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Gettin’ Quigley With It: The Congressman Talks Transportation Funding

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Mike Quigley discusses transportation funding at a Transit Future event. Photo: John Greenfield

[This piece originally ran in Checkerboard City, John’s transportation column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings.]

If you’re not a transportation geek like myself, you may be most familiar with Congressman Mike Quigley (D-IL 5th) from his hilarious segment on “The Colbert Report.” His North Side district includes Boystown, and he’s known as a strong ally of the LGBT community. Therefore, Stephen Colbert, in his persona as a conservative blowhard, baited Quigley by insisting that homosexuality is a choice:

Quigley: I don’t think you choose. It’s from birth. You’re gay, and it’s the rest of your life.

Colbert: Gay babies? I find that offensive, the idea that there are gay babies out there and they’re looking at me, and they’re sexually interested in me, as a man.

Quigley: You have a point. It’s not a good point, but it’s a point.

However, Quigley, a blue-collar dude, built like a fireplug, is something of a rock star when it comes to bringing home transportation funding to the Chicago region. He’s the only Illinois member on the House Appropriations Committee and its subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development, with the memorable acronym THUD. He helped secure funding for the federal Core Capacity transit grant program, which will help bankroll the CTA’s rehab of the North Red and Purple Lines, and the TIGER program, which funds various sustainable transportation projects in cities.

Quigley recently kicked off a lecture series to promote Transit Future, a campaign by the Center for Neighborhood Technology and the Active Transportation Alliance to create a dedicated revenue stream at the Cook County level for public transportation. Transit Future was inspired by a successful campaign in Los Angeles, where voters approved a half-cent sales tax to raise money for several new subway lines. If we don’t do something similar in Chicago, we may get left in the dust by historically car-centric L.A.

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Today’s Headlines for Friday, July 3

  • Local Leaders Are Pushing For Extension of Metra Service to Kendall County (Tribune)
  • Osterman Merchants That Argyle Construction Headaches Will Be Worth It in the End (DNA)
  • Elburn May Get Funding for Bike Bridge as Part of Deal With Forest Preserve (Daily Herald)
  • Man Drives SUV Onto Basketball Court, Injuring 10-Year-Old Boy (Tribune)
  • Jeff Park DUI Crackdown Results in 2 Arrests, 112 Tickets (DNA)
  • Downtown DUI Stings Planned for This Weekend (DNA)
  • Crash-and-Grab Burglars Arrested in MN May Be Linked to Similar Orland Park Case (Tribune)
  • Kass Column Criticizes People Who Text While Driving, With a Side of Bike Hatred (Tribune)
  • More Airtime for the Lincoln Hub NIMBYs (CBS)
  • Bloomingdale Trail Etiquette (DNA)
  • No Booze on Metra This Weekend, Bikes OK

Streetsblog USA is on vacation today, but we’ll have another post or two for you on Streetsblog Chicago later in the day. Early warning: SBC will be on vacation the week of July 13-17. Have a great Fourth of July!

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New Pritzker Project Is Basically A Transit-Ignoring Development

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Rendering of the development proposed for 1313 West Morse. The first three stories are parking.

As I’ve stated before, Colonel Jennifer Pritzker, a historic preservationist and an heir to the Pritzker family fortune, has used her wealth in creative ways to help revitalize the Rogers Park community. She deserves credit for restoring Frank Lloyd Wright’s Emil Bach House, as well as bringing the Mayne Stage music theater and other businesses to the neighborhood. As a cycling advocate, Colonel Pritzker has bankrolled the Active Transportation Alliance’s Chicagoland Bike Map, and has even been spotted riding in Critical Mass.

Unfortunately, Pritzker is also emerging as something of a poster child for car-focused development. Her development firm, Tawani Enterprises, is currently wrapping up work on a 250-space parking garage at the southeast corner of Sheridan and Sherwin, a stone’s throw from the lakefront and the Red Line’s Jarvis Station.

Many residents bitterly opposed the monolithic structure, intended to serve visitors to the Bach house and residents of a nearby upscale rental unit tower. The opponents argued that the structure, which has zero retail space, would be a massive traffic generator and would degrade the pedestrians environment. Ultimately, 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore approved the project.

