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Rauner’s Latest Weird Illiana Move: Pushing for Tax Breaks to Contractors

What is Bruce Rauner up to with contradictory movements on the wasteful Illiana Tollway?

Rauner has taken contradictory actions on the Illiana. Just what is he up to?

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner has taken action to kill the wasteful, destructive Illiana Tollway, which his predecessor Pat Quinn championed. Lately, however, Rauner has made some odd steps that suggest he may be interested in keeping the project on life support.

In June, the governor ordered the Illinois Department of Transportation to remove the tollway from its multiyear plan, and said he would stop spending state funds on the project. But, earlier this month Rauner signed a bill authorizing $5.5 million in spending to “wind down” the project.

Recently, Rauner submitted a proposal to the Illinois General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules that would give any Illiana contractors – should there be any – an exemption on paying sales taxes for materials they buy to build the tollway.

The Illiana is the epitome of a highway boondoggle. It would cost more to construct than it would ever collect in tolls, leaving Illinois taxpayers on the hook for $500 million in borrowing. It would also destroy valuable farmland and induce suburban sprawl. Quinn tried to steamroll the project forward in order to garner support from South Side and Southland politicians and residents for his failed reelection effort.

The governor’s spokesman Lance Trover insted that the tax break “is in no way an effort to revive a project that the Illinois Department of Transportation has pulled from its multiyear plan,” according to Crain’s. Terry Horstman, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Revenue, couldn’t explain why Rauner recently submitted the bill, but he said the new legislation is required by the 2010 law that authorized building the Illiana.

If Rauner is serious about not building the Illiana then the sensible thing to do would be to rescind any legislation authorizing its construction. The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules should also reject the tax break proposal.

The regional leaders at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning should also take action to ensure that the boondoggle doesn’t get back. Although Quinn bullied the CMAP board into putting the project on the organization’s high-priority projects list, the agency should demote it from the list.

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Recent Chicago Pedestrian and Bicycle Fatalities

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63rd Street near Ellis, where Dillan Harris was fatally struck. Image: Google Maps

Man Fleeing Police Fatally Strikes 13-Month-Old Boy in Stroller

Dillan Harris, a 13-month-old boy who was sitting in a stroller, was run over and killed by a driver who was being chased by police in the wake of a gunshot murder, prosecutors said.

On Saturday, July 11, at around 1:40 p.m., an off-duty police officer saw Antoine Watkins, 21, “calmly” walking away from the location where local rapper Marvin “Capo” Carr had just been murdered, at 77th and Kingston in South Shore, according to prosecutors. Watkins then entered a red Toyota Avalon and drove away.

The officer called 911 to report the license plate number, and then drove after Watkins for several blocks, according to prosecutors. Other police officers pursued Watkins and pulled him over near 65th and Richards. When the officers exited their vehicle and approached his car, Watkins sped off, reaching speeds of 60-70 mph on 63rd Street, which has a 30 mph speed limit. Officers in several vehicles pursued him.

At 63rd and Ellis in Woodlawn, Watkins lost control of his car, struck a light pole, and careened onto the sidewalk by a bus stop, where Harris was in a stroller, prosecutors said. Watkins fled the scene in his car, dragging the boy and the stroller under the vehicle.

The driver crashed the car in a nearby alley, where he was soon apprehended by police officers, prosecutors said. Harris was transported to University of Chicago Comer Hospital, where he was later pronounced dead, according to the police.

Watkins, of the 8100 block of South Bennett in South Shore, was charged with the murder of Harris, fleeing police, and driving without a license or insurance. At a hearing on July 13, he was ordered held without bail.

Read more…

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Congress Set to Pass Yet Another Short-Term Transpo Funding Patch

Who says there's gridlock in Washington? Congress manages to pass a transportation extension every two months, on average. Photo: ##https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gridlock##Wikipedia##

Who says there’s gridlock in Washington? Congress manages to pass a transportation extension every two months, on average. Photo: Wikipedia

The 35th transportation extension in the last six years is about to pass. The House had passed a five-month extension, the Senate insisted on moving forward with its six-year bill, then the House proposed a three-month extension, and somehow that sounded great to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

To win McConnell’s support for the short-term patch, House leaders had to pinky-swear that they would work on a long-term bill just as soon as they get back from August recess. Seven states have already halted construction projects valued at $1.63 billion because of uncertainty at the federal level.

The three-month extension isn’t funded with sales of oil from the nation’s strategic reserve and it doesn’t include an extension of the Export-Import Bank’s authority, both controversial issues that threatened to gum up the works.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer warned he could encourage Democrats to vote no on the three-month bill, but it seems clear lawmakers are going to do what they need to do to avoid a shutdown and then head home for recess. The House is planning to celebrate its success by adjourning a day early.

