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Posts from the "Beyond Chicagoland" Category

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Bike2Campus Points to Broader Possibilities for Campuses to Embrace Cycling

Student bike mechanics from the University of Oregon Bike Program work on the program's bicycle fleet in their on-campus facility, affectionately known as "the Barn." Photo: Briana Orr

Student bike mechanics from the University of Oregon Bike Program work on the program’s bicycle fleet in “the Barn,” their on-campus facility. Photo: Briana Orr

This week, the inaugural Bike2Campus Week seeks to spur students’ budding interest in bicycling to reach Chicago’s many university and college campuses. A partnership between the Chicago Network of Sustainability in Higher Education, the Chicago Department of Transportation, and Divvy seeks to entice students with prizes, like a four-year Divvy membership for the top pedaler, and with friendly competition between schools.

The city’s most populous campus, the University of Illinois at Chicago, also hopes to lead the pack by recording the highest percentage of students bicycling to class. A series of Earth Month campus events will showcase the benefits of biking, and coax students onto two wheels with free Divvy day passes. “We all came together to make something exciting, fun, and friendly, with a little bit of education so that everyone can participate,” says Kate Yoshida from the university’s sustainability office and coordinator of UIC’s Bike2Campus effort.

A close look at the competition press release, however, reveals a mixed message: The partnership defines the event as “a five-day alternative transit challenge to get Chicagoland university and college students on their bicycles.” Even as the competition extolls the benefits of bicycles, it still classifies bicycling as “alternative” transportation. Conversations with other university transportation departments suggest refocusing the lens.

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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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Could IDOT Bike Plan Represent a Turning Point for the Car-Centric Agency?

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Cover of the executive summary for the bike plan.

The Illinois Department of Transportation has a long history of promoting driving before all other modes. However, its new Illinois Bike Transportation Plan, released this morning at the Illinois Bike Summit in Champaign, may represent a new direction for the department.

In recent years, IDOT has pushed wasteful, destructive highway projects like the Circle Interchange Expansion and the Illiana Tollway, and it recently released a “Purpose and Need” statement for the North Lake Shore Drive rehab that was written largely from a windshield perspective.

When the department launched the public input process for the state bike plan last summer, it was still prohibiting Chicago from installing protected bike lanes on state roads within the city, apparently for reasons that had nothing to do with safety. It seemed ironic that IDOT was seeking input on strategies for improving bike safety when its own policy undermined it.

In October, at a memorial for Robert “Bobby” Cann, a cyclist who was killed by a motorist on Clybourn, a state road, it was announced that IDOT was lifting the PBL ban. The agency is currently working with the Chicago Department of Transportation to design protected bike lanes on Clybourn, possibly shielded by concrete curbs, on an experimental basis.

This morning, the Active Transportation Alliance heralded the release of the bike plan, which calls for improvements to state road design and more funding for bike safety projects, as a sign of IDOT’s growing commitment to improving conditions for non-motorized transportation. “This is not an easy task given IDOT’s historically car-centric perspective that has de-prioritized biking and walking,” the Active Trans release said.

“With the adoption of its Complete Streets policy in 2007, its plans to pilot-test protected bike lanes on state routes, and now the state bike plan, I think it’s fair to say IDOT is turning the corner, so to speak, toward a multi-modal approach that provides a range of transportation options for Illinois residents,” said Active Trans director Ron Burke in a statement.

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The Fiscal Insanity of Highway Building

Dallas. Photo: David Herrara via Flicker (CC)

Highways crisscross highways in Dallas, yet transportation officials never seem to think there are enough. Photo: David Herrera/Flicker (CC)

To peer inside the minds of highway builders, take a look at what’s happening in Dallas.

Patrick Kennedy at Network blog Walkable Dallas Fort Worth has been poring over a 2007 document produced by regional planners at the North Central Texas Council of Governments. Interestingly, this seven-year-old document proclaimed an urgent need for the as-yet-unbuilt Trinity Toll Road, which highway builders are still trying to push through today.

