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Meeting to Discuss Manor Greenway Amidst Opposition Set for Thursday

The 33rd Ward is holding the monthly meeting of its Transportation Action Committee on Thursday to discuss the Manor Greenway, a proposal from the Chicago Department of Transportation to connect two multi-use park paths via an on-street route on Manor Greenway. Jeff Sobczyk, assistant to Alder Deb Mell, said in the meeting announcement that the time would be used to improve understanding of the project’s goals. Neighborhood greenways are intended to make it safer and more convenient to cycle on Chicago’s side streets.

Soon after I first wrote about the proposal in June, opposition to it came online. Local resident Lawrence Brown started a petition in June calling for CDOT to scrap their plan to install a traffic diverter there for three months in the fall, but the petition is overlooking what actually makes the plan to increase bicycling safety and convenience work. The petition currently has 23 signatures.

The Manor Greenway would include the most robust traffic calming treatments of any neighborhood greenway CDOT has installed to date. The plan calls for installing a physical barrier at the intersection of Manor Avenue and Wilson Avenue to prevent motorists from continuing on Manor. This would reduce the amount of cars on the street, improving safety for bicyclists and pedestrians.

At the north and south ends of the greenway, which are are also the north and south boundaries of Ravenswood Manor, CDOT would install raised crosswalks to slow incoming motorists and send the message that this street is for slower, residential car traffic, reminding drivers to watch out for vulnerable road users.

The petition says, “We can make a bike path and greenway through Ravenswood Manor without diverting the traffic flow.” That’s pretty much what happened with the Berteau Greenway in Lakeview, Ravenswood, and North Center. That plan originally included traffic diverters, but these were scrapped due to similar opposition from residents.

The watered-down treatment on Berteau, which involved contraflow bike lanes, curb bumpouts, and a traffic circle, made the street somewhat better for cycling than it was before. But due to the lack of traffic diverters, the street still gets plenty of cut-through car-traffic, which means it’s still not an “8-to-80” facility for biking, and it’s not as safe or pleasant a street for walking as it would have been with diverters. The lack of good infrastructure changes ensures that only the fittest and boldest will cycle.

The petition also says, “This planned diversion of traffic will force frustrated drivers onto streets that have far more homes than Manor Ave., thus creating an unsafe environment for the many families that reside on these adjacent blocks.” CDOT’s analysis of predicted traffic flows after the diverter is installed indeed show that other streets will likely see some additional cars, but the analysis was limited because it assumed all drivers diverted from Manor would use Sacramento and Francisco Avenues. Read more…

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U. of C. Doctor Gary Toback Fatally Struck While Jogging by Jackson Park

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Gary Toback.

University of Chicago doctor and professor Gary Toback, 74, was struck and killed by an SUV driver while running in the South Shore neighborhood this morning, authorities said.

At around 6:40 a.m., Toback, a kidney specialist, was jogging near the intersection of 67th Street and South Bennett Avenue on the south side of Jackson Park, according to authorities. Toback lived nearby on the 6800 block of South Bennett, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office. Neighbors described him as a running enthusiast, ABC reported.

According to police, a 40-year-old woman lost control of the Jeep SUV she was driving and rolled the vehicle, striking Toback. The vehicle landed near 67th and South Jeffery Avenue, several hundred feet east of the location where Toback was struck, police said.

Toback was pronounced dead at the scene, according to police. The driver and a two-year-old girl who was riding in the vehicle were taken to Comer Hospital in unkown condition, according to Officer Laura Amezaga from Police News Affairs.

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The intersection of 67th and Bennett from the driver’s perspective. Image: Google Street View

Charges have not yet been filed against the driver, Amezaga said. Major Accidents is investigating the case.

Fatality Tracker: 2016 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths
Pedestrian: 14 (seven were hit-and-run crashes)
Bicyclist: 2

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New County Policy Supports Active Transportation, Lacks Specific Goals

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Cook County’s Long-Range Transportation Plan mimics existing regional plan to increase transit ridership while changing little in county governance.

