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Advocates Request a Fair Share of Bike Resources for Black Communities

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A Slow Roll Chicago ride. Photo: John Greenfield

A group of African-American bike advocates says they want to do whatever it takes to make sure more black Chicagoans have a chance to enjoy the health, economic, and social benefits of cycling. They’ve called for the city and state, as well as other advocacy groups, to commit to a more equitable distribution of bike facilities and education to low-income, African-American communities on the South and West Sides.

“In the past, the city’s philosophy has been that the communities that already bike the most deserve the most resources,” said Oboi Reed of Slow Roll Chicago, Red Bike & Green, and Southside Critical Mass. “That just perpetuates a vicious cycle where cycling grows fast in some neighborhood and not others. Biking leads to better physical and mental health, safer streets, more connected communities, and support for local businesses. Black communities are the ones that need those benefits the most.”

As it stands, Chicago has a higher overall density, and better connectivity, of bike lanes downtown and in relatively affluent North Side neighborhoods with higher population density and bike mode share. Their South and West Side counterparts have received more miles of protected bike lanes, due to the fact that wide roads with available right-of-way are more common in these parts of town.

While a number of low-income communities of color, such as Lawndale, Little Village, Pilsen, and Bronzeville, have received Divvy bike-share, a majority of the stations have been installed downtown and on the North Side. The system is slated to expand to more South and West Side neighborhoods next year. The more bikeable areas of the city also have a higher density of parking racks, which residents can request via a Chicago Department of Transportation website.

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Active Trans’ Bikeways Tracker shows the distribution of protected lanes (green) and buffered lanes (blue). Red is proposed bikeways.

In an effort to win more bike resources for black communities, Reed has partnered with Peter Taylor, an Active Transportation Alliance board member and president of Friends of the Major Taylor Trail, and Shawn Conley, head of the Major Taylor Cycling Club of Chicago. On November 1, they met in an Englewood café to strategize with Eboni Senai Hawkins, founder of RBG Chicago and a member of the League of American Bicyclists’ Equity Advisory Council, Latrice Williams from Bronzeville Bikes, as well as black bike advocates from Minneapolis and Milwaukee.

Out of that meeting came an open letter to the city, state and other advocacy groups, asking for a more fair distribution of bike infrastructure and education, and that more consideration be given to the needs and concerns of black residents when allocating these resources. The letter makes seven specific requests. Among these are that the local governments make a public commitment to prioritize equity, and require contractors who work on transportation projects to do so as well.

The advocates ask the city and state to commit to spending a fair amount of tax dollars on bike resources between 2015 and 2020 in predominantly African-American neighborhoods. The city is also asked to provide an update on the status of recommendations made by community advisory groups for the city’s Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 – Reed and Taylor served as leaders for South Side advisory groups.

The black advocates gave a presentation on their campaign at last week’s Mayor’s Advisory Council meeting. At the assembly, CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld and Active Trans director Ron Burke acknowledged that more effort needs to be made to promote cycling in communities that don’t already have high ridership. Scheinfeld promised that equity would be strongly considered in prioritizing future projects. One of the 2020 Plan’s goals is to ensure that every Chicagoan lives within a half mile of a bikeway.

“CDOT has been focused on building a comprehensive bikeway network throughout Chicago and we are pleased to have advocates like [Reed, Taylor, and Conley] to partner with to help reach those goals,” said CDOT spokesman Pete Scales “We look forward to continuing to work with them to help determine the needs for cycling facilities in every community.”

“The equity statement delivered at MBAC is an outstanding example of the kind of grassroots leadership we need in Chicago,” said Active Trans’ Jim Merrill. He argued that the city is already working hard to equitably distribute new bike infrastructure. “We hope this call for a renewed look at bike equity in Chicago can amplify those efforts, and we look forward to collaborating with advocates throughout the city to build a bike network that serves all Chicagoans equally.”

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Could Rauner Stop the Illiana Boondoggle? Sure. But Will He?

Rich guy Bruce Rauner running for Illinois governor

Rauner says he needs to “see the studies” on the Illiana before making a decision on whether it should continue.