Kennedy points out that without the Trinity Toll Road, Dallas has somehow avoided collapsing into chaos in the past seven years. He proceeds to attack the arguments for highway building, starting with the notion that Dallas needs a multi-billion dollar highway to reduce $66 million in congestion costs:

You’re telling me we need to spend $5 billion in order to save $66 million? And that’s just to build the roads, let alone the life cycle costs. This math and logic is why TxDOT is $35 billion in the hole right now. Congestion can’t be fought with more highway capacity. It can only be diminished by getting people out of cars and building more walkable communities. DFW is tied with Detroit for most car-dependent major city in the country…

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Missouri Pols Launch Sneak Attack on Bike Funding

The state of Missouri is aiming to bridge its transportation funding shortfall with a 1 percent sales tax that will generate $8 billion over 10 years. Rather than raising the gas tax, this regressive tax will force people who don’t drive to subsidize roads — and for good measure it will also forbid tolling on two major highways.

Missouri State Represenative Paul Curtman wants to make cycling ineligible for new transportation funding. Photo: Missouri House of Represenatives

Missouri State Representative Paul Curtman wants to make bike projects ineligible for new transportation funding. Photo: Missouri House of Representatives

The upside of the bill is that it’s also supposed to provide new funds for critically needed walking, biking, and transit projects. But even though everyone will be paying this new sales tax, a few state legislators think none of the revenue should go toward bike projects, reports Brent Hugh at the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation:

Rep. [Paul] Curtman’s amendment is to remove the word “bicycle” from HJR 68. HJR 68 allows MoDOT, cities, and counties to spend the state transportation funds on “transportation system purposes and uses.”  Those are defined in HJR 68 and Curman’s amendment simply removes the word “bicycle” from that definition.

That leaves every other major type of transportation identified by Missourians in over a year’s worth of outreach by MoDOT to every county in Missouri represented in the text of HJR 68 — except for bicycling. This is very clearly intended to send a message to MoDOT and to bicyclists in Missouri, that we are not welcome and that state funds should not be spent on our behalf.

This was truly a sneak attack by a few House members on Missouri’s bicycling community. They waited until the last minute to introduce their language, made it nearly impossible to understand, and tagged it onto an innocuous amendment that bill supporters had already approved.

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Parking Madness Final Four: Kansas City vs. Rochester

The hunt for the worst parking crater on earth nears its epic conclusion with the second Final Four match of Parking Madness.

Today’s matchup features a formidable entry from Kansas City and the upstart parking crater from Rochester, New York, which knocked out Detroit in the previous round. The winner will take on Jacksonville tomorrow for a shot at the Golden Crater and eternal parking crater disgrace (but a great local advocacy opportunity).

Which city has made a greater mess of its downtown with excess surface parking?

First up, Kansas City:

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This image was marked up and submitted by local advocate Emily Catherine. The area isn’t so much a solitary crater as a pockmarked asphalt wilderness.

They call this the city’s Financial District, but it’s hard to pick out any distinguishing characteristics. That’s the thing about parking craters — after a while all these places start to look the same.

Now on to Rochester, the Cinderella of the 2014 Parking Madness bracket.

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CNT and Active Trans Launch “Transit Future” Funding Campaign

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Map showing potential expansion of the local rapid transit system. Image: CNT

On Monday, Governor Quinn’s Northeast Illinois Public Transit Taskforce released its final report, underscoring the need for better funding for regional transit. Yesterday, the Center for Neighborhood Technology and the Active Transportation Alliance launched a new campaign, dubbed “Transit Future,” to raise that money via a new Cook County-based revenue stream that would help the region leverage federal dollars.

Transit Future calls on the Cook County Board of Commissioners to create a dedicated funding source for maintaining and expanding the transit system in Chicago and the rest of the county. Creating this revenue stream would allow the region to take advantage of federal funding sources like America Fast Forward, which provides long-term, low interest loans to cities for construction projects.

The campaign is inspired by the successful drive to raise $40 billion for public transportation in Los Angeles, which is bankrolling the largest expansion of transit in the region’s history. That campaign, called Move LA and spearheaded by former LA mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and former Santa Monica mayor Denny Zane, led to voters approving a half-cent sales tax increase in a 2008 referendum called Measure R. By 2013, four new transit lines had opened, with two more under construction.

