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Cook County’s Transportation Plan Thinking Big, But Where’s The Money?

All Aboard Cook County transportation plan scenario

A description of Cook County’s draft “All Aboard” transportation plan scenario.

Earlier this year, Cook County embarked on its first transportation plan since 1940, asking residents to weigh in on how and where to improve transportation across the second most populous county in America. That feedback has helped the transportation department to draft a new vision statement [PDF] – that world-class transportation will spur economic growth and enhance quality of life – plus four scenarios for the future [PDF], which the public can vote on in an online survey.

The new plan will guide policy choices that determine where and how the county invests its resources, and to estimate how much more revenue is needed to fulfill those goals. One key policy decision will determine whether or not the region will fight for more resources in Springfield. One particularly galling imbalance is the Illinois Department of Transportation’s strict 55/45 split, which sends an outsized proportion of dollars downstate even though most of the state’s people and economy reside in Chicagoland.

The most dour of the four scenarios envisioned is called “Running on Empty.” It supposes that the current conditions depressing local transportation investment — the 55/45 split, declining gas tax revenues, municipalities looking out only for themselves, and sprawling, low density growth – will continue to “undermine” Cook County’s transportation system, communities, and economy.

A slightly less depressing scenario, “Stuck in First Gear,” differs minimally from the first by supposing that the county will pursue additional grants from the state and federal governments. The county would rein in sprawl slightly by encouraging more density around train stations, for example. This would increase use of some underutilized bits of the transportation system, but also tax others, similar to how some parts of the CTA system are now becoming overcrowded. However, an overall lack of funding leads transit service quality to continue its long-term decline, making transit-oriented development a tough sell.

Scenarios three and four more closely reflect the goals of the GO TO 2040 regional plan, but depend on the state to update its antiquated policies. “Picking Up Steam” says that Cook County would stop diverting gas tax revenues away from infrastructure, and influence the state to do the same. And instead of distributing transportation funds by a strict 55/45 split, the Illinois Department of Transportation would use performance measures to guide dollars to where they’re most needed, e.g., densely populated Cook County. Those policy changes would add funds that could address the area’s considerable maintenance backlog, and start to invest in more bicycle, pedestrian, and transit projects. However, the third scenario isn’t all rosy: It’s marred by development that continues to drift further away from existing transit and freight facilities.

The final scenario, “All Aboard,” is one which supposes additional funding and new development surrounding existing transportation resources. Specifically, it assumes that the state gas tax will be raised by eight cents per gallon, and pegged to inflation. Policy changes would target county revenues towards compact and mixed-use development on infill locations, and expand regional transit “to reach underserved destinations.” Building within existing neighborhoods is a core tenet of GO TO 2040, and focusing new spending there would stabilize neighborhoods and expand businesses.

Give your feedback online. http://www.connectingcookcounty.org/involved-metroquest.html

Send Cook County your feedback on these four scenarios.

Both these scenarios and the Transit Future campaign call for new revenues. Tis year, though, Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle has deferred introducing a new transit revenue source while she prioritizes fixing the county’s underfunded pensions.

Increased transportation investment could spur economic development, and thus tax revenue for the county, especially if directed to income-generating investments like transit rather than roads that drain funds and damage the environment.

The county prefers “All Aboard,” but it’s not clear how increasing the gas tax (in particular) would necessarily lead to transit enhancements. Gas tax revenue is primarily spent to maintain and build new roads, with a small portion of IDOT funds going to the Regional Transportation Authority. Some of this would be offset in “All Aboard,” since it also recommends congestion pricing “to reduce driving” and generate funds for other modes. 

That link between transit and economic development could be clarified in the County’s draft transportation plan. For example, the Victoria Transport Policy Institute says that in North America, regions with less driving (as measured by vehicle miles traveled) “tend to be more economically productive,” as are regions with high transit use, high fuel prices, and dense land uses. Road capacity, on the other hand, brings down productivity.

As with all scenario plans, the Cook County transportation plan relies on a lot of assumptions. In particular, the county would have to flex a lot of political muscle to get IDOT to drop its 55/45 split, and then to use gas tax revenues for broad transit improvement projects instead of for more roads. Cook County, and the rest of the region, could take a tip from Los Angeles’ winning strategy to enact a small sales tax increase for transportation, and go all-in to realize both the transit ridership and pollution reduction goals in GO TO 2040.

L.A.’s sales tax hasn’t freed it from financial struggles, but the fact that they took a risk and invested political capital to raise taxes (by popular vote, too) paid off, both in terms of increased federal resources for expanding transit and ultimately, a stronger and more productive regional economy.

