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Posts from the "State Policy" Category

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Could IDOT Bike Plan Represent a Turning Point for the Car-Centric Agency?

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Cover of the executive summary for the bike plan.

The Illinois Department of Transportation has a long history of promoting driving before all other modes. However, its new Illinois Bike Transportation Plan, released this morning at the Illinois Bike Summit in Champaign, may represent a new direction for the department.

In recent years, IDOT has pushed wasteful, destructive highway projects like the Circle Interchange Expansion and the Illiana Tollway, and it recently released a “Purpose and Need” statement for the North Lake Shore Drive rehab that was written largely from a windshield perspective.

When the department launched the public input process for the state bike plan last summer, it was still prohibiting Chicago from installing protected bike lanes on state roads within the city, apparently for reasons that had nothing to do with safety. It seemed ironic that IDOT was seeking input on strategies for improving bike safety when its own policy undermined it.

In October, at a memorial for Robert “Bobby” Cann, a cyclist who was killed by a motorist on Clybourn, a state road, it was announced that IDOT was lifting the PBL ban. The agency is currently working with the Chicago Department of Transportation to design protected bike lanes on Clybourn, possibly shielded by concrete curbs, on an experimental basis.

This morning, the Active Transportation Alliance heralded the release of the bike plan, which calls for improvements to state road design and more funding for bike safety projects, as a sign of IDOT’s growing commitment to improving conditions for non-motorized transportation. “This is not an easy task given IDOT’s historically car-centric perspective that has de-prioritized biking and walking,” the Active Trans release said.

“With the adoption of its Complete Streets policy in 2007, its plans to pilot-test protected bike lanes on state routes, and now the state bike plan, I think it’s fair to say IDOT is turning the corner, so to speak, toward a multi-modal approach that provides a range of transportation options for Illinois residents,” said Active Trans director Ron Burke in a statement.

Read more…

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Tell IDOT to Rehab LSD as a Complete Street, Not a Speedway

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This bus stop on Inner Lake Shore Drive at Addison is an unwelcoming space for riders. Image: Google Street View

On Thursday, the Illinois Department of Transportation kicked off the feedback process for the the North Lake Shore Drive rehabilitation’s future alternatives analysis, at the third meeting of the project’s task forces. During the previous two meetings, it seemed like IDOT would insist upon just another highway project, with minimal benefits for pedestrians, transit users and bicyclists. Yet as the process of determining the lakefront highway’s future has evolved, some hope that the project can be steered in a more positive direction.

When the city of Chicago began building LSD in the late 1800s, the road was designed to be a place where one could take a leisurely ride to enjoy views of Lincoln Park and Lake Michigan. Today, an average of 161,000 cars use the drive on a daily basis, few of them leisurely partaking in the view. IDOT estimates that 78 to 95 percent of drivers break the posted 45 mph (40 mph in winter) speed limit. In the highest-speed section, nine percent of drivers were doing more than 70 mph.

Several of the CTA’s busiest bus routes also use Lake Shore Drive. Around 69,000 passengers ride on the 970 local and express buses that ply the Drive every day, many of them residents of high-density lakefront neighborhoods. That’s almost as many passengers as the Blue Line’s O’Hare branch carries daily, and more than twice as many riders as dedicated busways in other cities, like Cleveland’s HealthLine and Los Angeles’ Orange Line.

Yet unlike those passengers, those riding LSD buses frequently get bogged down by car traffic. Northbound bus commuters who use stops along Inner Lake Shore Drive have to wait for the bus on narrow sidewalks, with only a thin fence and guardrail separating them from high-speed traffic on the main road. At intersections were buses get on and off the drive, there are complex interchanges with tight turns.

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One Chart Explains All the Chicagoland Transit Reform Proposals

Several different proposals to fund and govern Chicagoland’s transit system have recently been floated by various area politicians and interest groups. Streetsblog has created this handy chart to compare each of the proposals to one another, and to how the system currently works. Click to open the chart in a new window.

The chart compares the existing system and four proposals:

The chart will be updated as more information becomes available and as new proposals emerge, so check back as events happen.