The patch expires October 29. See you all then — same time, same place, same insufferable paralysis.

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Today’s Headlines for Wednesday, July 29

  • A Sign the Illiana Has a Pulse: Rauner Wants Tax Exemption for Its Building Materials (ELPC)
  • Bicyclist In Critical Condition When Struck by Motorcyclist Near Addison & Milwaukee (Tribune)
  • 5 Injured, Including 2 Children, After Car Chase Ends in a Crash in East Garfield (ABC)
  • Halsted Closure for Byrne Interchange Work Will Require CTA, UIC Bus Reroutes (DNA)
  • More Coverage of the Proposed TOD Law Update (Sun-Times, Curbed)
  • 606 Users: City Should Publicize the Trail’s Health Benefits to the Latino Community (Tribune)
  • Cyclists Cited in Lake County Crackdown Can Avoid Tickets by Taking LIB Test (Tribune)
  • Local Urban Planners Have Walked From California to Chicago, Heading to NYC (Fox)
  • R.I.P. Mitch Aliotta, “Lake Shore Drive” Bass Player (Sun-Times)
  • Anti-Development Protest Planned for Tuesday in Logan Square (Facebook)
  • Active Trans Is Hosting a Tour of the Cal-Sag Trail on August 8

Get national headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Homicide Charge Dropped in Cann Case; Driver Still May Get Stiff Sentence

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Bobby Cann. Photo: Groupon

At a hearing on Friday, a judge dismissed reckless homicide charges against Ryne San Hamel, the driver who fatally struck cyclist Bobby Cann while allegedly drunk and speeding. While this decision represents a setback in the case against San Hamel, he is still charged with aggravated DUI resulting in a death, which carries a potentially heavier sentence.

On the evening of May 29, 2013, Cann, 26, was biking from work when San Hamel, 28, struck and killed him at the intersection of Clybourn Avenue and Larabee Street in Old Town. According to police, San Hamel was driving 50 mph and had a blood-alcohol content of 0.127, well above the legal limit of 0.08. He had been arrested on alcohol-related charges while driving, including a DUI, on two previous occasions and received relatively light penalties, according to a Chicago Reader article.

After San Hamel struck Cann, in addition to the reckless homicide and aggravated DUI charges, he was charged with misdemeanor DUI, reckless driving, and failure to stay in the lane. Last fall, San Hamel retained defense lawyer Sam Adam Jr., whose previous clients include ex-governor Rod Blagojevich and R&B star R. Kelly.

Adam recently filed a number of motions, including the motion to dismiss the reckless homicide charge. He asserted that the charge was not specific enough for San Hamel’s team to adequately prepare his defense, according to Cann family attorney Kate Conway. While it might seem obvious that speeding while intoxicated is reckless, Adam argued that these actions weren’t sufficiently spelled out in the indictment.

Judge William Hooks agreed that the charge was too vague. However, he dismissed the charge “without prejudice,” which means that the Cook County State’s Attorney can potentially re-indict San Hamel with more specificity in the future, Conway said. “It’s certainly not an end to the case, it’s simply an end to one of the indictments.”

Tandra Simonton, a spokeswoman for the State’s Attorney’s office, did not say whether Assistant State’s Attorney Maria Augustus, who is prosecuting the case, plans to re-bring the reckless homicide charges. However, Simonton noted that the aggravated DUI charge is the more serious felony. “We’re still moving forward with the case,” she said.

Read more…

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Eyes on the Street: Clybourn Curb-Protected Bike Lanes Are Halfway Done

Construction of the Clybourn Avenue curb-separated bike lane

The northbound bike lane runs past the memorial to fallen cyclist Bobby Cann. Photo: Steven Vance. More photos.

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

Note: Keating Law Offices, P.C. has generously agreed to sponsor two Streetsblog Chicago posts about bicycle safety topics per month. The firm’s support will help make Streetsblog Chicago a sustainable project. Keating Law Offices is not involved in the Bobby Cann case.

Just over a month ago, the Illinois Department of Transportation started constructing curb-protected bike lanes in Old Town, on Clybourn Avenue between Halsted Street and Division Street, and on eastbound Division between Clybourn and Orleans Street. They’ve already made significant progress on the northbound section of Clybourn.

In most sections, the curbside bike lanes will be protected from motorized traffic by a three-foot wide curb plus a lane of parallel-parked cars. Even though the project is far from complete, cyclists are already taking advantage of the safer bikeway by riding in it.

