Chicago news roundup: Riders decry CTA conditions, DCFS sued for holding foster children in jail and more

Good afternoon. Here’s the latest news you need to know in Chicago. It’s about a five-minute read that will brief you on today’s biggest stories.

This afternoon will be cloudy with a high near 34 degrees. Similar weather is expected for tonight with a low near 28. Tomorrow will be partly sunny with a high near 35 and some snow expected later that evening. Expect some snow Sunday also with a high near 34 degrees.

Top story

Always late, everything smells like weed & more: What nearly 2,000 CTA L, bus riders have to say

The CTA — the second-largest transit system in the U.S. — spent 2022 trying to bounce back from a slew of challenges: the pandemic wiping out ridership in transit systems across the country, prompting shortages of bus and train operators and boosting a massive culture shift toward remote work.

None of that is much solace to John Wilmes, a professor at Roosevelt University who is pursuing a career change so he can work remotely after commuting for 12 years.

“I can’t rely on it anymore,” Wilmes said of the CTA. “I’ve always been a defender of the Chicago Transit Authority. I’ve always said, ‘Actually, it’s not that bad. It’s actually one of the good things about living here. It’s pretty reliable.’ That’s no longer true. And the city doesn’t seem to care.”

Ladell Johnson, who works in security for a school near Michigan Avenue, said scheduled buses sometimes don’t arrive and that the CTA doesn’t fairly serve her South Side neighborhood. In contrast, Johnson said, “When you’re downtown, and you’re trying to come home, you have a bunch of buses going to the North Side passing by that are empty.” Also, she said, early morning buses are unreliable and don’t align with the agency’s trackers that count down wait times for riders.

Wilmes and Johnson are among nearly 2,000 people who responded to a WBEZ survey of CTA riders distributed in November via email, text, social media and outreach through community groups. The aim — as the agency embarks on an improvement plan regarding wait times and safety issues and chronic staffing gaps — was to gauge riders’ experiences and attitudes.

The majority of those responding vented about delays, “ghost” buses and safety.

A wave of violent incidents on the Red Line last year rattled riders. Some said they no longer feel safe taking public transportation outside of the busiest morning and evening commute periods. Slightly under half of riders (45%) who took the survey said they feel “somewhat unsafe” or “very unsafe” riding a bus or train. About the same number (47%) said they feel “fairly safe.” Seven percent said they have felt “very safe” riding a bus or train in the past 30 days.

The CTA has pledged to boost security, and the number of “security checks” conducted by police and security are an item on the agency’s new tracker. But many riders said they see security personnel on train platforms but not on trains or buses.

But there also was a good degree of gratitude toward and empathy for CTA workers. Many extolled the virtues of a strong public transit system as part of the city’s DNA despite their frustrations. And they wanted more transparency and more accountability from the CTA.

Rebecca Holland has more from CTA riders here.

More news you need

  1. The Cook County public guardian is suing Illinois child welfare officials for allowing foster children to remain locked up in juvenile detention even after they’ve been ordered released. It’s a problem that has only gotten worse, an Illinois Answers Project investigation found last year.
  2. A Chicago psychologist is among the group of experts challenging the belief that notorious criminal Charles Manson was schizophrenic. Our Frank Main has more on Alan Friedman’s work here.
  3. A Chicago cop who is accused of using unjustified force against a CPS student is now facing just over a year’s suspension after a single police board member overruled the superintendent’s recommendation for a slightly lighter punishment. The suspension stems from an incident involving an 8-year-old student at Arthur Ashe Elementary while Officer Mark Johnson was off duty and working as a security officer.
  4. The Music Box Theatre has quietly pulled a screening of a controversial indie film following tweets that accused the film of “transphobia” and “fascism.” The Lakeview theater, well-known for hosting arthouse, midnight movies and repertory oddities, had scheduled a special showing of “Actors” on Feb. 2 before canceling the screening without explanation. 
  5. Standing in front of a giant, uninhabited Amazon warehouse, a group of activists yesterday called on the retail giant to announce when it would open and whether or not it would honor a commitment to hire folks from the community. Edie Jacobs, director of Get to Work, a jobs placement program, said she’d been given the runaround by several Amazon representatives and that local Ald. Emma Mitts has not been helpful when it comes to getting answers.
  6. The first televised debate ahead of the Feb. 28 mayoral election saw Mayor Lori Lightfoot and her eight challengers spar over topics of crime, immigration and more. If you missed it, our Mitchell Armentrout breaks down the night’s highlights here.
  7. Mayor Lightfoot is promising a fix after a WBEZ investigation found CPD repeatedly turned away people who were trying to register at a police facility as required by law. The failure leaves people convicted of some gun, sex and violence crimes subject to arrest for failure to register. Advocates for survivors of sexual assault expressed concern that the overburdened office is indicative of a department that isn’t prioritizing their safety concerns.
  8. Mayor Lightfoot’s administration yesterday touted a pair of new programs baked into her 2023 budget to lighten the load for Chicagoans saddled with debt from administrative hearing violations. The programs offer ways to get out from under a pile of tickets for things like playing your radio too loud, littering or having an overflowing dumpster.
  9. Chicago Restaurant Week is back, running through Feb. 5 and featuring more than 330 Chicago area eateries for its 16th incarnation. Our Miriam Di Nunzio has more on what to know and expect from this year’s event.
  10. And, with names such as “Plowcasso” and “Sears Plower,” Chicagoans will have an opportunity to vote for six names out of 50 finalists to name city snowplows. The city’s first You Name a Snowplow contest launched in December 2022 and is now in its second phase, with residents being asked to cast votes for their favorite names among the finalists.

