In early June, I dubbed this the Summer of the Big Projects. The Chicago Department of Transportation was planning to start construction on, and/or complete, a slew of major infrastructure jobs this year. Now it seems more like the Summer of the Big Postponements.
Over the last month, we’ve gotten word that three major initiatives – the Bloomingdale Trail, the Central Loop BRT, and now the Divvy expansion — have been put on hold until 2015. That’s disappointing, but most of the reasons given for the delays are completely understandable.
When I interviewed CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld back in May, she expressed confidence that these projects would move forward as planned. The Bloomingdale, also known as The 606, is currently in the thick of construction, as you can see from photos Steven Vance and I took on a recent tour. The 2.7-mile, $95 million elevated greenway and linear park was slated to open in its basic form this fall, with additional enhancements being added next year.
However, on June 20, CDOT announced that the Bloomingdale opening was being postponed until June 2015, when the trail and its access parks will open in their completed state. They had a legitimate excuse: cold spring temperatures and frozen soil forced crews to delay the relocation of utilities and structural work. That, in turn, delayed the installation of new concrete in some sections, and forced the department to wait until next spring to do landscape plantings.
The transportation department had also been planning to start building the $32 million Central Loop BRT corridor later this year, with service launching in 2015. The system will run between Union Station and Navy Pier, including dedicated bus lanes on Canal, Clinton, Washington and Madison, as well as a new transit center next to the train station.
In May, Scheinfeld told me CDOT was still planning to start construction this year. However, the timetable seemed a bit optimistic, because the city was still discussing the design with downtown property owners and merchants. Some of them had kvetched that creating dedicated bus lanes would slow car traffic, and that the extra-large bus shelters would obscure their storefronts.
Three days after the Bloomingdale announcement, there was another buzzkill when City Hall announced that the Loop BRT construction had been postponed until at least next year. Scheinfeld told the Sun-Times that the design and outreach process had been taking longer than expected.
It’s also possible that the decision to delay this bold initiative until after the 2015 mayoral election was politically motivated. Walter Hook, CEO of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, which is consulting on the Loop and Ashland BRT projects, has said as much. “Recently, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has gotten beat up politically,” he told Citiscope in March. “And so he’s sort of pushed a couple of the more aggressive BRT proposals to after the next election.”
In May, Scheinfeld also told me that she anticipated the Divvy system would expand from 300 to 475 stations in 2014. This was despite the fact that Montreal-based Bixi, which supplies the bike-share equipment to Divvy concessionaire Alta Bicycle Share, had gone bankrupt. “We are moving aggressively to try to still meet our goals for expansion this year, so I expect we still will,” she said.
At a June 17 Streetsblog reader meet-up, I discussed the expansion with Alta principal Mia Birk. She told me, off the record, that Bixi bikes were becoming available again. However, due to pipeline issues, Divvy would probably not expand until spring 2015. When I asked CDOT spokesman Pete Scales whether this was correct, he said that the matter hadn’t been settled yet.
So I wasn’t surprised when Birk recently went public, telling American Public Media’s Marketplace that Alta probably won’t be expanding any of the existing systems it runs, or launching new ones, until 2015. It’s likely CDOT will soon make an official announcement that Divvy won’t get new stations this year.
“With The 606, the Loop BRT, and now the Divvy expansion, ‘wait until 2015’ is becoming a common refrain,” lamented Streetsblog Chicago reader David Altenburg after I posted a link to the Marketplace story. “Maybe the Cubs will be contenders then, too!”
While it’s certainly a bummer that Chicagoans have to wait several more months for these transportation amenities, we shouldn’t get too discouraged. After all, Divvy was supposed to debut in the summer of 2012, but the launch was pushed back a year. When bike-share finally arrived, the system soon proved to be wildly successful, and now the delay is a mere footnote.
Assuming we get more Divvy stations, the Bloomingdale, and the Loop BRT next year, it will be a landmark year, and these amenities will be better late than never. In the meantime, we can still get excited about other transportation projects that have recently been completed or are well underway, like the nifty new protected bike lanes on Broadway and Harrison, the Green Line’s Cermak station, the Navy Pier Flyover, and the Chicago Riverwalk.