Cook County’s new “Long Range Transportation Plan,” released last week, is the first such document published since 1940 and is a policy platform that will guide decisions about transportation spending for the next 24 years. To the credit of county officials, the plan voices strong support for improving walking, biking, and transit, which represents a major change for a governmental body that has focused on facilitating driving for many decades. However, I’d argue that the document, called “Connecting Cook County,” falls short of being a plan when it come to setting concrete goals for promoting sustainable transportation, and that’s a missed opportunity.

On the plus side, the language of the report acknowledges the mistakes of the past and emphasizes the benefits of active transportation. “Cook County, like the rest of the country, has long prioritized the automobile as the preferred mode of personal travel,” it states. It outlines the safety, mobility, and health benefits of better pedestrian and bike facilities and commits to improving this infrastructure across the county.

In particular, the document calls transit “the single-most important” mode for helping Cook County compete with peer urban areas around the world that offer businesses and residents “realistic, high-quality” transportation options. It argues that public transportation is also a way to shore up the county’s economic development strategies.

According to county spokesperson Becky Schlikerman, the document wasn’t intended to be a check list of goals to accomplish over the next few years, but rather a set of general policy guidelines. “The Long Range Transportation Plan is a long-term policy document that will serve as a roadmap for transportation priorities and policies for decades to come,” Schlickerman said  “This document is not a list of projects that will be completed in the short-term.”

But for the $1.4 million it cost to create the report, Cook County county taxpayers – who provided feedback in 2014 – should have gotten something more specific. Effective transportation plans set measurable goals, detail objectives on how to achieve them, and detail current statistical benchmarks against which future achievements will be measured.

Despite the fuzzy targets, the policy platform is a big move in the right direction for an a county whose transportation policies have long been stuck in a 1950s mindset. Its goals essentially match the priorities set forth in the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s comprehensive GO TO 2040 plan. That document calls on counties and municipalities in northeast Illinois to make measurable improvements over the next 24 years, with specific goals like doubling transit ridership, improving access to jobs, and reducing pollution caused by highway driving.

Admirably, Connecting Cook County states that supporting transit-oriented development – mixed-use development around transit stations – is the single most important investment the county can make to strengthen the transportation network and make the vast county a more desirable place to live. The document explains that “improvements to be supported by the department include sidewalks, facilities for bicycles, and community plazas.” Since there are over 260 CTA and Metra rail stations in the county, that strategy could indeed have widespread benefits.

The report doesn’t have a lot of specifics on the kinds of projects Cook County should implement, but it does include a few examples. It states that the county’s Department of Transportation and Highways “will assist Pace in its efforts to provide expedited bus service on arterial roads and expressways,” and coordinate traffic signals and transit signal priority for Pace’s Arterial Rapid Transit project.

Where it falls short

One issue with Connecting Cook County is that some of the statistics it uses are outdated, which may have resulted in some misinformed policies. It includes stats on county residents’ travel habits that are based on CMAP’s Travel Tracker, a detailed survey of all kinds of household trips, which supplements U.S. Census commuting figures, which only cover work commutes. The Travel Tracker survey was last conducted in 2008, but the county document argues that “the order of magnitude and character of those trips are not likely to have changed materially” since then.

However, downtown Chicago has gained tens of thousands of jobs, and thousands of new residences since 2008, CTA rail ridership has grown 20 percent while bus ridership has fallen 12 percent, and the number of people walking and biking has increased. Therefore the “character and magnitude” of urban travel has probably changed significantly over the last eight years.

Chart showing CTA ridership changes since 2008

“Connecting Cook County” was informed by data about Cook County residents’ travel patterns, but a lot about how we get around has changed since the survey was done in 2008. This chart shows how ridership on just the Chicago Transit Authority has changed. Chart: Yonah Freemark/Metropolitan Planning Council

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Has the South Chicago Velodrome Finally Come to the End of the Road?

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Velodrome association vice president John Cline took what might be his last spin on the track last weekend. Photo: Keven Leitner

The South Chicago Velodrome Association recently announced that the city’s only bike racing track is probably going to lose its lease and cease operations. According to bike shop owner Marcus Moore, who has spearheaded recent efforts to keep the facility in the city, there’s still a glimmer of hope that the track can be saved. But this could only happen if landlord U.S. Steel agrees to relax terms of the lease, or else if opportunities arise to pay off the tens of thousands of dollars still owed to the velodrome’s manufacturer and/or find a new location for the portable facility.

