s legacy of building (outside of mention of Millennium Park and Chicago as a world leader in “green roofs”), whether Chicago’s educationally system has improved dramatically or significantly, and regional issues that need attention such as congestion and expanding O’Hare.

Daley wants high-speed rail from Loop to O’Hare

Impressed on a recent visit by a 7 minute 20 second trip between Shanghai’s airport and subway system (with speeds up to 268 mph!), Mayor Daley wants a similar high-speed line for Chicago. Of course, the question becomes: who is going to fund such a venture?

This has been an idea of Daley’s for several years.