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Coalition Urges Higher State Gas Tax to Fund Transportation

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Under TFIC’s proposal, the price of every gallon sold on the South Side, and throughout Illinois, would include about 8.5¢ in transit taxes. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers via Flickr

On July 1, 2014, Illinois’ pool of transportation money will dry up. That’s the day that the state’s last five-year capital program—the law that funds maintenance and construction of roads, highways, and public transit across the state—expires. Without a replacement, roughly a billion dollars of annual support to the state’s transportation infrastructure will disappear.

The Transportation For Illinois Coalition, or TFIC, wants to make sure that doesn’t happen. The group, a statewide coalition of business, labor, and civic organizations, recently proposed a new capital program that would nearly double total transportation funding to $1.8 billion per year, and for the first time guarantee that 20% of all funds go to support mass transit.

TFIC’s proposal (PDF) is just the latest plan to dramatically reshape transportation governance in Illinois. At the end of March, Governor Pat Quinn’s transit task force released its recommendations to consolidate Chicago-area transit leadership in a single agency. Just a few days later, the Center for Neighborhood Technology and the Active Transportation Alliance launched the Transit Future campaign, which seeks a new funding stream within Cook County that would be entirely dedicated to mass transit. Unlike TFIC, however, Transit Future has not yet identified an amount or specific source of funding.

Each group agrees, however, that ambitious new funding is urgent, given the dire state of Illinois’ transportation infrastructure. Chicagoland’s mass transit system needs $20 billion just to return it to a state of good repair; statewide, 15% of roads are in unsatisfactory condition, and 35 percent could be unsatisfactory by 2018 without a new investment program.

“The bottom line is, you have to invest in your future,” said Doug Whitley, co-chair of TFIC and the President of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce. “Being able to make sure you can get workers to and from your locations, get your goods and services moved, is invaluable.”

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Missouri Pols Launch Sneak Attack on Bike Funding

The state of Missouri is aiming to bridge its transportation funding shortfall with a 1 percent sales tax that will generate $8 billion over 10 years. Rather than raising the gas tax, this regressive tax will force people who don’t drive to subsidize roads — and for good measure it will also forbid tolling on two major highways.

Missouri State Represenative Paul Curtman wants to make cycling ineligible for new transportation funding. Photo: Missouri House of Represenatives

Missouri State Representative Paul Curtman wants to make bike projects ineligible for new transportation funding. Photo: Missouri House of Representatives

The upside of the bill is that it’s also supposed to provide new funds for critically needed walking, biking, and transit projects. But even though everyone will be paying this new sales tax, a few state legislators think none of the revenue should go toward bike projects, reports Brent Hugh at the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation:

Rep. [Paul] Curtman’s amendment is to remove the word “bicycle” from HJR 68. HJR 68 allows MoDOT, cities, and counties to spend the state transportation funds on “transportation system purposes and uses.”  Those are defined in HJR 68 and Curman’s amendment simply removes the word “bicycle” from that definition.

That leaves every other major type of transportation identified by Missourians in over a year’s worth of outreach by MoDOT to every county in Missouri represented in the text of HJR 68 — except for bicycling. This is very clearly intended to send a message to MoDOT and to bicyclists in Missouri, that we are not welcome and that state funds should not be spent on our behalf.

This was truly a sneak attack by a few House members on Missouri’s bicycling community. They waited until the last minute to introduce their language, made it nearly impossible to understand, and tagged it onto an innocuous amendment that bill supporters had already approved.

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Regional Transit Needs New Funding to Meet $20 Billion Backlog

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The Regional Transportation Authority estimates $20 billion is needed to clear the transit infrastructure maintenance backlog. Photo: CTA

Transit systems in Northeastern Illinois face a $20 billion maintenance backlog. Now the question is how to pay for it.

Governor Pat Quinn’s Northeastern Illinois transit task force has shown some of the possibilities at the region’s disposal, but hasn’t staked out a position on how to secure the necessary revenue to keep Chicagoland’s track, trains, and buses from sliding into disrepair.

All told, the Regional Transportation Authority estimates that $20 billion is necessary to bring existing transit infrastructure into a state of good repair, with an initial five-year outlay of $4.7 billion called for in its capital plan. Expanding service will require funding in addition to meeting those maintenance needs.

