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Indiana Will Fund Rewriting Faulty Illiana Environmental Impact Statement

Photo of the then-recently opened I-355, 127th St overpass

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 million 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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After Driver Injures Senior at Devon/Greenview, City May Fix Intersection

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Devon and Greenview, looking east. Image: Google Street View

On Wednesday at around 4 p.m. a motorist struck and injured an elderly woman at the intersection of Devon and Greenview, on the border between Edgewater and Rogers Park.

The woman who was struck is 70 years old and she was taken to St. Francis Hospital in critical condition, according to Officer Kevin Quaid from Police News Affairs. As of Saturday afternoon, the woman was in intensive care. The driver, a 43-year-old man, was cited for failure to yield to a pedestrian in the roadway and driving without a license.

Local resident Alana Hanson saw the crash occur as she was walking to pick up her young son from a daycare center near the intersection. “It was horrifying to witness, but I can’t say it was surprising given how much harassment I face crossing that street with my son twice a day,” she said.

Hanson added that drivers on Devon, the main street, routinely ignore the intersection’s four-way stop signs and fail to yield to pedestrians crossing north-south. “I’ve had drivers lay on their horn, rev their engines at me, and zoom around me as I’m in the crosswalk with a stroller,” she said. She added that the Chicago Department of Transportation previously installed “Stop for Pedestrians” signs at the intersection, but they were both flattened within two weeks.

Devon is the border of the 48th and 49th Ward, and Hanson says she has contacted both offices to ask if other pedestrian safety improvements could be made at the intersection, such as restriping of the crosswalks, or the construction of curb bump-outs, a pedestrian island or raised crosswalks – which have proved effective in reducing speeding by Palmer Square park.

Hanson hopes the city will make robust changes to the dangerous intersection. “I feel like the only way to get anyone to drive considerately is to force the behavior with physical barriers,” she said. “Making drivers worry about damaging their cars is the only thing I’ve ever seen have a real effect on dangerous driving.”

Greenview jogs west north of Devon, which makes for poor sightlines. There are also curb cuts for a gas station at the northwest corner, and the parking lot of the Devon Market grocery store on the northeast corner, which present a hazard for pedestrians.

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Reckless Homicide Charge Has Been Reinstated in the Bobby Cann Case

A memorial for Bobby Cann on Clybourn Avenue.

A memorial for Bobby Cann near the crash site in spring 2013. Photo: Steven Vance

There’s been some good news in the case against the driver who killed cyclist Bobby Cann while allegedly drunk and speeding. The Cook County state’s attorney’s office announced today that they won an appeal to have the reckless homicide charge against motorist Ryne San Hamel reinstated. The charge had previously been dismissed by Judge William Hooks at a hearing last July.

On the evening of May 29, 2013, Cann, 26, was biking at the intersection of Clybourn Avenue and Larabee Street when Ryne San Hamel, 28, struck and killed him. San Hamel was charged with reckless homicide and aggravated DUI, as well as misdemeanor DUI, reckless driving, and failure to stay in the lane.

At the July hearing Judge Hooks dismissed the homicide charge, agreeing with defense attorney Sam Adam Jr. that the wording of the charge in the indictment was too vague for San Hamel’s team to adequately prepare his defense. The reasoning was that the state’s attorney’s office hadn’t been specific enough about what acts by San Hamel were reckless.

The following month the state’s attorney filed an appeal of Hooks’ decision with the Illinois Appellate Court, contending that that level of specificity wasn’t required by law. “The appeals court sided with the state, which means the reckless homicide charge will be rolled back in and [the court] will address that moving forward,” explained Active Transportation Alliance crash victim advocate Jason Jenkins.

The next hearing in the case will take place on Thursday, May 5. “That one will be to hear testimony from the judge who signed the search warrant [to test San Hamel’s blood alcohol content level], and possibly some of the police officers who were involved in relation to a motion by the defense to dismiss the warrant due to some irregularities with the way it was filled out,” Jenkins said. “So they’re going to get the judge on the stand to testify and straighten that out.”

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MPC: We Can Solve IL Infrastructure Woes via Higher Gas Tax, Vehicle Fees

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Looking east along the Green Line from Ashland. According to the RTA, about a third of the Chicago region’s transit network is not in a good state of repair. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers

A new report by the Metropolitan Planning Council finds that Illinois needs to invest $43 billion over the next decade to get its roads, bridges, and transit lines in a state of good repair. This is a daunting number, especially for a state that has gone over nine months without a budget plan. However, the nonprofit argues that this goal is achievable if leaders recognize the importance of facing the problem head-on by creating a new funding stream, rather than dealing with the costly consequences of continuing to neglect our transportation network.

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Chart: MPC

“The $43 billion needed to rebuild and improve our transportation infrastructure is less than what we’re wasting today on vehicle repairs due to poor road conditions, time lost to traffic congestion, and population and jobs going to neighboring states,” said MPC senior fellow Jim Reilly in a statement. “To reverse these costly trends, we need a significant, reliable state revenue source dedicated to infrastructure investment.”

