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Posts from the "State Policy" Category

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Preckwinkle, Environmental Groups Want CMAP to Drop Illiana

Virginia Hamman brings 4,000 petitions against proposed farmland-destroying tollway

Virginia Hamman, a property owner who would be affected by the Illiana Tollway, asked the policy committee to vote against the project last year.

The Sierra Club and other organizations intend to petition the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning to remove the Illiana Tollway from its regional plan, effectively disallowing the state from building the new highway. The deletion is possible because CMAP, the federally-designated Metropolitan Planning Organization for this region, is finalizing a mandatory update of its GO TO 2040 Plan.

The CMAP Board will meet on Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. to discuss the proposed GO TO 2040 update [PDF]. The award-winning plan lists all major capital projects proposed for the region. All projects, both highway expansion and new transit lines, must be listed on the plan in order to receive federal funding. Governor Pat Quinn earlier persuaded Metra and Pace to vote in favor of adding the Illiana Tollway to GO TO 2040, thereby shrinking their own available funding. Both CMAP’s Board and MPO Policy Committee will vote on whether to adopt the plan update at a joint meeting in October.

The plan update is an opportunity for the Sierra Club, the Center for Neighborhood Technology, Openlands, and the Environmental Law & Policy Center to make their case that the Illiana Tollway should be struck from the GO TO 2040 regional plan. The Active Transportation Alliance also wants the plan to drop Illiana: executive director Ron Burke told me, “Yes, take it out. We opposed its inclusion in the first place.” He added that what Active Trans said a year ago – a vote for Illiana is a vote against transit – holds true today.

Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle also submitted a comment to CMAP head Randy Blankenhorn, reiterating her earlier opposition to the project. She criticized the Illiana Tollway because it would require $250 million in taxpayer dollars at a minimum (but honestly up to $1 billion) to jumpstart the project, and that beyond that the state of Illinois would be responsible for any financial shortcomings. Preckwinkle stated, “it would be irresponsible of me to support a project like this that will compromise other, more fully vetted transportation improvements with greater benefits for Cook County, metro Chicago and Illinois.”

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Quinn, Rauner Should Get On Board With Region’s Performance Measures

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s lauded GO TO 2040 regional plan prioritizes transportation investments based on performance measures, rather than through arbitrary formulas or aggressive politicking. This ensures that the hundreds of millions of federal dollars that CMAP handles are spent on projects selected on need and merit, rather than just because someone important likes the idea – which, sadly, has typically been the case in metropolitan Chicago. Yet the two major parties’ candidates for Illinois governor showed only a passing familiarity with the concept when asked about it at a recent event.

Governor Pat Quinn and Bruce Rauner demonstrated their misunderstanding of performance measures at the Metropolitan Planning Council’s  annual luncheon last Thursday. This unfamiliarity was particularly surprising, since both campaigns had met with MPC to review the questions beforehand.

GO TO 2040, authored by CMAP and adopted by over 200 Chicagoland municipalities, establishes performance measures that evaluate major projects’ potential to increase transit use, reduce driving, and eliminate harmful smoke and soot. Currently, however, most of the state’s transportation funding for roads and bridges bypasses this system and is allocated by a formula: 45 percent of funds go to Chicagoland, even though this area has 65 percent of the state’s population and 70 percent of economic activity.

Moderator Craig Dellimore of WBBM asked each candidate, “To get more ‘bang for the buck,’ do you support using performance measures to select Illinois’ transportation investments – for instance, prioritizing new road or transit projects that measurably improve access to jobs, reduce air pollution and spark adjacent economic development?”

Even putting aside the candidates’ usual attempts to steer every question towards their own talking points, both candidates’ answers showed an incomplete understanding of what performance measures are.

MPC 2014 Annual Luncheon

Rauner says he supports performance measures. Photo: Tricia Scully/MPC

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Man Killed Sunday Was 4th Person Fatally Struck on North Avenue This Year


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The 2700 Block of West North Avenue.

A man killed by an allegedly drunk driver Sunday is the latest in a series of people fatally struck on speeding-plagued North Avenue, in 2014.

Around 8:25 p.m. Sunday, a 55-year-old man was crossing northbound on the 2700 block of North Avenue near Cermak Produce, according to Officer Janel Sedovic from Police News Affairs. The man’s identity has not yet been released, pending notification of his next of kin, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

Sean Riley, 33, of the 1400 block of North Bell, was driving eastbound when he struck the victim. He stayed on the scene following the crash. The victim was transported to Illinois Masonic Hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.

