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Clang, clang, clang, we need trolleys

Updated: March 4, 2014 6:12AM

Everyone loves a trolley.

I’m at the top of that list, confirmed on a recent weekend jaunt to San Francisco. I traversed its hills and valleys on the city’s Muni, red-and-gray trolley cars that run for miles along magical streets.

If you’ve been there, you know there’s not much wrong with the city by the bay (unless, of course, you are a Republican).

Chicago is my hometown, but as Tony Bennett croons, San Francisco has my heart. As I meditated to the tingling trolley car bells, I wondered how I might squeeze San Fran into the roller bag and take it home. Or at least borrow some of what they do so well.

Chicago needs the loan.

The two cities could not be more different. San Francisco and its environs sit atop the universe’s technology hill. It’s the epicenter of digital juggernauts like Google, Facebook, Twitter. The economically vibrant city is packed with young dot-commers on the move. “The City” as locals dub it, enjoys robust plays in the tech, service, tourism and myriad other industries.

Chicago aspires to the same but struggles with high employment, festering crime and economic malaise.

Last month Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced he is boosting the city’s long-term tourism goals, pledging to lure 55 million annual visitors to Chicago by 2020, along with 30,000 new jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.

Chicago will host a global competition to light up the city, aiming to rival Paris as a city of lights. He wants the city to become the biggest destination for Chinese New Year celebrations in North America. Emanuel is working it, and I give him credit.

But another, incipient plan to run a $160 million dedicated express bus line down Ashland Avenue is a non-starter. One expert recently called it “ill-conceived.”

Come on. San Francisco’s corporate titans are funding limo buses to ferry workers from city neighborhoods to Silicon Valley and other high tech corridors.

Let’s have some fun. Build high-tech trolley lines to transport our workers from the South and West sides to jobs downtown and into the burgeoning tech corridor in River North.

The trolleys could connect blossoming tourist destinations like Bronzeville, Pullman and the Barack Obama Presidential Library (surely headed to Chicago). Call that territory “Obama Gulch.”

Trolleys are a fun, human way to connect people to places. Ding-a-ling.

Emanuel also aims to transform the city into a Midwestern Silicon Valley, attracting hot tech startups as well as behemoths like Google. That dream hit a hurdle last week when Google announced it will sell Motorola Mobility to the Chinese firm Lenovo. Motorola, the smartphone maker, had previously announced it would move operations—and more than 2,000 workers — from Northwest suburban Libertyville to the Merchandise Mart this spring. Motorola, Lenovo and Emanuel all assure the move is still on track.

But Motorola is in deep trouble, and Lenovo may eventually have other notions.

Think bigger. Let’s expand the tech corridor south to include research and innovation centers at the Universities of Illinois, and Chicago, and IIT.

How about an international festival to celebrate our world-class architecture?

Make no small plans.


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