Built in 2011 at 8615 South Burley on U.S. Steel’s former South Works site, the track supposed to be the first step in a grand plan for the South Chicago Velo Campus, brainstormed by luxury pet accessory mogul Emanuele Bianchi. After hosting races for adults, plus education programs for youth from the surrounding low-to-middle-income communities for a few years, Bianchi and his partners gave up on the project in September 2014, citing a lack of support from the Chicago bike community.

But Marcus Moore, owner of Yojimbo’s Garage bike store, and other cycling enthusiasts stepped in to stop the track from being repossessed by its manufacturer, V-Worldwide, based near Detroit. The advocates were able to raise about $30,000 out of the $110,000 owed to the company through crowdfunding and persuaded the owner to let them hold onto the track while they continued to fundraise.

The real estate company McCaffery Interests, which was managing the South Works site for the steel company and working with them on a plan to redevelop the land as “Lakeside,” agreed to let the new track boosters use the land rent-free. However U.S. Steele requires a whopping $15 million in aggregate coverage, while a typical track only needs $2-3 million in coverage, according to Moore.

As a result the velodrome association has had to pay about $2,500 a month in insurance premiums and they’ve struggled to keep up with this expense. While they have paid V-Worldwide a total of $39,000 for the facility, they’re now many months behind in payment and have periodically had to put of calls for donations to cover the insurance bill.

Moore, who says he’s needed to scale back his own involvement with the velodrome in order to focus on running his shop, says it looks like the boosters’ track racing dreams may have come a dead end. “It’s not totally conclusive yet, but technically our land lease and insurance expired Sunday night,” he explained.

U.S. Steel’s partnership with McCaffery collapsed last February, and the steel company is now looking to sell the land rather than redevelop it. As such, they’re only willing to renew the track’s lease until October 31, and they’re still not willing to lower the insurance requirements, Moore says.

Continuing the existing insurance would require a $6,091 payment up front plus monthly payments of about $2,500, but that’s a moot point because the current insurer isn’t interested in renewing the policy for only a few months, according to Moore. He added that it would be difficult to find new $15 million short-term coverage. Moore says he’s been negotiating with the steel company over the insurance issue recently, but so far they haven’t budged.

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Eyes on the Street: Vigil at the Avondale Corner Where Virginia Murray Died

Ghost bike vigil for Virginia Murray

Parents of fallen cyclist Virginia Murray’s childhood friends recite two prayers at a vigil to install a ghost bike in her memory.

Motorists drove carefully around the large crowd of supporters that had gathered and spilled into the roadway last night at the corner of Belmont and Sacramento, where Virginia Murray was fatally struck while riding a bicycle on July 1.

Over 40 people had come for a vigil for Murray, and to watch the installation of a ghost bike in her honor. Ghost bikes are a worldwide tradition memorializing the life of someone who died riding a bicycle. Anthony Arce, a nearby resident who witnessed the crash, and Kristen Green, a former neighbor of Murray, organized the event.

Ghost bike vigil for Virginia Murray

Anthony Arce, a witness to Murray’s fatal crash, helped organize the vigil with Kristen Green.

Around 9 a.m. on Friday, July 1, Murray was riding northbound on Sacramento when the nortbound driver of an AB Hardwood Flooring flatbed truck turned east onto Belmont, running over Murray. Security camera video from the gas station across the street proves that this was a “right hook” crash. Attorney Mike Keating (a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor) wrote about the crash on his blog, stating that “Ms. Murray’s path was exactly the one that a Chicago bicyclist should follow.”

The crowd was silent for nearly 15 minutes, while friends and family placed candles, balloons, flyers, and other mementos. Pamela Lowe, the parent of one of Murray’s friends, broke the silence and said, “In times when there’s a lot of upheaval in our world, Ginny stood for everything that was good,” according to DNAinfo. Then Lowe and other parents of Virginia’s childhood friends recited the “Our Father” and “Hail Mary” prayers.

