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Indiana Will Fund Rewriting Faulty Illiana Environmental Impact Statement

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

The Illiana Tollway, a proposed highway boondoggle that would run through land south of the Chicago metro area, is the project that just won’t die. The tollway would be a joint project of the Illinois and Indiana transportation departments and cost Illinois taxpayers a minimum of $500 million. That’s $500 million that might otherwise be spent on necessary and financially viable projects like rebuilding the North Red Line, constructing the Ashland bus rapid transit route, and building Pace’s transitways.

Greg Hinz recently eported in Crain’s that it appears the two states have reached an agreement that Indiana will spend money to rewrite the project’s Environmental Impact Statement, which a federal judge ruled invalid last June. This federally-required document was supposed to explain why the tollway is needed, and how all impacts – to people and their property, flora and fauna – would be mitigated. Since the Illinois still hasn’t passed a state budget, it’s unable to pay for updating the EIS. We don’t know how much Indiana would spend on this.

Last year, the Environmental Law & Policy Center represented Openlands and the Midewin Heritage Association in a lawsuit against the Illiana and won by pointing out that the original EIS used circular logic. The document argued the tollway was needed in order to provide transportation access new residential and industrial development. However, its projections were based on the assumption that the tollway would be built, and would therefore induce new development in an area of farmland and nature preserves.

There are many reasons why building the Illiana would be a bad idea. For starters, most American roads don’t even pay for their own maintenance, let alone construction. Illinois’ transportation infrastructure network already has a $43 million maintenance backlog.

Additionally, construction of the tollway would be funded through an extremely dubious public-private partnership scheme, requiring the state to compensate the concessionaire if the highway doesn’t generate a certain amount of profits. Since the plan calls for high tolls, many motorists were predicted to use alternative routes, so the Illiana would see relatively little traffic and not be a money-maker, leaving taxpayers on the hook for the revenue shortfall.

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What Could Chicagoans Learn About Rail Transportation From a Trip to Japan?

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A Streetcar in Hiroshima. Photo: Rick Harnish

The Midwest High Speed Rail Association is hosting a train-focused tour of Japan that should offer Chicago residents a fascinating window on what’s like to live with truly world-class transit and railroad service. The trip, which takes place between September 27 and October 9, is an opportunity to check out how fast, frequent, and dependable trains help create vibrant communities.

MHSRA president Rick Harnish has previously led rail-focused tours of Spain, France, Germany and China. Highlights of the Japan trip will include riding the Shinkansen bullet train between Tokyo and Osaka – the world’s first and busiest high-speed line. Participants will tour a maintenance facility for JR Central, which runs the line.

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The Nagoya Railway Museum. Photo: Rick Harnish

They’ll also check out a Nippon Sharyo railcar factory – In 2012 the company opened a branch in Roselle, Illinois, to fulfill a contract for 160 “Highliner” railcars for Metra Electric Line service, plus orders for other American rail lines. The group will travel to a number of other Japanese cities by rail, including Kyoto, Hakodate, Nagoya, and Hiroshima, visiting various rail museums and cultural attractions and, of course, riding the local Metro systems.

Through out the trip, there will be opportunities for rail experts and enthusiasts to discuss what they’re seeing and relate them to potential American high-speed rail systems, such as proposed lines from Chicago to St. Louis and Detroit. “Every time I have ridden high-speed trains in other cities, I’ve gone, ‘Oh, I get it,’” Harnish says. “So we’re trying to get more people to see these things up close and see how they can work.”

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CNT’s “AllTransit” Tool Can Help Legislators Understand Transit Needs

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Metra stops only a few times each day at the Kedzie station in East Garfield Park (near Inspiration Kitchens), but AllTransit considers transit frequency when calculating a place’s transit quality. Photo: Jonathan Lee

A new tool shows just how much advantage residents in some Illinois cities might have over others accessing jobs with low-cost transit, and just how much difference state legislators could make if they chose to fund more transit. AllTransit, an analysis tool from the Center for Neighborhood Technology and TransitCenter (a Streetsblog Chicago funder), shows information about access to transit that residents and job seekers have in any part of the United States, using data about transit service, demographic information, and job locations.

CNT project manager Linda Young told me those Springfield legislators can use the tool to understand the quality of transit their constituents have access to. They can also compare their districts to those of their fellow elected officials. For example, Illinois state representative Mike Quigley would see that AllTransit gives his 5th district the highest score in Illinois, and, unexpectedly, the 22nd district, covering East St. Louis, Illinois, and parts south, represented by Mike Bost, is second. The 9th district covering northern Chicago, Evanston, and parts of northwest Cook County, and represented by Jan Schakowsky, comes in third.

While aldermen may also find it useful to see the plethora or lack of transit options their constituents have, the info isn’t broken down by Chicago wards. However, it is possible to search by ZIP code.

