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Could Rauner Stop the Illiana Boondoggle? Sure. But Will He?

Rich guy Bruce Rauner running for Illinois governor

Rauner says he needs to “see the studies” on the Illiana before making a decision on whether it should continue.

The Illiana Tollway, a joint proposal by the Illinois and Indiana departments of transportation to build a 47-mile highway through thinly populated farmland about 40 miles south of Chicago, rolled over another hurdle yesterday when the Federal Highway Administration approved the project’s environmental impact study. FHWA’s approval allows IDOT and InDOT to proceed with soliciting bids for the highway.

In a press release, IDOT called the FHWA’s “record of decision” an endorsement of the project and process. IDOT, of course, is reading too much into this: FHWA didn’t endorse the project by awarding it a huge grant. Instead, FHWA merely acknowledged that the Illiana meets the federal government’s minimum justification standard for highways. Even though the Illiana might meet that bare minimum, the FHWA isn’t putting its own money on the line. Rather, FHWA has simply said that Illinois is now free to waste its own money on the project.

This monstrous boondoggle – one of the most wasteful road projects in the entire country – surely won’t be stopped by IDOT or by any agency, like the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, dependent on IDOT. The federal government’s involvement concluded with the EIS review, so it’s now out of the picture. It’s up to governor-elect Bruce Rauner to put an an end to this travesty.

Stephen Schlickman, executive director of the Urban Transportation Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, recently told the Better Government Association that Rauner “has the authority to shelve [Illiana]. He doesn’t have to ask anyone.” Schlickman added that, because the Illiana is “moving so rapidly,” Rauner will need to act quickly and decisively. IDOT is just weeks, or months, away from formally issuing a Request for Proposals to its short list of bidders, and award contracts soon afterwards.

Rauner told the Tribune’s editorial board in September that he didn’t know if the Illiana should be built, and that he’d “have to see the studies” before making that decision. In the past, he’s hedged on the issue – both saying that the project “may have the potential to be an economic development engine,” but also that IDOT’s public-private partnership shouldn’t leave taxpayers “holding the bag.”

If Rauner does take a close look at the studies, he’ll find that the Illiana’s economic development “potential” lies entirely in Indiana, and that the state’s $1.3 billion would create just 940 jobs through 2040. The editorial board directly asked Rauner if he had seen the studies, and wrote then that “there is no upside” to the road.

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MPC Hopes “Transportation Woes” Survey Will Get Lawmakers’ Attention

Data to prevent bus bunching

CTA bus bunching: A transportation frustration everybody loves to hate. Photo: Argonne National Laboratories

Have you had it up to here with crumbling sidewalks and faded crosswalks? Are you sick of pedaling over lousy pavement, or barely visible bike lanes? Fed up with CTA bus routes that have already stopped running by the time you need a lift home, or Metra trains that never seem to run on time? Frustrated that there aren’t more east-west and north-south rapid transit lines, instead of just spoke routes?

Don’t get mad, get involved with the “Illinois Transportation Woes” survey. Yesterday, the Metropolitan Planning Council launched the new questionnaire for Chicago and Illinois residents, to find out what people’s top transportation frustrations are and what they would be willing to pay to overcome those challenges. They plan to use the survey results, along with photo and video documentation provided by participants, to let legislators know their constituents are upset about the current state of transportation in Illinois, and that they support increasing taxes and fees to fund better infrastructure

“With all the issues state lawmakers are facing, transportation hasn’t really risen to the top of their concerns,” MPC spokeswoman Mandy Burrell Booth said. “But we think there’s a big pent-up demand for better Illinois transportation options. We want to inform our legislators about this during their January session. There’s a growing consensus among civic groups that our leaders need to hear this.”

The survey isn’t directly related to the Active Transportation Alliance and Center for Neighborhood Technology’s Transit Future revenue campaign, or the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s Fund 2040 proposal to raise money for smart infrastructure investments. However, all of these groups, plus the Transportation for Illinois Coalition, the American Association of Retired Persons, and the American Automobile Association, are teaming up with MPC to get the word out about the questionnaire.

