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Posts from the Beyond Chicagoland Category

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How Shared-Mobility Companies Learned From Their Mistakes


Reps from Zipcar, B-Cycle, car2go, Lyft, Getaround, and Motivate with moderator Clayton Lane. Photo: SUMC

This week, civic leaders, entrepreneurs, and academics from around the country gathered in Chicago for the “Move Together” conference, hosted by the locally based think tank the Shared-Use Mobility Center. The organization was launched one year ago to brainstorm ways that bike-share, car-share, ride-share, and other new mobility tools can become a major force for increasing transportation access, fighting congestion, and improving air quality. On Monday, SUMC announced a new goal of taking one million cars off the road in the U.S. by scaling up shared mobility and transit in 15 regions, including ours.

“Chicago has historically been a hub for transportation innovation,” director Sharon Feigon told me. “We wanted to showcase the great things happening here and bring in innovators from across the country so they could see the potential of expanding here, too. At the same time, we also wanted to bring attention to the major issues that Chicago still faces regarding inequality in many of our communities, the difficulty of accessing jobs and how shared mobility can help meet these challenges.”

Feigon added that although Chicago has an extensive fixed-route transit system, travel patterns have changed over the years and there are service gaps to fill. “Shared mobility can help address these issues, reduce transportation costs and make it possible to live well without owning a car.”

During the panel “From the Trenches: What It Takes to Move Up,” reps from six different shared-mobility companies discussed how they were able to expand their business models to many different cities. Clayton Lane, board chair for SUMC moderated. One of the most interesting parts of the discussion was when Lane asked the panelists to talk about mistakes that their companies made that others could learn from.

Car2go, a one-way, point-to-point car rental service that exclusively uses two-seater Smart cars, was represented by business development manager Walter Rosenkranz. “With all start-ups, you go through growing pains and learn lessons,” he said. “Since we’re talking about scale, with a point-to-point system, you can’t really tiptoe into a market. You have to be able to provide services where people are and where they want to go.” He added that it’s necessary to offer enough vehicles within that area to make it convenient for customers to find them.

B-Cycle, a bike-share company partly owned by Trek, with systems in 29 U.S. cities and Santiago, Chile, was represented by company president Robert Burns. He said over the years he’s learned that strong support from politicians is key for setting up successful bike-share networks. “You need the mayor to say to the city workers, ‘This is coming, and I’m putting in, so give them the permits [for the stations].

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The Illiana’s Latest Death Blow: Feds Dropping Their Appeal of Court Ruling

Photo of the then-recently opened I-355, 127th St overpass

The Illiana’s high tolls would have driven motorists to use other routes instead. Photo: Tim Messer

A new legal development may represent the final nail in the coffin for the wasteful, destructive Illiana Tollway project. Yesterday, the Federal Highway Administration dropped its appeal of the court ruling that invalidated the Illiana’s key supporting document.

Back in June, U.S. District Court Judge Jorge Alonso invalidated the tollway’s Environmental Impact Statement, calling it “arbitrary and capricious.” The EIS was jointly prepared by the Illinois and Indiana departments of transportation.

Alonso noted then that the FHWA shouldn’t have approved the EIS because the tollway’s purpose and need statement was based on “market-driven forecasts developed by [Illinois Department of Transportation] consultants,” rather than sound policy. The Illiana was a terrible idea that was heavily promoted by former Illinois governor Pat Quinn and state representatives from the south suburbs.

Illinois taxpayers would have been on the hook for a $500 million down payment for the tollway. They also would have been responsible for future payments to the private operator in the event that revenue from tolls came up short. One of IDOT’s studies showed that the Illiana’s tolls would be several times higher than those on other Illinois tollways, which would cause many drivers to opt for non-tolled roads in the same corridor instead.

The highway would have destroyed protected natural areas and heritage farmland. It also would have induced sprawl to new areas outside of the current Chicago metro region.

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High Speed Rail Association: Use Metra Tracks for O’Hare Express

map of CrossRail (condensed)

CrossRail would solve Mayor Emanuel’s initiative to run express trains to O’Hare airport by using Metra – not CTA – infrastructure, and bringing upgrades Metra sorely needs.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and aviation commissioner Ginger Evans stated earlier this year that creating an express train to O’Hare Airport is a priority for this administration. However, the Blue Line is already a fairly speedy way to get to the airport, which could easily be upgraded via a few short-term improvements. Therefore, the city might be wiser to invest in neighborhood transit projects, rather than creating a premium service for well-heeled travelers.