The Illiana Tollway, a joint proposal by the Illinois and Indiana departments of transportation to build a 47-mile highway through thinly populated farmland about 40 miles south of Chicago, rolled over another hurdle yesterday when the Federal Highway Administration approved the project’s environmental impact study. FHWA’s approval allows IDOT and InDOT to proceed with soliciting bids for the highway.

In a press release, IDOT called the FHWA’s “record of decision” an endorsement of the project and process. IDOT, of course, is reading too much into this: FHWA didn’t endorse the project by awarding it a huge grant. Instead, FHWA merely acknowledged that the Illiana meets the federal government’s minimum justification standard for highways. Even though the Illiana might meet that bare minimum, the FHWA isn’t putting its own money on the line. Rather, FHWA has simply said that Illinois is now free to waste its own money on the project.

This monstrous boondoggle – one of the most wasteful road projects in the entire country – surely won’t be stopped by IDOT or by any agency, like the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, dependent on IDOT. The federal government’s involvement concluded with the EIS review, so it’s now out of the picture. It’s up to governor-elect Bruce Rauner to put an an end to this travesty.

Stephen Schlickman, executive director of the Urban Transportation Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, recently told the Better Government Association that Rauner “has the authority to shelve [Illiana]. He doesn’t have to ask anyone.” Schlickman added that, because the Illiana is “moving so rapidly,” Rauner will need to act quickly and decisively. IDOT is just weeks, or months, away from formally issuing a Request for Proposals to its short list of bidders, and award contracts soon afterwards.

Rauner told the Tribune’s editorial board in September that he didn’t know if the Illiana should be built, and that he’d “have to see the studies” before making that decision. In the past, he’s hedged on the issue – both saying that the project “may have the potential to be an economic development engine,” but also that IDOT’s public-private partnership shouldn’t leave taxpayers “holding the bag.”

If Rauner does take a close look at the studies, he’ll find that the Illiana’s economic development “potential” lies entirely in Indiana, and that the state’s $1.3 billion would create just 940 jobs through 2040. The editorial board directly asked Rauner if he had seen the studies, and wrote then that “there is no upside” to the road.

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MPC Hopes “Transportation Woes” Survey Will Get Lawmakers’ Attention

Data to prevent bus bunching

CTA bus bunching: A transportation frustration everybody loves to hate. Photo: Argonne National Laboratories

Have you had it up to here with crumbling sidewalks and faded crosswalks? Are you sick of pedaling over lousy pavement, or barely visible bike lanes? Fed up with CTA bus routes that have already stopped running by the time you need a lift home, or Metra trains that never seem to run on time? Frustrated that there aren’t more east-west and north-south rapid transit lines, instead of just spoke routes?

Don’t get mad, get involved with the “Illinois Transportation Woes” survey. Yesterday, the Metropolitan Planning Council launched the new questionnaire for Chicago and Illinois residents, to find out what people’s top transportation frustrations are and what they would be willing to pay to overcome those challenges. They plan to use the survey results, along with photo and video documentation provided by participants, to let legislators know their constituents are upset about the current state of transportation in Illinois, and that they support increasing taxes and fees to fund better infrastructure

“With all the issues state lawmakers are facing, transportation hasn’t really risen to the top of their concerns,” MPC spokeswoman Mandy Burrell Booth said. “But we think there’s a big pent-up demand for better Illinois transportation options. We want to inform our legislators about this during their January session. There’s a growing consensus among civic groups that our leaders need to hear this.”

The survey isn’t directly related to the Active Transportation Alliance and Center for Neighborhood Technology’s Transit Future revenue campaign, or the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s Fund 2040 proposal to raise money for smart infrastructure investments. However, all of these groups, plus the Transportation for Illinois Coalition, the American Association of Retired Persons, and the American Automobile Association, are teaming up with MPC to get the word out about the questionnaire.