Alder Deb Mell (33rd Ward) joined the vigil and spoke with the parents, Lowe, and Green. Mell’s office organizes a Transportation Action Committee, of which I’m a founding member, to advise her on active transportation issues in the ward, which includes parts of Avondale, Albany Park, and Ravenswood Manor.

Mell told DNAinfo that plans to install bike lanes on Belmont from Kedzie to Halsted had “been put on hold.” Staff from the Chicago Department of Transportation’s bike program told the Transportation Action Committee two times in 2014 that CDOT was planning to install the bike lanes that year or in 2015.

I’ve asked CDOT to comment on the status of this project and will update this post if they provide one. Bike lanes on Belmont would help remind drivers to check for bicyclists before turning onto the street, which could help prevent crashes like Murray’s in the future.CDOT and Divvy staff also attended the vigil. The TAC meets on the fourth Thursday of each month at Horner Park Fieldhouse.

Ghost bike vigil for Virginia Murray

Mourners and supporters mingle after the prayer. 33rd ward Alder Deb Mell speaks to vigil organizer Kristen green in the background.

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Chicago Needs More Street Redesigns to Reduce Pedestrian and Bike Deaths

This is one of my favorite things people in Chicago do

Because of the size and design of the Milwaukee/North/Damen intersection, people tend to cross – on foot and on bike – in all directions.

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

Last week the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a report showing that all traffic fatalities increased significantly on U.S. roads from 2014 to 2015, by 7.7 percent to reach 35,200, the worst death toll since the 2008 economic crash. Streetsblog USA’s Angie Schmitt pointed out that, while Americans drove 3.5 percent more during this period, that’s “not enough to explain the rising death toll.” U.S. pedestrian and bike fatalities rose even more during that period, by 10 and 15 percent, respectively.

Illinois saw a similar 7.5 percent increase in traffic deaths last year, with 923 fatalities in 2014 and 998 deaths in 2015, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation.

In 2015 there were 46 Chicago pedestrian fatalities and 7 biking deaths, according to preliminary numbers from the Chicago Police Department, which may differ from IDOT’s final numbers for our city, which won’t be released until this fall. That represented a 43.8 percent increase in pedestrian deaths over 32 in 2014, and a 16.7 percent rise in bike fatalities from six in 2014, according to IDOT figures.

At a Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council meeting last February, Chicago transportation commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld acknowledged the spike in pedestrian deaths between 2014 and 2015. However, she said the city’s pedestrian fatality numbers for recent years was “still a decrease if you look at a 10-year trend.” Despite that long-term decline, I’d argue that the nearly 44 percent year-to-year rise isn’t an acceptable number for a city with a stated goal of eliminating all traffic deaths by 2022.

The Chicago Department of Transportation is behind in many of its stated goals to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety by changing infrastructure, as outlined in the its Chicago Pedestrian Plan and Complete Streets Design Guidelines. For example, in the Pedestrian Plan, published in 2012, CDOT set a target of eliminating all channelized right-turn lanes, aka slip lanes, by 2015 because these enable drivers to make fast turns around corners, endangering pedestrians.

So far I’ve only heard about slip lanes being eliminated at two Lakeview intersections, Lincoln/Wellington/Southport and Halsted/Grace/Broadway. In both cases the changes resulted in a backlash from motorists, because the improvements to pedestrian safety made it a bit less convenient to drive.

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Public Invited to Sunday’s “Ghost Bike” Ceremony Honoring Virginia Murray

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A ghost bike memorial to Jacqueline Michon was temporarily placed at Wacker and Wabash. Photo: John Greenfield.

Safe streets advocates are inviting the public to the installation of a white-painted “ghost bike” memorial as a tribute to Virginia Murray, who was fatally struck by a truck driver while cycling last Friday. The installation will take place this Sunday, July 10, at 7 p.m. at the crash site at Belmont venue and Sacramento Avenue.

Murray, 25, was riding a Divvy bike northbound on Sacramento on Friday, July 1, at about 9 a.m., according to police. At Belmont, the northbound driver, employed by nearby business AB Hardwood Flooring, made a right turn, striking Murray in what appears to have been a “right-hook” crash.

