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Suppressing the Housing Supply in Cities Isn’t Progressive

The housing affordability crisis in cities like San Francisco is a big progressive cause. But not everyone agrees about what’s causing the problem, and that makes it harder to address.

High housing prices in San Francisco are partly a result of constraints on new construction. Photo: Wikipedia

With so may constraints on housing construction, rents in cities like San Francisco have been skyrocketing. Photo: Wikipedia

Alex Block at Network blog City Block has a good roundup of recent articles exploring the pheonomenon. The authors — Kim-Mai Cutler at Tech Crunch, Ryan Avent at the Economist, and the blog Let’s Go L.A. — agree that the root of the problem is insufficient supply. Essentially, land use and zoning constraints that limit development of new housing are driving up prices for everyone:

Cutler’s article lists a whole host of other potential actions, but concludes that any path forward must work towards adding more housing units to the region’s overall supply. Unfortunately, even this broad conclusion isn’t shared by everyone. In section #5 of Cutler’s article, she notes “parts of the progressive community do not believe in supply and demand.”

Ryan Avent notes that this denial of the market dynamics, no matter the motive, is not only misguided but also counter-productive: “However altruistic they perceive their mission to be, the result is similar to what you’d get if fat cat industrialists lobbied the government to drive their competition out of business.”

Without agreement on the nature of the problem, it’s hard to even talk about potential policy solutions. And there are a whole host of potential policy solutions once we get over that hump. Unfortunately, discussion about supply constraints in cities (via exclusionary zoning, high construction costs, neighborhood opposition to development, etc) means the conversation naturally focuses on the constraint. Advocating for loosening the constraints can easily be mistaken for (or misconstrued as) mere supply-side economics, a kind of trickle-down urbanism.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Voice of San Diego relays news about compromises to a local bus rapid transit project. And Flat Iron Bike introduces a new paper that looks at how to make “managed lanes” on highways more equitable by incorporating transit.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Fixing Lakeview ‘L’ Bottleneck May Require Razing 16 Buildings (Tribune, Sun-Times)
  • Eye-Popping Bloomingdale Bridge Transplant Takes Place Saturday Morning (DNA)
  • A List of Active Trans‘ Favorite ITEP-Funded Projects — Suburban Divvy Didn’t Make Cut
  • RTA May Get More Revebue as Kankakee Ceases to Be a Corporate Tax Haven (Crain’s)
  • Rahm Defends Claypool’s Hiring Two Men Accused of Patronage at County (Tribune)
  • CPD Adding More Bike Patrols in High-Crime Areas (ABC)
  • Kass (Yes, Kass): IL Law Against Texting While Driving Is Too Lenient (Tribune)
  • Using Divvy Instead of CTA Part of Man’s Strategy to Spend No Money in May (DNA)
  • Postcards From Bike-Friendly Germany (Chicargobike)
  • Put a Bell on It: Beyonce Gives Shoutout to Heritage Bikes (DNA)

Get national headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Summertime Means Seating, Parties in Loop’s Public Spaces

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Last year’s Activate Couch Place event. Photo: Lisa Phillips

The Chicago Loop Alliance, one of downtown’s chambers of commerce, has announced details about its ambitious slate of summer placemaking campaigns. These include monthly “Activate” arts events held in alleys, the Gateway People Plaza on State Street, new amenities for Pritzker Park, and pop-up lunchtime seating throughout downtown. CLA expects to spend $135,000 on placemaking projects this year, from special service area funds and corporate sponsorships.

This year’s Activate events will bring libations, art, dance music, fashion and live performers to downtown alleys from 5 to 10 p.m. on May 1, June 5, August 1, September 17, and October 16. These free events will rotate between various alleys: Couch Place, located north of Randolph and between State and Dearborn, between the Chicago and Goodman theaters; the alley between the Jewelers Center and Iwan Ries cigar shop, 19 South Wabash; and the Sullivan Center alley, behind the Loop Target store at 1 South State. The location of each event will be announced the month before on the CLA’s Activate webpage. Attendees who RSVP in advance on the site will get one free drink ticket.