Riley was found to have a blood alcohol content level above the legal limit of .08 percent, according to Sedovic. He has been charged with felony aggravated DUI resulting in an a death, operating a vehicle without insurance, and fail to exercise due care to avoid a collision with a pedestrian in the roadway. A bond hearing is scheduled for today.

The victim was the fourth person fatally struck by a driver on North this year. On April 21, Kim Kyeyul, 72, rear-ended a semi truck with his car on North just east of the Kennedy Expressway. After he exited his car to talk to the other driver, a second trucker killed him.

On April 24, Jennie Davis was crossing in the 5500 block of North Avenue in Austin when a speeding motorist fatally struck her – a similar scenario to this latest crash. And On Sunday, June 1, an out-of-control SUV driver fatally struck Charles Jones, 73, who was reportedly standing in the street just west of the Kennedy.

Most of these cases involved a too-fast driver and/or a difficult pedestrian crossing. In general, North is a five lane street with two travel lanes in each direction, a turn lane, and parking lanes. By Cermak Produce, the street is 76 feet wide, and that excess width encourages speeding and creates a long crossing distance for pedestrians.

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The Metra-Politan Perimeter Ride: Pedaling to Every Metra Line Endpoint

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Taking a pit stop in Elburn, the western terminus of the UP West line. Photo: John Greenfield

[This article also appeared as a cover story in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings.]

I confess that I’m obsessed with pedaling the perimeters of things. For years, I led the Chicago Perimeter Ride, a hundred-mile bicycle tour of the rim of the city, stopping to admire goofy commercial architecture landmarks, from the Eyecare Indian in Westlawn, to the giant fiberglass wieners of Superdawg in Norwood Park. I’ve cycled the circumference of Lake Michigan and the state of Illinois, and I’ve got a Land of Lincoln tattoo on my left shoulder as proof of the latter. I’ve biked three sides of the continental U.S., and some day I hope to complete the circuit by cycling from Key West, Florida, to Bar Harbor, Maine.

Since my journalistic wheelhouse is local transportation issues, it recently occurred to me that I should pedal the perimeter of Chicagoland, as a way to wrap my head around our vast region, and meditate on the urban planning challenges we face. But how best to define the Chicago metro area? There are a number of different definitions of the region, with one of the broadest being the Chicago Metropolitan Statistical Area, originally designated by the U.S. Census Bureau in 1950. Along with Cook and the collar counties, it includes swaths of southeast Wisconsin and northwest Indiana, for a total population of 9,522,434, making this the third-largest MSA by population in the nation.

Somewhat arbitrarily, I opted to define the perimeter of the region as being a route connecting the endpoints of the Metra commuter rail system’s eleven lines. This would allow me to skip the nastier industrial sections of the Hoosier State, since Metra doesn’t serve Indiana, while justifying an excursion across the Cheddar Curtain to quirky Kenosha, Wisconsin, one of my favorite nearby cities.

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The Metra-Politan Perimeter Ride route. Image: Google Maps

Bicycling between train stops would also make it easy for friends to parachute in and keep me company on sections of the four-day trek, and then catch a lift home at the end of the day from a different Metra line. Decision made, I planned out my route, dubbed The Metra-Politan Perimeter Ride, using Google Maps’ bike directions. You can view a Google Map of my itinerary here.

The last twelve months have been rough on Metra. In June of 2013, then-CEO Alex Clifford resigned and was given a jaw-dropping $871,000 severance package, which included a non-disclosure agreement. When local politicians questioned the massive payoff, a memo surfaced, indicating that Clifford was forced out of his job by Metra board members after he refused to bow to demands for patronage hiring and promotions. Some of the pressure apparently came from uber-powerful Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Five board members resigned in the wake of the scandal and, last summer, Governor Pat Quinn responded by creating the Northeast Illinois Public Transit Task Force, to brainstorm ways to fight corruption and ensure the regional transit system is properly funded. In March, the blue-ribbon panel recommended abolishing the four boards of Metra, the CTA, Pace and the Regional Transit Authority, in favor of a new superagency to oversee the three transit agencies, similar to how things work in the New York City region.