The transit task force highlighted 12 funding sources used by national transit agencies and reviewed many short-term financial options “common in the private” sector. New funding sources could include fuel taxes, a broader sales tax that covers services, a payroll tax, land development charges, and parking fees. However, the task force stopped short of recommending new funding sources for the integrated transit agency it proposes.

The task force analyzed regional transit’s existing funding, noting how reactive the transit agencies’ financial planning has been. “The region,” the task force writes, “lacks a strategic financial plan for transit that does more than show funding gaps based on the status quo.” The agencies don’t work together, so there’s no “coordinated planning for investments to increase or improve inter-system connectivity.” CTA, Metra, and Pace have a “natural desire” to “minimize RTA oversight” and choose priorities independently — or not choose at all, as Metra has done since 1992 by not adopting a capital plan.

Currently, highway and transit projects are partially funded by state and federal fuel taxes, levied in cents per gallon of gas or diesel sold. However, both taxes are in decline as gas sales slip; the federal Highway Trust Fund will again run out of money this summer. A new fuel sales tax would instead tax the final purchase price, at a set percentage. The report calls it “easy and inexpensive to implement and administer,” but could push drivers to buy gas outside the area, or switch to electric vehicles.

The report specifically warns against continued reliance on federal gas tax grants, which paid for a quarter of Chicagoland’s transit construction projects between 2002 and 2012. “At best,” the task force writes, “future federal funds for transit will stagnate, at worst they will decline.” Read more…

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Final State Task Force Report Dives Into Transit Reform Details

Metra and Elevated again

The task force proposes that CTA and Metra trains run under an integrated transit agency. Photo: Marcel Marchon

Governor Pat Quinn’s northeastern Illinois task force released its final report [PDF] yesterday, detailing recommendations from its mid-March draft. The task force launched last year, after former Metra CEO Alex Clifford resigned to protest the commuter rail operator’s long-running patronage culture.

The task force of transit experts, business and union leaders spends most of the report writing about how regional transit governance developed, starting with CTA’s formation in 1947 and the RTA in 1974, and describing how previous transit reforms failed to create a coordinated planning capacity at RTA and instead simply patched a broken funding system.

Their recommendation to create a unified transit agency that would replace the existing RTA is also joined by new recommendations to restore public faith in Chicagoland transit, and to create a system that better supports the economy and residents’ needs.

Transit service, vehicle purchases, and infrastructure upgrades should be planned cohesively in all areas and for all modes, instead of by the RTA and independently by Chicago Transit Authority, Metra, and Pace. (Metra, the report says, hasn’t released a capital plan since 1992 and “does little more than list capital improvements in its annual budget.”)

The task force highlights the disparity between job locations and transit access that we’ve reported before and recommends including development around transit as a performance measure. Doing this, the report says, would incentivize municipalities to develop plans and policies that focus development near transit. In other words, if certain towns want more funding for better transit, they’re going to have to ensure that developers build near transit. Read more…

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State Rep Want to Bus Students Who Currently Use “Safe Passages” Routes

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Mary Flowers. Photo: Associated Press

I’m sure state representative Mary Flowers, a South Side Democrat, had the best of intentions in pushing for new legislation requiring the school system to provide free bus service for students who currently walk to school along Safe Passages routes. The bill passed the Illinois House 73-39 on Thursday and now moves on to the Senate, the Sun-Times reported. However, it’s not clear this would be a wise policy.

When the CPS closed 50 schools last year, mostly in low-income areas on the South and West sides, ensuring students’ safety on their way to school gained new importance. Many kids are now required to cross gang lines while walking to their new schools. As a precaution, the school district budgeted $7.7 million to hire 600 “CPS Community Watch” workers to provide security on 53 Safe Passages routes between 91 schools.

Many residents feared there would be an upswing in violence as students made their way to their “welcoming” schools, but the school district claims the strategy is working. There have been no major incidents involving students near their new schools during program hours, about two hours before the morning bell and three hours after classes end, according to the CPS.

Flowers said the bill was motivated by her concern for the safety of students walking to school on Safe Passages routes, citing the brutal assault and rape of a 15-year-old girl on her way to school last December in the Belmont Cragin neighborhood. The attack took place at about 6 a.m. near a Safe Passages route, although it appears to have been a random act of violence that had nothing to do with crossing gang lines. A legislative analysis of Flowers’ bill found that over 260 shootings and murders took place along the routes during the 2012-2013 school year, presumably not during the program hours.

