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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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Dozens of Residents Showed Up for This Week’s South Side Bikeways Meetings

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Tuesday’s meeting. Photo: Anne Alt

After poor turnout from locals at last month’s two West Side bikeways hearing, with a total of only five area residents attending, there was a much better turnout at the two South Side meetings this week. The input sessions are part of a strategy by the Chicago Department of Transportation to improve bike equity for these parts of the city, which have historically gotten sparser bike lane coverage than the North and Northwest Sides, where more residents have advocated for them.

Monday night about 20 people attended a hearing at the Vodak-East Side Library in the East Side neighborhood, according to CDOT officials. I went to Tuesday’s meeting in Pullman where about 40 people showed up, including a staffer for 9th Ward alderman Anthony Beale. Many Pullman residents were there, along with people from the Riverdale community area, Beverly, and South Shore. Both meetings focused on the area roughly bounded by Vincennes, 91st, the lake, Indiana, and the Calumet River.

CDOT’s Mike Amsden of CDOT did a presentation explaining the planning process for the city’s Streets for Cycling Plan 2020, which was released in 2012. “What happened to the Bike 2015 Plan?” asked one attendee. Amsden explained that Bike 2015 was all about policy, while Streets for Cycling focuses on building a citywide bike network.

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The South Side study area

Prior to these meetings, CDOT reps met with Beale, 10th Ward alderman Susan Sadlowski Garza, and staff for aldermen Carrie Austin (34th) and Greg Mitchell (7th). Aldermen Howard Brookins (21st) and Michelle Harris (8th) were notified but did not schedule meetings.

Additional meetings were held with community organizations and institutions, including Southeast Environmental Task Force, Southeast Chicago Commission Pullman Civic Organization, Chicago State University, LISC Chicago, and Beverly Area Planning Association.

CDOT is taking public input on a draft of the proposed route map and weighing it along with technical criteria (route and feasibility analysis, as described in the presentation) in order to prioritize which routes should be built next.

Funding for route design is available now, although construction funding is not available for all mapped routes. Federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funds can be used, but planning and approval for CMAQ-funded bikeways takes a few years. Locally funded projects can be built faster, but city and state budget issues limit that option.

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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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Police SUVs That Aren’t Serving or Protecting: Part II

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Apparently the officers who parked this car were responding to a Chicago chicken emergency. Photo: J. Patrick Lynch

We owe a debt of gratitude to the police officers who work hard to make our streets safer for all Chicagoans, which includes enforcing traffic laws. And, as I’ve written before, an officer has every right to park his or her squad car in a crosswalk, bus stop, or bike lane if it’s necessary to quickly access a trouble spot in the line of duty.

However, when officers choose to block access for pedestrians, bus riders, and bicyclists with their vehicles simply because it makes their personal errands a little more convenient, that’s a minor abuse of their authority that undermines respect for the law.

Reader J. Patrick Lynch told us about a couple recent examples of this from Lakeview’s Broadway business strip. In the first case, pictured above, Lynch says two officers left their vehicle in the northbound bus stop at Wellington/Broadway while they ate a Korean-inspired fried chicken dinner across the street at Crisp on a Thursday evening. Can’t fault them for their taste in food.

“I asked one of them if that was their vehicle and if he really thinks he should be blocking access to the bus stop,” Lynch reports. “His response, no joke, was, ‘When you’re girlfriend calls us up because you are beating her, I need to have my vehicle close by.’” Not funny.

On a busy Saturday afternoon, Lynch drove by a patrol car that was parked in a crosswalk at Surf and Broadway, even though there was space to park behind the vehicle. After Lynch parked and was walking back to his apartment five minutes later, he saw an officer walking back to the unattended squad car.

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CDOT’s 2015 Bikeways Report Highlights Last Year’s Many Innovative Projects

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CDOT tried lots of new stuff this year, including this treatment at Washington/Franklin, inspired by Dutch “protected intersections.” Photo: CDOT

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

The Chicago Department of Transportation’s new report “2015 Bikeways – Year in Review” showcases the fact that the CDOT bike program got a heck of a lot of stuff done last year. It quantifies the significant progress that was made in 2015, the year the city debuted curb-protected bike lanes.

All told, CDOT installed about 20 miles of new buffered bike lanes and roughly three miles of protected lanes, as well as restriping some 19 miles of existing, faded lanes. The city has put in a total of 108 miles of bike lanes since Mayor Emanuel took office in 2011, including many miles of existing conventional lanes that were upgraded to buffered or protected lanes. Currently there are 87 miles of buffered lanes and 21.35 miles of protected lanes.

The city’s first curb-protected lanes went in on Sacramento, Milwaukee, Clybourn, Washington, and 31st Street. Concrete protection represents a big step forward towards creating a bike network that so-called “interested but concerned” types will feel comfortable using.

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The Clybourn curb-protected bike lane. Photo: John Greenfield

The new curb protection on 31st represents an upgrade from the old PBLs, which were chiefly separated from car traffic by plastic posts. “This project exemplifies the strategy of installing bike infrastructure quickly and then upgrading the project through future inprovements,” the report states.

CDOT also built the city’s first raised bike lanes on the north sidewalk of a short stretch of Roosevelt between State and the Grant Park skate park. Green “crosswalks for bikes” still need to be marked to shepherd cyclists through the cross streets.

While the Roosevelt bikeway is more of a demonstration project than a particularly useful route, hopefully the city will build a longer raised bikeway in the near future. It would be great to see Chicago pilot Copenhagen-style facilities, where the bike lane is located above the street level but below the sidewalk, which helps keep walkers out of the bike lane.

