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Rauner’s Latest Weird Illiana Move: Pushing for Tax Breaks to Contractors

What is Bruce Rauner up to with contradictory movements on the wasteful Illiana Tollway?

Rauner has taken contradictory actions on the Illiana. Just what is he up to?

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner has taken action to kill the wasteful, destructive Illiana Tollway, which his predecessor Pat Quinn championed. Lately, however, Rauner has made some odd steps that suggest he may be interested in keeping the project on life support.

In June, the governor ordered the Illinois Department of Transportation to remove the tollway from its multiyear plan, and said he would stop spending state funds on the project. But, earlier this month Rauner signed a bill authorizing $5.5 million in spending to “wind down” the project.

Recently, Rauner submitted a proposal to the Illinois General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules that would give any Illiana contractors – should there be any – an exemption on paying sales taxes for materials they buy to build the tollway.

The Illiana is the epitome of a highway boondoggle. It would cost more to construct than it would ever collect in tolls, leaving Illinois taxpayers on the hook for $500 million in borrowing. It would also destroy valuable farmland and induce suburban sprawl. Quinn tried to steamroll the project forward in order to garner support from South Side and Southland politicians and residents for his failed reelection effort.

The governor’s spokesman Lance Trover insted that the tax break “is in no way an effort to revive a project that the Illinois Department of Transportation has pulled from its multiyear plan,” according to Crain’s. Terry Horstman, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Revenue, couldn’t explain why Rauner recently submitted the bill, but he said the new legislation is required by the 2010 law that authorized building the Illiana.

If Rauner is serious about not building the Illiana then the sensible thing to do would be to rescind any legislation authorizing its construction. The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules should also reject the tax break proposal.

The regional leaders at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning should also take action to ensure that the boondoggle doesn’t get back. Although Quinn bullied the CMAP board into putting the project on the organization’s high-priority projects list, the agency should demote it from the list.

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Recent Chicago Pedestrian and Bicycle Fatalities

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63rd Street near Ellis, where Dillan Harris was fatally struck. Image: Google Maps

Man Fleeing Police Fatally Strikes 13-Month-Old Boy in Stroller

Dillan Harris, a 13-month-old boy who was sitting in a stroller, was run over and killed by a driver who was being chased by police in the wake of a gunshot murder, prosecutors said.

On Saturday, July 11, at around 1:40 p.m., an off-duty police officer saw Antoine Watkins, 21, “calmly” walking away from the location where local rapper Marvin “Capo” Carr had just been murdered, at 77th and Kingston in South Shore, according to prosecutors. Watkins then entered a red Toyota Avalon and drove away.

The officer called 911 to report the license plate number, and then drove after Watkins for several blocks, according to prosecutors. Other police officers pursued Watkins and pulled him over near 65th and Richards. When the officers exited their vehicle and approached his car, Watkins sped off, reaching speeds of 60-70 mph on 63rd Street, which has a 30 mph speed limit. Officers in several vehicles pursued him.

At 63rd and Ellis in Woodlawn, Watkins lost control of his car, struck a light pole, and careened onto the sidewalk by a bus stop, where Harris was in a stroller, prosecutors said. Watkins fled the scene in his car, dragging the boy and the stroller under the vehicle.

The driver crashed the car in a nearby alley, where he was soon apprehended by police officers, prosecutors said. Harris was transported to University of Chicago Comer Hospital, where he was later pronounced dead, according to the police.

Watkins, of the 8100 block of South Bennett in South Shore, was charged with the murder of Harris, fleeing police, and driving without a license or insurance. At a hearing on July 13, he was ordered held without bail.

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Homicide Charge Dropped in Cann Case; Driver Still May Get Stiff Sentence

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Bobby Cann. Photo: Groupon

At a hearing on Friday, a judge dismissed reckless homicide charges against Ryne San Hamel, the driver who fatally struck cyclist Bobby Cann while allegedly drunk and speeding. While this decision represents a setback in the case against San Hamel, he is still charged with aggravated DUI resulting in a death, which carries a potentially heavier sentence.

On the evening of May 29, 2013, Cann, 26, was biking from work when San Hamel, 28, struck and killed him at the intersection of Clybourn Avenue and Larabee Street in Old Town. According to police, San Hamel was driving 50 mph and had a blood-alcohol content of 0.127, well above the legal limit of 0.08. He had been arrested on alcohol-related charges while driving, including a DUI, on two previous occasions and received relatively light penalties, according to a Chicago Reader article.

After San Hamel struck Cann, in addition to the reckless homicide and aggravated DUI charges, he was charged with misdemeanor DUI, reckless driving, and failure to stay in the lane. Last fall, San Hamel retained defense lawyer Sam Adam Jr., whose previous clients include ex-governor Rod Blagojevich and R&B star R. Kelly.

