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Posts from the "Policy & Planning" Category

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CDOT Tells Council Improved Red Light Cameras Might Mean More Tickets

Rate of fatal crashes due to red light running has dropped more than rate of fatal crashes due to all other causes between the period Chicago didn't have and did have red light cameras.

In 12 of 14 cities surveyed, fatal crashes due to red light running dropped relative to all fatal crashes after red light camera enforcement began. Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Chicago Department of Transportation commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld told the City Council’s Committee on Pedestrian & Traffic Safety that equipment problems that have plagued the city’s red light camera enforcement program have mostly been resolved. Although some aldermen were there to pounce upon the media ruckus around the cameras, other aldermen understood that red light cameras can play a role in keeping Chicago’s streets safer.

Alderman Deborah Graham (29th) recounted her experience with a motorist who ran a red light caused a car crash two years ago. “I was going through an intersection at Lake and Sacramento, and a woman trying to beat the traffic light cut me off, and I struck the CTA support beam,” she told the committee at their regular meeting on Tuesday. “I had to have a major surgery,” she said, adding, “So I have a real concern when we’re approaching intersections and dealing with the (red light) cameras.”

Graham was asking Scheinfeld about how CDOT plans to keep equipment in “top-notch” form since the city changed vendors from Redflex, which used unreliable induction loop detectors, to Xerox, which uses a more accurate radar system that can easily be checked remotely.

Alderman Deb Mell (33rd) expressed her confidence in the changes that CDOT had made in response to the IG’s investigation. “I think people drive way too fast in this city,” she said, adding, “I’m really happy that we had this [hearing], and kind of air it out, and going forward, [red light cameras will] do their job.”

Scheinfeld described changes CDOT has made to their agreement with Xerox, which include financial penalties if Xerox flags too many “false positives.” (Violations are sent to IBM for a second review.) CDOT also reduced the allowable rate of “close calls” from 15 percent in Redflex’s contract to 10 percent in Xerox’s contract. The new contract has already had results: CDOT has already fined Xerox $28,867 for “failure to meet specified performance metrics.”

She said these new “business rules” will be posted on the CDOT website, along with the violation data that’s already been posted to the city’s open data portal. If there are “spikes” in the future, an “early warning system” will alert Xerox staff, who will be required to consult with CDOT staff. Scheinfeld said that CDOT’s own staff will also be monitoring violations data themselves, watching for anomalies.

Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson was also at the meeting to answer questions about his report [PDF], which detailed Redflex’s poor record keeping and CDOT’s lax management. Since the report was issued, he said, “CDOT has been extremely responsive to all of our suggestions.”

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When Will the Trib Get to the Bottom of Chicago’s Traffic Violence Problem?

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Members of the Trib’s investigative reporting team at Tuesday’s discussion. Jim Webb is on the right. Photo: John Greenfield

Tuesday night, the Chicago Tribune hosted a discussion of its red light camera coverage with members of its investigative reporting team. During the Q & A session, I noted that 48 pedestrians were killed and 398 were seriously injured in Chicago in 2012, the most recent year that we have accurate data for. “It doesn’t seem like you guys have done much coverage about what can be done to address Chicago’s crash epidemic,” I said. “Are there any plans for a multi-part series to address this issue?”

“The issue isn’t really whether or not there’s a pedestrian fatality problem in Chicago,” responded Jim Webb, political editor for Chicago, Cook County and Illinois. “The issue is what the city [should do] about the pedestrian fatality problem.” Webb asserted that while Mayor Emanuel has touted the safety benefits of red light and speed cameras, the paper has found that the cams aren’t as beneficial as advertised.

Afterwards, Webb sent me a couple of links to Tribune stories questioning the effectiveness of traffic cameras in reducing crashes. A November 2011 piece reported that fewer than half of Chicago’s 251 pedestrian fatalities between 2005 and 2009 occurred within “safety zones” — the areas near schools and parks where the speed cams can legally be installed. A March 2012 article reported that Emanuel had handed reporters a study that overstated the effectiveness of existing red light cameras in reducing deaths at Chicago intersections.