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Successful Pilot Means New “Bus on Shoulders” Routes For Pace

Governor Quinn Expands Green Transportation Program on Illinois’ Highways

Governor Quinn speaks to the cameras. Photo: Pace, via IDOT

For the past three years, Pace has run two express bus routes down the Stevenson Expressway (I-55) from Bolingbrook and Plainfield to downtown Chicago and the Illinois Medical District, and used the expressway’s shoulders to bypass traffic jams. Creating these dedicated transit lanes has resulted in better reliability — on-time performance jumped from 68 to 93 percent — and faster service, which when combined with comfortable (and wi-fi equipped) buses, has led ridership to jump 226 percent.

Governor Pat Quinn hosted a press conference yesterday at UIC to sign a new law that makes the pilot project permanent, and expands the program. The legislation, sponsored by Representative Robert Rita (D-Blue Island) and State Senator Martin Sandoval (D-Chicago), gives the Illinois Department of Transportation full authority to allow buses on any “specially designated” shoulder in the state.

Before the pilot, IDOT spent $9.5 million to rebuild the shoulders on the Stevenson so that the heavy coaches could ride on them, and plans to spend another $363,000 so that the buses get three more miles of smooth sailing. A press release from Quinn’s office said that this fall, IDOT will outline improvements that would be needed to run buses on shoulders along the Edens Expressway (I-94) between Foster Avenue and Lake-Cook Road, through Northbrook, Glenview, and Skokie.

The Illinois Tollway will be including beefed-up shoulders as part of its reconstruction and widening of I-90 from the Kennedy in Chicago to Barrington Road in Hoffman Estates. The tollway and Pace will also construct park-and-ride lots at the Randall Road and Route 25 interchanges in Elgin, and at Barrington Road [PDF]. The press release said that the Tollway is also building the Elgin-O’Hare Western Access Road to accommodate bus on shoulder operations. 

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Quinn Borrows $1.1 Billion to Keep IDOT’s Steamrollers Going

Governor Quinn Signs $1.1 Billion   Capital Construction Bill

Governor Pat Quinn signs the bill in front of workers at the Circle Interchange construction site today. Photo: IDOT

Governor Pat Quinn signed two bills today that allow the state to issue $1.1 billion in general obligation bonds to spend on highway resurfacing, widening, and bridge repair. The bills explicitly exclude transit from the new funds, and while they don’t seem to exclude bike lanes, trails, or sidewalks, all of the funds are already obligated to car-centric road projects [PDF].

Erica Borggren, acting secretary for the Illinois Department of Transportation, said in a press release, “This construction program is the shot in the arm that our transportation system and our economy needs.”

What the economy and our transportation system also need is an efficient and sustainable way for users to pay the system’s ongoing costs — rather than a stopgap that socks future taxpayers, whether transit riders or pedestrians or drivers, with big loan payments. Keep in mind that today, Illinois has the country’s worst credit rating, and thus pays the highest interest rate of any state — 42 percent more interest than usual.

Springfield’s State Journal-Register reported that “the plan got overwhelming support in the final days of the legislative session, though some lawmakers were concerned that they didn’t have enough time to study where the money would go.” The answer, as with most anything related to IDOT spending, is “overwhelmingly Downstate.”

Just over four percent of the funds will be spent in Chicago, home to 22 percent of the state’s population. Most of that will go to reconstruct and replace the bridges and viaducts on the Stevenson Expressway (I-55), between the Dan Ryan Expressway (I-94) and South Lake Shore Drive. $700,000 will be spent to resurface 0.6 miles of South Michigan Avenue in Washington Park.

Just under 37 percent of the funds will be spent in the six-county Chicagoland area, and the majority of that will go to exurbs and rural areas. This might prove convenient for Quinn during an election year, especially given the dwindling fund balance in his signature “Illinois Jobs Now!” program. The program has just $115 million left to spend, according to IDOT spokesperson Paris Ervin.

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CMAP Tells IDOT: “To Each Municipality, According to Their Needs”

Urbanity fails again.

Uneven pavement abounds in Chicagoland. Photo: Josh Koonce

The Illinois Department of Transportation, whose secretary resigned last week after accusations about patronage hiring, distributed $545 million in gas tax revenue to fix streets in almost 3,000 jurisdictions last year. While this sounds like a lot of money, poor road and bridge conditions across the state can attest to the fact that these funds might not be going to the places that need them most. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the region’s federally designated metropolitan planning organization, has recently written about different methods that IDOT could use to more fairly distribute these revenues across the state’s cities and counties.

