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CDOT’s Sean Wiedel Provides an Update on Divvy Installation, Equity Efforts

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Divvy docking station parts are loaded onto flatbed trucks to prepare for installation. Photo: Divvy

“With all the challenges we’ve had with the equipment supplier, it’s gratifying to finally see the new Divvy stations on the ground,” said Chicago Department of Transportation assistant commissioner Sean Wiedel regarding the city’s current bike-share expansion. “People are obviously clamoring for Divvy, so it’s exciting to be able to meet that demand.”

CDOT began installing new docking stations last week in Bronzeville and Hyde Park. They’re planning on expanding the system from its 2013 rollout of 300 docking stations and 3,000 bikes to 476 stations and 4,760 bikes by early June, in time for the annual Bike to Work Rally. The service area will nearly double, from 44.1 square miles, or 19 percent of the city’s geographic area, to 86.7 square miles, or 40 percent.

As Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been quick to point out, this means Chicago will have more stations and a larger service area than any other North American city, although New York and Montreal will still have far more bikes. The number of Chicago wards served will grow from 13 to 33 out of 50. The portion of the population that lives in bike-share coverage areas will expand from about 33 percent to 56 percent, so most Chicagoans will live close to a station.

Crews are currently installing five-to-ten stations a day and working six days a week, Wiedel said. About 60 stations have been installed so far. Almost all South Side installations should be complete today, and then work will begin on the West Side, and finally the North Side. Downtown installations are being done on weekends.

The system was supposed to expand last year. However, the January 2014 bankruptcy of the equipment supplier, Montreal-based Public Bike Share System Company, put a wrench in that plan. PBSC has new ownership now, and Wiedel says the expansion is going much smoother than the original roll-out. “The previous round was stressful due to supply chain issues, but this time the process has been low-key. All equipment has arrived on time.” PBSC will also provide upgrade software for Divvy within the next six-to-twelve months, Wiedel said.

He added that the October 2014 sale of the former Divvy concessionaire, Portland-based Alta Bicycle Share, to NYC-based Motivate, also greased the wheels. “There has been much more corporate support for the Divvy employees like [general manager] Elliot Greenberger and [operations manager] Jon Mayer.”

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Active Trans Launches Campaign to Beef Up Illinois’ Safe Routes Programs

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Children walk to school in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. Photo: John Greenfield

In the wake of new analysis that shows nearly five children are struck by drivers within a block of an Illinois school every day, the Active Transportation Alliance is spearheading a campaign to overhaul the state’s Safe Routes to School program. “We’re really hoping to highlight the program, and also emphasize the need to improve it and put more funding behind it,” said campaign manager Erin McMillan.

Between 2006 and 2012, almost 19,000 children were struck while walking or biking in Illinois. The Active Trans study found that 54 percent of these crashes took place within a block of a school, with a child being hit every five hours on average.

McMillan added that the rate of walking and biking to school has dropped sharply over the last few decades. In 1969, half of school children walked or biked to school, but only 13 percent reported doing so in 2009. Meanwhile, the national childhood obesity rate has tripled over the last three decades, and about one in three Illinois children is overweight or obese. Childhood obesity is particularly prevalent among African-American and Latino children.

In recent years, Safe Routes to School has emerged as a national movement to improve the safety and health of children by promoting walking and biking via educational programming and infrastructure improvements such as sidewalks, crosswalks, and bike lanes. Since 2005, Illinois’ SRTS program has awarded nearly $49.5 million to 518 projects. However, unlike some other states that provide significant state funding for Safe Routes, Illinois only distributes federal transportation dollars.

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What’s Going on With Alderman Reilly and the Kinzie Protected Bike Lanes

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This part of the Kinzie Street protected bike lane, from the River east to Dearborn, is supposed to be removed during Wolf Point construction. Photo: masMiguel.

Alderman Brendan Reilly submitted an order to city council on Wednesday that would compel Chicago Department of Transportation Rebekah Scheinfeld to remove the Kinzie Street protected bike lane between Dearborn and the Chicago River because he says it conflicts with Wolf Point construction truck traffic.

