Monday, August 25, 2014

Chicago's Union Station: an Assault to the Senses

It's been a long time since my last post, partly because I now rant on Facebook, especially when it's just a little rant, and partly because I've been too busy to blog. These past few weeks though I've found a topic that really pisses me off.
With my recent move to the suburbs I've been commuting via Metra to Chicago's Union Station. While commuting via Metra for the most part is a quick and pleasant experience, the worst part of my commute is to and from Union Station and my office. With my office being north west of Union Station I exit the North side of the station at the Madison Street Entrance. Unfortunately Union Station is old with the tracks located below buildings. The ventilation on the tracks is very poor resulting in having to walk through a cloud of diesel exhaust. On top of that the trains all back in to the station so walking out the north entrance involves walking past the engines which are not only spewing diesel exhaust but are extremely loud. I have a sound meter app on my phone that I tried using, but unfortunately that topped out at 95 decibels so I can only imagine that the actual volume is well over 100. Many people, myself included, stick their fingers in their ears while walking past to block some of the noise. Sometime I try to use ear plugs, but that requires me to remember to put them in before exiting the train or before entering the station. I'm surprised I've never seen anyone with a mask over their face.
The worst part is during the evening commute since there always seems to be an engine parked at the stairway to the tracks. With two trains leaving at almost the same time the stairs are always crowded and slow moving with so many people going down and you walk right past the top part of the locomotive getting a full blast of warm air that I'm sure also contains exhaust. There was an article in the Chicago Tribune about soot particles on the trains, but I don't remember the article mentioning anything about the stations. I wonder how much soot I breath in on a daily basis.
You would think that being outside the station would end the assault, but you would be wrong. With all the cars, buses, and trucks running past you would think that's my complaint, but it's actually not. Instead it's all the smokers I have to walk past. Growing up I remember always seeing public service messages from the American Lung Association to quit smoking and I always thought that by 2000 there would be hardly anyone still smoking. Boy, was I wrong. I can't even recall that last time I saw a public service message about smoking and it seems like packs of smokers like to congregate downtown, especially around train stations.

Update 9/30/2014
I've been using these ear plugs for the past few weeks and they work really well.  They're inexpensive, reusable, can be inserted and removed quickly and easily, and come with a nice little case to keep them clean and ready to use when you need them.  They're certainly a lot more comfortable than sticking your fingers in your ears and just as effective.