CMAP’s regional comprehensive plan, GO TO 2040, implemented for the first time a system of performance measures to make sure that transportation funding generally goes to where it’s needed, instead of just where it’s wanted. In that spirit, CMAP suggests a few alternatives to the state’s existing distribution mechanism, which state law currently divvies up based mostly on population as well as the number of licensed vehicles and street mileage. The current system steers 71 percent of statewide gas tax revenue to the seven-county CMAP region.

This “formula funding” mechanism, CMAP says, ignores the transportation system’s changing needs. Plus, since the percentages are set in law, that means that fund distributions “cannot respond to changing needs over time.” For example, 16.74 percent of the $545 million in annual gas tax revenue goes to the one Illinois county with over one million residents — Cook County. Meanwhile, DuPage County has grown to 932,000 residents, and could reach one million residents before 2040. When that happens, DuPage would become eligible for that 16.74 percent slice, and Cook could see its own revenue cut in half overnight, even though its streets would remain heavily used by suburbanites driving into the region’s core for work or play. 

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Architect Urges Big-Picture, Design Thinking For North Lake Shore Drive

Redefine the Drive May_boulevard detail section

Krause suggests dipping Lake Shore Drive below ground at interchanges, with the Inner Drive and a new light rail line staying at street level. Image: John Krause

Local architect John Krause sees the reconstruction of North Lake Shore Drive, one of Chicago’s most scenic locations, as a chance to think big — not just about the road, but also about parks, transit, trails, the shoreline, and the future of the city alongside it. The Illinois Department of Transportation isn’t used to thinking like that, though, and so Krause sees its “Redefine the Drive” project as a process “that looks and feels suboptimal.”

IDOT is currently in the study phase of a decade-long project that will recreate both the boulevard and access to Lincoln Park. It will be years until IDOT has a refined design, so as a first step IDOT must identify what, exactly, they want to do — what they call a Purpose and Needs Statement for the project. Krause is on one of the project task forces, and helped bring to light that IDOT’s original objectives focused on personal vehicle congestion and traffic issues, and was blind to the road’s effects upon parks, the Lakefront Trail, and citywide mobility.

Krause has crafted an alternative vision – one of two, the other by VOA Associates – to redesign the Drive [PDF]. He created it to start a broader conversation about not just how to rebuild a road, but instead to create a legacy project for Chicago that could reimagine both how people move along the lakefront, as well as the lakefront itself.

The way the system is set up, the design team can’t discuss the project with the public, engineering firms are afraid to get involved for fear of being conflicted out of the future project, and the amateur general public is invited to give our unqualified opinions [at public meetings].

“It’s a shame,” he says, “that there isn’t more public engagement of talented designers in this important process.” He adds that a competition, similar to one hosted by the Chicago Architecture Foundation to solicit designs for Central Loop BRT stations, “might be a way to get Chicago’s professional designers involved.”

IDOT’s study approach started off by lamenting the delays and congestion drivers experienced, Krause says, and so was “propagating a [highway] status quo…that has been discredited for a long time. Great design often emerges through collaboration among people with complementary skills and viewpoints. In this case, maybe civil engineers, transit planners, urbanists, park designers,” and others could work together, rather than letting IDOT’s highway engineers run the show.

A recent example of how IDOT has not looked outside its professional silo occurred at a recent task force meeting. As Krause describes it, “lots of people are pushing for a dedicated transit lane, but no one from the CTA is allowed to offer any guidance or encouragement. To be fair, I know that CTA and CDOT are struggling with IDOT behind closed doors, but whatever is said there has no impact on either the general public or the city’s design professionals.”

Krause says Redefine the Drive needs to redefine the entire lakefront as well. It “needs some real headline attractions… new features that would show up on a tourist brochure of things to do in Chicago.” Or, more importantly, he says, “things that would get the mayor and Friends of the Parks to stand up to IDOT” and get them to do something other than “business as usual” highway-paving.

As an example of what broader thinking could bring to the Redefine the Drive process, Krause has illustrated his own conceptual idea of what the North Lake Shore Drive study area could become. His proposal divides the area, which reaches from Grand Avenue at Navy Pier on the south up to Hollywood Avenue on the north, into four sections.