In 2013, under former commissioner Gabe Klein, CDOT agreed to a development plan [PDF], which was approved by the Chicago Plan Commission and codified into law. The plan called for Hines, the Wolf Point developer, to pay for installing temporary protected bike lanes on Grand Avenue, Illinois Street, and Wells Street, before the temporary removal of the Kinzie Street bike lanes to facilitate the construction project.

In the long term, it makes sense for there to be bike lanes on both Grand Avenue – already identified as a “Crosstown Bike Route” in the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 – and Kinzie Street. The Active Transportation Alliance recently launched a petition asking other aldermen to oppose Reilly’s order. “Ald. Reilly has proposed installing new bike lanes on Grand Avenue as an alternative,” the petition stated. “But the reality is, people will continue to bike on Kinzie because it is less stressful than Grand Avenue with fewer cars and no buses, not to mention it provides the most logical and direct connection to the central business district.”

CDOT appears to have changed its position about the development plan. Spokesman Mike Claffey underscored the importance of the Kinzie bike lanes in a statement to Streetsblog:

“CDOT has safety concerns about removing the protected bike lanes on Kinzie, which is the second most popular street for bicycling in Chicago. The protected bike lane is in place to reduce conflicts and the risk of accidents between bicyclists, motor vehicles, and pedestrians. We have been in discussions with the Alderman about these concerns and will continue to work with him on this issue.”

Specifically, the development plan, identified as Planned Development 98, calls for:

  • Temporary removal of the protected bike lanes on Kinzie from Dearborn to Milwaukee
  • Eastbound and westbound PBLs on Grand from Milwaukee to Wells
  • Westbound PBL on Grand from Dearborn to Wells
  • Eastbound PBL on Illinois from Wells to Dearborn
  • “An improved bicycle accommodation on Wells Street for cyclists traveling, between Grand Avenue and Illinois Street”

The Kinzie bike lanes are indeed important, but it’s unclear why Scheinfeld is now pushing back against the plan. Reilly told City Council that Scheinfeld cited an internal study that supported keeping the bike lanes on Kinzie. We asked for a copy of this report but Claffey said he didn’t have one. The development plan also says that all of the developer’s designs for these temporary bicycle accommodations are subject to Scheinfeld’s departmental review.

CDOT could propose retaining the Kinzie Street protected bike lanes throughout the construction project, which started over a year ago. If that’s not feasible, and the bike lanes must come out, the agency should bring back their support for the original plan that temporarily relocates the bike lanes to Grand. However, it’s important the the Kinzie lanes be reinstalled, because Kinzie is the direct and route between the popular protected bike lanes on Milwaukee and bike lanes on Desplaines, Canal, Wells, and Dearborn.

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Driver Charged With Murder After Road Rage Leads to Death of Pedestrian

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The crash site. Image: Google Maps

A Gary woman has been charged with murder and aggravated DUI after a domestic dispute escalated into road rage incident, resulting in the death of a bystander in Chicago’s Washington Park neighborhood, authorities said.

Early on Sunday morning, Shakita Woods, 33, got in a drunken argument with her new husband, 28, at a gas station at Garfield Boulevard and Wells Street, police said. The man struck her and then left the scene as a passenger in a maroon Buick, according to police. Woods got in her red Pontiac and chased the vehicle, police said.

At around 3:05 a.m., Woods intentionally struck the Buick near Garfield and State Street, causing the male driver to lose control, police said. He crashed into at least three other vehicles, hit a light pole, and careened into Brent Nelson, 51, who was standing on the corner, according to police.

Nelson was transported to Stroger Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 5:52 p.m., according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office. The male driver and Woods’ husband were taken to Mercy Hospital, where their condition were stabilized, police said.

Woods,of the 800 block of West 19th Avenue in Gary, was charged with first-degree murder, reckless homicide, and aggravated DUI, according to police. She was also charged with two misdemeanor counts of DUI, one misdemeanor count of driving on a revoked license, and various other traffic citations. She was due in bond court today.

Area Central is investigating the case. NBC reported that a nearby liquor store has surveillance video of the crash, which police are now reviewing.