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The nearly completed parking garage at Sheridan and Sherwin. Photo: Justin Haugens

Pritzker’s latest parking-focused project is a proposal for an eight-story building at 1313 West Morse, across the street from the Mayne Stage. The 83-foot-tall structure would include 45 rental units, plus a whopping 75 parking spaces, even though the location is virtually next door to the Morse Red Line stop. The bottom three levels would contain parking, while the top three would house the apartments. 50 housing units were originally proposed but, after input from residents, the number was reduced and units were enlarged.

There are some positive aspects to the plan. The site is currently occupied by a mostly defunct strip mall, which formerly housed a laundromat, a cell phone store, and a video store, plus about 20 surface parking spaces. It’s great that this car-centric use will be partly replaced by housing whose proximity to transit, shops, and restaurants will make it easy for residents to live without owning an automobile. The current zoning for the location only allows for a building of up to 65 feet with 35 units, so Moore would have to approve a zoning change from B3-3 to B3-5 to allow for the extra density.

In theory, the developer is taking advantage of Chicago’s 2013 transit-oriented development, which allows for a 2:1 ratio of housing units to parking spaces, rather than the usual 1:1 requirement, for buildings within 600 feet of a rapid transit stop. 25 parking spots would be set aside for the 45 units.

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19’s Plenty: Toronto Drops Speed Limit to 19 MPH on Residential Streets

“There is no war on the car,” said Toronto City Councillor Paula Fletcher. “There’s basically been this continued war on people who don’t have a car.”

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The new speed limit is 30 kph, or 18.6 mph.

To remedy that situation, Fletcher, along with all of her colleagues on the Toronto and East York community council, voted last week to reduce speed limits to 30 kph (or 18.6 mph) on 240 miles of residential streets in the central districts of the city.

The lower speed limits are expected to encourage more people to bike and walk, and to improve air quality and noise conditions in the affected neighborhoods.

Toronto Mayor John Tory opposes the plan, preferring a neighborhood-by-neighborhood approach. Previous Mayor Rob Ford was (not surprisingly) more blunt, called the idea “nuts, nuts, nuts.” But on this issue, the mayor doesn’t get a vote.

Opponents of the plan argued that it will backfire since some streets are designed for faster speeds. It’s true that lowering the posted speed limit is no substitute for street designs that slow motorists. That’s why 20 mph zones that have saved lives in London include engineering changes as well. But it’s also true that blanket speed limit reductions, with no additional interventions, have a track record of success.

The lower speed limits in Toronto will make difference, and hopefully will serve as an impetus to redesign streets for safer driving speeds too.

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Killing a Transit Project Isn’t Going to Fix Your City’s Parking Crunch

Broad Street in Richmond. Photo: Jeff Auth/Wikimedia Commons via GGW

Yesterday we ran a post from Michael Andersen about how Newark fixed the glut of parked cars on Mount Prospect Avenue, the first street in New Jersey to get a protected bike lane: Instead of letting people park in the bikeway, the city started charging for parking. With a price on parking, people stopped storing their cars on the street all day long, and there was finally some turnover. Problem solved.

The same approach makes sense any time free or cheap on-street parking gets stuffed with cars, but street redesigns often intensify the need to get parking prices right. Canaan Merchant at Greater Greater Washington reports on another case in point — a Bus Rapid Transit project called The Pulse in Richmond, Virginia.

On some sections, The Pulse will run on dedicated bus lanes along the median of Broad Street, and the city will remove some parking spaces to make room. That has a neighborhood association in the nearby Fan District riled up, but as Merchant points out, parking dysfunction can’t be pinned on the transit project:

It may be harder to park in the Fan in the future, but the Pulse won’t be to blame if that happens. Lots of people park on the street because parking there is usually convenient and cheap, or even free. In most cities, parking is drastically underpriced given how valuable the space spots take up is.