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Virginia Murray

Murray was pronounced dead at Illinois Masonic Hospital about an hour later. Her case appears to be the first bike-share–related fatality in the U.S. So far the driver has received no traffic citations or criminal charges, police said.

According to Murray’s LinkedIn profile, until a few weeks ago she had been working at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, the Divvy sponsor, since 2013, most recently as a lead marketing communications consultant. A spokeswoman for the company described Murray as “an avid Divvy supporter, a wonderful employee, and a special person.”

A statement released by the North American Bikeshare Association in the wake of the crash offered condolences to Murray’s loved ones and the Chicago bike community for this great loss. The association also noted that this was the first fatality in over 70,000,000 bike-share trips taken in the U.S. It added that a recent study by the Mineta Transportation Institute found that crash and injury rates for bike-sharing are lower than previously computed rates for personal bicycling.

Sunday’s installation is being organized by local resident Anthony Arce, who says he witnessed the crash, and Kristen Green, who serves on the board of the South Chicago Velodrome Association. “Anthony Arce has been deeply moved by this and reached out to our community to get a ghost bike in [Murray’s] honor as he was so deeply saddened by what he witnessed that day,” Green wrote in the event invitation. “So we have come together with other members of the community and will be placing a memorial “ghost bike”… to honor her. If you would like to drop a flower or a candle or note there please do.”

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Virginia Murray, 25, Fatally Struck While Riding a Divvy Bike in Avondale

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Virginia Murray

Virginia Murray, 25, was fatally struck by a truck driver this morning while riding a Divvy bike at Belmont Avenue and Sacramento Avenue in Avondale, according to police. The case appears to be the first fatal crash involving a bike-share user in the U.S.

At about 9:00 a.m. Murray and the driver of a 2001 Chevrolet flatbed truck were both traveling northbound on Sacramento, according to Officer Kevin Quaid from Police News Affairs. At Belmont, the driver made a right turn to head eastbound, Quaid said. “They collided, causing severe injury to the bicyclist,” the crash report reads.

Murray, of the1200 block of North Marion Court in Wicker Park, was rushed to Illinois Masonic Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 9:58 a.m.

So far the driver has received no traffic citations or criminal charges, Quaid said. Major Accidents is investigating. According to ABC, there is security camera video of the crash that shows the driver striking Murray. According to ABC, the driver works for a nearby flooring company AB Hardwood Flooring.

According to Murray’s LinkedIn profile, she had been working at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, the Divvy sponsor, since 2013, most recently as a lead marketing communications consultant. A spokeswoman for the company provided this statement:

Friday’s fatal collision is a tragedy and we join Divvy and the Chicago Department of Transportation in offering our condolences to the Murray family. This touches many of us personally, as until a few weeks ago Ginny Murray worked at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois. She was an avid Divvy supporter, a wonderful employee and a special person. She will be missed.

The Chicago Department of Transportation and Divvy provided this statement: “This morning a cyclist was involved in a fatal collision with a truck [driver] on the Northwest Side. Divvy and the City of Chicago express our deepest condolences to the rider’s family and loved ones.” A source confirmed that this was the first fatality involving a Divvy user since the system launched in June 2013. Almost 8 million rides were taken during that time.

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Looking north on Sacramento at Belmont. Image: Google Maps

The North American Bikeshare Association released this statement today in response to the fatal crash:  

This morning, a young woman using bikeshare in Chicago was involved in a fatal crash. The North American Bikeshare Association joins Divvy and the Chicago Department of Transportation in expressing our sincere sympathies and deepest condolences to her loved ones and the community impacted by this great loss.

Today marks a tragic milestone we wished would never come. 

This is the first time that we’ve lost someone from our bikeshare community in the eight years that bikeshare has operated in the United States. Today’s loss extends beyond Chicago and into the hearts and homes across the nation.

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Lakeview News: Right Turns Are Back at Grace/Halsted, Curbside Cafes Debut

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El Nuevo Mexicano owner Maria Rodiguez cuts the ribbon on the restaurant’s Curbside Cafe. Photo: Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce.