Fatality Tracker: 2015 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths
Pedestrian: 11 (4 were hit-and-run crashes)
Bicyclist: 2 (both were hit-and-run crashes)

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SSA Hopes Lincoln Project Will Provide Magic Carpet Ride to Higher Sales

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Lincoln Hub, inspired by Oriental rug designs. St. Alphonsus is on left side of rendering.

In a little over a month from now, a relatively sleepy stretch of Lincoln in Lakeview will be transformed. Construction on the Lincoln Avenue Placemaking Project is slated to begin next Monday, April 20, with work finishing up around May 22.

The initiative will activate the four-block business strip between Diversey and Belmont with clusters of custom seating and planters, plus patterns of blue and green dots painted on the sidewalk, inspired by Oriental carpet designs. Best of all, the project will create a new “Lincoln Hub” at Lincoln/Wellington/Southport, which will combine traffic calming with seats and public art to create a new gathering place for the neighborhood.

“We want people to slow down and linger, and notice all the great things on Lincoln,” said Lee Crandell, program director for Special Service Area #27, which is working with the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce on the endeavor. “We want the street to be a vibrant community place, rather than just somewhere to pass through.”

He noted that there are several new businesses on this stretch, including Wrightwood Furniture, the Brown Elephant thrift store, Gyros on the Spit restaurant, and Beermiscuous bar. “There’s a lot of great energy on this part of Lincoln nowadays, but the foot traffic hasn’t cemented yet. That’s something we want to support by making the street a more welcoming place.” The elimination of this stretch of the #11 Lincoln bus route back in 2012, is one factor in why this stretch of the street – sections of which are more than a ten-minute walk from the Brown Line – is relatively quiet.

Last year, the SSA released a new placemaking plan for the business district, based on input from two public meeting and an online survey, with 250 residents and business owners participating. The idea was to come up with relatively inexpensive, short-term improvements that could be made over the next three years, before the city does a full streetscape, which will include new curbs and trees. The price tag for the placemaking project, which was designed by the urban design and landscape architecture firm Site Design, is $175K.

Participants said they wanted more sidewalk cafes, public seating, and other places for people to hang out on the street. They requested more greenery to beautify the street and provide shade. And they wanted walking on the sidewalks and crossing streets to be safer, more convenient, and more pleasant. Merchants were especially interested in calming car traffic so that motorists would be more likely to notice their storefronts, Crandell said.

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Union Station Study Will Look at Ways to Increase Capacity, Fight Congestion

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EPA chief Gina McCarthy displays a device that will be used to test air quality at the station. Photo: John Greenfield

This morning, local politicians heralded $7 million in new funding for a terminal planning study and service development plan that will help increase capacity at Chicago’s 90-year-old Union Station and on the rail lines that lead to it. This comes in addition to the $12 million that Amtrak pledged back in January for rehabbing the historic terminal. The city of Chicago eventually hopes to work with the United States Department of Transportation, the state of Illinois, Metra and Amtrak to undertake a complete overhaul of the station, which would take several years and cost an estimated $500 million.

Union Station is the nation’s third-busiest station, serving over 300 trains per weekday, with about 115,000 Metra commuters and 10,000 Amtrak customers using the terminal each weekday. It’s the busiest railroad station in the Chicago region, which see more than 700 commuter and passenger rail trains and 500 freight trains on a daily basis.

The study will help coordinate routes and operations for rail service approaching Chicago from the east, south, and west, officials said. It will also look at strategies for improving air quality, pedestrian flow, and retail space inside Union Station. The funding includes $3 million from the Federal Railroad Administration, $2 million from the state of Illinois, $1 million from Metra, and $1 million in tax increment financing from the city.

“Not only do we want to make sure the passengers get here on time, we want Union Station to be a first-rate station,” said U.S. Senator Dick Durbin at a press conference in the station’s Great Hall. “For visitors coming from long-distance Amtrak trains, Union Station is their first glimpse of Chicago. This magnificent hall is a testimony to that glory day in American history when trains were really considered to be the center point for economic activity. That day is coming again.”

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Twice as Many Pedestrian and Bike Deaths So Far in 2015 as Previous Years

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Elizabeth Peralta-Luna and her two children were fatally struck by a semi driver in March.