The new study notes that Illinois’ fixed, per-gallon gas tax was last raised in 1991. During the quarter of a century that followed, the purchasing power of the tax has dropped by over 40 percent. The average Illinois resident’s contribution to the gas tax fund has declined from the equivalent of $160 to less than $100 (in 2013 dollars). As a result, the state is spending 40 percent less money on transportation infrastructure than it did 25 years ago.

The report finds that, as a result of Illinois’ lack of investment in rebuilding infrastructure, one out of five roads in the state is in a state of disrepair. The group says twice as many roads will be in poor condition by 2021 if we continue this trend.

Similarly, the Regional Transportation Authority says that only about two-thirds of Chicagoland’s transit network is in a state of good repair. That will drop to less than half of the network by 2030 if we don’t take action.

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Actually, the Lincoln/Ashland/Belmont Remix Will Be a Major Improvement

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Before and after views of the intersection. Planned features include bumpouts, new crosswalks, bike lanes, and far-side bus stops.

Last week a ward staffer provided me with a preview of plans for the Lincoln/Ashland/Belmont reconstruction project. From what I gathered from that conversation, the Chicago Department of Transportation was planning a relatively conservative redesign of one of the North Side’s most dangerous intersections.

But at a public meeting about the initiative last week, I learned that it’s actually going to be somewhat bolder than I thought, with significant improvements for pedestrians, cyclists and transit users. The project also includes streetscaping work on Belmont between Ashland and Southport, and Lincoln from Melrose to Wellington, which will further improve conditions for walking.

During the hearing at St. Luke’s Church, 1500 West Belmont, CDOT’s complete streets manager Janet Attarian outlined the planned changes. She noted that Lincoln/Ashland Belmont was the 5th most dangerous intersection in the city in 2010, with 35 crashes.

New sidewalk bumpouts will be added on Lincoln and Ashland, which will narrow these streets at the intersection and shorten the turning radius for drivers, preventing high-speed turns. They will also improve sightlines and shorten pedestrian crossing distance. In addition, the bumpouts will help straighten out a kink in Lincoln which occurs at the six-way junction.

Left turns off of Lincoln will be banned. This will affect relatively few drivers, since these moves make up only 2-4% of traffic at the intersection, according to CDOT counts. During rush hours, left turns currently account for 8-16% of traffic on Lincoln.

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CDOT Plans a (Conservative) Safety Overhaul of Belmont, Ashland and Lincoln

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The vast, crooked intersection is dangerous for all road users. Image: Google Street View

The six-way intersection of Belmont, Ashland, and Lincoln in Lakeview is one of the most confusing and scariest intersections on the North Side, especially for pedestrians and bicyclists.

The north and south legs of Lincoln don’t line up properly. The six-way junction is a massive expanse of asphalt, roughly 150 feet across at its widest point, creating a long exposure time for cyclists on the diagonal street, a recommended bike route. Pedestrians are forced to make as many as three street crossings to get where they need to go, using long, skewed crosswalks.

Not surprisingly, the intersection has a high crash rate. According to Steven Vance’s Chicago Crash Browser, based on state collision statistics, from 2009 to 2013 there were 185 total crashes at the intersection, including 12 in which bicyclists were injured, and five in which pedestrians were injured. The junction is sure to become even more chaotic in early 2017 when a new Whole Foods opens at the northeast corner with a whopping 300-plus car parking spaces.

In an effort to increase safety for all road users, enhance walkability and reduce the “barrier effect” of the intersection, The Chicago Department of Transportation will be making some safety improvements. It’s part of a larger streetscape project that also includes making the Lincoln Hub placemaking pilot, located two blocks southeast at Wellington/Southport/Lincoln, a permanent – though scaled-back – feature of Lakeview.

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The northern seating plaza of the Lincoln Hub. Photo: John Greenfield

CDOT will be holding a public hearing to discuss their plan next Tuesday, March 29, from 6-7:30 p.m. at St. Luke’s Church, 1500 West Belmont. Last Tuesday the department held a private meeting to outline the project with local aldermen Scott Waguespack, Tom Tunney, and Ameya Pawar, plus the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce and other neighborhood organizations.

Waguespack’s chief of Staff Paul Sajovec filled me in what was discussed at the recent meeting. CDOT considered making some fairly bold changes to Belmont/Ashland/Lincoln, including closing off Lincoln Avenue entirely in one direction or the other, Sajovec said. However, they ultimately decided to go with options that involve the least amount of changes to motor vehicle throughput, according to Sajovec.

It’s tempting to fault CDOT for prioritizing traffic flow over improvements that would maximize safety and walkability here. However, the changes to the intersection will require approval from the more conservative Illinois Department of Transportation. In addition, all three streets are bus routes (or will be, once the CTA’s #11 Lincoln route re-launches this year), so unless the redesign includes dedicated bus lanes, reducing throughput would slow down transit trips.

Moreover, from what Sajovec told me, some positive changes are planned. Curb extensions will be added to some of the six corners, shortening crossing distances for pedestrians. In addition, these will help reduce the kink in Lincoln.

Left turns from that diagonal street will be banned in both directions. That will allow bike lanes to be striped on Lincoln through the intersection, which will make pedaling across the vast expanse a little less nerve-wracking.

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