Booth hopes that several hundred people will fill out the first half of they survey, which asks about participants’ transportation habits, their level of satisfaction with their commute, and their understanding of how state transportation improvements are funded. The survey then notes that the state gas tax is currently 19 cents per gallon, and only costs the average Illinoisan $8.25 a month. Respondents are asked if they’d be willing to pay more in gas tax in order to fund transportation enhancements and, if so, how much.

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The Next Governor of Illinois Is a Total Mystery on Transportation

Rich guy Bruce Rauner running for Illinois governor

Rauner at a Metropolitan Planning Council forum. Photo: Steven Vance

Billionaire Republican Bruce Rauner is going to be the next governor of Illinois, and it’s not yet clear what that means for transit, biking, and walking in the Prairie State. Rauner avoided taking positions on transportation issues for the most part and failed to return a candidate survey from the Active Transportation Alliance. However, his stated goal of cutting taxes could mean less funding for transportation infrastructure of all kinds.

As of this morning, Rauner had 50.6 percent of the vote to incumbent Pat Quinn’s 46 percent, with 99 percent of the state’s precincts reporting, the Tribune reported.

Quinn leaves, at best, a mixed legacy on transportation. As governor, he pushed hard for a number of car-centric projects — most notably the disastrous Illiana Tollway proposal — as a strategy to garner votes. Under his watch, the Illinois Department of Transportation blocked the construction of protected bike lanes on its streets, though it has since changed its policy. Quinn also recently granted $3 million for Divvy expansion.

In his response to the Active Trans candidate questionnaire, Quinn said all the right things. He voiced support for better conditions for sustainable transportation, noted that Illinois is a “Complete Streets” state, and said he does not support widening roads as a strategy to improve mobility.

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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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Seven Ways to Stop The Illiana Boondoggle

Two votes yesterday by a committee of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, Chicagoland’s federally-designated regional planning organization, have cemented CMAP’s approval of the sprawl-inducing, budget-busting Illiana Tollway. Since federal transportation dollars can only be spent on projects included in an adopted regional plan, this gives Governor Pat Quinn and the Illinois Department of Transportation the consent that they needed to continue preparations for the Illiana Tollway.

South suburban legislators are happy that Quinn is steering the dollars in their direction, and spoke up in favor of the road yesterday — many saying that the Illiana would free them from the scourge of truck traffic on existing roads. State Senator Pat McGuire (D-43) said the Illiana “would improve the environment” and “save lives.” He didn’t specify how, especially since IDOT’s own analysis says that the Illiana would increase car traffic (and presumably car crashes) in the study area, decrease truck traffic only minimally, and result in more smog and acid rain.

State Representative Al Riley (D-38) heads the house’s mass transit committee, and brushed aside criticism of the road in this spirited, if garbled, testimony yesterday:

The Tier 2 EIS just came out, so everybody’s supposed to be stupid. [People are saying] the FHWA, you know, who did the report, doesn’t know what they’re doing. Their pronouncements don’t make any sense. Well, of course they do. Everything made sense throughout the entire process. Of course they know what they’re doing!

Despite yesterday’s vote, there are still several ways the Illiana could be stopped well before the bulldozers arrive to pave over every pristine prairie and family farm in their path. Here are seven possible routes:

1. The state legislature could rescind the law giving IDOT authority to enter into a public-private partnership, or otherwise step in and keep IDOT from spending the funds it’s budgeted for the project. IDOT’s idea of a “PPP” amounts to bribing private investors with a $250 million (minimum) up-front payment, plus additional money when toll revenues fall short. Another avenue the legislature has is preventing IDOT from spending its $250 million budget for acquiring land, relocating utilities, and other site-preparation work.

This seems rather unlikely, given the project’s avid proponents in the General Assembly. State Senator Toi Hutchinson (D-40) spoke at yesterday’s meeting, reminding the policy committee that she helped craft the enabling legislation in 2010. She added that this project “is important to us,” referring to her south suburban district.

2. A more likely route is through the environmental evaluation process, which is already well underway. IDOT released a Tier 2 environmental impact statement for the road on September 26, but it — and its predecessor — have critical flaws that the Environmental Law & Policy Center hopes could trip up the road. The EIS outlines for the Federal Highway Administration, and the public, how IDOT intends to mitigate the road’s impacts to people, wildlife, and air and water quality.