Evans floated the rather fanciful idea of double-decking the Blue Line to create right-of-way for the express trains. However, if the O’Hare Express is going to happen, the Midwest High Speed Rail Association believes it should use the existing Metra infrastructure that’s located in the same airport-bound transportation corridor as the Blue Line and the Kennedy Expressway.

I recently sat down with executive director Rick Harnish to discuss MHSRA’s proposal for “CrossRail,” a package of Metra rail improvements that they say would increase the commuter rail system’s reliability and create rider-friendly service patterns. The plan calls for linking the Metra Electric tracks with Union Station, by way of a new flyover and river crossing at 16th Street. Harnish said CrossRail would make faster trips to O’Hare possible by upgrading ancient infrastructure that Metra is already trying to replace, as well as adding new elements.

Whether Blue Line or Metra tracks are used for the O’Hare express, the project would cost about the same, Harnish said. He estimates that CrossRail would cost $2.2 billion, and says he’s heard that a CTA solution would cost over $2 billion.” A business plan for the airport express created for the CTA in 2006 [PDF] estimated that a Blue Line-parallel service with separate tracks would cost $1.5 billion. Read more…


The 6-Year Wait for Bikes on the South Shore Has Been Reduced to 9 Months

Mike Noland, general manager for the South Shore Line commuter rail, demonstrates a bike rack from SportWorks, the same company that makes bike racks for CTA and Pace buses. Photo: Carole Carlson

Mike Noland, general manager for NICTD, demonstrates a bike rack for trains from SportWorks, the same company that makes racks for CTA and Pace buses. Photo: Carole Carlson

Last week, the board of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transit District board voted to dramatically reduce the wait time for a bikes-on-board pilot for South Shore Line trains. A consultant had previously recommended delaying the trial until 2021, when new cars might be added to the system, allowing older cars to be modified to accommodate bikes. Thanks to an outcry from board members and advocates against this ridiculous foot-dragging, the board unanimously voted to move the pilot up to April of next year.

NICTD has been way behind the curve on this issue. Even Metra, which is far from a cutting-edge commuter rail system, has had a Bikes on Trains program for over a decade. The South Shore Line management has been looking into accommodating bikes since 2013, around the time I launched a petition for bike access on the South Shore, which 731 people signed.

After the absurd 2021 pilot date was proposed at a NICTD board meeting in uune, board members Michael Repay from Lake County, Indiana, and Mark Catanzarite of St. Joseph County said they weren’t willing to wait that long. They asked for an immediate bikes-on-board option to be presented at the next meeting.

At a July open house on the subject hosted by NICTD, citizens voiced support for getting bikes access sooner than later. The Save the Dunes Council and the National Parks Conservation Association lobbied for an earlier pilot. And the Active Transportation Alliance sarcastically gave the South Shore a Broken Spoke Award as “the least bike-friendly commuter rail service in the nation,” since all other systems allow bikes.

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Rauner’s Latest Weird Illiana Move: Pushing for Tax Breaks to Contractors

What is Bruce Rauner up to with contradictory movements on the wasteful Illiana Tollway?

Rauner has taken contradictory actions on the Illiana. Just what is he up to?

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner has taken action to kill the wasteful, destructive Illiana Tollway, which his predecessor Pat Quinn championed. Lately, however, Rauner has made some odd steps that suggest he may be interested in keeping the project on life support.

In June, the governor ordered the Illinois Department of Transportation to remove the tollway from its multiyear plan, and said he would stop spending state funds on the project. But, earlier this month Rauner signed a bill authorizing $5.5 million in spending to “wind down” the project.

Recently, Rauner submitted a proposal to the Illinois General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules that would give any Illiana contractors – should there be any – an exemption on paying sales taxes for materials they buy to build the tollway.

The Illiana is the epitome of a highway boondoggle. It would cost more to construct than it would ever collect in tolls, leaving Illinois taxpayers on the hook for $500 million in borrowing. It would also destroy valuable farmland and induce suburban sprawl. Quinn tried to steamroll the project forward in order to garner support from South Side and Southland politicians and residents for his failed reelection effort.

The governor’s spokesman Lance Trover insted that the tax break “is in no way an effort to revive a project that the Illinois Department of Transportation has pulled from its multiyear plan,” according to Crain’s. Terry Horstman, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Revenue, couldn’t explain why Rauner recently submitted the bill, but he said the new legislation is required by the 2010 law that authorized building the Illiana.