The controversial right-turn ban at Grace/Halsted/Broadway in Lakeview East may have created a new Chicago record for the number of community meetings held over a pair of traffic signs. Fortunately, it appears that a compromise has been reached which should satisfy the drivers who groused about the turn ban, as well as folks who are concerned about improving pedestrian safety.

Last December the Chicago Department of Transportation recently put up “Do Not Enter” and “No Right Turn” signs by the slip lane that previously allowed drivers to make quick turns from northbound Halsted to southeast-bound Broadway. Slip lanes, also called channelized right turns or “porkchop islands,” are problematic because they allow motorists to whip around corners at high speeds into the path of people on foot, and they create longer pedestrian crossing distances.

CDOT decided to try banning the right turn as a test, in advance of a street repaving project on Broadway between Belmont and Irving Park, slated for late 2016 or early 2017. If the test was deemed a success, the slip lane would be replaced by a curb extension during the road project.

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Banning right turns onto Broadway kept pedestrians from being endangered by quick-turning drivers. Photo: John Greenfield

But some residents, merchants, and the Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce weren’t happy about the turn ban, and the chamber launched an online petition asking CDOT to take down the signs. They argued that the new rule made it harder to drive in the neighborhood, and caused motorist to take circuitous routes on residential streets to access Broadway south of Grace.

However, northbound drivers on Halsted who needed to access the the 3700 block of North Broadway could do so by turning east on Waveland, a block south of Grace. Moreover, CDOT rush hour traffic counts done on a single day last October found that, even during the busiest hour, 8 to 9 a.m., only 14 northbound drivers made the hard right turn onto Broadway. Overall, only 4.5 percent of all northbound motorists used the slip lane during the a.m. rush, and a mere 3.9 percent used it during the p.m. rush.

Nevertheless, CDOT recently took down the turn-ban signs and replaced them with a “No U-Turn for Trucks” sign. When I asked CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey about the change, he referred me to local alderman James Cappleman’s latest newsletter.

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Transit TIF Districts Pass State House and Senate, Would Fund CTA Projects

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The CTA wants to modernize the Blue Line’s Congress branch, and onedesign some of the stations and possibly reopen some closed entrances at single-entry stations. Image: CTA

A new bill that would generate more funding for four large-scale Chicago transit infrastructure projects, without diverting tax revenues from schools, passed the Illinois House and Senate today. The original bill was introduced in January 2015, spearheaded by the Metropolitan Planning Council. It awaits Governor Bruce Rauner’s signature, who is expected to sign a budget today after a year of operating the state without a budget for a year – reducing funding for transit agencies, schools, and social services.

The funding would come from “transit TIF districts” that would have boundaries extended up to a half mile around Chicago’s Union Station (to fund the changes in its master plan), the CTA’s North Side Main Line, the CTA’s Red Line extension, and the CTA’s Blue Line Congress branch modernization and possible extension. The bill (pdf) enables the Chicago City Council to pass a similar law to create the actual districts, but sets limits on how far the districts can extend from the proposed projects’ area.

They would work much like existing TIF districts, where the property taxes assessed on any incremental increase in property values since a district’s inception is deposited in a separate fund. This is a form of value capture in that an increase in property values spurred by the transit infrastructure is used to help pay for it.

Other key differences are that the transit TIF districts would expire in 35 years instead of the originally-proposed 50, and that instead of a blanket maximum length of six miles, each district has a specific maximum length. Fifty years was proposed because that is the useful life of a transit facility.

The most important difference between common TIF districts and the transit TIF districts is that the new transit TIF district doesn’t divert any money from schools. The legislation says that any school district overlapping the transit TIF district will receive all the money due to it as if the transit TIF district didn’t exist.

After making the payment from the transit TIF district fund to the school district, 80 percent of the remaining portion would go to pay for the transit project, and 20 percent of the remaining portion would go to all other taxing districts – library, city colleges, etc. – in the proportions as if the transit TIF district didn’t exist.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued a statement about the bill’s passage in the state House and Senate, saying, “Today marks the next chapter in the work we started shortly after I took office, to modernize the Red Line from 95th to Howard” and building the extension to 130th Street. “With this bill,” it said, “in just a few years we will have done what once seemed impossible.”

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