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Today’s Headlines for Thursday, July 2

  • City Officials Discuss the Nitty-Gritty of How the Argyle Shared Street Will Work (DNA)
  • More of the Yellow Line Embankment Needs to Be Replaced Than Previously Thought (Tribune)
  • What It’s Like Living in a Building That May Get Demolished for the Belmont Flyover (DNA)
  • Beverly Crash-and-Grab Is the 3rd One in the Region This Week (NBC)
  • Gas Prices in Chicago Are 88 Cents Cheaper Than They Were a Year Ago (Tribune)
  • Beverly Area Planning Association Launches Drive to Bring Divvy to the Neighborhood (DNA)
  • Chicagoist: Lincoln Hub May Be an “Eyesore” to Some But It’s a “Touch of Character” to Others
  • Main Street Beverly Launches #GoodForThe19thWard Hashtag to Promote Urbanism on SW Side
  • Drivin’ That Train: CTA Adding Service for Grateful Dead Show

Get national headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Express Train to O’Hare? We Already Have One and It’s Called The Blue Line

The Blue Line was analyzed by FiveThirtyEight to be faster than taking a taxi from O'Hare airport to downtown. Photo: Edward Kwiatkowski

The Blue Line was analyzed by FiveThirtyEight to be faster than taking a taxi from O’Hare airport to downtown. Photo: Edward Kwiatkowski

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and recently appointed aviation commissioner Ginger Evans have been calling for new, faster, premium train service from O’Hare to downtown in a bid to improve the airport’s standing among its domestic and international peers. They argue that the airport is causing the city to lose business. However, while O’Hare is a low-performing facility, the existing Blue Line service isn’t the airport’s limiting factor.

The idea of high-speed rail service to O’Hare is nothing new. Under former mayor Richard M. Daley, the CTA spent over $250 million to build a “super station” under Block 37 in the Loop for that purpose. Ultimately, the proposal went nowhere, and the empty station space currently sits unused, a monument to poor urban planning.

High-speed train service to airports – with fares that typically run several times the non-express rate – is becoming a emoree common amenity among busy, international airports. However, express service that runs directly to the center of town is uncommon. Chicago is unusual in that both O’Hare and Midway offer efficient train service to the Loop. According to the Blue Line’s schedule, it takes 38 minutes to travel from O’Hare to the Clark/Lake station, a respectable pace that’s often faster than driving.

Throwing more money at the O’Hare express idea that could otherwise be used for improving or expanding existing transit service is a bad idea. There are much more cost-effective ways that current O’Hare Branch ‘L’ service could be upgraded. Moreover, the CTA should work on improving travel times to the airport from many of Chicago’s densest neighborhoods that aren’t near the Blue Line.

The O’Hare express proposal has been endorsed by Tribune transportation writer and aviation buff Jon Hilkevitch, who recently referred to the Blue Line “old and slow”. While age doesn’t necessarily make a train line sluggish, deferred maintenance does. However, the CTA is currently in the midst of the $492 million Your New Blue project, which is rehabbing seven stations and removing slow zones from Grand to the airport. The agency estimates these upgrades will shave five minutes off the trip from downtown to O’Hare.

Despite the fact that a trip to the airport will soon take little more than a half hour, Evans recently told the Sun-Times that a premium train line to the airport is “essential infrastructure” because other peer cities have one. However, she also told the Tribune that other cities’ airports are “stealing traffic” from Chicago because O’Hare has many flight operations problems that put the airport at or near the bottom of on-time rankings, so perhaps premium train service shouldn’t be her top priority.

The Blue Line is already a competitive train service

As of April 24, 2015 [PDF], only 3.3 percent of the O’Hare Branch tracks were under slow zone restrictions, in which trains are limited to 35 mph. Some of the branch’s tracks are already in good enough shape to allow for speeds greater than the CTA’s systemwide speed limit of 55 mph, and all of its train cars are capable of traveling 70 mph. One reason for the current speed limit is that faster speeds would result in more wear-and-tear on the tracks and wheels, thus higher maintenance costs.

The Blue Line is already a great alternative to taking a taxi. FiveThirtyEight analyzed travel times between airports and central business districts in major cities and found that only in Chicago, Minneapolis, and Honolulu was it faster to take transit than a cab.

On weekdays, trains run between Clark/Lake and O’Hare every 2 to 8 minutes during rush hours, with ten-minute headways during non-peak times. Airport express trains in other cities typically have 15-to-30-minute headways. Waiting longer to catch a premium train to or from O’Hare might nullify any advantage from the higher speed.