So far, 2015 has been a deadly year for pedestrian and bike crashes in Chicago. By this time in 2013, there had been six pedestrian fatalities, including three hit-and-runs, and no bike fatalities. By mid-April of 2014, there had also been six pedestrian deaths, five of which were hit-and-runs, and zero bike deaths. However, as of last Sunday, there have been ten pedestrians fatalities this year, including four hit-and-runs, and two bike fatalities, both of which involved drivers who fled. Here’s a recap of the cases.

On New Year’s Day, at about 1:30 a.m., a hit-and-run minivan driver fatally struck Aimer Roblado, 30, as he rode his bike on the 4700 block of West Division in West Humboldt Park. Robledo, a construction worker and DJ who lived on the 1400 block of North Avers, was cycling east when he was struck by the driver of a dark-colored minivan, who fled the scene. The victim was pronounced dead two hours later. Major Accidents is investigating the case.

On Friday, January 2, at around 1:20 p.m., a pickup truck driver fatally struck Nancy Sell, 59, on the 7500 block of North Clark Street in Rogers Park. Sell, who lived nearby on the 7400 block of North Greenview, was a cancer awareness advocate who had previously been struck by a bus driver and had undergone six months of physical therapy to learn how to walk and talk again, according to DNAinfo. She died on Saturday, January 10, from brain injuries sustained in the recent crash. The driver of the Ford F-250 received several tickets.

On Friday, January 15, at about 6:25 a.m., an SUV driver struck and killed Maria Hernandez, 58, in the 3600 block of West Addison in Avondale, by the Addison Blue Line station. The motorist, 41, exited the Kennedy Expressway northbound and then made a left turn to go west on Addison. She struck Hernandez as the pedestrian was crossing Addison northbound in a crosswalk. Hernandez, who lived nearby on the 3800 block of West Addison, was pronounced dead shortly afterwards. Police did not cite the driver, the Tribune reported.

On Saturday, January 17, at around 10:10 p.m., car driver Jose Estrada, 24, fatally struck pedestrians Raman Cruz, 36, and Pablo Esquivel-Vega, believed to be in his 50s, on the 4300 block of West North Avenue in Hermosa. The victims were crossing North Avenue when Estrada struck them with his 2002 Buick and allegedly sped away, the Tribune reported. The two men were pronounced dead shortly afterwards. Estrada collided with three parked vehicles a few blocks from the scene of the first crash and was apprehended by police. Prosecutors said the driver had a blood-alcohol content of 0.157, almost twice the legal limit. He was charged with two felony counts of aggravated DUI, plus a misdemeanor charge and failure to reduce speed.

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Other Issues Aside, It Was a Good Election for Transportation

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Rahm Emanuel and Chuy García. Photos: John Greenfield

Whether you were rooting for Mayor Rahm Emanuel or Cook County Commissioner Jesús “Chuy” García, I think most Streetsblog readers will agree that there were some positive outcomes for sustainable transportation in yesterday’s municipal runoff election. Regardless of how you feel about Emanuel in terms of the economy, education, crime, transparency, ethics, and other issues, it’s safe to say he was the more progressive candidate when it comes to walking, biking, transit, and traffic safety.

For all his faults, the mayor has racked up an impressive list of transportation achievements during his first term, which got little airtime in the election coverage. These include the successful south Red Line reconstruction, many new and rehabbed ‘L’ stations, and the start of the Loop Link bus rapid transit project. We’ve seen an increased focus on reducing pedestrian fatalities, including plenty of new safety infrastructure. Big projects for bicycling have included dozens of miles of buffered and protected lanes, Divvy bike-share, and the Bloomingdale Trail.

García’s transportation platform, which voiced support for the Transit Future campaign for a dedicated funding at the county level, as well as for winning a fair share of state transportation dollars for the Chicago region, suggested that he understands the need for a high-quality transit system. When I interviewed him for Newcity magazine, the commissioner also said he was interested in creating a line item in the city budget for pedestrian infrastructure, and he praised Emanuel’s bike initiatives.