In both cases, City Hall should have conveyed the safety effect of cameras better, but the Trib also neglected to give readers an accurate picture of the existing research. The fact that automated traffic enforcement saves lives is settled science, and yet the Trib still frames it as a matter of ”camera advocates” debating “critics.” Reading the Trib’s reporting on the subject, you would think the enforcement cameras are a purely speculative venture with no proven track record.

To the contrary, a 2011 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that red light camera programs in 14 large cities reduced the rate of fatal red light running crashes by 24 percent. And a 2010 review of 28 studies of automated speed enforcement programs found they were uniformly successful in decreasing speeding and fatality rates.

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Quinn Talks Good Game On Active Transportation, But Does He Deliver?

6.24.13 Governor Quinn and Indiana Governor Mike Pence Open Business Development Forum in Rosemont

Governor Quinn supports active transportation policy in spirit, but his administration has lavished funds on wider roads and the Illiana Tollway. Photo: Governor Quinn

Governor Pat Quinn, who is up for re-election next week, shared warm words about sustainable transportation with the Active Transportation Alliance in response to their candidate questionnaire [PDF]. His words haven’t always been matched by actions from his five-year-old administration — but unlike opponent Bruce Rauner, at least he’s talking to advocates.

Quinn’s written response stated that, between eight options that Active Trans listed to improve the public’s ability to to get around Illinois, “All are priorities for my administration… with the exception of widening existing roads.” He added that Illinois is a “Complete Streets” state, “where we believe in accommodating the transportation needs of all residents.” Indeed, Illinois was the first state to adopt Complete Streets as law, back in 2007.

Yet under Quinn’s administration, the Illinois Department of Transportation has demonstrated that its priorities include widening existing roads, rather than bus rapid transit, congestion pricing, or the other options Active Trans outlined. IDOT has widened dozens of miles of roads throughout the suburbs, and even widened Harrison Street through the South Loop in 2012 — a move that the Chicago Department of Transportation partially reversed this year with a road diet and buffered bike lanes.

Quinn has also championed the expensive and unnecessary Illiana Tollway as his top priority for IDOT, thereby depriving all other priorities of crucial state funding. That’s even as support for the road continues to diminish: although the state has repeatedly claimed that the road is necessary to support truck traffic, major trucking interests have soured on the proposal.

According to Active Trans, IDOT’s own survey “identified Protected Bike Lanes as the most preferred treatment for making roads safer and comfortable for biking,” but the department currently bans cities from installing protected bike lanes on state roads. Quinn pledges that, during his next term, he’ll install 20 miles of PBLs on state roads. He also took credit for IDOT’s newly cooperative stance regarding a curb-separated protected bike lane on state-administered Clybourn Avenue, after an allegedly drunk driver hit and killed Bobby Cann while Cann was bicycling on Clybourn.

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NACTO to Take Safer Street Designs to Developing World Cities

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

A Delhi traffic jam. Photo: Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Proposed River West Towers Would Be Better With Even Less Parking

1001 W. Chicago Ave.

Proposed development at 1001 W. Chicago Ave. Rendering by FitzGerald Associates.

Security Properties from Seattle recently received Plan Commission approval to build 14- and 15-story buildings on the site of the Gonnella bakery at 1001 W. Chicago Avenue, near the busy intersection with Milwaukee and Ogden avenues and the Blue Line’s Chicago stop. 363 apartments and 35,000 square feet of retail would fill the two towers, helping to meet the burgeoning demand to live near transit and downtown and potentially bringing a grocery store to the neighborhood. The alley between the towers would become a shared space plaza, fronted by a bike repair room for residents. Less fortunately, though, the buildings will also include 318 car parking spaces.

