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Driver Who Fatally Struck Woman on Southwest Side Allegedly Fled at 80 mph

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Guadalupe Chavez. Photo: GoFundMe

Reckless homicide and DUI charges have been filed against a driver who allegedly killed a woman and injured a man last weekend in the Vittum Park neighborhood near Midway Airport.

At a hearing on Tuesday, prosecutors said that about 10:45 p.m. Saturday, Cicero resident Guadalupe Chavez, 42, and a 39-year-old man had parked on the south side of Archer Avenue near Lavergne Avenue, about three blocks north of the airport, the Chicago Tribune reported. As they walked north across the four-lane street, they stopped in the middle of the road to wait for a westbound bus to pass. However, the bus driver slowed down to let them cross.

Brazel had been following the bus in the same lane in his red Jeep Patriot, driving at least 45 mph in the 30 mph zone, prosecutors said. When the bus slowed down, he attempted to pass on the right, hitting the two pedestrians as they proceeded across the street. The male victim was struck in the leg, while Chavez was thrown into the air.

According to prosecutors, witnesses said Brazel did not hit his brakes during the crash and drove away at a high speed. A witness called police with the vehicle’s description and plate number and then followed Brazel through side streets and alleys as the fleeing man drove at up to 80 mph in an apparent effort to evade the witness.

The witness eventually located the Jeep parked near 59th Street and Neenah Avenue with front-end damage and a missing mirror, which was left at the crash site, according to prosecutors. Police apprehended Brazel as he was walking near 58th Street and Rutherford Avenue.

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Policies and Politics, Not TODs, Are to Blame for Affordable Housing Crunch

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Logan Square’s “The L” transit-oriented development under construction last month. Photo: John Greenfield

Yesterday the Tribune’s Mary Wisniewski further explored a topic Streetsblog’s John Greenfield covered two weeks ago for the Reader. Virtually all of Chicago’s new transit-oriented development projects are upscale buildings in affluent or gentrifying neighborhoods. TOD advocates argue that adding housing in these communities will take pressure off the rental market. But some Logan Square residents say soon-to-open TOD towers in the neighborhood will encourage other landlords to jack up rents.

The rents at the Twin Towers and “The L” developments near the California Blue Line station will start at $1,400 for a studio. Activist groups like Somos (“We Are”) Logan Square and Lifted Voices recently blockaded Milwaukee Avenue in front of the Twin Towers to make the argument that the buildings will speed the pace of gentrification and displacement.

The city’s TOD ordinance, first passed in 2013 and beefed up in 2015, has fueled the city’s recent building boom by reducing and then eliminating parking requirements for new buildings near rapid transit, as well as allowing for more density. For example, Rob Buono, the developer of the two towers in Logan Square, told John that he probably wouldn’t have built the apartments if the ordinance hadn’t passed.

The towers are big, conspicuous buildings, so it’s understandable that some people blame them for rising rents elsewhere in the neighborhood. But the TOD ordinance and the resulting increase in the number of housing units near the Blue Line aren’t to blame for the community’s displacement problem. Rather, prior to the ordinance’s passage, the number of allowable units near train stations was constrained by politics and growth-inhibiting policy.

TOD experts Wisniewski interviewed said that the trend towards dense housing near stations is a return to sensible pre-1950s city planning. A 2013 study by the Center for Neighborhood Technology found that Chicago actually lags behind peer cities like New York, Philadelphia, Boston and San Francisco when it comes to development near transit. The article also noted that the Chicago Housing Authority demolished 6,000 affordable housing units that were near transit stations.

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Amtrak’s Hiawatha Line to Milwaukee Is Launching Roll-On Bike Service

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Biking into Milwaukee on the scenic Oak Leaf Trail is fun, but it will be great to have the option of easily taking a bike on Amtrak. Photo: John Greenfield

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

It just keeps getting easier to combine bike and train trips in Chicago. Last month, after years of lobbying by advocates (including Streetsblog’s Steven Vance) the South Shore Line, which runs between Chicago and South Bend, Indiana, finally launched a bikes-on-board pilot.