Adam recently filed a number of motions, including the motion to dismiss the reckless homicide charge. He asserted that the charge was not specific enough for San Hamel’s team to adequately prepare his defense, according to Cann family attorney Kate Conway. While it might seem obvious that speeding while intoxicated is reckless, Adam argued that these actions weren’t sufficiently spelled out in the indictment.

Judge William Hooks agreed that the charge was too vague. However, he dismissed the charge “without prejudice,” which means that the Cook County State’s Attorney can potentially re-indict San Hamel with more specificity in the future, Conway said. “It’s certainly not an end to the case, it’s simply an end to one of the indictments.”

Tandra Simonton, a spokeswoman for the State’s Attorney’s office, did not say whether Assistant State’s Attorney Maria Augustus, who is prosecuting the case, plans to re-bring the reckless homicide charges. However, Simonton noted that the aggravated DUI charge is the more serious felony. “We’re still moving forward with the case,” she said.

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Eyes on the Street: Clybourn Curb-Protected Bike Lanes Are Halfway Done

Construction of the Clybourn Avenue curb-separated bike lane

The northbound bike lane runs past the memorial to fallen cyclist Bobby Cann. Photo: Steven Vance. More photos.

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

Note: Keating Law Offices, P.C. has generously agreed to sponsor two Streetsblog Chicago posts about bicycle safety topics per month. The firm’s support will help make Streetsblog Chicago a sustainable project. Keating Law Offices is not involved in the Bobby Cann case.

Just over a month ago, the Illinois Department of Transportation started constructing curb-protected bike lanes in Old Town, on Clybourn Avenue between Halsted Street and Division Street, and on eastbound Division between Clybourn and Orleans Street. They’ve already made significant progress on the northbound section of Clybourn.

In most sections, the curbside bike lanes will be protected from motorized traffic by a three-foot wide curb plus a lane of parallel-parked cars. Even though the project is far from complete, cyclists are already taking advantage of the safer bikeway by riding in it.

Construction of the Clybourn Avenue curb-separated bike lane

A bus stop island is being constructed to the left of the bike lane on eastbound Division. Photo: Steven Vance

It’s notable that the IDOT is spearheading this project, with assistance from the Chicago Department of Transportation, because IDOT has blocked CDOT from installing protected bike lanes on state-jurisdiction roads within the city since 2011. That changed after cyclist Bobby Cann was struck and killed by an allegedly drunk, speeding driver at Clybourn and Larrabee Street in May of 2012. We’ll have an update on the criminal case against the driver, Ryne San Hamel, later today.

While the state hasn’t fully lifted their ban on PBLs, in response to the Cann tragedy, they agreed to “pilot” the new bikeway. This will be only the second location with curb-protected lanes in the city – CDOT installed a similar facility on Sacramento Boulevard in Douglas Park in May of this year.

Crews are also currently working on the curb-protected bike lane on eastbound Division. This section includes a bus stop island – CTA riders cross the bike lane to access the bus stop. It appears that this is Chicago’s first bus stop island, but CDOT is also building a handful of island bus stops adjacent to a protected bike lane on Washington Street as part of the Loop Link bus rapid transit project in the city center.

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What’s Rush Hour Traffic Really Like at the Lincoln Hub?

There have been have been plenty of complaints in the media that the Lincoln Hub placemaking project is causing a traffic nightmare at Lincoln, Wellington, and Southport in Lakeview. The intiative was spearheaded by the local chamber of commerce in order to create safer conditions for all road users and encourage people to linger and spend money at the six-way intersection.

The project uses flexible posts and brightly colored paint dots on the sidewalks and streets to create curb extensions, eliminating several dangerous channelized right turn lanes, aka slip lanes. The curb extensions double as seating plazas, with café tables, round concrete seating units, and colorful planters, which provide additional protection from cars.

Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin recently criticized the street redesign, arguing that replacing the slip lanes with pedestrian space has created a headache for drivers:

By gobbling up space once occupied by right-hand turn lanes along the curbs, the project forces drivers to make looping turns through the center of the intersection. Frustrated motorists honk their horns, an ironic outcome for a project devoted to “traffic calming.”

Local resident Luis Monje launched an online petition to “redesign/rethink/rescind” the Lincoln Hub, which has garnered over 580 signatures. He delivered a printout of the signatures to local alderman Scott Waguespack on July 15. “We have noticed a MARKED increase in the amount of traffic congestion on our block as cars/trucks/service vehicles struggle with the sharp turns that have been made much tighter due to this ‘improvement,’” Monje wrote in the petition.

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New Uptown Buildings Would Have 240 Units, Only 72 Parking Spots

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Rendering of the 975 W. Wilson Ave. proposal.

Cedar Street Cos., the company behind the FLATS Chicago developments, which typically involve converting single-room occupancy buildings to more upscale rental units, has proposed two new apartment buildings near the Wilson ‘L’ station in Uptown.