State law already requires school districts to bus students who live 1.5 miles or more from their schools and don’t have access to public transit. The CPS currently only buses students with disabilities and students from recently closed schools whose welcoming school is more than eight-tenths of a mile, about a 15-minute walk, from their old school.

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A Clearer, More Concise Regional Transit Proposal From Senator Biss

Daniel Biss's new RTA board makeup proposal

Biss’s unified RTA proposal has 19 members, all appointed by the governor with approval from 10 of 13 members of a regional transit council with locally appointed members.

At least one Illinois legislator supports a unified transit agency, even though RTA board chairman John Gates and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel have declared their opposition.

Senator Daniel Biss (D-9th, Evanston, Glenview) published a proposal [PDF] back in November, saying “the CTA, Metra, and Pace should combine into a single new Regional Transit Authority.” That was months before Governor Quinn’s transit task force issued a similar recommendation, due to be released in final form next week.

Biss’s proposal calls for a streamlined RTA, with gubernatorial appointees who would need to be vetted by representatives from Chicago and its suburbs. While it leaves a few key questions unanswered — namely, how long people would serve on the new agency’s board, and how they could be removed from office — the plan is a solid attempt at reforming regional transit governance without turning the new agency into the governor’s plaything.

In the proposal, a new RTA with a 19-member board would replace the existing RTA board, three service boards, and their combined 47 members. The governor would appoint every board member, with the supermajority approval of a new Regional Transit Council — made up of members appointed by the Chicago mayor, suburban Cook County commissioners, and board presidents from the collar counties (DuPage, Kane, Will, McHenry, and Lake).

The new RTA board would comprise five representatives from Chicago, five from suburban Cook County, five from the collar counties, and one representative from Chicago’s Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. New to Chicagoland transit boards would be three non-voting positions: a Citizens’ Advisory Board member, a Metra operating railroads rep, and an RTA union rep.

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Emanuel, CTA President Come Out Against Unified Regional Transit Agency

Elevator shaft at LaSalle Street Station

The intermodal connection the Chicago Department of Transportation added to the LaSalle Metra station in 2011 is one of the rare inter-agency improvements made in the last 5 years.

The transit task force Governor Pat Quinn convened last year after the Metra governance scandal continues to discuss the merits of a single transit authority to replace the Regional Transportation Authority and absorb Chicago Transit Authority, Metra, and Pace. Count Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CTA President Forrest Claypool among the opponents of that idea.

Emanuel and Claypool came out strongly against the proposal because they believe the CTA would become less accountable to Chicagoans. Emanuel spokesperson Sarah Hamilton told the Sun-Times:

Chicagoans demand a public transportation framework that is accountable to riders and taxpayers, which is what we have at the CTA. The mayor is not interested in a solution that replaces one unaccountable bureaucracy with another.

Hamilton’s right that Chicagoans – and residents of the 35 other municipalities the CTA serves – deserve accountable transit agencies. And under Emanuel, the CTA has had a lot of wins, including new stations, new buses, and a successful Red Line South revamp.

But the CTA isn’t the only organization that’s part of the discussion. Pace and Metra — and all the riders who depend on their services — also need to be considered. These riders don’t care who is providing the bus from home to work, whether it’s Pace or CTA, or whether the Chicago mayor is calling the shots or not.

What matters is the rider. Would a regional transit agency serve the region’s transit riders better than the status quo? It certainly could help address some of the problems that are plaguing Chicagoland transit.

Right now, the region’s transit agencies basically compete for riders. Different agencies run similar routes that serve the same trips, and all three agencies have their own marketing departments, appealing to the same pool of potential customers. The agencies don’t make much effort to integrate fares, other than some extremely limited inter-agency transfers.

And instead of making a collective case to the state legislature for funding, each service board is, in effect, represented separately by various state legislators whose constituencies are easily divided along “agency lines.” A unified agency could be structured to allocate funding by performance instead of by geography: The task force recommends that any distribution of funds by formula incorporate performance measures. Read more…