Now Amtrak, which already allows unboxed bikes on all routes within Illinois (reservations required, $10 surcharge), is introducing roll-on service on its Hiawatha Servicee between Chicago and Milwaukee with a mere $5 charge. The service starts this Wednesday.

The Hiawatha Service is the busiest Amtrak corridor in the Midwest, with about 800,000 passengers in 2015. It offers seven round-trips a day Monday through Saturday, with six on Sundays. This relatively frequent service is partly funded by the Wisconsin and Illinois departments of transportation.

The news is a welcome surprise, and the resolution of a longtime pet peeve of mine. Boxing a bike for the short Amtrak trip to Cream City has always seemed like an unnecessary hassle. Not only did you have to drag a bike box to Union Station or purchase one at from the ticket agent, you had to take an elevator to the basement, dissemble your bike, box it, and check it as baggage, reversing the steps in Milwaukee.

I’m reminded of a particularly aggravating bike-and-transit experience I had after I pedaled across the Cheddar Curtain with New Belgium Brewing Company staffers after they staged the Tour de Fat in Chicago’s Palmer Square. After we caught a show at Milwaukee’s Summerfest, it was too late for me to catch the Hiawatha back to Chicago, so I tried to buy a bike box from an Amtrak agent in order to take a midnight Megabus run. He refused to sell me a box to use for a competing transit service.

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Indiana Will Fund Rewriting Faulty Illiana Environmental Impact Statement

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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 billion 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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How Friends of the Parks Saved a Parking Lot and Killed the Lucas Museum

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The original Lucas Museum plan called for building on Soldier Field’s south lot. Photo: Chris Riha, Chicago Reader

[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.]

As a sustainable ransportation advocate, I’m jazzed whenever land that’s been unnecessarily earmarked for moving or storing automobiles is put to more productive use.

So when Mayor Emanuel first proposed bringing the Lucas Museum of Narrative Arts to Chicago two years ago, one of the potential benefits that most excited me was the prospect of replacing a 1,500-car parking lot with a world-class cultural amenity, plus four acres of new green space.

The ugly expanse of asphalt where the museum would have gone is Soldier Field’s south lot, located on prime lakefront real estate between the football stadium and McCormick Place’s monolithic Lakeside Center.

Granted, this blacktop blemish also serves as a spot for tailgating, an age-old Chicago Bears tradition. In addition, it accommodates other special events that generate revenue for the city. But the Lucas plan would have largely moved the surface parking off the lakefront, while providing new tailgating opportunities in other locations.

So I was bummed when the advocacy organization Friends of the Parks launched a legal battle against the south lot proposal. While the group said it supports bringing the Lucas facility to our city, it argued that building it on the parking lot site would violate the city’s Lakefront Protection Ordinance, which states that “in no instance will further private development be permitted east of Lake Shore Drive.”

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Chicago’s First Metra-Oriented Development Proposed in Edgebrook

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The development, at 5306 West Devon, would be only a five-minute walk from Metra, and a short pedal to the North Branch Trail. Image: Google Maps

So far, almost all of the 30-or-so transit-oriented developments planned, under construction, or completed in Chicago have been near CTA stations and within a few miles of the Loop. However, it appears a four-story condominium building planned for the Edgebrook neighborhood on the Far Northwest Side would be the city’s Metra-friendly TOD, more than 11 miles from Daley Plaza.

To top it off, the new structure, located a short pedal from the North Branch Trail, is being marketed as a bicycle-centric development with the clever name “Bicycle Flats of Edgebrook.” The developer is Ambrosia Homes Inc.

Nadig Newspapers reported that that the condo project has been proposed for a 3,000-square-foot vacant lot at 5306 West Devon, about a quarter-mile east of the Edgebrook station on Metra’s Union Pacific-North Line, 5438 West Devon. Despite the long distance from the Loop, the train commute between Edgebrook and the Loop is only about a half hour, with some runs taking as little as 25 minutes.

The building would feature seven two-bedroom condos and one ground-floor live/work space, but only three car-parking spots. Thanks to the September 2015 update to the city’s TOD ordinance, new residential buildings within a quarter-mile of a station are no longer required to provide car spaces.