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Illiana Forced Into CMAP Regional Plan By Springfield, Suburban Reps

CMAP's MPO Policy committee

The MPO Policy Committee listened to a panel of speakers testify this morning. Photo: Steven Vance

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s MPO Policy committee today approved the Illiana Tollway, among other projects, as part of GO TO 2040, which the agency calls “the comprehensive regional plan… for sustainable prosperity through mid-century and beyond.”

Committee members representing Chicago, Cook County, and McHenry County, which together are home to almost two-thirds of Chicago area residents, voted twice against adding the Illiana to the plan. However, they were overruled by representatives from other suburbs and from state agencies. The committee voted twice today: first on a motion to specifically exclude the Illiana from a larger package of GO TO 2040 updates, which failed 10-8 with one abstention, followed by a vote to adopt the update with the Illiana, which passed 12-6 with one abstention.

If the Illiana gets first dibs on state funding, as Governor Pat Quinn and IDOT intend, then those same suburbs will see at least $500 million robbed from the funds that pay for their own infrastructure projects.

Pace continued to stick it to its riders, with its representative supporting the Illiana in both votes. Metra’s representative abstained from voting on both motions, although its vote would not have swung either result. Metra frequently uses IDOT capital funds to purchase new equipment — but, next year, it intends to stick its riders with that bill, hiking fares by 11 to 19 percent.

Erica Borggren, the acting secretary at the Illinois Department of Transportation, began the meeting by introducing herself as an expert in being dropped into unfamiliar situations, like the debate over the tollway. She previously served in the military, but has no prior experience evaluating transportation improvements.
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Illiana Spurned Again By CMAP Board, Faces Another Vote Tomorrow

Elliott Hartstein, CMAP board member, speaks agains the Illiana Tollway

Elliott Hartstein, CMAP board vice chairman, says the Illiana is fiscally irresponsible. Photo: Steven Vance

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s board again passed on the Illiana Tollway, keeping the project in limbo until another meeting tomorrow morning. The board overwhelmingly voted, 10-4, to strip the Illiana from a broader package of updates to the GO TO 2040 regional plan, and then to veto those updates entirely. However, CMAP board votes require a 12-3 supermajority vote to pass, so both motions still failed. The plan updates, and the Illiana, remain outside GO TO 2040.

The Illiana is still in play, and would be regardless of the board’s actions. Confusingly, it isn’t the board but rather CMAP’s MPO Policy committee that has final say, and that committee will vote tomorrow on whether to approve the GO TO 2040 plan update. They may make their own motion to exclude the Illiana Tollway from the plan before voting, or approve the plan update as-is.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center is even suing CMAP and IDOT to force CMAP to recognize the board’s greater authority. Board chair Gerald Bennett, mayor of south suburban Palos Hills, said today that CMAP’s bylaws require that the board and policy committee meet together, “to find consensus, to be on the same page.” However, acting IDOT secretary Erica Borggren went ahead and split the proposed joint meeting.

The four voting in favor of the Illiana represent Will, Kane, DuPage, and south Cook County (one of five Cook seats). One member, representing Chicago, was absent.

27 people spoke to the board imploring them to keep the Illiana out of the plan. Most of their comments focused on the burden to taxpayers resulting from the so-called “public-private partnership” that will build the road. IDOT has said that taxpayers would pony up a minimum of $500 million, with the first half going to buy land and relocate utilities.

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No Surprise: International Report Says Region’s Transit Not Up to Par

20110805 08 CTA and Metra, Oak Park, Illinois

Oak Park is one of only two stations in the region where people can transfer between CTA and Metra trains.

Last month, a report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development validated what Chicago researchers, a task force convened by the governor, and millions of customers have all said for years: Transit in Chicagoland is fragmented, inefficient, and far from adequate to serve the region’s transportation needs. The OECD, a “club of rich countries” that counts the United States among its 34 members, collects data and publishes research that countries and local organizations can use to understand their economies.