Booth hopes that several hundred people will fill out the first half of they survey, which asks about participants’ transportation habits, their level of satisfaction with their commute, and their understanding of how state transportation improvements are funded. The survey then notes that the state gas tax is currently 19 cents per gallon, and only costs the average Illinoisan $8.25 a month. Respondents are asked if they’d be willing to pay more in gas tax in order to fund transportation enhancements and, if so, how much.

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Call for Submissions: The Best Urban Street Transformations of 2014

Minnapolis' Washington Avenue is thriving after the addition of light rail and bike facilities. Photo: Greater Greater Washington

Washington Avenue in Minneapolis is thriving after the addition of light rail and bike lanes. Photo: Michael Hicks

Did your city implement a road diet this year that really knocks your socks off? Is there a street near you with a new light rail line, or a protected bikeway, or fresh red transit lanes and bus bulbs? How about a stoop-to-stoop rebuild that created more space for people to enjoy the sidewalks?

Well, we want to hear about it! As part of the year-end Streetsies competition on Streetsblog USA, we will be naming the “Best Urban Street Transformation” in the nation, with the help of your nominations and votes.

The example at the top of this post is Washington Avenue in Minneapolis, where the Green Line light rail debuted this year. The street includes excellent bike facilities and some car-free areas. The rail line has attracted higher-than-expected ridership, and the street is buzzing with activity.

We’ll be accepting nominations through December 14. Email angie at streetsblog dot org with photos (before and after shots from a similar vantage point are ideal) and a short written description of the street overhaul, why it was implemented, and how it has improved the street. After we review the nominees, a panel of Streetsblog editors will select which ones to include in a reader’s choice poll, and we’ll put it all up for a vote.

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The same block of Washington Avenue in 2009, via Google Street View.

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City Writing New Rules of the Road to Allow Shared Space on Argyle Street

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A rendering of the new street configuration on Argyle.

The Chicago Department of Transportation is currently hashing out an ordinance to regulate how motorists will behave on the Argyle “shared street” [PDF], a pedestrian-priority zone slated for construction next year. The streetscape project — the first of its kind in Chicago — will create a plaza-like feel along Argyle from Broadway to Sheridan, by raising the street level and eliminating curbs. Slow motorized traffic and car parking will still be permitted on the street, but pedestrians will rule the space.

In late August, 48th Ward Alderman Harry Osterman released the final designs for the street, which will be lined with pavers from building line to building line. Two or three different colors of pavers, as well as trees and other street furniture, will be used to differentiate between travel lanes, parking lanes, and a pedestrian-only zone.

The speed limit will be lowered to 10 mph, which will allow pedestrians to safely cross the street throughout the block — not just at crosswalks — and make it make it comfortable for cyclists to ride in the center of the travel lanes. Other features will include wider pedestrian-only spaces to make room for outdoor cafes, plus permeable pavers, and bioswales. A colorful pillar, emblazoned with the word “Argyle,” will stand in a median at the Broadway intersection, complementing the strip’s existing “Asia on Argyle” sign.

Work to replace gas and water lines on Argyle will take place in January and February, respectively, according to Osterman’s assistant Sara Dinges. The streetscape construction is scheduled to begin in April and wrap up by the end of 2015. “We want to emphasize that Argyle businesses will be open during the construction, so we want people to continue to support them,” she said.

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The border between the pedestrian-only area and parking will undulate, creating a gentle chicane.

The merchants will likely be rewarded for their patience during construction with a boost in sales after the work is finished. Studies from London found that economic activity increased on streets after shared spaces were built. Meanwhile, traffic injuries and deaths decreased by 43 percent, and drivers became 14 percent more likely to stop for pedestrians.

At a Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council meeting last month, CDOT Complete Streets Director Janet Attarian noted that Chicago’s municipal code currently doesn’t allow for speed limits to be reduced below 20 mph. The code also only gives pedestrians the right-of-way within designated crosswalks on roadways.

Therefore, the department is working on an ordinance to define shared streets, designating them as locations where a lower speed limit is permissible and where drivers must stop for pedestrians anywhere along the corridor, Attarian said. Once the ordinance is drafted, Osterman will introduce it to City Council, according to Dinges.

Cambridge, Massachusetts [PDF] has built successful shared streets on Winthrop and Palmer streets, two narrow streets around historic Harvard Square. In conjunction with this, the city added language to its vehicular code mandating that that all vehicle operators, including cyclists, must yield to pedestrians on shared streets. The ordinance also states that operators must travel at a speed that ensures pedestrian safety, and that speeds over 10 mph on shared streets are “considered hazardous.”