Meanwhile, the bicycle-themed project would provide 16 indoor bike parking spaces, plus outdoor racks for short-term parking. The developer is also looking into the possibility of paying the city to install a Divvy station in front of the building, as a South Loop developer did last August at a cost of $56,000.

Having a bike-share station available for condo residents, guests, and other Edgebrook residents who might like to check out bikes to take a spin on the North Branch Trail, located a few blocks west, would be an appealing amenity. The trail extends north from Devon about 18 miles to the Chicago Botanic Gardens, and the Cook County Forest Preserve District is currently building an extension that will take the trail three miles further southeast into the city, to around Foster and Pulaski.

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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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People Will Win if Wrigley Field Streets are Closed to Vehicle Traffic

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On game days, pedestrians fill the Addison/Clark intersection. Why bother keeping it open to vehicle traffic during these times? Photo: Peter Tauch

Two local politicians have proposed changing the streets around Wrigley Field to help defend it from terrorist attacks. Instead we should be looking at ways to protect the area from an excess of car traffic.

U.S. representative Mike Quigley (5th district) recently floated the idea of pedestrianizing Clark and Addison Streets during game days to prevent attacks. A spokesperson for Quigley clarified that while he hasn’t proposed anything specific yet, he’s interested in restricting private vehicle traffic during games but allowing buses and pedestrians to use Addison and Clark.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has previously rejected the idea of pedestrianizing these streets. But on Wednesday he announced he’d seek federal funding to widen the sidewalk on the south side (Addison) of the ballpark by four feet and add concrete bollards or planters to improve security.

“There [are] ways to achieve the security without shutting down Clark and Addison,” he told the Tribune. “We can do it in another way without all the other kind of ramifications that shutting down a major intersection [would entail].”

Quigley’s office released a statement yesterday endorsing Emanuel’s plan and offering help secure the federal funding.

While widening the sidewalk is a step in the right direction, more should be done to improve pedestrian and transit access to Wrigley. As it stands, motor vehicles can already barely get through Addison and Clark before and after games, when some 42,000 fans flood the intersection, and pedestrians in the street are at risk of being struck.

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CDOT’s 2015 Bikeways Report Highlights Last Year’s Many Innovative Projects

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CDOT tried lots of new stuff this year, including this treatment at Washington/Franklin, inspired by Dutch “protected intersections.” Photo: CDOT

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

The Chicago Department of Transportation’s new report “2015 Bikeways – Year in Review” showcases the fact that the CDOT bike program got a heck of a lot of stuff done last year. It quantifies the significant progress that was made in 2015, the year the city debuted curb-protected bike lanes.

All told, CDOT installed about 20 miles of new buffered bike lanes and roughly three miles of protected lanes, as well as restriping some 19 miles of existing, faded lanes. The city has put in a total of 108 miles of bike lanes since Mayor Emanuel took office in 2011, including many miles of existing conventional lanes that were upgraded to buffered or protected lanes. Currently there are 87 miles of buffered lanes and 21.35 miles of protected lanes.

The city’s first curb-protected lanes went in on Sacramento, Milwaukee, Clybourn, Washington, and 31st Street. Concrete protection represents a big step forward towards creating a bike network that so-called “interested but concerned” types will feel comfortable using.

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The Clybourn curb-protected bike lane. Photo: John Greenfield

The new curb protection on 31st represents an upgrade from the old PBLs, which were chiefly separated from car traffic by plastic posts. “This project exemplifies the strategy of installing bike infrastructure quickly and then upgrading the project through future inprovements,” the report states.

CDOT also built the city’s first raised bike lanes on the north sidewalk of a short stretch of Roosevelt between State and the Grant Park skate park. Green “crosswalks for bikes” still need to be marked to shepherd cyclists through the cross streets.

While the Roosevelt bikeway is more of a demonstration project than a particularly useful route, hopefully the city will build a longer raised bikeway in the near future. It would be great to see Chicago pilot Copenhagen-style facilities, where the bike lane is located above the street level but below the sidewalk, which helps keep walkers out of the bike lane.

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