Though Chicago’s passengers had long fought for public control of urban transit, they were unsuccessful so long as these companies turned profits for owners and investors. When transit companies flirted with bankruptcy and receivership toward midcentury, however, turning those systems over to a quasi-public agency seemed a fair way to liquidate potential liabilities. The Chicago Transit Authority, created by public referendum in 1945, effectively took on those liabilities, and had to immediately sell bonds in order to remain in service. Laws prevented the kinds of subsidies necessary to provide transit as a public service, leaving the CTA’s train and bus lines dependent on fare box revenue from an increasingly isolated and poor urban population, as wealthier residents and resources fled to new suburban neighborhoods that operated as distinct municipalities. Part of the attraction of such neighborhoods was their inaccessibility to the central city and its perceived problems; their growth reflected a rejection of the cosmopolitan urbanism Burnham and Bennett had promoted; accessibility to public transit might force residents to be part of a greater “public” they instead sought to escape.
City, regional, and transit planners did what they could in such a fiscally, legally, and politically fragmented metropolis in order to provide a public service, and the Regional Transportation Authority of Northeastern Illinois was narrowly established by metropolitan referendum in 1972. The RTA would work as an umbrella to oversee all public transit in the region, plan and regulate it as a public utility, and provide limited funding from regional sales and gasoline taxes, though services remained largely dependent upon farebox revenue.
This 1977 map, produced by Rand McNally and Company on commission for the RTA, sought to broaden the appeal of mass transit by experimenting with colors and values popular at the time. In recto and verso images it offers a rare, comprehensive view of the integration of several transit companies, authorities, and technologies within the metropolitan area (recto) and city proper (verso). The metropolitan side also illustrated the difficulty and possible confusion of routing bus lines along meandering suburban roadways in order to provide service to those areas.
Keating, Ann Durkin. Building Chicago: Suburban Developers and the Creation of a Divided Metropolis. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1988.
Schwieterman, Joseph P. and Alan P. Mammoser. Beyond Burnham: An Illustrated History of Planning for the Chicago Region. Lake Forest, IL: Lake Forest College Press, 2009.
Yago, Glenn, The Decline of Transit: Urban Transportation in German and US Cities, 1900-1970. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.
Regional Transportation Authority: About Us: http://www.rtachicago.com/about-us
1978-9 RTA Map of Northeastern Illinois (Chicago: Rand McNally & Co. for Regional Transportation Authority, 1978). The Newberry Library: Road map4C G4104.C6A1 1978 .R3 (PrCt). Map © RM Acquisition, LLC d/b/a Rand McNally. Reproduced with permission, License No. R.L. 14-S-006. Map courtesy of Regional Transportation Authority