The city’s transit oriented development (TOD) ordinance allows developers to build 50 percent fewer car parking spaces than normally required for buildings whose main entrances are within 600 feet of a train station. The proposed zoning for this development would require only 182 car parking spaces for the residences and none for the retail space — but instead of a 50 percent reduction, Security has only requested 12 percent fewer spaces than the usual requirement.

This many new parking spaces would add even more cars to the six-way junction out front. The long queues of cars here slow buses along the Chicago Transit Authority’s 56-Milwaukee and 66-Chicago bus routes, and also make it difficult for bicyclists to navigate the hazardous intersection.

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Cook County’s Transportation Plan Thinking Big, But Where’s The Money?

All Aboard Cook County transportation plan scenario

A description of Cook County’s draft “All Aboard” transportation plan scenario.

Earlier this year, Cook County embarked on its first transportation plan since 1940, asking residents to weigh in on how and where to improve transportation across the second most populous county in America. That feedback has helped the transportation department to draft a new vision statement [PDF] – that world-class transportation will spur economic growth and enhance quality of life – plus four scenarios for the future [PDF], which the public can vote on in an online survey

The new plan will guide policy choices that determine where and how the county invests its resources, and to estimate how much more revenue is needed to fulfill those goals. One key policy decision will determine whether or not the region will fight for more resources in Springfield. One particularly galling imbalance is the Illinois Department of Transportation’s strict 55/45 split, which sends an outsized proportion of dollars downstate even though most of the state’s people and economy reside in Chicagoland.

The most dour of the four scenarios envisioned is called “Running on Empty.” It supposes that the current conditions depressing local transportation investment – the 55/45 split, declining gas tax revenues, municipalities looking out only for themselves, and sprawling, low density growth – will continue to “undermine” Cook County’s transportation system, communities, and economy.

A slightly less depressing scenario, “Stuck in First Gear,” differs minimally from the first by supposing that the county will pursue additional grants from the state and federal governments. The county would rein in sprawl slightly by encouraging more density around train stations, for example. This would increase use of some underutilized bits of the transportation system, but also tax others, similar to how some parts of the CTA system are now becoming overcrowded. However, an overall lack of funding leads transit service quality to continue its long-term decline, making transit-oriented development a tough sell.

Scenarios three and four more closely reflect the goals of the GO TO 2040 regional plan, but depend on the state to update its antiquated policies. “Picking Up Steam” says that Cook County would stop diverting gas tax revenues away from infrastructure, and influence the state to do the same. And instead of distributing transportation funds by a strict 55/45 split, the Illinois Department of Transportation would use performance measures to guide dollars to where they’re most needed, e.g., densely populated Cook County. Those policy changes would add funds that could address the area’s considerable maintenance backlog, and start to invest in more bicycle, pedestrian, and transit projects. However, the third scenario isn’t all rosy: It’s marred by development that continues to drift further away from existing transit and freight facilities.

The final scenario, “All Aboard,” is one which supposes additional funding and new development surrounding existing transportation resources. Specifically, it assumes that the state gas tax will be raised by eight cents per gallon, and pegged to inflation. Policy changes would target county revenues towards compact and mixed-use development on infill locations, and expand regional transit “to reach underserved destinations.” Building within existing neighborhoods is a core tenet of GO TO 2040, and focusing new spending there would stabilize neighborhoods and expand businesses.

Give your feedback online. http://www.connectingcookcounty.org/involved-metroquest.html

Send Cook County your feedback on these four scenarios. Send general feedback to info@connectingcookcounty.org.

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Inspector General Issues a Reality Check on Trib’s Red Light Cam Spin

Last summer, the Chicago Tribune reported on the mysterious spikes in red light ticketing at dozens of cameras around the city. Recently, the paper discovered the city had started enforcing violations that took place after slightly shorter yellow phases. This resulted in tens of thousands of additional tickets.

Given the track record of corruption in the red light camera program, the press needs to keep an eye on it. However, it appears that the Trib went a bit overboard by conflating the yellow light issue with the program’s troubled past.

Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson, who has blasted the previous oversight of the red light cam program as “fundamentally deficient,” has said that the motorists who got those additional tickets basically deserved them. “We saw no evidence [by the city] of intent to do anything nefarious or unfair,” he said in a recent Chicago Tonight interview.

State legislation for Chicago’s red-light camera program dictates that the minimum length of a traffic signal’s yellow phase should be three seconds, according to Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Pete Scales. The reasoning for this standard is that motorists expect yellows to last at least that long. If a yellow light was to turn red much before three seconds elapse, a driver might be caught off-guard and blow the stoplight without doing anything reckless.

However, the state law allows for tickets to be issued when yellow lights deviate ever so slightly from the three-second standard, which can be triggered by minor fluctuations in the flow of the electrical current to the stoplight, according to Scales. So if a yellow phase dips a few hundredths of a second below the standard, the ticket is considered legal. “Those slight deviations are imperceptible to the motorist,” Scales said.

While RedFlex Traffic Systems, the previous red light camera contractor, was running the program, the city directed the vendor to set the cameras so that they would only issue tickets when a driver ran a red following a yellow phase of at least 3.0 seconds. Last year, in the wake of allegations that the company bribed a CDOT official, the city fired the company. This February, Xerox State & Local Solutions took over the contract.

Since then, administrative hearing officers have started to see tickets issued for reds run after yellow phases between 2.9 seconds and 3.0 seconds. Although these tickets were legal, some of the officers, who operate independently from CDOT, threw out the violations. A recent Tribune investigation discovered that 77,000 tickets had been issued for violations that occurred after sub-three-second yellows, resulting in $7.7 million in fines.

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Spielman Trots Out “War on Cars” Rhetoric for Report on Parking Tax Hike

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The Greenway Self-Park at Kinzie and Dearborn. Photo: John Greenfield

Veteran Sun-Times reporter’s Fran Spielman’s recent piece on Mayor Emanuel’s plan to raise the city’s parking garage tax was a classic example of windshield-perspective journalism.

As part of his 2015 budget, Emanuel has proposed raising the parking tax by 10 percent on weekdays and 11 percent on weekends, to 22 percent and 20 percent, respectively. Spielman reported. The mayor hopes the hike will generate an additional $10 million, which would be earmarked to hire 80 new employees for year-round pothole repair crews.

The increased garage tax “is not the only hit motorists will be asked to absorb in 2015,” Spielman wrote. The budget would also raise the tax paid by Chicago residents who lease their cars from eight to nine percent. That increase is expected to generate $60 million in additional revenue.

This would be the third time Emanuel has tweaked the garage parking tax since he took office in 2011. His first budget included a $2 surcharge for weekday garage parking, which the mayor referred to as a “congestion fee.” In 2013, he changed the parking tax from a sliding scale to a fixed percentage, Spielman reported.

Predictably, downtown Alderman Brendan Reilly and Marc Gordon, president of the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association, are griping that making it a little more expensive to drive downtown would have a chilling effect on local commerce. Gordon has said the same thing before each previous parking tax hike.

“[The garage parking tax is a popular punching bag for the mayor, in part, because it’s part of a larger plan to discourage driving by building protected bike lanes and bus rapid transit lanes that shrink the number of lanes available for passenger vehicles,” Spielman wrote. Here we see the tired “war on cars” rhetoric that’s all too common among mainstream news sources.

The purpose of street reconfigurations that make room for PBLs and dedicated bus lanes is not to stick it to motorists. For example, converting a mixed-traffic lane to a two-way protected bikeway on Dearborn created a safe place for north-south Loop bike traffic. It also reduced speeding on a street that formerly had capacity for 40,000 motor vehicles a day but only carried about 13,000.

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Making It Easier to Get to the Museum Campus Without a Car

Museum Campus Transportation study

Residents asked for protected bike lanes near the Museum Campus at the meeting.