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Center Cities Drawing Young College Grads Even in Shrinking Regions

The central cities of America's urban areas have seen a 34 percent increase in young college-educated residents over the last decade. Image: City Observatory

The central cities of America’s urban areas have seen a 37 percent increase in young, college-educated residents over the last decade. Image: City Observatory

In another striking sign of shifting generational preferences, the number of young college graduates is on the rise in central cities across the country — even in regions that are shrinking overall.

That’s according to a new report from City Observatory [PDF], which found the number of 25- to 34-year-olds with college degrees living within three miles of a downtown area has increased dramatically — 37 percent nationally — over roughly the last decade. America’s total population increased about 11 percent in the same period.

College-educated millennials are even more likely to live in central city areas than their Generation X predecessors. And the trendline is among 51 metro areas examined, just two — Detroit and Birmingham — saw a net loss in 25- to 34-year-old college grads living within three miles of downtown.

Interestingly, the total number of people living in America’s core cities remained roughly unchanged between 2000 and 2012, at about 9.4 million people. (There was, however, enormous variation by metro region.) The millennial generation is also a larger cohort than the Gen X group that came before them, and more likely to have a college degree, but that doesn’t fully explain the trend.

Clearly, shifting preferences are at work, says study author Joe Cortright. The number of young college graduates increased twice as fast in core cities as it did in American metro areas overall.

Read more…

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Oklahoma DOT Dismisses Highway-to-Street-Grid Proposal in OKC

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation has rejected a proposal championed by residents of Oklahoma City to replace a highway segment with an interconnected street grid.

Instead of restoring the street grid as proposed above, a low-cost solution that will open up more land for development, Oklahoma DOT will replace a highway with a highway-like street. Image: ODOT

Last year, a coalition that includes City Council Member Ed Shadid prevailed on the Federal Highway Administration to compel Oklahoma DOT to consider the consider the highway-street-grid idea, in addition to the various highway-like at-grade roads the agency had proposed.

Given that advocates had to force the issue, it’s not surprising that Oklahoma DOT is back with its final recommendations for the project, and the agency didn’t score the grid concept too highly. Instead, the DOT wants to build a high-speed, four-lane road without the added street connections advocates want.

The grid concept was by far the cheapest to construct and would have opened up the most acres for development, but it lost points for having lower level of service — a measure of motor vehicle delay at intersections. Oklahoma DOT’s “preferred alternative” will cost three times as much to construct and open up 62 percent less land for development.

Gotta move those cars, the agency essentially wrote in its environmental assessment [PDF]:

A primary purpose of the Crosstown Boulevard is to help restore connections that were lost when I-40 was relocated south to its current location. As a result, the Crosstown Boulevard should be easy to drive with little delay which allows for easy access for conducting downtown business while accommodating the planned vision of the downtown area.

OKC residents hope to build a walkable, mixed-use neighborhood on 700 acres in the hollowed out Core to Shore area that the road passes through.

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New Jersey’s Response to Suicide Attempt: Close Bridge to Pedestrians

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Without access to the Route 35 Victory Bridge, the path between Perth Amboy and Sayreville gets a whole lot longer. Via WalkBikeJersey/Google Maps

Today’s featured post from the Streetsblog Network is a case study in overreaction and unintended consequences.

John Boyle at WalkBikeJersey reports that after a suicide attempt on the Route 35 Victory Bridge, officials in New Jersey want to sever this important walking and biking link entirely:

On September 20th the body of 16 year old Giancarlo Taveras was recovered from the Raritan River after he jumped off the Route 35 Victory Bridge. The death of the teenager drew an outpouring of grief from the Perth Amboy community. As a result the annual suicide awareness walk over the bridge included more than 500 participants on September 28th. Then on September 29th a 19 year old miraculously survived his suicide attempt with a broken leg. That chain of events along, with pressure from the mayor of Perth Amboy finally spurred NJDOT to do something about the issue. Their solution — set up barricades and close the bridge to bicyclists and pedestrians. Along with a vague promise to put up a fence for the walkway at some point in the future.

The bridge closure severs the only pedestrian and bicycle access between Perth Amboy and Sayreville. A 2 mile bike ride over the bridge is now a 23 mile detour via New Brunswick and a pedestrian’s only option is to use the infrequent bus service that crosses the bridge.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Using examples from the Netherlands, A View from the Cycle Path explains why the “there’s no room for bike lanes” argument doesn’t hold up. The Dallas Morning News’ Transportation Blog has good news: The toll road that regional transportation officials justified with absurd traffic projections will probably be shelved. And Urban Cincy reports that Denver is trying to tackle the food desert problem with healthy corner stores.