The May 1 event takes place in the Sullivan Center alley, located on Monroe between Wabash and State. “It’s a very heavily used, working alley,” said CLA director Michael Edwards. “It’s actually a covered alley, out of the elements, so it’s no problem if it rains.”

The happening will feature “immersive art” from the collective Johalla Projects, exploring the “death of winter and rise of spring” through special lighting and lasers. Artists include Todd Diederich, Heather Gabel, Brittini Hessler, Andrea Jablonski, Ellen Nielsen and Meg Noe. Zipcar car-sharing will sponsor DJed music. Along with Zipcar, the Activate series is supported by Blick Art Materials, Columbia College, Craft Brew Alliance, Do312, Exchequer Restaurant & Pub, Pabst Blue Ribbon, School of the Art Institute, Smilebooth, and WBEZ.

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Benched: How Does National Bike & Walk Benchmark Rank Chicago?

Yesterday, the Alliance for Biking & Walking released its 2014 Benchmarking Report, which details data and trends about bicycle and walking infrastructure in all U.S. states and in the 52 largest cities. The report enables both public officials and advocates to evaluate how their communities stack up, compared to other communities. It also provides concrete examples of innovative pedestrian and bicycle projects nationwide. How does Chicago compare?

Source: Alliance for Biking & Walking Benchmark report.

At the national level, bicycling and walking to work have slightly risen or remained flat over the past nine years. In Chicago, 6.3 percent of commuters walk and 1.3 percent bike, more than in the average city, yet still far below cities like Minneapolis (3.6 percent bicycle) or Boston (15 percent walk).

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No 5th Ward PB Election This Year, But Residents Still Have Input on Budget

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A display board at a 5th Ward participatory budgeting expo last year. Photo courtesy of the 5th Ward

As we recently reported, 5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston experimented with participatory budgeting process in 2013 but won’t be holding a PB election this year. However, it turns out that Hairston will still allow constituents to have some input on how the ward’s $1.3 million in discretionary “menu” funding is spent. Last year, only about one in 500 residents of the ward residents voted in the budgeting election.

In a January Hyde Park Herald article, one constituent who helped organize the process attributed the low turnout on the relatively remote poling place location. A rival candidate said dissatisfaction with Hairston’s leadership was to blame. Another possible factor in the low turnout that wasn’t mentioned in the article was Hairston’s decision to exclude several outside-the-box ideas for promoting biking and transit use from the ballot. Instead, she designated these proposals as “service requests” that should instead be funded by city departments, the CTA or the park district.

When I spoke with 5th Ward Chief of Staff Kim Webb yesterday, she said the main factor in the decision not to hold a budgeting election this year was complaints from residents that the PB process was too time-consuming. “People were happy about the transparency of the process, and they liked being involved in the decision-making process, but they thought there were too many meetings,” she said. Hairston is allowing residents to provide input on how $1 million of the menu money is allocated, a process she’s calling the “infrastructure improvement program.”

Four committees, representing the neighborhoods of Hyde Park, South Shore, Grand Crossing and Woodlawn, are each tasked with making recommendations on how $250,000 should be spent. Committee members will mostly be surveying the condition of streets, alleys, sidewalks and lighting in their communities, with a focus on fixing potholes in the wake of the harsh winter, Webb said. If residents feel there’s enough money left over after addressing infrastructure repairs, they can also recommend spending menu money on neighborhood enhancements like murals, community gardens and dog parks. Webb said it’s also possible that ideas that were excluded last year, like new bus stop benches and bike lanes, could be included in the committees’ recommendations.

The committees will turn in the results of their surveys on April 25, and Hairston will submit her budget to the city the following week. It would be great if, along with the usual meat-and-potatoes infrastructure repairs, the committees advance some innovative transportation projects into the 5th Ward’s budget this year.

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Targeted Spending Helps Boost Kansas City’s Walkability

The Alliance for Biking and Walking released a big new report yesterday that measures the nation’s progress on active transportation.