Young added that elected officials might also be interested to see how many jobs people who live in designated affordable housing can they get to within 30 minutes. “We see more and more that people are wanting to live in areas where there’s mixed uses and transit access,” she said.

Business owners can also benefit from AllTransit info since it can them how many people can access their business within a certain amount of time. If you look at the Inspiration Kitchens restaurant in East Garfield Park at 3504 West Lake, AllTransit reports that there are 438,632 “customer households” within a 30-minute transit commute.

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MPC: Vehicle Miles Traveled Tax Makes Sense, Won’t Happen for a While

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Cullerton: This guy is partly to blame for falling gas tax revenue. Photo: Frank Hebbert

Earlier this month the Metropolitan Planning Council released a report that found Illinois needs to raise $43 billion in revenue over the next decade to get our roads, bridges, and transit lines in a state of good repair. They called for raising the state gas tax, which has stayed flat at 19 cents since 1991, as well as raising vehicle registration fees. That idea got a mixed reception from state politicians, some of whom viewed a gas tax hike as political Kryptonite.

Interestingly, Senate President John Cullerton came out with his own infrastructure funding plan this week. He proposed implementing a vehicle miles traveled tax as a way to deal with falling gas tax revenue due to the growing popularity of more fuel-efficient hybrid and electric cars. Cullerton noted that even so-called “green” cars inflict wear-and-tear on Illinois roads, so It’s necessary to develop a more effective way to tax them.

“If all the cars were electric, there would be no money for the roads,” Cullerton told the Daily Herald. “The Prius owners are the reason we need the bill,” he said.

There are a several ways the VMT tax could potentially be collected, ranging laughably simple to high-tech. The first would be have drivers simply agree to pay the 1.5-cent per year based on the assumption that they’ll drive $30,000 miles a year, for an annual total of $450. Of course, that would be a great deal for Illinoisans who drive much more than that each year, and a terrible for those who drive much less.

A second option would be to have citizens self-report their mileage on a paper form. What could go wrong?

A third alternative would be an electronic device that would hook up to your vehicle’s odometer to provide an accurate count of how many miles you drive. However it might not know when you’ve left the state or are driving on a private road and therefore arguably shouldn’t be taxed by the state for those miles.

The most high-tech solution would be a GPS-powered gadget that can accurately keep track of exactly how many miles, on what roads, you’ve driven. Of course, there’d be privacy issues. What guaranteed would there be that a technician wouldn’t blackmail you after they observed you driving to a hideaway with your secret paramour? But that’s merely a hypothetical at this point.

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Could Woman-Only ‘L’ Cars Prevent Sexual Harassment on the CTA?

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A women-only railcar in Tokyo. Photo: Wikipedia

[The Chicago Reader recently launched a new weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership allows Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We syndicate a portion of the column on the day it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

Last month in the wake of hundreds of reported sexual assaults on New Year’s Eve in Cologne, a German commuter train line announced it would offer railcars reserved for women and children. Crowded transit systems in Japan, Indonesia, India, Egypt, Mexico, and Brazil already feature women-only rail cars in order to prevent harassment and assaults.

In response to that news, last week NPR commentator Rhitu Chatterjee wrote glowingly of the ladies’ cars in her hometown of Delhi.

“It would be wonderful if men learned to accept women’s presence in public spaces without feeling the need to harass them,” Chatterjee wrote. “But until they do, the women’s car is one good way for us to assert our right to public spaces.”

Her op-ed got me thinking about whether female-only cars might be a strategy to combat sexual intimidation and violence on the CTA.

In 2015 there were eight reported sexual assaults on the CTA—a category that includes everything from groping to rape—according to spokesman Jeff Tolman. He characterized that as “extremely few instances,” considering that 516 million rides were taken last year.

While lesser offenses often aren’t reported to the CTA or police, stories female friends and colleagues shared with me by for this article suggest that inappropriate behavior is all too common on the system.

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South Shore Line Launches Long-Awaited Bikes-on-Board Pilot Program

Seats are removed to accommodate bike racks to hold bikes during the trip.

Seats were removed to accommodate bike racks to hold bikes during the trip. Photo: Eric Rogers

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

The South Shore Line, a commuter train service between Chicago and northern Indiana, started its weekend-only bikes-on-train pilot last Saturday. Alex Elich, a reporter with the WSBT radio station, demonstrated how to use the racks that hold the bike steady on the train.

The Northern Indiana Commuter Transit District, the agency that runs the South Shore, dragged its feet for years about allowing bikes on their trains. After coming under fire as the only commuter train line the United States that didn’t allow non-folding bikes on board, last August the NICTD board approved the project to test bike racks in some trains.