Villaraigosa and Zane, as well as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook Count Board President Toni Preckwinkle, showed up to support Transit Future at a launch party last night at the University Club of Chicago, 76 East Monroe. A map on display at the event showed the potential for expanding the local rapid transit system.

In addition to well-publicized projects that will extend the South Red Line and build bus rapid transit on Chicago’s Ashland Avenue, the map shows other line extensions and new routes outlined in the region’s GO TO 2040 plan. Existing lines could be expanded to suburban destinations like Old Orchard, Schaumburg, Oak Brook, and Ford City, while new north-south lines could parallel Cicero Avenue and connect O’Hare and Midway airports.

Jacky Grimshaw, vice president for policy at CNT and director of Transit Future, emceed the event. “Building a world-class transit system requires a steady, long-term investment,” she told the crowd. “We’ve been falling short. There are over $20 billion in potential projects that are just sitting on the shelf that will help us to expand and improve our system, so that we can’t afford to fall short any longer.”

Emanuel told the audience that a coordinated effort between the city and county to create dedicated transit funding could unlock the region’s economic potential. “Our ability to recruit new companies, our ability to see companies expand, our ability for families to go from where they live to work, is dependent on a 21st Century public transportation system,” he said. “Because people years ago made a great investment, Chicago had the opportunity to become the city it is. For us to become the city we want to be, we have to continue to make that commitment to our public transportation system.” He noted that the city is already taking advantage of federal transportation loans for projects like the Red Line’s 95th Street station rehab and the Chicago Riverwalk extension.

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LA’s Orange Line Offers a Sneak Peek at Fast Ashland Bus Service

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Photo: The Transit Coalition

When I visited Los Angeles earlier this winter, I took a ride on the Orange Line, a bus rapid transit route that offers a preview of what fast, reliable bus service will be like for transit riders on Ashland Avenue.

The Orange Line launched in 2005 as a 14-mile route through the San Fernando Valley, with 14 stops spaced about a mile apart, built at a cost of $324 million, on a right-of-way formerly used by passenger rail and streetcars. In 2012, a four-mile extension and four more stops were added at a cost of $215 million. It’s eastern terminus is the North Hollywood transit center, where you can catch various other city bus lines, as well as the Metro Red Line subway to downtown LA, which I rode to a talk at City Hall by former Chicago transportation chief Gabe Klein.

The Orange Line has some significant differences from Chicago’s Ashland BRT plan. Because it’s completely separated from parallel car traffic, keeping cars out of the busway is not a major concern, whereas camera enforcement will needed for Ashland. The Orange Line does make multiple at-grade crossings of streets, controlled with stoplights. Signal prioritization helps keep the buses moving through these intersections.

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Photo: John Greenfield

The LA system includes prepaid boarding – you buy a ticket at a kiosk that you must display during occasional onboard inspections – which helps speed boarding. The buses are sleek 60-foot vehicles with low floors that make it easy to board, although there aren’t level boarding platforms like there will be on Ashland. The Orange Line buses are articulated vehicles with three doors on the right side, which further expedite boarding. Ashland will use the same 60-foot, articulated, five door buses as Cleveland’s Health line, which allow for boarding on the left side as well, which will be necessary for Ashland’s median stations.

The stations feature handsome shelters and signs. The route is nicely landscaped, and a high-quality bike and pedestrian path parallels it for most of its length. The buses have racks in front that can carry three bicycles in front, and there are bike parking racks and lockers at every stop.

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The Only Problem the Illiana Solves Is a Political One

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While the state showers money on the useless Illiana Tollway, state jurisdiction roads like Cermak and Archer remain a dysfunctional, dangerous mess. Photo: Joseph Palmer

The Illiana Tollway is a solution in search of a problem, and the Illinois DOT’s final document in preparation to receive federal approval to build the tollway is a case study in backwards transportation planning. IDOT’s playbook went like this: Design a new road, have consultants review traffic patterns on existing roads to find issues to underpin the rationale for the new road, then rally political support for the road around those issues.