Kansas City has been investing in safer streets, and it's moving up in walkability rankings. Photo: BikeWalkKC

Kansas City has been investing in safer streets, and it’s moving up in walkability rankings. Photo: BikeWalkKC

There’s a ton of data to nerd out on, but one thing that might be particularly interesting to local advocates is that the report shows biking and walking statistics for individual cities. It has details on safety, public spending, and income and gender demographics for active transportation in 50 large cities and 17 mid-sized cities across the U.S.

Rachel Kraus at BikeWalkKC dove into the data, and she found that a conscious effort to improve conditions in Kansas City seems to be paying off:

Moving Up in the Rankings
In 2012, Kansas City ranked 33rd out of the 52 most populous US cities for walking to work. In 2014, KC jumped to #30. Our closest neighbors include Omaha at #26, Chicago at #8 and Wichita at #50. Nationally the top five walking cities are Boston, Washington D.C., New York City, San Francisco and Honolulu. Our bike commuting ranking also improved from #42 to #41.

Still Room for Improvement
KC’s bicyclist safety ranking dropped from #34 in 2012 to #37 in 2014. Our closest neighbors include Omaha at #45, Chicago at #19 and Wichita at #2. (Safety rankings are based on crashes and fatalities.) KC also still lags behind on rankings of residents getting the recommended amount of physical activity. We ranked #38 in 2014.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Four North Red Line Stations Will Be Rebuilt, Made ADA Compliant (Sun-Times, RedEye)
  • … But South Siders Complain About the Wait for the Red Line Extension (Tribune)
  • More Deets About Metra’s Clout Hiring Files (Tribune)
  • CTA Approves $13.4 Million Contract for Anti-Bus Bunching System (RedEye)
  • Chicagoist Checks Out the Transit Future Campaign
  • TOD Proposed for Jeff Park Station but Neighbor Complain It’s Too Dense (DNA)
  • Sales Center at CTA HQ Closing, Riders Encouraged to Use Nearby Ventra Center (RedEye)
  • Company Touting Street Cleaning Parking App Offers to Pay Old Tickets (DNA)
  • A Guide to Cargo Bike Shops, Part 1 & Part 2 (DDLR)

Get national headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Alderman Beale Opposes Extending Red Line South on Halsted

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95th Street Red Line station. Photo: John Greenfield

Yesterday’s Sun-Times update on the CTA’s proposed South Red Line extension included some interesting details about the project, as well as a few misguided comments about transit from 9th Ward Alderman Anthony Beale, who is also the chair of City Council’s transportation committee.

The CTA is considering two rail routes for the $2 billion, roughly five-mile extension. Bus rapid transit is a third possibility under consideration. One rail alternative would follow existing Union Pacific Railroad tracks, initially paralleling Eggleston, a half mile west of the current terminus at 95th and State.  After continuing south for a few miles, the route would gradually make its way southeast to 130th and King, by the Altgeld Gardens housing project. For this option, the CTA plans to build new stations at 103rd, 111th, 115th, and 130th. View a map of the route here. The agency selected this scenario as the “locally preferred alternative” in 2009 based on initial analysis and public feedback.

The other rail option would travel down Halsted, through a more densely populated area. From the 95th station, it would travel in the median of I-57 until reaching Halsted, where it would operate as an elevated train and continue to Vermont Avenue, just south of 127th. Stops would be located at 103rd, 111th, 1119th, and Vermont. View a map of the route here.

While several Metra lines serve this part of the South Side, the proposed station locations for both rail options would mean that the ‘L’ stops would generally be several blocks from the nearest Metra station. That way, the Red Line service wouldn’t necessarily be redundant, but would instead provide convenient transit access for new areas of the city.

However, a total of up to 2,000 parking spaces is proposed for the four new Red Line stops, which seems excessive. The potentially valuable land around the stations shouldn’t be largely used for warehousing cars. Instead, the focus should be on developing housing, retail, and other uses that take advantage of the proximity to rapid transit.

Beale, who was briefed on the two options Tuesday, was enthusiastic about the UPRR route, but expressed a strong distaste for building ‘L’ tracks on Halsted. “Halsted Street is wide open,” he said. “Putting elevated tracks down the middle of the street would disrupt the integrity and cosmetics of Halsted. It would hurt existing businesses.