However, there were indications that the rate of transportation progress would have slowed down under a García administration. He told me he’s in favor of road diets and protected bike lanes, both of which became common over the last four years. However, he said that a more extensive community input is needed for road diets, and he would only install PBLs “where there’s good support for building [them.]”

Worse, the commissioner’s positions on automated traffic enforcement and the city’s plan for BRT on Ashland Avenue were downright reactionary, and seemed calculated to attract votes from disgruntled drivers. García and the other mayoral challengers deserve credit for drawing attention to ways that the Emanuel administration mismanaged the traffic cam program, including questionable locations, malfunctioning cameras and more. As a result, the mayor recently pledged to remove red light cams from low-crash intersections and make other changes to help rebuild Chicagoan’s confidence in the program.

However, García threw out the baby with the bathwater by promising abolish, rather than reform, automated enforcement if elected, even though numerous studies have shown that well placed cams have been very successful in reducing serious crashes and fatalities in other cities. Although he argued that the program unfairly targeted low-income and working-class Chicagoans, there’s actually a higher density of cams in the city’s more affluent neighborhoods. Moreover, Chicago’s worst intersections for pedestrian crashes involving children are located in low-income neighborhoods and, from my experience scanning news stories for Today’s Headlines, it appears that the majority of serious traffic crashes take place on the South and West Sides.

Likewise, García’s opposition to the Ashland BRT plan, which would nearly double bus speeds via dedicated lanes and other time-saving features, appeared to be a case of pandering to motorists. “This project cannot be approved in its current form, and frankly may never be appropriate for approval,” he told the Sun-Times.

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What Would Jesús Ride? Talking Transportation With Jesús “Chuy” García

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García with CTA customers at a Woodlawn bus shelter. Photo: John Greenfield

[The full text of this interview runs in Newcity magazine.]

For most of the campaign, mayoral hopeful Jesús “Chuy” García has been relatively quiet about transportation issues, except for his vocal opposition to Chicago’s automated traffic enforcement program. Most recently, following the revelation that a former top aide to Mayor Rahm Emanuel lobbied for awarding the latest red light contract to Xerox, García announced that he would shut down all of the city’s traffic cameras on his first day as mayor.

The Emanuel campaign has noted that, before the Cook County commissioner joined other candidates in criticizing automated enforcement, he supported it. On March 11, 2014, García was part of a narrow majority of commissioners who approved an intergovernmental agreement that allowed Safespeed, LLC to install a red light camera on County property in suburban Forest Park.

Campaign finance records show that Citizens for Jesús García received a $1,500 contribution from Safespeed one day before the vote. When I asked about this issue, a García spokeswoman stated that the donation was from Safespeed president and CEO Nikki Zollar, a “thirty-year-old friend” of the commissioner, and it did not influence his decision.

Shortly before the February 24 municipal election, García, who has a master’s degree in urban planning from UIC, broke his relative silence on other transportation topics by releasing a transportation platform. The document suggests that he is well informed about transit funding and transit-oriented development, although there’s little mention of pedestrian and bike issues.

The platform endorses Transit Future, a campaign by the Active Transportation Alliance and the Center for Neighborhood technology to create a dedicated revenue stream at the county level for public transportation infrastructure (as does the Emanuel campaign). García says he’s interested in the possibility of raising the state gas tax to fund transit, and/or creating a transit-impact fee for new developments.

The candidate called for building more housing near train stations and reducing the parking requirements for these developments, in order to reduce car dependency. He also stated that he wants to secure a larger percentage of state and federal transportation funds for the Chicago region, which contains seventy percent of Illinois’ population but only gets forty-five percent of state transportation funds.

On March 7, I caught up with García at his Woodlawn campaign office to talk about sustainable transportation and safe streets issues in advance of the April 7 runoff election. We discussed his positions on pedestrian infrastructure, bike facilities, road diets, bus rapid transit and, of course, traffic cams. I’ve edited the conversation for brevity and clarity.

John Greenfield: I was impressed that your transportation platform endorsed Transit Future and transit-oriented development.

