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It’s a Lobby-palooza! Join MPC’s 43 Minutes for $43 Billion Infrastructure Push

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MPC says Investing $43 billion over the next years could help get the CTA system, and other Illinois infrastructure, in good working order. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers

Are you ready for (almost three-quarters of) an hour of power?

That’s what the Metropolitan Planning Council has planned for Wednesday, May 18, at 11 a.m., when they’ll hold the 43 Minutes for $43 Billion transportation infrastructure lobbying jam session. They’re asking Chicagoland residents to call their legislators and contact leaders in Springfield to ask them to commit to investing $43 billion over the next ten years to fund repairs and improvements to transit, bridges, and roads. They’re also asking citizens to tweet about the fact that we’re sick and tired of the shoddy state of Illinois’ transportation network.

The action is timed to coincide with Infrastructure Week, which Washington, D.C. infrastructure advocates have organized over the last few years, as well as the May 31 adjournment date for the Illinois state legislature. According to MPC executive vice president Peter Skosey, there appears to be plenty of interest on both sides of the aisle for a new transportation funding bill, but the general consensus is that the initiative won’t move forward until the state budget, which has been mired in partisan deadlock, moves forward.

“It’s problematic that we don’t already have a transportation bill,” Skosey said. “In [MPC’s] opinion, it needs to be done immediately, but it also needs to be done adequately.” He noted that if, say, lawmakers agreed to budget $1 billion a year for infrastructure, many Illinoisans would think that’s a big expenditure. “But that wouldn’t be sufficient,” he said. “A billion a year would only make us fall behind farther. It has to be $4.3 billion to get us up to par.”

While MPC hopes a bill can be passed before legislators adjourn at the end of the month, Skosey said there are other windows of opportunity for getting it approved. It could also happen during the November vetoe session (when the governor signs or vetoes legislation the general assembly has passed), or else it could take place during the lame duck session following the November elections, when Illinoisans will vote on every House seat and some Senate seats.

However, it would be much more difficult to pass a bill after May 31 because a two-thirds majority of the assembly would be needed. After January 1, only a simple majority of 51 percent would be required.

At any rate, it makes sense to get the word out to leaders sooner than later that we’re fed up with slow, unreliable train and bus service, potholed roads, and increasingly unsafe bridges. Skosey said MPC came up with the idea for 43 Minutes for $43 Billion as an alternative to organizing a lobbying day in which representatives from the 43 local companies and nonprofits who’ve endorsed the Accelerate Illinois infrastructure funding campaign would have to schlep down to Springfield. “We figured that calls, emails, and social media would be a fast, effective way to send a message,” Skosey said. Here’s how you can get involved.

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MCZ’s Car-Centric West Loop Project Thumbs Its Nose at the TOD Ordinance

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Two whole floors of the 75-unit development will be dedicated to warehousing up to 140 cars. Image: MCZ / HPA

Talk about a missed opportunity.

It’s good news that a parking lot located at the southeast corner of Lake and Aberdeen in the burgeoning Fulton Market District will soon be replaced by a mix of residences, office space and retail. But it’s a crying shame that the developer MCZ Development is also building a glut of off-street car parking on the site, which is located a mere three-minute walk from the CTA’s Morgan ‘L’ station.

It’s especially regrettable because, thanks to the 2015 update of the city’s transit-oriented development ordinance, MCZ is effectively not required to provide any parking at all. The beefed-up ordinance waives the usual parking requirements for new developments within a quarter mile of a rapid transit stop, and within a half mile on designated Pedestrian Streets. Instead of taking advantage of this perk, the developer is choosing to build an excessive number of car spaces, which will encourage residents, workers, and shoppers to drive.

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When a building is a 3-minute walk from the ‘L’, is it really necessary to provide a car spot for every unit? Image: Google Maps

As recently reported on Curbed Chicago, MCZ was recently issued a foundation and crane permit for the 0.66-acre site, referred to as 165 and 175 North Aberdeen. Before it was a parking lot, the location housed the three-story Best Meats building, which was razed in 2014. The building permit for the new 11-story structure was issued last year.

The development will feature 15,000 square feet of ground floor retail, 40,000 square feet of office space, and 75 housing units, ten percent of which will be affordable units. So far, so good.

But not only will every one of those units have a car space earmarked for it, but MCZ is building 65 spots for office workers and shoppers. That’s a whopping 140 spaces for the 75-unit structure. Essentially, the developer is flipping the bird at the opportunity provided by the TOD ordinance.

As Mayor Emanuel is fond of pointing out out, one of the big reasons why the Fulton Market District is booming is because of the Morgan stop, which opened in May 2012, attracting major players like Google to the area. Along with amenities like the Randolph restaurant row, the district’s pedestrian- and transit-friendly nature is a key factor in why it’s a such hot area right now.