The report evaluated the transit network against the regional policy goals set forth in the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s GO TO 2040 comprehensive plan, particularly its goal to double transit ridership. OECD policy analyst Olaf Merk based the report on prior research by CMAP and the Metropolitan Planning Council. He also interviewed Chicago transportation experts Joseph Schwieterman, at DePaul University, and Steven Schlickman, at UIC. So, while it may be easy to dismiss the report as a naive European’s idealistic view, the report does rest upon adopted regional policies and local observers’ views.

The report dug deep into the many problems facing Chicagoland’s transit operations. A complex web of governments have conflicting authority over many different matters, and the overlap often results in contradictory policies. For example, the Regional Transportation Authority’s policies govern most transit planning in the region, and they support GO TO 2040′s goals. However, myriad policies outside of the RTA’s influence “stimulate car use,” including “generous parking policies” at the municipal level that require copious car parking at new buildings and “low gas taxes” that haven’t been raised in over 20 years.

Even the most basic level of coordination is lacking between the region’s transit systems: The services don’t even serve the same places. None of Metra’s busy downtown terminals are adjacent to CTA rail stations, and on many streets like Austin Avenue and Irving Park Road, CTA and Pace bus routes both end at the city line rather than more logical destinations. Transit service, the report said, “follows an administrative jurisdictional logic, instead of a logic motivated by traffic flows.”

Transit services haven’t adapted to changing housing and job locations, and instead continues to focus on downtown employment. “Approximately 36 percent of Chicago’s population works outside the city of Chicago,” the report explained, “and 46 percent of workers in the city of Chicago live in the suburbs.” The downtown-focused system makes it difficult to travel from city to the suburb, or between suburbs. Despite the region’s poor record at facilitating inter-agency transfers, a few junctions are being improved, like the new 95th Street Red Line station’s expanded CTA and Pace bus transfer facility, the Union Station intermodal improvements underway as part of the Central Loop BRT, and the new intermodal transfer center at Metra’s LaSalle Street station.

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Revolt Against Illiana Undeterred By IDOT’s Latest Scare Tactic

Will County board member Regan Freitag

Board member Regan Freitag of Will County, telling the CMAP policy committee last year that the Illiana Tollway would destroy prime farmland in Will County and disrupt local access by slicing across many existing roads.

Local advocates are scoffing at the suggestion, made by an Illinois Department of Transportation representative last week, that striking the Illiana Tollway from the Chicago region’s long-term regional plan would jeopardize transportation spending across the entire region. Instead, advocates insist that deleting the costly, sprawl-inducing road would cause at most a brief procedural delay in other projects, and ultimately free up millions of dollars for more urgent priorities.

Bruce Carmichael from IDOT made this claim at a CMAP transportation committee meeting last week. He said that, if the CMAP board votes to delete the Illiana from the GO TO 2040 regional plan on October 8, the revised plan would need a fresh review. The entire plan would be temporarily invalidated while that “conformity analysis” and public comment period is underway. While Carmichael is correct on that point, the analysis would cause at most a brief delay that would not necessarily disrupt any projects in progress.

Carmichael said that, while the revised plan is being reviewed, the federal government would stop sending checks that pay for already-approved projects. For example, the Chicago Department of Transportation and the Chicago Transit Authority would be unable to be reimbursed for building new bike lanes and buying new train cars.

Metropolitan Planning Council vice president Peter Skosey confirmed with the committee’s Federal Highway Administration representative that the review would not, in fact, interfere with FHWA’s payments. The FHWA is scheduled to send its next round of checks just before the joint meeting on October 8, and “those dollars will continue to come to us,” Skosey told me.

Randy Neufeld, also a member of the transportation committee, said that the conformity analysis would take all of one day to ensure that the altered GO TO 2040 complies with federal air quality regulations. CMAP would then launch a 30-day public comment period. Skosey said that CMAP could complete the entire review in less than two months, and adopt the final plan in November — well before the next FHWA payment period.

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