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Today’s Headlines

  • BMW Driver Crashes Car Into Little Village Restaurant, Killing Himself and Passenger (RedEye)
  • Motorist Critically Injures Child Within Bronzeville School’s Safety Zone (DNA)
  • Police Officer Seriously Injures Pedestrian While Responding to Call in Fernwood (Tribune)
  • Driver Pleads Not Guilty After River West Crash That Paralyzed His Passenger (Tribune)
  • Motorist Slams Car Into Storefront of Lakeview Bank (DNA)
  • No, CBS, Fewer Speeding Tickets Than Projected Is a Very Good Thing
  • WBEZ Argues Chicago’s Yellow Lights Are Too Short
  • Prosecutors: Victim of CTA Sexual Abuse Blocked Attack by Same Man on Different Day (DNA)
  • 360-Unit Development 1 block from Blue Line Would Have Nearly 1:1 Parking Ration (DNA)
  • Real Estate Company Cites Entrance to The 606 as Major Motivation for Bucktown Purchase (DNA)
  • Actually, WBEZ, Bus Bunching Is Not Inevitable (Itinerant Urbanist)

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Pedestrian Killed on Near West Side


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The 1100 block of West Roosevelt, looking westbound.

Yesterday morning, a 57-year-old pedestrian died after being fatally struck on the 1100 block of West Roosevelt, which is located just west of St. Ignacius College Prep.

At about 6:30 a.m., several witnesses observed the man “walking against traffic,” according to Officer Bari Lemmon from Police News Affairs. He was struck by a westbound driver who reportedly had a green light, Lemmon said.

Caldwell was transported to Stroger Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 7:11 a.m., according to officials. The driver stayed on the scene and was not cited, Lemmon said. Major Accidents is investigating the case.

Updated on October 19, 5:55 p.m. The victim has been identified as Joe Caldwell, of the 1400 block of South Blue Island, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

Fatality Tracker: 2014 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths
Pedestrian: 22 (6 were hit-and-run crashes)
Bicyclist: 7 (1 was a hit-and-run crash)

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Inspector General Issues a Reality Check on Trib’s Red Light Cam Spin

Last summer, the Chicago Tribune reported on the mysterious spikes in red light ticketing at dozens of cameras around the city. Recently, the paper discovered the city had started enforcing violations that took place after slightly shorter yellow phases. This resulted in tens of thousands of additional tickets.

Given the track record of corruption in the red light camera program, the press needs to keep an eye on it. However, it appears that the Trib went a bit overboard by conflating the yellow light issue with the program’s troubled past.

Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson, who has blasted the previous oversight of the red light cam program as “fundamentally deficient,” has said that the motorists who got those additional tickets basically deserved them. “We saw no evidence [by the city] of intent to do anything nefarious or unfair,” he said in a recent Chicago Tonight interview.

State legislation for Chicago’s red-light camera program dictates that the minimum length of a traffic signal’s yellow phase should be three seconds, according to Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Pete Scales. The reasoning for this standard is that motorists expect yellows to last at least that long. If a yellow light was to turn red much before three seconds elapse, a driver might be caught off-guard and blow the stoplight without doing anything reckless.

However, the state law allows for tickets to be issued when yellow lights deviate ever so slightly from the three-second standard, which can be triggered by minor fluctuations in the flow of the electrical current to the stoplight, according to Scales. So if a yellow phase dips a few hundredths of a second below the standard, the ticket is considered legal. “Those slight deviations are imperceptible to the motorist,” Scales said.

While RedFlex Traffic Systems, the previous red light camera contractor, was running the program, the city directed the vendor to set the cameras so that they would only issue tickets when a driver ran a red following a yellow phase of at least 3.0 seconds. Last year, in the wake of allegations that the company bribed a CDOT official, the city fired the company. This February, Xerox State & Local Solutions took over the contract.

Since then, administrative hearing officers have started to see tickets issued for reds run after yellow phases between 2.9 seconds and 3.0 seconds. Although these tickets were legal, some of the officers, who operate independently from CDOT, threw out the violations. A recent Tribune investigation discovered that 77,000 tickets had been issued for violations that occurred after sub-three-second yellows, resulting in $7.7 million in fines.

Read more…

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Peter Norton: We Can Learn From the Movement To Enshrine Car Dependence

It used to be normal to play in the streets. We're just one revolution away from being able to do that again. Photo via Peter Norton

It used to be normal to play in the streets. Photo via Peter Norton

Yesterday, we published part one of my interview with Peter Norton, a historian at the University of Virginia and the author of Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City. We talked about whether the push for infrastructure investment is always code for increasing car capacity, and how the Vision Zero campaign bears the legacy of 100-year-old movements to make streets safe for everyone.