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Wife of Cyclist Dragged in Bridgeport Provides an Update on His Condition

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The Jacobsons and their three children. Photo: GoFundMe

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Scott Jacobson continues to stoically recover from the horrific injuries he suffered after being struck on his bike and dragged hundreds of feet by a driver, according to Jacobson’s wife Rachel. Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether the Cook County state’s attorney’s office will level more serious charges against the motorist, who so far has only been charged with misdemeanors.

On Monday, May 2, at around 6 p.m., Scott Jacobson, 47, was riding home after biking with his two sons to wrestling practice at De La Salle Institute. He was near the intersection of 35th Street and Lowe Avenue when SUV driver Joshua Thomas, 26, made a U-turn and struck him, according to police.

Jacobson was dragged hundreds of feet until bystanders ran to stop the vehicle. The cyclist’s pelvis was fractured in three places, including the ball of the upper femur, which fits in the hip socket. He has severe road rash over much of his body, with muscle and bone visible in places.

Rachel Jacobson, Scott’s wife of some 20 years and a CPS teacher, provided an update on his situation over the phone from Stroger Hospital, where he’s being treated in the burn ward for his abrasions. “He’s doing pretty well,” she said. “He’s in good spirits, but he’s in a lot of pain. His dressings need to be changed twice a day, and that hurts.”

Rachel said she’s grateful for contributions to the GoFundMe page that has raised more than $36,000 within a week to help support the family while Scott recovers. Doctors say it will likely be six months before he is able to return to his job as a superintendent for a construction company. Bridgeport community activist Kimberly Cannatello Lazo, who didn’t know the family before the collision but was moved by the story, contacted the family, and launched the crowdfunding page in order to help out, Rachel said.

Rachel told me more about how the crash occured. As Scott was biking west on 35th towards his home in McKinley Park, he saw Thomas weaving in the SUV towards the line of parked cars. “When Scott came up from behind him to pass, [Thomas] did a crazy U-turn and ran into him,” she said. “Scott looked at him, yelled, and slapped the hood but [the driver] kept going and Scott got sucked under.”

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Why Driver Who Dragged a Cyclist in Bridgeport Should Face Felony Charges

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Scott Jacobson. Photo: GoFundMe

Earlier this week there was a horrific act of traffic violence in Bridgeport. An SUV driver struck Scott Jacobson as he rode his bicycle and dragged him hundreds of feet, causing grievous injuries.

While DNAinfo initially reported that the motorist was only charged with failure to exercise due car for a pedestrian in the roadway, a misdemeanor, police told me the driver was charged with several other misdemeanors, including reckless driving. However, local attorneys who specialize in bike cases argue that the perpetrator should have been charged with aggravated reckless driving, a felony.

On Monday at around 6 p.m., Jacobson, 47, was riding home after biking with his two sons to wrestling practice at De La Salle Institute. He was near the intersection of 35th Street and Lowe Avenue, where a firehouse is located, when a 26-year-old man driving a 2000 Dodge Durango made a U-turn on Lowe and struck him, according to Officer Laura Amezaga from Police News Affairs.

The cyclist was dragged hundreds of feet. “If it wasn’t for the witnesses and the firemen running to his rescue to stop the vehicle, Scott might not have made it,” Kimberly Cannatello Lazo wrote on a GoFundMe page she launched to raise money for the victim and his family.

Jacobson was taken to Stroger hospital with his pelvis fractured in three places, including the ball of the upper femur, which fits in the hip socket, according to Cannatello Lazo. He has severe road rash over much of his body, with muscle and bone visible in some locations. His recovery is expected to take six months, during which he will be unable to work.

Amezaga said the driver “stayed at the scene” after he was stopped. It’s hard to believe that the motorist had been unaware he was dragging Jacobson for such a long distance, so it seems likely he was fleeing the scene and would had continued dragging his victim, perhaps causing fatal injuries, had bystanders not intervened.

However, the motorists wasn’t charged with leaving the scene of a crash. In addition to failure to exercise due care and reckless driving, he was charged with failure to keep in lane, improper U-turn, driving on a revoked license, and uninsured vehicle, all of which are misdemeanors, according to Amezaga.

Chicago bike lawyers told me that the driver’s egregious actions warrant a felony charge of aggravated reckless driving. “The fact that the driver didn’t stop immediately, dragging Scott for hundreds of feet, warrants more serious charges being brought,” said attorney Brendan Kevenides of FK Law, a firm that specializes in bike and pedestrian cases (and a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor). “This was a crime.  It seems like the driver didn’t care whether Scott lived or died.”

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Driver Who Fatally Struck Woman on Southwest Side Allegedly Fled at 80 mph

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Guadalupe Chavez. Photo: GoFundMe

Reckless homicide and DUI charges have been filed against a driver who allegedly killed a woman and injured a man last weekend in the Vittum Park neighborhood near Midway Airport.