Construction of the Clybourn Avenue curb-separated bike lane

A bus stop island is being constructed to the left of the bike lane on eastbound Division. Photo: Steven Vance

It’s notable that the IDOT is spearheading this project, with assistance from the Chicago Department of Transportation, because IDOT has blocked CDOT from installing protected bike lanes on state-jurisdiction roads within the city since 2011. That changed after cyclist Bobby Cann was struck and killed by an allegedly drunk, speeding driver at Clybourn and Larrabee Street in May of 2012. We’ll have an update on the criminal case against the driver, Ryne San Hamel, later today.

While the state hasn’t fully lifted their ban on PBLs, in response to the Cann tragedy, they agreed to “pilot” the new bikeway. This will be only the second location with curb-protected lanes in the city – CDOT installed a similar facility on Sacramento Boulevard in Douglas Park in May of this year.

Crews are also currently working on the curb-protected bike lane on eastbound Division. This section includes a bus stop island – CTA riders cross the bike lane to access the bus stop. It appears that this is Chicago’s first bus stop island, but CDOT is also building a handful of island bus stops adjacent to a protected bike lane on Washington Street as part of the Loop Link bus rapid transit project in the city center.

Read more…

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If Walmart Urbanizes Its Headquarters, What’s Next for Its Stores?

The Washington Post reports that Walmart, the retail behemoth whose name is synonymous with big-box sprawl, is looking to attract young people to work at its headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. To make that happen, the company is investing in amenities to make its hometown — population 40,000 — more urban.

Sam Walton’s first store, in downtown Bentonville, where the company hopes to draw young employees. Photo: brad_hot/Flickr via Washington Post

Sam Walton’s first store, in downtown Bentonville, Arkansas, where the company hopes to draw young employees. Photo: brad_holt/Flickr via Washington Post

To remain competitive, the Post says, Walmart must draw professionals “who might not have a car” away from “large cities that have lots more to offer.”

Robert Steuteville at Better! Cities & Towns believes new development in the Bentonville area will have repercussions across the U.S.:

In the middle of the 20th century, northwest Arkansas consisted of a few sleepy towns on a railroad line. Now it has half a million residents in disconnected subdivisions.

The area must urbanize to move forward economically, and the implications of that necessity will turn suburbs on their heads. The needs of Bentonville and Walmart will reverberate coast to coast.

Walmart, the Walton Foundation, and local leaders are investing heavily in art museums and other cultural attractions, bicycle trails, and mixed-use infill development that brings restaurants and brew pubs.

Nearby Rogers, Springdale, and Fayetteville (home of the University of Arkansas) are moving in the same direction. Urban amenities have gained status in the land of Walmart — arguably the largest, most suburban-oriented enterprise in the world.

“In order for us to compete for the type of talent it’s going to take to allow these companies to remain competitive in the global economy, we have to be a place where people want to live, where they can spend their free time doing things they enjoy,” one Bentonville official told the Post.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Family Friendly Cities says Seattle’s proposed residential zoning update won’t lead families with kids to flee the city.

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Today’s Headlines for Tuesday, July 28

  • Looks Like New Chair of the Infrastructure Trust Will Push Hard for O’Hare Express (Sun-Times)
  • SUV Driver Struck and Killed Cyclist Walking Bike Across Western at Congress (Keating)
  • Senior Dies A Few Days After Being Struck in Des Plaines (Herald)
  • After a Drag Racing Fatality, Reilly Plans “No Cruising Zone” on Lower Wacker (Sun-Times)
  • Police Arrest Driver Who Crashed Stolen Car in Wheeling, Fled on Foot (Sun-Times)
  • Meet the Bars That Lobbied for the Return of Happy Hours (DNA)
  • Letter: Allowing Guns on the CTA Would Let People Defend Themselves (Tribune)
  • Metra Says It Carried an Extra 100K Riders During Lollapalooza Last Year (Crains)
  • Comcast Providing Unlimited Wi-Fi on The 606 for Xfinity Users, Limited for Others (DNA)
  • Wabash Lights Creators Succeed in Raising $60K to Test the Concept (Curbed)
  • Trib’s “Bikes Vs. Cars” TOD article Inspires a Hilarious Rant Against Cyclists

Get national headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Emanuel’s Proposed Ordinance Would Dramatically Enlarge TOD Districts

The proposed mixed-use residential building at 3400 N Lincoln Avenue would have 31 to 48 units and nine car parking spaces. Rendering: Centrum Partners

Rendering of a mixed-used TOD building currently under construction by the Paulina Brown Line stop.

Last week, the Metropolitan Planning Council launched the “Grow Chicago” campaign to promoted transit-oriented development. The city’s current TOD ordinance, passed in 2013, reduces the minimum parking requirement and allows additional density for new and renovated buildings located within 600 feet of a rapid transit stop, 1,200 on a designated Pedestrian Street. Among other recommendations, the Grow Chicago report calls for revising the ordinance to include all buildings within 1,200 feet of a station, dropping the parking minimums altogether within these zones, and streamlining the approval process for TOD projects.