Jesús “Chuy” García: I’m a transit rider, a Pink Line guy. We fought for the reconstruction of the Pink Line, which used to be the Blue Line, the Douglas [Branch], back in the nineties, when they were going to eliminate it. We fought back and got it renovated. We even engaged in some civil disobedience to force the contractor to hire some folks from North Lawndale and South Lawndale. We got arrested for blocking the entrance to an office of the contractor because they weren’t hiring any minorities.

JG: Interesting. I just wanted to double check, on the Active Transportation Alliance’s transportation survey, you checked a box that said, yes, you would be in favor of dedicated funding for pedestrian safety infrastructure. These are things like speed humps, crosswalk striping, curb bump-outs and pedestrian islands. If elected, would you, in fact, propose a line item for safety infrastructure in the city budget, instead of requiring aldermen to pay for that stuff out of menu money?

CG: I’m leaning toward doing that. I say that with some hesitancy, recognizing how the financial straits of the city seem to be worsening, with the [credit] downgrade that we suffered, the park district downgrade, and now yesterday’s Chicago Public Schools downgrade. I would want to do that, but I’ve got to have a better picture of exactly what the finances are going to be, in terms of the city budget. But if I had it my way, yes, I would do that.

Read the rest of the interview at Newcity magazine’s website.

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John Discusses Active Trans’ Candidates Survey on WBEZ’s Morning Shift

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Mayoral candidates Walls, Fioretti, Emanuel, García, and Wilson. Photo: Chicago Sun Times

This morning I pedaled down the Lakefront Trail to WBEZ’s studios at the end of Navy Pier to talk with “Morning Shift” host Tony Sarabia about a questionnaire the Active Transportation Alliance sent to all of the mayoral and aldermanic candidates. Listen to the full recording of our on-air conversation here.

The survey asked the candidates what modes they and their family members use for work commutes, errands, and work commutes. It asked whether they support expanding the bike network, and earmarking money for transit and pedestrian infrastructure. The questionnaire also covered automated traffic enforcement, separation of pedestrians and cyclists on the lakefront path, and indoor bike parking at office buildings.

Since the survey was mostly in a yes-or-no format, it’s not surprising that it resulted in nearly identical responses from mayoral contenders Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Alderman Bob Fioretti, Cook County Commissioner Jesús “Chuy” García, and former Harold Washing aide William “Dock” Walls. Businessman Willie Wilson didn’t return the questionnaire.

Obviously, none of the respondents was going to say “no,” they’re not in favor of better conditions for walking, biking, and transit. The only place where the responses varied was on the subject of red light and speed cams — Emanuel was the only one who voiced support for more of them.

If you want to learn anything new about the mayoral hopeful’s viewpoints on transportation, you need to look at the PDFs of the additional comments on the surveys from Emanuel, Fioretti, and García — Walls simply checked the “yes” and “no” boxes. Emanuel has the most extensive responses, since he’s got four years of transportation achievements to boast about. However, it’s a little disappointing that he promises to continue pursuing state and federal grants for pedestrian infrastructure but doesn’t commit to creating a line item in the city budget.

Fioretti deserves credit for being the only candidate to reference the recent campaign for a more equitable distribution of bike resources for the South and West Sides. But his claim that cameras that ticket traffic scofflaws are “an unfair burden on taxpayers” is pretty laughable.

García had nothing additional to say about walking, biking, or transit, but he wrote that, before adding more traffic cams or traffic cops, “I would… look to other jurisdictions for the best, most effective strategies that can be used to increase compliance.” Actually, that’s already been done — there’s no doubt that red light and speed cameras save lives.

While I was on the air, we got several nice tweets from Streetsblog readers who were excited to hear our take on the mayoral race. (Note to self: Turn off the text message alert chime on your cell phone before doing radio interviews.) One reader lamented the fact that, due to our current funding shortfall, we haven’t been able to do original reporting on a regular basis.

Thanks for the contribution, Carmin! The good news is, we’re closing in on reaching 50 percent of the $75K we need to fund a year of operations, and we’re hoping to garner some major donations and grant money in the near future. If you haven’t already done so, please consider donating to the Streetsblog Chicago Resurrection Fund. If the site does not return to daily publication of original reporting by April 8, all money will be returned. Thanks again for your support.