It’s already a bit of a hassle to get to and around Chicago’s Museum Campus, which includes the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium, the Adler Planetarium, and Soldier Field. In light of plans to build the Lucas Museum, as well as Rahm Emanuel’s goal to increase tourism from 49 million visitors last year to 55 million in 2020, the problem could get worse.

This summer, the mayor created the Museum Campus Transportation Task Force to review how people currently get to the campus and travel between the attractions, as well as to propose transportation improvements. The Metropolitan Planning Council is heading up the task force, which also includes city agencies, the leadership of the four main campus amenities, and nearby neighborhood groups.

MPC president MarySue Barrett said Emanuel gave the task force 90 days to finish the study. The report will serve as the transportation component of the Chicago Park District’s long-term Framework Plan. Plans for the Lucas Museum were announced after the task force convened. “Access has been troublesome for a while before that,” Barrett noted.

“This is the first time there’s been planning for the museum campus since the relocation of Lake Shore Drive,” Barrett said. The northbound lanes of the highway, which formerly ran between the Field and the Shedd, were moved west of the football stadium in the late 1990s, which allowed for the creation of the campus. The budget for that project didn’t “have enough give at the time,” Barrett said, for the kind of transportation planning and improvements the task force is now considering.

Museum Campus Transportation study

MarySue Barrett (right) co-chairs the task force with Chicago Chief Operating Officer Joe Deal (left).

Barrett said that the first step in the task force’s research process is to collect public input and information from the dozen involved organizations. “There are five million visitors annually to the Shedd, Adler, and Field Museums,” she said, adding that they’re trying to get input from three types of visitors: Chicagoans, suburbanites, and visitors from outside the region. “We’re looking at the museums’ attendance surveys to see how people arrive,” she said.

To brainstorm ideas for improving access to the museum campus, MPC is hosting three public meetings, the first of which was held yesterday evening at their downtown offices. See below for details on the two remaining events. The public is also encouraged to submit ideas and concerns about campus transportation issues online.

Roughly 70 people attended last night’s session. Issues ranged from security measures during special events that block park access days after the event, to police hassling pedicabbers when they offer Bears fans rides to transit stations or bars. Attendees were invited to sketch out their ideas on maps. Some South Loop residents highlighted streets where they’d like to see protected bike lanes.

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Active Trans Launches a New Crusade Against Dangerous Intersections

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McCormick and Touhy in Skokie was ranked the worst intersection for pedestrians in suburban Cook County. Image: Google Maps

The Active Transportation Alliance was instrumental in creating the Transit Future campaign, with the goal of creating a dedicated funding source for regional transit. Now they’re also pushing for dedicated funding for pedestrian infrastructure, while raising awareness of Chicagoland’s many hazardous intersections, with their new Safe Crossings initiative.

“It’s really important that we recognize the challenges that pedestrians face across the region,” Active Trans’ director of campaigns, Kyle Whitehead, told me. “People tend to assume that these dangerous and difficult intersections are going to stay that way. We want people to realize that there are proven solutions to address these issues. If we can raise awareness and muster resources, there’s the potential to solve these problems throughout the region.”

This morning, Active Trans released a list of ten of the most dangerous intersections in the city of Chicago, and ten of the most hazardous junctions in suburban Cook County. Topping the urban list is the notoriously chaotic North/Damen/Milwaukee intersection in Wicker Park, with 43 reported pedestrian and bike crashes between 2006 and 2012. In the ‘burbs, the worst-ranked junction is Skokie’s McCormick and Touhy intersection, where two six-lane roads cross next to the North Shore Channel Trail bike-and-pedestrian path.

The crash data, provided by the Illinois Department of Transportation, was only one of the factors Active Trans used to compile the lists. They also incorporated feedback from their planning and outreach staff, plus public input. The group received more than 800 responses to an online survey that was posted on their blog, shared via social media, and emailed to members. Here are the full lists:

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