A bright one

For many Chicagoans, Lunar New Year is a time to reflect, celebrate and feast

Red lanterns symbolizing good fortune are strewn above and along Chinatown’s Wentworth Avenue, while nearby businesses are decorated with pictures and signs depicting rabbits — all in preparation of Lunar New Year, which officially begins on Sunday.

Chinatown is not the only neighborhood celebrating the first day of the lunar calendar, which marks months in moon cycles. For many Asian cultures, 2023 marks the Year of the Rabbit. However, in Uptown, which has a large Vietnamese population centered on Argyle Street, preparations are being made to celebrate the Year of the Cat. Vietnamese culture shares 10 of the zodiac calendar’s 12 signs — the rat, tiger, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. Vietnamese culture honors the cat instead of the rabbit and the buffalo instead of the ox.

A Chinatown parade, scheduled to kick off from 24th and Wentworth at 1 p.m Jan. 29, will feature dozens of floats, and organizers say could attract an estimated 30,000 people. The Vietnamese community in Uptown will host a smaller parade the day before.


South Wentworth Avenue is decorated with red lanterns ahead of Lunar New Year in Chinatown yesterday.

But the holiday is about more than one-day events. For many, the start of the Lunar New Year is a time for reflection and to be with family, and is celebrated over several days. 

Many of the dishes are symbolic, like Chinese mooncake, a round pastry made from lotus seed paste that is served in small wedges, according to Paul Luu, chief executive of the Chinese American Service League.

“Before the new year, many make sure their homes are cleaned and do their best to pay off debts and then prepare many meals,” Luu said. “It’s a celebration and time for family members to come back home.”

Bob Chiarito has more on how Chicagoans are celebrating the Lunar New Year here.

From the press box

Your daily question☕

What has your experience riding CTA been like recently? Explain.

Send us an email at newsletters@suntimes.com and we might feature your answer in the next Afternoon Edition.

Yesterday we asked you: What do you think of the city’s proposed plan to use cameras to nail motorists who block bus lanes, bike lanes and loading zones?

Here’s what some of you said…

“As an avid bike rider, I totally support the plan. I wish the city would add traffic cameras to ticket commercial vehicles that drive illegally on Lake Shore Drive and the express lanes on the Kennedy and Dan Ryan expressways.” — Timothy Powell

“Money grab, that’s all this is!” — Sean Tehrani

“Long overdue but just the start. Everyone is just trying to get to where they are going without dying. Fines will help, but more physical infrastructure is also needed.” — Greg Mittelman

“They are doing too much. How about getting some cameras to catch some of these killers and thieves?” — Marion Howard

“Heck yes. I commute by bike about three miles from West Town to the South Loop. Vehicles parked in the bike lanes require me to veer into moving traffic, which can feel pretty dangerous. On a GOOD day, the number of times I have to do this is in the single digits.” — Ellen Duff

Knee-jerk solutions are mostly done for political purposes or feel-good reasons and are rarely helpful. A terrible tragedy occurred in the city but it was a freak accident. It sounds like another revenue scheme.” — Mike Boehmer

“Sounds like a good idea. But for the record, the buses themselves cause huge problems in bike lanes. I know it might be unavoidable, but still a major problem.” — Brice Notardonato Ellett

“I am very much in favor of the proposal to use cameras to fine drivers parking on bus stops, bike lanes, and loading zones. People have been stopping cars in bike lanes and bus stops with impunity, inconveniencing everyone else. I’m glad the city is finally moving to stop this.” — Nathan Kasimer

Thanks for reading the Chicago Sun-Times Afternoon Edition. Got a story you think we missed? Email us here.

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