Permitting bikes on South Shore trains allows Chicagoland residents to ride the train with their bikes to enjoy the recreational resources of northern Indiana, such as the Indiana Dunes and numerous off-street trails. It’s also great for Hoosiers who want to bring a bike into Chicago to explore the city.

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A yellow sign indicates which train car holds bikes. Photo: Eric Rogers

During the pilot, South Shore riders can only bring their bikes on weekends, and only on a limited number of runs per day. This is in contrast to Metra, which accommodates bikes on most weekday and all weekend runs.

And Metra currently allows bikes during high-ridership events, with the caveat that if trains get crowded conductors may not allow bikes on board. The South Shore bikes-on-board brochure warns that cycles will not be permitted during Blues Festival, Taste of Chicago, Lollapalooza, and the Air & Water Show.

On the other hand, while most wheelchair-accessible Metra cars can officially accommodate only five bikes (although it’s easy to fit a few more onboard without objections from the conductors), each South Shore bike car has room for about two dozen bicycles.

Streetsblog Chicago reader Eric Rogers and his friends were some of the first cyclists to try out the new South Shore bike service last Saturday. They pedaled to the 18th Street Brewery in Hammond, Indiana, and then caught the train back to Chicago.

“Boarding was easy and the conductor was friendly,” Rogers reported. However, since not every train run has a bike car, the group was forced to catch a train home earlier than they would have liked.

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NYC’s Sadik-Khan Charted Path for Major Street Changes There, Nationwide

Janette Sadik-Khan asks how many people have visited Times Square since it changed and became a pedestrian plaza.

Janette chwaadik-Khan asks how many people have visited Times Square since it became a pedestrian plaza. Photo: Tricia Scully/MPC

One of the country’s most successful city transportation commissioners spoke on Tuesday night at the Metropolitan Planning Council about her experience working in New York City for seven years. Janette Sadik-Khan was hired by former mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2007 to implement the radical – for NYC and for that time in the United States – sustainable transportation initiatives outlined in the city’s comprehensive livability plan called PlaNYC.

Sadik-Khan traveled to Chicago promote her book “Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution” with co-author Seth Solomonow.

The NYCDOT, with Sadik-Khan at the helm, made bold changes that resulted in fierce backlash, but also positive outcomes like increased bike ridership, the lowest recorded number of traffic crashes in New York’s history, and higher retail sales on streets with new pedestrian spaces. Her tenure inspired dozens of other big and medium-sized city mayors across the nation, and even around the world, to start their own “streetfights.”

Sadik-Khan’s book follows the publication of two other high-profile books – at least in the transportation planning world. Last year, former Chicago and Washington, D.C., transportation commissioner Gabe Klein authored “Startup City.” Former commissioner of the NYC traffic department, and president of his eponymous transportation planning firm, Sam Schwartz recently published “Street Smart.”

Inspiration for other cities

Like the other authors, Sadik-Khan started the presentation talking about streets as the foundation of a city’s commerce and sociality. Sadik-Khan said, “Streets are what make a city great, but also what make a city not great.” She showed a photo of a wide road in NYC and said “this [traffic congestion] shows exactly what we’ve come to expect” of our streets. “You see a street like this and it seems like people gave up.”

On Wednesday morning I had coffee with her co-author Seth Solomonow, press secretary during her time as commissioner, to discuss some details on the differences between how things have played out in New York City and Chicago. First of all, I wondered how Sadik-Khan got so many brand-new projects implemented in such a short time, and what motivated her.

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Quigley Succeeds in Push for New FHWA Ped and Bike Safety Standards

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Congressman Mike Quigley, center, on a tour of Chicago bike facilities. Photo: John Greenfield

This week the Federal Highway Administration released new performance measures for non-motorized transportation that are designed to help states measure and increase safety for people on foot and bike riders. North Side congressman Mike Quigley (IL-05), who lobbied for these new standards, and the advocacy group Ride Illinois applauded the move as a step in the right direction towards reducing pedestrian and bike injuries and fatalities in our state.

The new non-motorized performance measures include five areas: number of fatalities, fatality rate per vehicle miles traveled, number of serious injuries, serious injury rate per vehicle miles traveled, and the number of non-motorized fatalities and non-motorized crashes. The FHWA is requiring every state to set a goal for each measure for the upcoming fiscal year, and each state will be judged on a five year rolling average.

States will be need to achieve four out of the five goals, or else face limitations on their use of FHWA Highway Safety Improvement Program funds. Failing states will also be required to write a new plan on how to improve their standards.

As a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Quigley included language in the FY15 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations Subcommittee report calling on the FHWA to create the new safety standards. He also fought against changes to the bill that would have blocked funding for public transit, bike and pedestrian projects.