One of the buildings would be virtually across the street from the station, at 1050 W. Wilson Ave., and the other would be a block east, at 975 W. Wilson, on the southeast corner of Wilson and Sheridan Road, DNAinfo reports. The first building at 1050 would feature 102 residential units and the second would have 138 units. Both structures would be seven stories tall.

The city’s zoning code usually requires one car-parking space per unit for new construction, regardless if the developer says residents won’t use them. However, Cedar Street is proposing transit-oriented developments with much lower parking ratios. 1050 W. Wilson would include 21 spaces, for a roughly 1:5 ratio, and 975 W. Wilson would have 52 spots, one space for every 2.7 units.

Since these buildings are a stone’s throw from the Red Line, these are sensible ratios, but there’s likely to be some opposition from existing residents. When dense, parking-lite TOD developments are proposed, neighbors typically argue that it result will in a parking crunch. At the same time, they worry that there will be more traffic congestion, which is exactly what happens when developers provide too much parking, encouraging new residents to bring cars to the neighborhood.

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CDOT Says Controversial Jeff Park Street Closure Is About Reducing Crashes

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Arena blockaded CDOT’s cul-de-sac construction site on Monday morning. Photo: Kenji Kerins

Some Streetsblog Chicago commenters have argued that Steven Vance and myself are always in favor of limiting car access in the name of street safety, but that’s not the case. We’re still not sure whether a Chicago Department of Transportation street closure project in Jefferson Park was prompted by a speeding and crash problem, as CDOT claims, or if the main motivation was to make room for a digital billboard.

On Monday morning, 45th Ward Alderman John Arena used his car to blockade the intersection of Wilson Avenue and Lamon Avenue, where CDOT crews were tearing up the asphalt in preparation for building cul-de-sacs. Arena says the department did not notify him of the work before it started last weekend, and he’s opposed to the project because he feels its main purpose is to give public space to a private billboard company. The alderman’s stunt resulted in plenty of media coverage, and it was also effective in getting CDOT to the bargaining table – officials met with him that day to negotiate, and agreed to halt the project until a public meeting can be held.

Back in 2013, City Council voted to allow the advertising company J.C. Decaux to install a digital signs at this location by the Kennedy Expressway and many other spots near expressways across the city. Arena, a member of the council’s Progressive Caucus who often opposes Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s initiatives, voted against the deal.

The original proposal was to install the Wilson/Lamon sign on the front lawn of the adjacent Mayfair Pumping Station, but permanently closing the intersection will allow the 90-foot tall sign to be erected in the middle of Wilson. However, in a statement released on Monday before the meeting with Arena, CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey said that the decision to build cul-de-sacs was in response to “a history of excessive speeding on Lamon and Wilson due to cut-through traffic.”:

“These improvements, while addressing traffic safety and improving conditions on the increasingly residential section of Lamon, also accommodate the placement of a digital sign which was approved by City Council in 2013,” Claffey stated. “These changes will address the speeding problem, eliminate crashes from cars that lose control at the curve from Lamon to Wilson, and reduce the number of trucks that strike the low-clearance viaduct on Wilson.”

After meeting with CDOT, Arena told DNAinfo that the department agreed to fill in the hole they dug and temporarily cover it to allow car access. In addition to holding a yet-to-be-scheduled community meeting about the project, CDOT promised to look into alternative locations for the sign and study the potential traffic impacts of the road closure, Arena said. “Special interests like the lobbyists behind the digital billboard industry in Chicago should not control the streets in our communities,” he added.

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Driver Who Killed Cyclist Hector Avalos May Plead Guilty Soon

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Hector Avalos. Photo via Facebook.

A key hearing in the criminal case against the driver who allegedly struck and killed cyclist Hector Avalos while drunk will take place on August 20.

Robert Vais was charged with a felony aggravated DUI and two misdemeanor DUI charges in the wake of the December 6th, 2013 crash. Vais has asked the judge for a “402 Conference,” a conference between his lawyer, the prosecutor, and the judge, which could pave the way for the defendant to plead guilty. If the parties agree on a potential sentence for Vais, he will have the option of pleading guilty, so that the case does not go to trial. In such cases, it’s common for some leniency to be granted in exchange for the guilty plea.

It’s critical that there be a strong turnout at the hearing from supporters of the Avalos family, including members of the bike community, to let the judge know they want to see justice served. If Vais is guilty of taking a life while driving drunk, he must not be let off with a slap on the wrist.

On the night of the fatal crash, Avalos was biking back to the South Side from his job as a line cook at El Hefe restaurant in River North. Vais, an administrator at Stroger Hospital, reportedly attended a staff Christmas party in Little Italy prior to the collision. At 11:58 p.m., was driving to his home in southwest suburban Riverside in his minivan when he struck Avalos on the 2500 block of West Ogden in Douglas Park. The victim was rushed to Mount Sinai Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 12:38 a.m.