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KaBOOM Promotes Placemaking as a Way to Encourage Play

playable city of future zoom in

Detail from a sketch of “The Playable City of the Future,” brainstormed during the summit in Pilsen.

Active, creative, and social play has a number of benefits for children, especially those in low-income, urban communities. However, nowadays many kids don’t get enough opportunities for healthy play, according to staffer Janine Kacprzak from the nonprofit KaBOOM. The organization has helped build over 2,500 playgrounds across the country, including hundreds in Chicago, Kacprzak said.

KaBOOM recently shifted its focus from simply building playgrounds to encouraging cities to provide “corner stores of play” — opportunities for children to recreate close to home. At the Playful City USA Summit in Chicago last month, leaders from around the country took a tour of the Pilsen neighborhood, brainstorming play-friendly placemaking ideas that could work in any community.

One of the main reasons why many kids don’t engage in healthy play as often as they should is the issue of proximity, Kacprzak said. A park or playground can feel far away because a family has to drive or take transit to access it, or walk to a different part of the neighborhood.

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Kacprzak points out faded murals along the 16th Street rail embankment that could be refurbished to brighten up the block. Photo: John Greenfield

Unsafe or unpleasant conditions for walking or biking, including poor street design, crumbling infrastructure, or concerns about crime, exacerbate the problem. As a result, the majority of low-income families KaBOOM surveyed tend to take their kids out to play on weekends, sometimes for several hours at a time.

If this kind of play is the equivalent of a weekly trip to the supermarket, the nonprofit proposes creating “corner stores of play” through placemaking – activating underused public spaces. “The idea is to make smaller play areas throughout the city, so it’s not this huge hassle of getting kids ready for an outing, but something nearby,” Kacprzak said. She added that cities who use this approach in all kinds of neighborhoods, and prioritize investing in parks and play in general, benefit economically by attracting and retaining families and businesses.

212 municipalities of all sizes are participating in KaBOOM’s Playful City USA program by using play as a strategy to address challenges in their communities. Representatives of 12 of the cities convened at Blue 1647, a tech incubator space at 1647 South Blue Island in Pilsen, for the summit.

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Greasing the Wheels: LIB Uses Prizes to Promote Online Bike Safety Quiz

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A tricky question from the quiz for teen and adult cyclists.

If you ride a bike on Illinois roadways, you’ve probably had the infuriating experience of having a motorist drive by you and yell, “Get on the sidewalk!”

Sure, that person was being a jerk, but it’s also likely they were unaware Illinois law says cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers when traveling in the roadway. They also probably didn’t know that, in many municipalities like Chicago, it’s illegal for adults to pedal on the sidewalk.

To help spread the word about state bike laws, as well as to educate motorists about how to safely operate around cyclists, the League of Illinois Bicyclists launched the Illinois Bike Safety Quiz in June 2013. Since then, almost 18,000 people have taken the online test, which features dozens of challenging questions that were approved by the Secretary of State.

There are three versions of the quiz: one for elementary school age bicyclists, one for teen and adult cyclists, and one for motorists of all ages, including driver-ed students. Moving up through the bronze, silver, and gold levels requires answering all of the questions correctly, so the test rewards learning rather than just prior knowledge.

To make things more interesting, the League is awarding cash prizes to randomly selected test takers. Last month they gave out five $200 prizes to Peter Barson from Arlington Heights, Anthony Mikrut from Chicago, Jessica VanDyke from Olney, Maurice Ball from Lisle, and Nicole Ream-Sotomayor from Urbana. The prizes are funded by proceeds from the sale of the state’s “Share the Road” license plates.

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The Next Governor of Illinois Is a Total Mystery on Transportation

Rich guy Bruce Rauner running for Illinois governor

Rauner at a Metropolitan Planning Council forum. Photo: Steven Vance

Billionaire Republican Bruce Rauner is going to be the next governor of Illinois, and it’s not yet clear what that means for transit, biking, and walking in the Prairie State. Rauner avoided taking positions on transportation issues for the most part and failed to return a candidate survey from the Active Transportation Alliance. However, his stated goal of cutting taxes could mean less funding for transportation infrastructure of all kinds.

