Talking Transportation With Alderman Bob Fioretti

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Bob Fioretti by the Dearborn protected bike lanes at Monroe. Photo: John Greenfield

[This article also ran in Checkerboard City, John Greenfield’s column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets in print on Wednesday evenings.]

Second Ward Alderman Robert “Bob” Fioretti reelection chances got tougher after last year’s ward remap. His district currently includes portions of several neighborhoods on the Near South and Near West sides, but in 2015 his territory will flip to the Near North Side, which means he has to win over a whole new set of voters in the next election.

Perhaps because he has an uphill battle anyway, lately he’s had no qualms about going against the mayor’s wishes on issues ranging from charter schools to the renegotiation of the city’s reviled parking-meter contract. As part of a series of interviews with aldermen about their view on transportation issues, I recently had coffee with Fioretti downstairs from his law firm, a stone’s throw from the Dearborn protected bike lanes.

John Greenfield: I thought you did a great job speaking out against the meter deal reboot. Your opposition was mainly financial, right, that [despite the introduction of free parking on Sundays] Chicago Parking Meters could be making even more money from extended meter hours on other days?

Robert Fioretti: One, they were still getting a good deal out of it. Two, it was almost as if we were putting the nail in the coffin for the long term here. It was a bad deal in the first place and now we’re ratifying it by making amendments to the contract. We’ve leased our sovereignty to an outside entity, and that has a negative impact on many things we do in the city.

I did vote for the meter deal the first time around. I had assurances from the [Richard M. Daley] administration that the money was going to be a long-term, rainy-day fund. [Most of the nearly $1.2 billion CPM paid the city was spent to patch the budget deficit before Daley left office.] That’s why nowadays I’m very hardcore that, when the administration says they’re going to do things, I want it in writing.

JG: Ashland Avenue runs through your ward. What do you think about the city’s plans to do bus rapid transit on Ashland, replacing car lanes with dedicated lanes for high-speed buses?

RF: I’m not sure yet. Conceptually it’s a good idea but I want to take a closer look at what they’re proposing, since it’s going to cost $10 million a mile. I use public transportation as often as possible—I have my CTA card in my pocket. The question is, how do we break the hold of the car on the minds of so many of our traveling public? People want safe, reliable, on-time transportation. When they believe the CTA is able to provide that, they’ll be willing to give up their cars.

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Fioretti, right, at the ribbon cutting for the Dearborn protected lanes in December. Photo: John Greenfield

JG: What kind of support for the BRT proposal have you been hearing from community members and business owners?

RF: Very little. I’ve heard nine-to-one against it, a lot of negative feedback. That’s why I think it’s very important to study this some more. The CTA has to show people the benefits of BRT and demonstrate why they would want to use it.

JG: The Circle Interchange [of the Kennedy, Eisenhower and Dan Ryan expressways] is in your ward. The Illinois Department of Transportation wants to build a flyover ramp that would run right by a residential building at 400 South Green.

RF: It would run close to several buildings and negatively impact Greektown. It would probably destroy the view of the National Hellenic Museum. I don’t know if the state is ready to compensate people for the loss in property values. We have condominiums nearby that are already under water and this will only make it worse. There are alternatives. I think they could build underground. I sent a letter to the governor and IDOT did consent to additional hearings on the project.

JG: The Divvy bike-share program is supposed to launch by the end of the month. What kind of effect do you think that’s going to have?

RF: I hope it’s going to be a good program. If the people who use it are educated about bike safety and are comfortable riding on city streets, it will be a good thing for Chicago. It can help cut down the amount of pollution and help people get some exercise.

JG: Do you ever ride a bike in the city?

RF: I ride all the time. This morning I went out and took a ride. I started my Bike the Ward ride several years ago. It’s a historic ride: we visit several different historic sites, like the park where the Cubs won their last World Series [in 1908], the site of Mrs. O’Leary’s barn, and a Civil War prison camp where 6,000 Confederate soldiers died.

JG: I saw you at the ribbon cutting for the Dearborn protected bike lanes in December. How do you think those have worked out?

RF: To be honest, sometimes [the Chicago Department of Transportation] gets a thought in their mind and decides where they’re going to put bike lanes without really getting enough community input to see if they’re the best locations. I think we should be repaving the streets and making sure they’re safe before we put in bike lanes. There’s some potholes on Dearborn and there are some terrible drainage issues. They need to work on snow removal as well. You hate to hit a patch of ice when you’re on your bike.

  • Michael Weiser

    I’ve never ridden the #9 or former #X9 bus.

    Perhaps the students could consider riding their bikes to school. Yesterday, I saw bike after bike passing a CTA bus.