Norton will be speaking on November 13 at the opening reception of Transportation Alternatives’ national Vision Zero for Cities Symposium in New York City.

Below is the audio of our conversation, which went on long after this written transcript. Feel free to take a listen, and forgive the background noise — we were talking in Lafayette Square, across from the White House, one of DC’s most iconic urban green spaces.

Here is a transcript of part two of the interview, lightly edited for length and clarity.

We keep calling [the current movement for Vision Zero and livable streets] a “fundamental restructuring,” and I’m curious whether you think that’s accurate. What you’re talking about at the beginning of the last century, which you wrote about in “Fighting Traffic,” was a much more fundamental questioning — because it was new — of the role of cars on streets and in cities. And I’m wondering if you think what’s happening now really gets to those questions or whether it’s just, “Oh, can we just have a little space; we just want some accommodation; we want the buses to be a little better, we want a little bike lane”?

Such an interesting question, because I think that dilemma that we’re in right now in 2014, between fundamental rethinking and just fixes here and fixes there, is the same dilemma that advocates of the automobile found themselves in, especially in the early- to mid-1920s. At first a lot of them said, “We need to take the street as it is and do some fine tuning, things like optimize the traffic signal timings–”

The same solutions we’re looking at!

Exactly! The first synchronized traffic lights for motor vehicles were timed in Chicago in 1926, and at the meeting I was just in, they were still talking about getting the timing right.

Then there were others who began to say, “Stop talking about just retooling the streets to make cars fit in them better; we need to actually re-concieve this.” There was an editorial in Engineering News Record in 1920 — Engineering News Record then and now is the journal of the civil engineers — and the editorial said, “We need a fundamental re-conception of what a city street is for.”

Read more…

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Will Miami Take the First Step Toward Parking Reform?

It’s been a long time coming, says Felipe Azenha at Transit Miami, but finally the topic of parking reform is getting some attention in Miami.

Proposed parking reforms would be a boon for housing affordability in Miami. Photo: Mark Hogan via Flickr

Eliminating parking requirements for small buildings in Miami could lead to larger reforms — and the elimination of bigger garages like this one — later on. Photo: Mark Hogan via Flickr

A public hearing next week will consider the elimination of minimum parking requirements for small buildings along transit corridors. Azena says it’s just the thing this car-clogged, increasingly-unaffordable city needs:

Minimum parking requirements are killing good urban development in Miami. Luckily, there has been a push to eliminate parking requirements for small urban buildings (<10,000 sq ft) in recent months. This is a good first step in the right direction if Miami really aspires to become a walkable and less autocentric city.

Minimum parking requirements perpetuate more automobile use and it also makes housing less affordable since the cost of building and maintaining required parking is passed on to renters and buyers. A few months ago Zillow released a housing report that cited Miami as the 2nd most expensive city for renters. The average Miami resident spends 43.2% of their income on rent.

Combine expensive housing with lack of public transit and minimum parking requirements that only serve to perpetuate the use of the automobile; it’s no wonder why Miami is one of the most expensive car dominated cities in the US.

A better move for Miami would be to entirely eliminate parking requirements and let developers decide how much parking to build. But in the meantime, this proposal is a step in the right direction, Azenha says.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Wash Cycle maps out the locations of bike fatalities in the nation’s capital. Urban Milwaukee reports that universal driver’s ed has been proposed to help combat racial segregation in that region. And Greater Greater Washington says that DC’s regional planners aren’t acting boldly enough to achieve local climate action goals.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Railroad Administration Report Orders Metra to “Improve Its Safety Culture” (Crain’s)
  • CTA Prepares to Demolish Century-Old Buildings for Wilson Rehab (Uptown Update)
  • 57-Year-Old Man Fatally Struck on 1100 Block of West Roosevelt (DNA)
  • DNA Evidence Linked Oak Lawn Man to 2012 Red Line Sex Abuse Case (Tribune)
  • NW Side Man Arrested for Allegedly Sexually Abusing Woman on Brown Line (DNA)
  • CTA Riders & Merchants Discuss How the Damen Construction Will Impact Them (RedEye)
  • Neighbors Fear Mosque Would Create Traffic, But Many Members Would Walk to Services (DNA)
  • Woman Who Was Paralyzed After Biking Off Breakwater Wall Is Suing Park District (CBS)
  • Wegerson: Until We Get Mode Separation on the LFT, People Should Walk & Run on the Left

Get national headlines at Streetsblog USA