If Rauner is serious about not building the Illiana then the sensible thing to do would be to rescind any legislation authorizing its construction. The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules should also reject the tax break proposal.

The regional leaders at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning should also take action to ensure that the boondoggle doesn’t get back. Although Quinn bullied the CMAP board into putting the project on the organization’s high-priority projects list, the agency should demote it from the list.


Rauner Authorizes More Illiana Spending to “Wind Down” Project

ELPC's 2014 Dinner Celebration

Howard Learner, president of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said the Illiana “gravy train” needs to end. Photo: ELPC

Governor Bruce Rauner signed a bill last week that authorizes spending $5.5 million more on the Illiana Tollway, a month after he announced he was suspending the project.

The Illiana would have been a new highway a couple miles south of the existing Chicago metropolitan region that would have encouraged suburban sprawl. Tolls would have been high enough that the road would have likely seen little use, but taxpayers would have been on the hook for covering revenue shortfalls as part of a public-private partnership. Ex-governor Pat Quinn, who was fighting for his political life at the time, pushed hard for the Illiana, hoping that support from Southland legislators and voters would help him win reelection.

Crain’s Chicago columinst Greg Hinz reported that the $5.5 million is for to pay consultants to “wind down” contracts and for covering litigation fees. A Rauner aide told Hinz that the fact that Rauner has authorized the expenditure doesn’t necessarily mean the Illinois Department of Transportation will spend the money.

While this development doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a backroom conspiracy to keep the Illiana on life-support, some of the text in the measure is a bit fishy. The bill says that the money is going to IDOT to “enable the Illiana Expressway to be developed, financed, constructed, managed, or operated in an entrepreneurial and business-like manner.”

Howard Learner, president of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which has sued IDOT twice over the Illiana, told Hinz that Rauner is not keeping his June 2 promise to “[suspend] all existing project contracts and procurements” related to the project. “It’s time to bring the wasteful Illiana tollway gravy train for consultants to an end,” Learner said. “These public funds should instead be used to meet our state’s high-priority needs.”

The most recent stake in the heart of the tollway was when a district court ruling invalidated the project’s federally required Environmental Impact Statement. The judge noted that IDOT’s justification for the highway was based on circular logic. The department argued that more road capacity is needed because new residents will be moving to the area. However, IDOT’s projection was based on the assumption that the tollway would be built, which would have encouraged development sprawl. However, IDOT could potentially rewrite the EIS to pass muster.

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Gettin’ Quigley With It: The Congressman Talks Transportation Funding


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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South Shore Line: We Want to Accommodate Bikes But Don’t Know How Yet


The Chicago Perimeter Ride passes under a South Shore Line train. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers

As I discussed yesterday, the agency that runs the South Shore Line commuter rail service, between Chicago and South Bend, is considering piloting a bikes-on-trains program, but not for six long years. The Northern Illinois Commuter Transportation District’s ridiculous feet-dragging on the issue prompted the Active Transportation Alliance to sarcastically bestow them a Broken Spoke Award as “the least bike-friendly commuter rail service in the nation.”

Even though the South Shore is the only commuter line in the country that doesn’t accommodate cyclists, NICTD recognizes the importance of bicycle access, according to marketing and outreach director John Parsons. “There are a lot of great places to get on a bike around here,” he said, adding that the agency knows that it can be challenging to access destinations from its train stations on foot.

Parsons acknowledged that there has been an outpouring of support for a bikes-on-trains program from people who took a NICTD survey and signed online petitions. “We know the demand is there, so we want to do it right,” he said. NICTD doesn’t think it can successfully accommodate bikes until it gets new rail cars, which wouldn’t happen for several years. “Without additional capacity, we would have to remove seats from cars.”

The South Shore isn’t currently planning to buy new cars, but they’re exploring options, Parsons said. Most of the agency’s capital budget is earmarked for installing Positive Train Control, a federally mandated safety system that automatically brakes trains when operators drive too fast for conditions or lose control.

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Getting Closer to the End: Judge Nullifies Federal Approval of Illiana Tollway


One of the key phrases from Judge Alonso’s ruling.

It’s looking like the nightmarish vision of a totally unnecessary, 47-mile highway cutting through prime Illinois farmland is not going to become a reality. A federal judge ruled yesterday that the Illinois Department of Transportation failed to provide a proper Environmental Impact Statement for the Illiana Tollway.