    I believe the restrictive nature of the closed bus lanes will serve fewer people than are currently served, including those you mention.

    I don’t want to deprive the bus riders of their time. We all agree buses suck. More buses suck more.

  • Fred

    I believe time will prove you wrong. Until then, we will have to agree to disagree.

    I don’t hate people who drive commute. I hate drive commuting.

  • I’m looking forward to hanging out with Kass at tonight’s Divvy preview ride – I assume he’ll be there.

    See Michael, buses are great for promoting togetherness, so please don’t try to keep us transit riders from meeting and greeting by isolating us in one-person vehicles. Great idea, but there already is a “Love Bus,” the #66 Chicago: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2006-04-13/news/0604130161_1_chicago-transit-authority-wicker-park-young-professionals

  • You know what would really suck Michael? If there were no buses in Chicago, can you imagine the gridlock if even half of bus riders took cars instead?

    Current buses don’t suck, but they’re too slow because there are too many folks like yourself who commute in private cars, clogging the roads. BRT buses, stops included, will be nearly as fast as cars, which will be awesome.

  • Michael Weiser

    There you go. “The Love Bus”. I rode that 151 bus in the 80’s and 90’s. It was terrible, of course.

    The second paragraph of the article uses the phrases “noisy”, “inches along”, and “rattles”. It’s not much of an endorsement, really. Nice conceit, but I believe the meetups and hookups are just great people making the most of a terrible situation. Flowers have been known to grow in the most unusual places.

    C’mon John. Let them out of the bus every once in awhile. Single and tandem seated cars afford the same opportunities for camaraderie and communication as bicycles, scooters, and motorcycles.

  • Michael Weiser

    True, John. Buses do serve a purpose, but it doesn’t do us any good to say they are the best solution to getting people around the city.

    As the “Love Bus” article says, “in the six years between 1999 and 2005, the number of rides on the 151 has declined by about 1.5 million.” The reason people prefer to drive is because transportation is now an autonomous desire. Like bike riders, car drivers will put up with a lot to maintain their freedom.

  • Correct, the bus currently inches along because it is obstructed by the glut of private cars blocking the road. BRT will solve this problem.

    Single-occupant cars offer the same opportunities for camaraderie as bicycles? Please stop, you’re killing me.

  • The 151 is the Sheridan bus, which runs through upscale lakefront neighborhoods. This article is not about a decline in bus ridership; rather it’s about the fact that many of the young professionals who used to ride the 151 have migrated west. Ridership on the #66 Chicago bus has skyrocketed during this time. Studies have shown that, increasingly, young people are not interested in driving to work. They’d rather spend the time reading, using their smartphone or chatting with fellow passengers on the bus or train. You’re not going to meet your future spouse driving to work in a private car.

    OK, need to get the next post out, so let’s table this discussion.

  • Michael Weiser

    Not single occupant car. Single seated car. Important difference.

    Have fun at the event and hanging out with Kass. I look forward to the articles. As always, thanks for the opportunity to post comments, John.

  • CL

    Ahhh don’t encourage transit creepers. It’s great that some people have found love on public transit, but many women hate getting hit on by strangers on transit, and it discourages them from taking transit. So everyone should keep in mind that unless they’re getting enthusiastic, clear signals from the woman that she wants to talk, it’s better to err on the side of leaving her alone.

  • Anonymous

    BRT already works other places. Magic cars not so much.

  • Anonymous

    It’s funny that you call him a Luddite while you promote a completely regressive transportation policy. It’s completely backwards even if it relies on “high tech” that’s not even here yet….

  • Anonymous

    Your comments are hilarious. I hope you’re at least getting some small compensation or at least internship opportunities with some energy company astroturfers.

  • Alex Oconnor

    Please, entitled naysayers are far more ebullient. Your single passenger car will never go anywhere.

  • Alex Oconnor

    No.

  • Alex Oconnor

    No. Despite George Jetson’s protestations. Did I add I’ve worked in AI.

  • Alex Oconnor

    No.

  • Alex Oconnor

    God your life must suck. SO hard; so sad

  • Alex Oconnor

    We should pave over Lake Michigan and the Mississippi while we are at it. We can have the river traffic flow under neath the Jetson car; that way traffic flows above and beneath just like the L. Uh Huh.

  • Fred

    So lets ballpark some numbers. How many cars do you think are in Chicago? Lets say a million, so 20% of that would be 200,000 cars. Your little narrow cars cost $200,000 EACH so by your own numbers, it would take $40,000,000,000 (40 Billion) worth of those cars to do what you are projecting. And you are screaming that $116 million (0.29% of that total) for BRT is a waste of money!!

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