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5 Things You Should Know About the State of Walking and Biking in the U.S.

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While walk and bike commute rates aren’t changing rapidly, since 2005 walking to work has ceased a long-term decline, and biking to work has started to rise after many years of stagnation. All graphics: Alliance for Walking and Biking.

The Alliance for Biking and Walking released its big biannual benchmarking report today, a 200-page document that measures the scope, status, and benefits of biking and walking across the United States, using 2011 and 2012 data to update its previous reports.

Streetsblog will be running a series of posts looking at the Alliance’s findings over the next few days. To start it all off, here are a few of the key takeaways:

1. Biking and walking are growing — slowly

Nationwide, 3.4 percent of commuters got to work by foot or bike in 2011 and 2012.

In those two years, walking accounted for 2.8 percent of work trips, up from 2.5 percent in 2005 but not perceptibly different than any year since. Nationwide, bike commute mode share stood at 0.6 percent in 2012, up from 0.4 percent in 2005 but not much different than when the previous benchmarking report came out two years ago.

The Alliance calls this a continuation of the “very gradual trend of increasing biking and walking to work.”

2. But walking to work is growing more noticeably in cities

In the 50 largest cities, however, a recent increase in walking is somewhat more discernible. The walking commute share rose to 5 percent in 2012 — half a percentage point higher than in 2005. Meanwhile, bike commuting in the 50 largest cities rose to 1 percent mode share in 2012 from 0.7 percent in 2005.

Boston had the highest share of walking commuters at 15 percent, and Portland had the highest share of bike commuters at 6.1 percent.

Keep in mind that these mode-share numbers are based on the Census, which only counts people who bike or walk for the longest part of their commute more than three days a week. As we’ll see, this understates total biking and walking activity.

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Updates in Bobby Cann, Hector Avalos Cases

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Bobby Cann and Hector Avalos.

Hearings were recently held for the cases of Robert “Bobby” Cann and Hector Avalos, two Chicago cyclists who were killed by allegedly drunk drivers in separate incidents last year. Each case continues to progress slowly.

On the evening of May 29, Cann, 26, was riding from work at the nearby Groupon offices when motorist Ryne San Hamel, 28, struck him at the intersection of Clybourn and Larabee in Old Town. San Hamel was charged with reckless homicide, aggravated DUI, misdemeanor DUI, reckless driving, and failure to stay in the lane.

The case’s latest status hearing took place Friday at the Cook County Courthouse, 26th and California, with about 20 Cann family and supporters in attendance, according to Kate Conway, an attorney for the family. The State’s Attorney’s office had expects that tests on San Hamel’s car and analysis of other evidence for reconstructing the events of the crash would be completed by then. However, a brake expert is currently examining the car to determine what speed it was going and what, if any, braking occurred.

San Hamel’s attorney filed a motion requesting documents related to the blood test on the driver that was performed at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, perhaps in an attempt to invalidate the test results, Conway said. That evidence will first go to Judge William Hooks, who will determine whether it is admissible in the case, according to victim advocate Sharon Johnson from the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists.

“To me that seems like a time extension tactic by the defense,” Johnson said. “My guess is that it won’t reveal anything, but it will make the case longer, which is hard on the victim’s family.” The next hearing for the criminal case was set for May 23.

In March, the Cann family filed a wrongful death suit against San Hamel and his business, AllYouCanDrink.com, a bar promotions website. The defense has not yet responded to the complaint. The initial hearing is scheduled for June 4.

On Tuesday, there was a status hearing at the county courthouse for Avalos’ case. A 28-year-old former marine and aspiring chef, he was biking on the 2500 block of West Ogden in Douglas Park on December 6, when Robert Vais, 54, fatally struck him from behind. He is charged with a felony aggravated DUI and two misdemeanor DUI charges.

Avalos’ mother, grandmother, young brother and sister, and a few friends, as well as a coworker of Cann and representatives of AAIM and the Active Transportation Alliance, attended the hearing, according to the family’s lawyer, Michael Keating. “There was a very nice turnout in support of Hector,” Keating said.

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