At a hearing on Tuesday, prosecutors said that about 10:45 p.m. Saturday, Cicero resident Guadalupe Chavez, 42, and a 39-year-old man had parked on the south side of Archer Avenue near Lavergne Avenue, about three blocks north of the airport, the Chicago Tribune reported. As they walked north across the four-lane street, they stopped in the middle of the road to wait for a westbound bus to pass. However, the bus driver slowed down to let them cross.

Brazel had been following the bus in the same lane in his red Jeep Patriot, driving at least 45 mph in the 30 mph zone, prosecutors said. When the bus slowed down, he attempted to pass on the right, hitting the two pedestrians as they proceeded across the street. The male victim was struck in the leg, while Chavez was thrown into the air.

According to prosecutors, witnesses said Brazel did not hit his brakes during the crash and drove away at a high speed. A witness called police with the vehicle’s description and plate number and then followed Brazel through side streets and alleys as the fleeing man drove at up to 80 mph in an apparent effort to evade the witness.

The witness eventually located the Jeep parked near 59th Street and Neenah Avenue with front-end damage and a missing mirror, which was left at the crash site, according to prosecutors. Police apprehended Brazel as he was walking near 58th Street and Rutherford Avenue.

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Indiana Will Fund Rewriting Faulty Illiana Environmental Impact Statement

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The Illiana’s high tolls would have driven motorists to use other routes instead. Photo: Tim Messer

The Illiana Tollway, a proposed highway boondoggle that would run through land south of the Chicago metro area, is the project that just won’t die. The tollway would be a joint project of the Illinois and Indiana transportation departments and cost Illinois taxpayers a minimum of $500 million. That’s $500 million that might otherwise be spent on necessary and financially viable projects like rebuilding the North Red Line, constructing the Ashland bus rapid transit route, and building Pace’s transitways.

Greg Hinz recently eported in Crain’s that it appears the two states have reached an agreement that Indiana will spend money to rewrite the project’s Environmental Impact Statement, which a federal judge ruled invalid last June. This federally-required document was supposed to explain why the tollway is needed, and how all impacts – to people and their property, flora and fauna – would be mitigated. Since the Illinois still hasn’t passed a state budget, it’s unable to pay for updating the EIS. We don’t know how much Indiana would spend on this.

Last year, the Environmental Law & Policy Center represented Openlands and the Midewin Heritage Association in a lawsuit against the Illiana and won by pointing out that the original EIS used circular logic. The document argued the tollway was needed in order to provide transportation access new residential and industrial development. However, its projections were based on the assumption that the tollway would be built, and would therefore induce new development in an area of farmland and nature preserves.

There are many reasons why building the Illiana would be a bad idea. For starters, most American roads don’t even pay for their own maintenance, let alone construction. Illinois’ transportation infrastructure network already has a $43 billion maintenance backlog.

Additionally, construction of the tollway would be funded through an extremely dubious public-private partnership scheme, requiring the state to compensate the concessionaire if the highway doesn’t generate a certain amount of profits. Since the plan calls for high tolls, many motorists were predicted to use alternative routes, so the Illiana would see relatively little traffic and not be a money-maker, leaving taxpayers on the hook for the revenue shortfall.

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How Friends of the Parks Saved a Parking Lot and Killed the Lucas Museum

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The original Lucas Museum plan called for building on Soldier Field’s south lot. Photo: Chris Riha, Chicago Reader

[The Chicago Reader recently launched a new weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership allows Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We syndicate a portion of the column on the day it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

As a sustainable ransportation advocate, I’m jazzed whenever land that’s been unnecessarily earmarked for moving or storing automobiles is put to more productive use.

So when Mayor Emanuel first proposed bringing the Lucas Museum of Narrative Arts to Chicago two years ago, one of the potential benefits that most excited me was the prospect of replacing a 1,500-car parking lot with a world-class cultural amenity, plus four acres of new green space.

The ugly expanse of asphalt where the museum would have gone is Soldier Field’s south lot, located on prime lakefront real estate between the football stadium and McCormick Place’s monolithic Lakeside Center.

Granted, this blacktop blemish also serves as a spot for tailgating, an age-old Chicago Bears tradition. In addition, it accommodates other special events that generate revenue for the city. But the Lucas plan would have largely moved the surface parking off the lakefront, while providing new tailgating opportunities in other locations.

So I was bummed when the advocacy organization Friends of the Parks launched a legal battle against the south lot proposal. While the group said it supports bringing the Lucas facility to our city, it argued that building it on the parking lot site would violate the city’s Lakefront Protection Ordinance, which states that “in no instance will further private development be permitted east of Lake Shore Drive.”