With the release of IDOT’s “Tier 2 Environmental Impact Statement” to the feds, we can see the agency tell the feds that a four-lane, 47-mile long tolled highway will solve problems that will spring up only because of the construction of the same highway.

IDOT had already completed the route and an environmental impact study of the Illiana when the agency convinced the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s MPO Policy Committee to approve the project, even though that vote went against the intent of the GO TO 2040 regional plan, which CMAP itself had crafted in collaboration with hundreds of municipalities and dozens of partner organizations.

CMAP staff and its board – but not Metra and Pace – all rejected the Illiana because the proposed road was in conflict with a principle tenet in GO TO 2040: Population and job growth should be encouraged in already developed areas alongside public infrastructure investments in these areas. The Illiana Tollway takes the region in precisely the opposite direction — building new infrastructure where very few people live, then spurring population and job growth in that previously undeveloped area.

Now that IDOT has designed the road, it has to tell the federal government why the Illiana is the best solution for a problem. This is the point when IDOT finally devises the problem, and does so in a way that the Illiana Tollway becomes the only reasonable solution.

The problem statement in the Tier 2 EIS says that new growth along the proposed project corridor will lead to congestion, so a new road, the Illiana Tollway, is needed to alleviate it. This would be the same new road that IDOT’s consultants say a huge number of people in the area will avoid because of the tolls that will likely be charged while other highways remain free. Read more…

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Illinois’s New Highways Will Cost Taxpayers Dearly

A tolled extension of Il-53 would be just as empty as the non-tolled section here. Photo: Interstate Guide

The nation may be driving less, but Illinois road boosters are still determined to build more highways. The problem for Illinois taxpayers is that it may be impossible to construct these new roads without huge subsidies.

Tolls on the proposed Illiana Expressway may be four times as high as tollways elsewhere around Chicago, according to a recent Illinois DOT report. But that price may be so high that the road won’t be able to draw enough traffic to cover its costs. Meanwhile, a “funding finding committee” that wants to extend a state highway in Lake County, IL-53, as a toll road, estimates that even with tolls the project has a $2 billion budget hole.

IDOT published an analysis this month that gauges how willing people are to pay certain tolls to drive on the 47-mile Illiana Tollway in rural Will County. The “toll sensitivity” report shows tolls on the Illiana would be 23 cents per mile, almost four times the Illinois Tollway Authority average. This led Greg Hinz at Crain’s Chicago to pose the question, “With no toll at all on the nearby I-80, an existing expressway that runs about 10 miles or so north of the proposed Illiana, guess where the trucks are likely to end up?”

According to the IDOT report, 43 percent of potential customers would use another road at this price. The report didn’t analyze if the remaining traffic would provide sufficient revenue to pay for the road. If Illiana users can’t cover the costs of construction debt and maintenance, all Illinois (and Indiana) taxpayers will be on the hook.

Tollways around the country are heading for default or an infusion of subsidies because drivers are sticking to freeways instead. Illinois seems poised to make the same mistake by building the Illiana.

Aaron Renn, writing at The Urbanophile, thinks the Illiana subsidies won’t be easily discernible. Rather, it’s going to be a boondoggle that subtly siphons money from what should be higher priorities:

Don’t expect any high profile bailouts. Rather, an increased share of the two state’s annual highway fund will have to be diverted to covering the shortfalls, crowding out spending elsewhere. This is one of the big fears in the rest of Chicagoland, where there’s a massive infrastructure investment deficit.

One hundred miles north of the Illiana corridor, road boosters in Lake County are struggling to cover the projected $2 billion shortfall for a 13-mile highway extension of IL-53. The total project cost is $2.56 to $2.87 billion, and tolls can only pay for a fraction of that. The extension is in the GO TO 2040 regional plan, not because it has funding, but because it was thought to be a regionally important project.

It may turn out to be a lousy one. The committee devoted to finding additional funding sources has proposed hefty subsidies, in addition to higher county gas taxes or adding an additional toll collection point to the Tri-State Tollway. Read more…