One principal component of Krause’s scheme is a light rail transit route down the center of the Drive, which would help meet the mobility needs of nearly 70,000 people each weekday. Stops would be spaced every 1/4 to 1/2 mile, including stops at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Lincoln Park Zoo, and Edgewater Sports Campus. Throughout his scheme, Krause suggests dipping the Drive below each interchange, removing the elevated bridges that block views towards the lake. The rail line would continue at grade, so that trains will align with bus stops and sidewalks at ground level.

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New License Law Requires Teens To Take Driver Education Classes

Drivers License -Teen driver

All Illinois teens must take at least six hours of driver education, although it can happen online. Photo: State Farm

A new graduated driver licensing law takes effect in Illinois tomorrow. Illinois’s GDL law sets restrictions on young drivers, including when and with whom they can drive. After “graduating” through several time periods and getting more on-road experience, new drivers can eventually obtain a full driver’s license. Secretary of State Jesse White said in a press release [PDF] today that the state’s GDL has led to a 60 percent drop in “teen driving fatalities” since its 2008 introduction. The new law followed from a years-long editorial campaign from the Chicago Tribune about the high number of teenagers who are killed or injured in car crashes.

Until today, Illinois residents aged 18-20 could apply for, and receive, a driver’s license without any formal education beforehand. 16-17 year-olds have always been required to take driver education before receiving a license. Now, all teenagers must take at least six hours of education courses – available in person or online – before applying for a driver’s license.

Shockingly, 49 percent of 18-20 year-olds who received driver’s licenses in Illinois last year did not take driver education. The new requirement should further reduce the number of teenagers injured or killed in car crashes, and improve young drivers’ understanding of traffic laws.

A U.S. Public Interest Research Group study suggested that GDLs contributed to a drop in the number of miles driven by teenagers, and the rate at which teens apply for a driver’s license. University of Michigan researchers mention GDLs as one reason why many teens are skipping getting a license, or getting them later.

The six hour education course covers topics like:

  • traffic laws
  • highway signs
  • signals and markings
  • issues commonly associated with motor vehicle accidents, including speed, failure to yield the right-of-way, and texting while driving
  • alcohol and drug awareness

This is a great move by the state legislature to better standardize the knowledge that Illinois drivers bring to the road. Online classes might not be perfect — but they will usually do a better job than family or friends at addressing safety, whether it’s maneuvering among bicyclists, stopping for pedestrians within the crosswalk, or dealing with less-common on-road situations like roundabouts.

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CMAP Plan Update Includes Sobering Look at Region’s Funding Shortfall

Milwaukee Elevated Track Work - May 31/Jun 1

The RTA estimates the CTA, Metra, and Pace need $20 billion to bring their transit systems into a “state of good repair.” Photo: CTA

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s GO TO 2040 regional comprehensive plan has weathered some major ups and downs in its four-year lifespan. CMAP has received several awards for the plan, which required a huge effort on their part to reach out to local residents and overwrite decades of uncoordinated transportation “plans.”

Last year, though, the plan’s political support was tested when those in charge of executing it, including Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, the Illinois Department of Transportation, and Metra and Pace, all put politics above policy and voted to add the sprawl-inducing, job-sucking Illiana Tollway to the plan. The Illiana, and particularly the high priority given to it, directly contradicts the plan’s directive that “investments that maintain and modernize the transportation system should be prioritized over major expansion projects.”

The federal government is now asking CMAP for a four-year update to the plan. The analysis adds in recent data and revisions, since legislation has changed and projects have been built, but not a wholesale rewrite. As CMAP spokesperson Justine Reisinger said, “The region’s priorities, as identified in GO TO 2040, have remained consistent.”

One key update to the plan, according to Reisinger, is an updated financial analysis on the major capital projects included in the plan, like the Elgin-O’Hare Western Bypass and the CTA Red Line extension to 130th. This analysis also shows “what revenues metropolitan Chicago can expect to fund the systematic enhancement, maintenance, and modernization of the system.” When CMAP considered current revenue sources, from 2015 until 2040, they found that the region “will only have $3.4 billion to spend on systematic enhancements, moving the system toward a state of good repair, and capacity expansion (major capital projects).” That’s just $136 million a year for every single road, transit, and bicycle and pedestrian project across the entire seven-county area.

Meanwhile, the list of projects in line for that money remains just as long as it ever was. CMAP removed three projects from the list, all of which were highways that were built, but then it added two new highway projects — the Illiana Tollway and the Circle Interchange Expansion (now under construction).

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