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Eyes on the Street: Tactical Urbanism Blooms on Broadway

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Looking east from Halsted at Broadway. Who can we thank for these cute planters that prevent illegal right turns? Photo: Justin Haugens

Last month when the city put up signs banning right turns from northbound Halsted onto southbound Broadway at Grace, eliminating a slip lane, the intersection became little safer. Thanks to what appears to be a guerrilla intervention by an unknown party, the site also became a little prettier.

Streetsblog reader Justin Haugens recently spotted some attractive planter boxes places next to the crosswalk. I have witnessed drivers disobeying the “Do Not Enter” and “No Right Turn” signs the Chicago Department of Transportation installed, so the planters serve to discourage such lawbreaking, as well as beautify the corner.

CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey did not immediately know who was responsible for placing the flowering plants.

The Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce has launched a petition asking CDOT to reverse the turn ban, arguing that it disrupts traffic in the area. When I called chamber director Maureen Martino to ask about the planters, she laughed out loud and said she had know idea where they came from. She said she would look check in with CDOT about the matter.

Martino said the chamber is still fighting to reinstate right turns from Halsted onto Broadway. “The whole area was a hot mess during last week’s Cubs games,” she said. “Normally that right turn serves as a relief valve for traffic when Halsted gets jammed up.” Frankly, it’s hard to imagine that this location three blocks northeast of the stadium is ever not a hot mess during ballgames.

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MPC: Vehicle Miles Traveled Tax Makes Sense, Won’t Happen for a While

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Cullerton: This guy is partly to blame for falling gas tax revenue. Photo: Frank Hebbert

Earlier this month the Metropolitan Planning Council released a report that found Illinois needs to raise $43 billion in revenue over the next decade to get our roads, bridges, and transit lines in a state of good repair. They called for raising the state gas tax, which has stayed flat at 19 cents since 1991, as well as raising vehicle registration fees. That idea got a mixed reception from state politicians, some of whom viewed a gas tax hike as political Kryptonite.

Interestingly, Senate President John Cullerton came out with his own infrastructure funding plan this week. He proposed implementing a vehicle miles traveled tax as a way to deal with falling gas tax revenue due to the growing popularity of more fuel-efficient hybrid and electric cars. Cullerton noted that even so-called “green” cars inflict wear-and-tear on Illinois roads, so It’s necessary to develop a more effective way to tax them.

“If all the cars were electric, there would be no money for the roads,” Cullerton told the Daily Herald. “The Prius owners are the reason we need the bill,” he said.

There are a several ways the VMT tax could potentially be collected, ranging laughably simple to high-tech. The first would be have drivers simply agree to pay the 1.5-cent per year based on the assumption that they’ll drive $30,000 miles a year, for an annual total of $450. Of course, that would be a great deal for Illinoisans who drive much more than that each year, and a terrible for those who drive much less.

A second option would be to have citizens self-report their mileage on a paper form. What could go wrong?

A third alternative would be an electronic device that would hook up to your vehicle’s odometer to provide an accurate count of how many miles you drive. However it might not know when you’ve left the state or are driving on a private road and therefore arguably shouldn’t be taxed by the state for those miles.

The most high-tech solution would be a GPS-powered gadget that can accurately keep track of exactly how many miles, on what roads, you’ve driven. Of course, there’d be privacy issues. What guaranteed would there be that a technician wouldn’t blackmail you after they observed you driving to a hideaway with your secret paramour? But that’s merely a hypothetical at this point.

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People Will Win if Wrigley Field Streets are Closed to Vehicle Traffic

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On game days, pedestrians fill the Addison/Clark intersection. Why bother keeping it open to vehicle traffic during these times? Photo: Peter Tauch

Two local politicians have proposed changing the streets around Wrigley Field to help defend it from terrorist attacks. Instead we should be looking at ways to protect the area from an excess of car traffic.

U.S. representative Mike Quigley (5th district) recently floated the idea of pedestrianizing Clark and Addison Streets during game days to prevent attacks. A spokesperson for Quigley clarified that while he hasn’t proposed anything specific yet, he’s interested in restricting private vehicle traffic during games but allowing buses and pedestrians to use Addison and Clark.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has previously rejected the idea of pedestrianizing these streets. But on Wednesday he announced he’d seek federal funding to widen the sidewalk on the south side (Addison) of the ballpark by four feet and add concrete bollards or planters to improve security.

“There [are] ways to achieve the security without shutting down Clark and Addison,” he told the Tribune. “We can do it in another way without all the other kind of ramifications that shutting down a major intersection [would entail].”

Quigley’s office released a statement yesterday endorsing Emanuel’s plan and offering help secure the federal funding.

While widening the sidewalk is a step in the right direction, more should be done to improve pedestrian and transit access to Wrigley. As it stands, motor vehicles can already barely get through Addison and Clark before and after games, when some 42,000 fans flood the intersection, and pedestrians in the street are at risk of being struck.

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