Avalos was 28 years old at the time of his death. He loved to camp, fish, barbecue, and share his knowledge of outdoor skills with his many friends. After serving his country in the Marines, he began working in the restaurant industry with the goal of becoming a chef. Sadly, that dream will go unrealized because his life was tragically cut short.

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Survey Says: Lots of Lakeview Residents Like the Lincoln Hub

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The Lincoln Hub, yesterday around 7 p.m. Photo: John Greenfield

As mentioned last Friday, Streetsblog Chicago will be on vacation from July 13-17 and will resume publication of Today’s Headlines and daily articles on Monday, July 20. There may be some occasional posts next week. Have a great weekend!

Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin recently wrote a column slamming the “functional faults” of the Lincoln Hub placemaking initiative in Lakeview, which he claimed have led to a cacophony of horn blasting from aggravated motorists. I responded with a post acknowledging Kamin’s valid criticisms that the seating plazas lack shade, and they don’t offer enough obvious physical protection from cars for some people to feel comfortable using them.

However, I also pointed out that a supposedly well informed urbanist like Kamin shouldn’t be lamenting the removal of dangerous slip lanes to make more space for pedestrians, simply because it forces drivers to slow down a bit. He wasn’t pleased:

An entertaining Twitter exchange ensued. Eventually Luis Monje, a local resident who launched an online petition against “Polka Dot Park,” got involved:

Of course, not all of the signees on Monje’s petition (there were 535 as of this afternoon) live in the neighborhood – some the addresses listed aren’t even in Illinois. But Monje has a point: While his petition does suggest that a significant number of residents dislike the hub, there hasn’t been much in the media about neighbors who like the new street layout.

To get a sense of what kind support there is for the Lincoln Hub, I staked out the intersection last night between 7 and 8 p.m. and buttonholed passers-by. Granted, it wasn’t the thick of rush hour, but I saw no evidence of traffic problems and didn’t hear any of the “frustrated motorists honk[ing] their horns” Kamin wrote about.

All of the 16 people I spoke with were on foot, unless otherwise noted. I tried not to ask leading questions that would suggest I wanted a positive response, but simply asked for their opinion of the new street configuration.

The vast majority of the respondents told me they believe the curb extensions, including the removal of slip lanes, make the area safer and more pleasant for walking, and said the current layout doesn’t cause undue inconvenience for drivers. True, a couple of people did assert that the intersection is now a nightmare for motorists.

But, overall, this informal survey suggests that more neighbors may be in support of the Lincoln Hub than you might think from mainstream news reports, Kamin’s column, or Monje’s petition. Here are the responses, in chronological order, edited a bit for clarity.

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Rauner Authorizes More Illiana Spending to “Wind Down” Project

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Howard Learner, president of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said the Illiana “gravy train” needs to end. Photo: ELPC

Governor Bruce Rauner signed a bill last week that authorizes spending $5.5 million more on the Illiana Tollway, a month after he announced he was suspending the project.

The Illiana would have been a new highway a couple miles south of the existing Chicago metropolitan region that would have encouraged suburban sprawl. Tolls would have been high enough that the road would have likely seen little use, but taxpayers would have been on the hook for covering revenue shortfalls as part of a public-private partnership. Ex-governor Pat Quinn, who was fighting for his political life at the time, pushed hard for the Illiana, hoping that support from Southland legislators and voters would help him win reelection.

Crain’s Chicago columinst Greg Hinz reported that the $5.5 million is for to pay consultants to “wind down” contracts and for covering litigation fees. A Rauner aide told Hinz that the fact that Rauner has authorized the expenditure doesn’t necessarily mean the Illinois Department of Transportation will spend the money.

While this development doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a backroom conspiracy to keep the Illiana on life-support, some of the text in the measure is a bit fishy. The bill says that the money is going to IDOT to “enable the Illiana Expressway to be developed, financed, constructed, managed, or operated in an entrepreneurial and business-like manner.”

Howard Learner, president of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which has sued IDOT twice over the Illiana, told Hinz that Rauner is not keeping his June 2 promise to “[suspend] all existing project contracts and procurements” related to the project. “It’s time to bring the wasteful Illiana tollway gravy train for consultants to an end,” Learner said. “These public funds should instead be used to meet our state’s high-priority needs.”

The most recent stake in the heart of the tollway was when a district court ruling invalidated the project’s federally required Environmental Impact Statement. The judge noted that IDOT’s justification for the highway was based on circular logic. The department argued that more road capacity is needed because new residents will be moving to the area. However, IDOT’s projection was based on the assumption that the tollway would be built, which would have encouraged development sprawl. However, IDOT could potentially rewrite the EIS to pass muster.

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