As of this morning, Rauner had 50.6 percent of the vote to incumbent Pat Quinn’s 46 percent, with 99 percent of the state’s precincts reporting, the Tribune reported.

Quinn leaves, at best, a mixed legacy on transportation. As governor, he pushed hard for a number of car-centric projects — most notably the disastrous Illiana Tollway proposal — as a strategy to garner votes. Under his watch, the Illinois Department of Transportation blocked the construction of protected bike lanes on its streets, though it has since changed its policy. Quinn also recently granted $3 million for Divvy expansion.

In his response to the Active Trans candidate questionnaire, Quinn said all the right things. He voiced support for better conditions for sustainable transportation, noted that Illinois is a “Complete Streets” state, and said he does not support widening roads as a strategy to improve mobility.

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Transpo Leaders Brainstorm at the Shared-Use Mobility Center Launch

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A breakout session at the Shared-Used Mobility Center workshop. Photo: John Greenfield

Transportation leaders from across the nation convened last week in Chicago to celebrate the launch of the Shared-Use Mobility Center, a nonprofit that will work to maximize the potential of car-sharing, ride-sharing, and bike-sharing services to benefit the public. The new organization will promote collaboration between the different services, and encourage cooperation between the growing industry and city governments, transit agencies, and community groups.

The shared-mobility industry has the potential to have a major positive impact on air quality, congestion, and public health, and to increase access to jobs, education, and healthcare, said Sharon Feigon, SUMC’s executive director. She formerly led I-GO CarSharing, the service that was run by Chicago’s nonprofit Center for Neighborhood Technology.

After I-GO was sold to Enterprise CarShare, the CNT board decided to use part of the proceeds to launch SUMC. “The board spent about a year trying to figure out what’s the new thing that can carry out the mission of I-GO, of making it possible to live well without owning a car,” Feigon said. Founding partners also include TransitCenter and the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

As part of the kickoff, SUMC hosted a workshop at Roosevelt University to discuss current obstacles, and opportunities, for expanding the reach of shared-use mobility services. Panelists included representatives from the transportation startups Lyft, RideScout, car2go; Karen Weigert, Chicago’s chief sustainability officer; Tim Papandreou from San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation Agency; and Michael Bolton, deputy director of Pace. Also participating were reps from Zipcar, Uber, Divvy, B-cycle, Enterprise, the CTA, Metra, Amtrak, and the state of Illinois.

One of the more noteworthy takeaways from the panel came from Pace’s Bolton, who discussed the possibility of enabling Ventra customers to use the card for services like Lyft and Uber. This could allow users to take advantage of the money-saving federal transit benefit when using ride-share.

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NACTO to Take Safer Street Designs to Developing World Cities

Last year, the National Association of City Transportation Officials brought us the Urban Street Design Guide, and now it’s going global.

A Delhi traffic jam. Photo: Wikipedia

A Delhi traffic jam. Traffic collisions kill about 250,000 per year in India. Photo: Wikipedia

During the organization’s national conference in San Francisco last Thursday, NACTO chair and former New York City transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan announced that it will be developing a “Global Street Design Guide” to help developing nations set standards for safe, livable streets.

Executive Director Linda Bailey said the guide will take principles from NACTO’s Urban Street Design Guide and adapt them for cities in places like India and East Asia. Streets and travel patterns in those nations are very different than in America, with much higher levels of walking and scooter use, for instance, as well as the looming threat of rapid growth in private automobiles.

“The U.S. is already influencing heavily many developing countries,” Bailey said. “The idea is to try to skip over any lag time… Under the same principles as the Urban Street Design Guide, how does this work in a country that has a very different mode split?”

The organization hopes to release the guide in early 2016. NACTO will also be working with a group of selected global cities interested in implementing safer street designs, much like the organization has done in the U.S., Bailey said. NACTO noted that 1.2 million people die globally from traffic collisions and that the guide is seen as an international public health tool.

“One of the things that’s exciting about working in an international context is you already have a high pedestrian mode share,” said Bailey. “Just making things more comfortable for pedestrians could make a huge difference.”

The design guide is being supported in part by the Bloomberg Initiative for Global Road Safety.

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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.”

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