The express would be an expensive project with limited benefits

The current push to create “world-class” train service to O’Hare is a distraction from actually fixing what’s wrong with Chicago’s transit system. In a recent Sun-Times op-ed, public policy consultant and former mayoral candidate Dr. Amara Enyia argued that spending money to create a premium train line would be a case of skewed priorities. Rather, she argued, the focus should be on improving transit for Chicago residents. “Maintaining our streets continues to be a challenge that affects transit time, quality, and safety,” she said, adding that CTA service cuts have made it more difficult for residents to access jobs.

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Newark Clears Bike Lane of Cars, Solves Parking Problem With Meters Instead

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Newark’s stopgap solution to a parking crunch was to allow parking in the bike lane (see upper right). Since then it’s found a more sensible option: meters. Photo: WalkBikeJersey

pfb logo 100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Three months after Newark drew national attention for considering removal of New Jersey’s only protected bike lane in order to allow illegal double-parking, the city has found a different solution.

Instead of designing the Mt. Prospect Avenue commercial strip around letting people park their cars two rows deep along the curb, the district is installing parking meters.

“Simply by adding parking meters and limiting parking to two hours, legal parking spots are now freed up for shoppers, rather than being occupied for hours or days at a time by residents and shop owners,” reports the New Jersey Bike and Walk Coalition. “As a result, bike riders regained access to New Jersey’s first parking-protected bike lane, and newly-enacted street parking regulations will ensure that there is an ample supply of parking for customers of businesses along Mt. Prospect Avenue.”

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Your City Has a Complete Streets Policy. But Does It Have Complete Streets?

Is this a complete street? Image: Google Maps via Urban Indy

Is this a complete street? Image: Google Maps via Urban Indy

Indianapolis passed a Complete Streets ordinance in 2012 to much fanfare. Three years later, how well is the city designing streets for walking and biking?

Mayor Greg Ballard shepherded the fantastic Indianapolis Cultural Trail through to completion in 2013, but Emily Neitzel at Urban Indy says recent street revamps outside the downtown area are hit and miss.

The Emerson Avenue project between Shelbyville Road and I-65 brought a sidewalk to the east side of the road where there previously was no sidewalk, and in this case a strip of grass if not a tree well was added to separate the sidewalk.

However, sidewalks are still lacking on the west side of the street. Furthermore, at the intersections where major businesses like Target, Aldi, and Home Depot are located on both the east and west sides of Emerson, there is no crosswalk to go from east to west. The intersection at Emerson and Southport Road, where more businesses are located on both sides of the street, also lacks an east-west pedestrian crosswalk.

The project document from DPW notes that traffic along this corridor has increased by 600% in two decades, and the project’s increase from two lanes for automobile traffic to five makes this a priority. In fact, the summary of the benefits listed in the document does not even include benefits for pedestrians or bikers; instead highlighting “reduced traffic congestion and better driving conditions” in addition to a longer life for the roadway.

Neitzel notes that, per Smart Growth America, a complete street corridor should “make it easy to cross the street” and “walk to shops.” Indianapolis’s Emerson Avenue project doesn’t do that.

Read more…

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Today’s Headlines for Wednesday, July 1

  • Fraudulent Use of Free & Reduced Fare Cards Has Cost the CTA $6.5 Million (RedEye)
  • Rauner Signs Bill Reappropriating Money for Road Construction (Sun-Times)
  • Protester Claim’s Driver in Rauner’s Entourage Purposely Struck His Arm (Tribune)
  • Evanston Officials Ride the Purple Line to Gauge Interest in Extended Hours (Tribune)
  • 62-Year-Old Man Killed in single-Car Crash in Burnside Neighborhood (Tribune)
  • Big Chunks of Concrete Are Falling From LSD’s Lawrence Bridge (Uptown Update)
  • CDOT Releases Spring 2015 Bike Count Report
  • 10 Pieces of Public Art Are Coming to Clark Street (DNA)
  • Parking Lot of Shuttered West Ridge Movie Theater Is Being Transformed Into a Park (DNA)
  • How Bike Lawyer (& SBC Sponsor) Jim Freeman Found His Calling (Crain’s)
  • Heritage Bikes Owner Shares Some of His Favorite Cycling Destinations (Michigan Avenue)

Get national headlines at Streetsblog USA