Today, Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed a new TOD reform ordinance that would essentially grant all of these wishes by expanding the TOD zones and abolishing the parking minimums. The new law would also create new incentives for including on-site affordable housing in TOD projects. The ordinance will be introduced at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, and the council will likely vote on the legislation in September, the two-year anniversary of the original law.

“From day one of my Administration, we have invested in our public transportation system to create jobs and revitalize commercial corridors across Chicago,” said Emanuel in a statement. “This ordinance will build on those investments, spurring economic development in our neighborhoods, which will benefit residents and small business owners alike.”

Although the new ordinance is closely aligned with MPC’s goals, and the nonprofit was given a sneak peek at the bill in order to provide an initial analysis of the new law, the group wasn’t directly involved in drafting the legislation, according to MPC spokeswoman Mandy Burrell Booth. “We’ve been having conversations with the city over the past several months, and this came out of those talks,” she said.

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Map of North Side TOD districts under the proposed ordinance. View larger versions of the North and South Side maps in MPC’s report on the ordinance.

The 2013 ordinance has facilitated eight projects worth more than $132 million, creating almost 1,000 construction jobs and 100 permanent jobs, according to the mayor’s office. “Groups like MPC and developers have seen how successful the 2013 ordinance has been in spurring development near transit, so this was a natural next step to capitalize on that success,” Burrell Booth said.

The new law would more than double the reach of the 2013 ordinance. Currently, new residential buildings within 600 feet of a Metra or ‘L’ stop (1,200 feet on designated Pedestrian Streets) are required to provide at least a 1:2 ratio of parking spots to units, instead of the usual 1:1 ratio. The parking requirement for commercial uses, or the commercial portion of a mixed-use development, is waived.

Under the reform ordinance, land zoned for business (B), commercial (C), downtown (D) or industrial (M) uses within 1,320 feet of a station would be freed from the minimum parking requirements altogether, including for residential uses. On Pedestrian Streets, the zone would be expanded to 2,640 feet.

Note that the elimination of parking minimums does not mean that all TOD developments would have zero parking spaces. Rather, it leaves the decision about how many spots should be provided up to the developer and the community, instead of having the zoning ordinance dictate that number. Since off-street parking spots cost at least $20,000 each, dropping the requirement for unneeded spaces will help reduce housing costs.

The legislation would also increase the density allowance for parcels within these new TOD districts that are zoned B, C, or D, with a floor area ratio of 3 (roughly equivalent to three stories), if the developer provides on-site affordable housing. Buildings in which 2.5 percent of the housing units are affordable would receive an upzone to a FAR of 3.5. Those with five percent affordable units would qualify for a FAR of 3.75, and those with 10 percent affordable units would be eligible for a FAR of 4. This would help make it easier for working people to access jobs via transit. Read more…

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Take a Ride on St. Louis’s First Protected Bike Lane


Here’s a nice milestone: Downtown St. Louis has its first protected bike lane.

Alex Ihnen at nextSTL posted video of a ride along the one-way lane from end to end, along Chestnut Street. The protected segment is separated from motor vehicle traffic by a parking lane, painted buffer, and flex posts. The remainder is a painted buffered lane with parking on the right and thru lanes on the left.

Ihnen says it’s a good first step toward a protected bike lane network.

A few thoughts from the ride:

  • The protected bike lane is fantastic, making a huge difference in the feeling of safety when riding downtown
  • A west bound protected lane is needed next (Pine, Olive?)
  • Bike lanes aren’t much use if they’re littered with glass and debris (Olive, Jefferson)
  • A protected bike lane on Chouteau (LOTS of extra room there) would provide a great connection to/from The Arch, Soulard, Lafayette Square, The Gate District, Shaw, The Grove, Forest Park, and connected neighborhoods
  • Jefferson Avenue bike lane badly needs repainting – a protected lane would be amazing

Check out more coverage of the Chestnut Street lane from St. Louis native Tom Fucoloro at Seattle Bike Blog. “If you had said a few weeks ago that kids would be biking comfortably on a downtown St. Louis street, people would have thought you were crazy,” writes Fucoloro. “That’s the power of protected bike lanes, and the change can happen overnight.”

Elsewhere on the Network: ATL Urbanist reports that high-rises are replacing parking lots near a MARTA station, Seattle Transit Blog says circuitous alignment of a future light rail route has more to do with politics than sound planning, and Second Avenue Sagas reminds us that Chris Christie is a liar.