“While the number of motorists killed on our nation’s roads has fallen in recent years thanks to motorized safety performance standards, the number of bicyclist and pedestrian deaths is on the rise,” Quigley noted in a statement. “Last year, 17 percent of Illinois traffic fatalities were cyclists and pedestrians, which is simply unacceptable. The FHWA’s new standards are a much needed step in keeping our pedestrians and bicyclists out of harm’s way.”

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Cool Mexico City Bike and Public Space Initiatives I’d Love to See in Chicago

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A family waits for a light during the Sunday Ciclovía on Paseo de la Reforma. Photo: John Greenfield

Despite Mexico City’s reputation as one of the most congested and polluted cities on earth, this metropolis of 21 million people has one of the best public transportation systems in the Western Hemisphere and many beautiful parks, plazas, and other public spaces. And in recent years, the Distrito Federal, or D.F., as Mexico City is called in Spanish, has taken steps to encourage bicycling and open up more street space to pedestrians as part of an effort to create a healthier, more livable city.

Last month I wrote about the D.F.’s fast, reliable Metrobús bus rapid transit system, which offers lessons for Chicago as we consider building a BRT line on Ashland Avenue. Now let’s take a look at some of the bicycling and public space initiatives I saw when I visited a few weeks ago. While Mexico City is still far from a paradise for biking, it already has some good-quality bicycle infrastructure and, more importantly, a booming bike culture.

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The D.F.’s EcoBici bike-share system has 444 stations and 6,000 cycles, making it the second-largest system in North America. Photo: John Greenfield

My guide to the D.F.’s bicycle scene was Pablo Pichardo from Bicitekas, one of the leading local advocacy groups. Pablo also works as a bike courier and dispatcher, and owns a rental and tour company called Poráy, a word he says is slang for “wherever.” Pablo generously provided us with bikes and took us on a ride from La Condessa, a neighborhood with leafy boulevards, a bit like Chicago’s Logan Square, to the Zócalo, the city’s central plaza, which is one of the largest public squares in the world.

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Pablo Pichardo. Photo: John Greenfield

Along the way, Pablo told me a bit about Bicitekas, which celebrated its 18th anniversary last September. The organization has several different functions. They lobby the city government for better conditions for cycling. They run community center Casa Bicitekas, which holds maintenance and repair classes. And Pablo and other Bicitekas members lead the Paseo Noctorno (“Night Ride”), a group ride that gathers at the victory column called El Ángel de La Independencia every Wednesday at 9 p.m., drawing more than 200 riders each week.

“It started with a few friends saying, ‘Let’s take a ride through the city at night,’” Pablo said. “It’s not a fast ride, but more of a friendly ride. The leaders will choose a destination, like Xochimilco [a district on the southeast side of town, famous for its ancient canals], which is 25 kilometers away. But we don’t tell people where we’re going, so that when we get there, people who are new to biking are surprised they were able to ride so far without a problem.”

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Mexico City’s Metrobús Offers a Preview of How BRT Could Work on Ashland

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A Metrobús station on Mexico City’s Avenida Xola, which has a similar layout to Chicago’s Ashland Avenue. Photo: John Greenfield

[The Chicago Reader recently launched a weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editorJohn Greenfield. This partnership allows Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We syndicate a portion of the column after it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

With a metropolitan population of 21 million, the largest of any city in the western hemisphere, Mexico City is often associated with overcrowding, air pollution, and traffic jams. But when I visited for the first time last month, I found it to be a place of beautiful Spanish Colonial and Art Deco architecture, intriguing museums, tasty chow, and warm-hearted people.

The Distrito Federal, or D.F., as Mexico City is called in Spanish, also has an excellent public transportation system. Its Metro is the second-busiest rapid transit system in North America, after New York City’s. While the train cars can be scary-packed during rush hour, they crisscross a large portion of the city and provide a fast, smooth ride compared to Chicago’s ‘L’ trains.

And over the last decade, Mexico City has supplemented its subway by developing one of the world’s leading bus rapid transit networks, the Metrobús system, which debuted on Avenida de los Insurgentes in 2005. With dedicated bus lanes and raised-platform stations, the system provides subway-like commute speeds at a small fraction of the infrastructure cost of underground transit. The sixth route opened in mid-January, and a seventh line is slated for completion later this year.

As a wide, mostly straight roadway that runs the length of the city and intersects with many rail lines, Insurgentes is not so different from Chicago’s Ashland Avenue, where Mayor Emanuel has proposed building our city’s first full-on bus rapid transit corridor. As such, there’s a lot that we can learn from Mexico City’s experiences with Metrobús.

The road to full-fledged BRT in Chicago has been anything but smooth. In 2012 the CTA rolled out the Jeffery Jump, a “BRT-lite” route serving the south side, funded by an $11 million Federal Transit Administration grant. It features dedicated lanes on a mere two miles of its 16-mile route, and only during rush hour.

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