U.S. District Court Judge Jorge Alonso wrote that the final EIS the state submitted was “arbitrary and capricious.” He also noted that the Federal Highway Administration shouldn’t have approved the EIS because the tollway’s purpose and need statement was based on “market-driven forecasts developed by [IDOT] consultants,” rather than sound policy.

The lawsuit was filed by the Environmental Law & Policy Center, representing Openlands, the Sierra Club, and the Midewin Heritage Association. They argued that the state used circular logic to justify the Illiana: IDOT’s projections for population growth in the project area were based on the the assumption that the highway would be built. “This [ruling] is an opportunity for the Illiana saga to be brought [to] an end once and for all,” said ELPC’s executive director Howard Learner.

Alonso’s decision is the latest stake in the heart of the Illiana, a terrible idea that was promoted heavily by former governor Pat Quinn and state representatives from the south suburbs. Two weeks ago, current governor Bruce Rauner ordered IDOT to suspend all existing contracts and procurements for the tollway, stating in a news release that “the project costs exceed currently available resources.” He also told IDOT to remove the Illiana from its current multi-year transportation plan.

The ruling [PDF] also noted that IDOT and its consultants met with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and the Northwestern Illinois Regional Planning Commission to discuss population and employment forecasts for the Illiana corridor, but chose not to use those projections. That’s because CMAP’s forecasts were “based on ‘aggressive assumptions regarding infill, redevelopment & densification'” and not how people would be drawn to new subdivisions made accessible by a massive highway.

CMAP and NIRPC objected to IDOT’s market-driven projections because their respective regional plans recommend that new development should be concentrated in the existing metropolitan area, rather than replacing farmland with sprawl. In essence, the state said that growth should be geographically unconstrained and the MPOs said growth should be focused and sustainable. Read more…

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“Bike Battles” Discusses the Decisions That Led Us to Car-Centric Cities


James Longhurst

Right now in Chicago, advocates are calling for a coherent network of separated bikeways that will make it safe and convenient to get around the city on two wheels. More than a century ago, Windy City cyclists were doing exactly the same thing, according to James Longhurst, author of the new book “Bike Battles: A History of Sharing the American Road.”

Longhurst, who teaches public policy history at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, will be discussing “Bike Battles” this Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Seminary Co-op bookstore, 5751 South Woodlawn in Hyde Park. The event is co-hosted by the Active Transportation Alliance and the Blackstone Bicycle Works.

“Bike Battles” examines various debates over bicycles and their place in history since the 1870s. “One of my favorite stories is the sidepath movement of the 1890s,” Longhurst said. “Nobody knows a damn thing about it nowadays.” During the height of the turn-of-the-century bicycle boom, cyclists throughout the Northeast and Midwest were pushing to create separated bikeway networks within cities, as well as a system of sidepaths connecting cities across North America. Chicago would have been a major hub of this bicycle interstate system.

“Chicago had big plans in the 1890s to build bike-specific infrastructure, most of which didn’t happen,” Longhurst said. Some local cyclists called for reserving certain downtown streets and bridges, such as Washington and Dearborn, for bicycles traffic during the morning rush hour. They also proposed a bike tax to help fund infrastructure. “So we actually have already had this discussion of how to build a separated network of bikeways and pay for it.”

Unfortunately, the sidepath movement fizzled out after less than ten years. Just like today, there was political opposition to using tax revenue for bike-only facilities. “It was too easy to declare that dedicated bike infrastructure was not in the public good,” Longhurst said.


1890s headline from the Chicago Daily Times

Eventually, most bike advocates got behind the Good Roads movement, which called for using taxes to fund professionally engineered roads, as opposed to the rough dirt tracks that were common at the time. The cyclists were allied with farmers, who wanted to be able to transport their goods to market faster via horse-drawn carts. “In the early 1900s, it seemed like we would get a network of high-quality roads that would be shared by wagons, trollies, omnibuses, and bicycles,” Longhurst said.

We all know what happened next. Paved roads enabled the automobile industry, and the speed and volume of car traffic snowballed. While it was previously normal for people to walk in the street, the auto industry invented the concept of jaywalking in the 1920s, with ad campaigns urging pedestrians to stay out of the roads. “Bicycling had already fallen out of its faddish popularity of the 1890, and it never really recovered.” Longhurst said. “What had been a shared-use road system became mono-modal.”

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