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Could Woman-Only ‘L’ Cars Prevent Sexual Harassment on the CTA?

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A women-only railcar in Tokyo. Photo: Wikipedia

[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.]

Last month in the wake of hundreds of reported sexual assaults on New Year’s Eve in Cologne, a German commuter train line announced it would offer railcars reserved for women and children. Crowded transit systems in Japan, Indonesia, India, Egypt, Mexico, and Brazil already feature women-only rail cars in order to prevent harassment and assaults.

In response to that news, last week NPR commentator Rhitu Chatterjee wrote glowingly of the ladies’ cars in her hometown of Delhi.

“It would be wonderful if men learned to accept women’s presence in public spaces without feeling the need to harass them,” Chatterjee wrote. “But until they do, the women’s car is one good way for us to assert our right to public spaces.”

Her op-ed got me thinking about whether female-only cars might be a strategy to combat sexual intimidation and violence on the CTA.

In 2015 there were eight reported sexual assaults on the CTA—a category that includes everything from groping to rape—according to spokesman Jeff Tolman. He characterized that as “extremely few instances,” considering that 516 million rides were taken last year.

While lesser offenses often aren’t reported to the CTA or police, stories female friends and colleagues shared with me by for this article suggest that inappropriate behavior is all too common on the system.

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City Begins Work on Next 50 Miles of Bikeways, Funds Bikes N’ Roses

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IIT grad student Yuan Zheng rides in a new curb-protected bike lane on 31st. Photo: John Greenfield

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

Today at a ribbon cutting for curb-protected bike lanes on 31st Street by the Illinois Institute of Technology, Mayor Emanuel and transportation commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld elaborated on the city’s previously announced plan to build 50 more miles of bikeways by 2019.

This represents a slower pace of installation than the city’s previous achievement of installing 103 miles of buffered and protected bike lanes in about 4.5 years, starting in 2011. However, while 83.5 miles of those lanes were buffered, merely paint on the road, it’s possible that a higher percentage of the new bikeways will feature better protection from car traffic.

Scheinfeld say the upcoming 50 miles will include many so-called “better bike lanes,” including off-street paths, new “neighborhood greenway” routes on traffic-calmed residential streets, concrete-protected lanes, and safety improvements at key intersections.

Cortland/Ashland in Bucktown, near the eastern terminus of the Bloomingdale Trail, and Logan/Western in Logan Square spring to mind as intersections with high bike traffic that also are scary junctions with high crash rates – hopefully these are on the shortlist for improvements.

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Scheinfeld and Emanuel in of the 31st Street lanes. Photo: John Greenfield

“We’ve made progress installing protected bike lanes in neighborhoods across Chicago, making it easier and safer for everyone – no matter their age or ability – to get around on a bicycle,” Emanuel said. “Today, we’re building on that progress and looking to the future.”

Today’s event highlighted the new roughly half-mile, seven-foot-wide bikeway on 31st between State and LaSalle. It’s a mix of buffered lanes, curbside lanes protected by plastic posts, and concrete-protected lanes, with the majority of the concrete near the college campus. After I took a quick spin on the facility my impression is that it’s a well-designed bikeway, although we’ll have to see how it holds up in rainy and snowy weather – which has been an issue with the city’s other major curb-protected bikeway on Clybourn.

This year the city plans to install nine more miles of “better bikeways,” up to 18 more bikes of other (“worse”?) bikeways, and restripe up to 20 miles of existing bike lanes. “As we focus on building better bike lanes, CDOT will continue to strengthen and improve the connectivity of Chicago’s existing bike network so that bicycling continues to grow and serve as a safe and enjoyable way to travel around our city,” said Scheinfeld.

The commissioner added that protected bike lanes seem to be effective in reducing crashes, partly due to their traffic calming effect. For example, CDOT reports that, since the 55th Street protected bike lanes were installed on 55th Street in Hyde Park in 2012, overall crashes have dropped by 32 percent. CDOT recently released the new bike lane report 2015 Bikeways: Year in Review, which has more info on their findings. I’ll provide an analysis of that document tomorrow.

The Active Transportation previously put out a call for the city to install 100 miles of better bikeways by 2020, but director Ron Burke says OK with the city’s current, more modest mileage goal of 50 miles, although he still hopes CDOT will wind up installing more.

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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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This Year’s 49th Ward PB Ballot Includes a Few Transit Projects

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A 49th Ward participatory budgeting expo. Photo: 49th Ward

Each of Chicago’s 50 wards gets an annual $1.3 million in discretionary “menu” funding to spend on infrastructure projects each year. Usually the alderman decides how the money is spent and typically most of the money is used for traditional projects like street resurfacing, sidewalk repair, and streetlamp installation.

However, the growing participatory budget movement, which lets constituents vote on how menu money is spent, has paved the way for more innovative uses, including many sustainable transportation projects. Seven years ago 49th Ward alderman Joe Moore pioneered participatory budgeting in the United States, and this year six other wards are holding PB elections:

Ward 10 – Susan Sadlowski Garza
Ward 17 – David H. Moore
Ward 31 – Milly Santiago
Ward 35 – Carlos Ramirez-Rosa
Ward 36 – Gilbert Villegas
Ward 45 – John Arena

In recent years, some activists in Moore’s diverse Rogers Park ward have argued that the PB process, intended to make the decision-making process for spending ward money more democratic, actually favors wealthier residents. They noted that there was relatively low participation from low-income residents, people of color, and Spanish speakers.

Moore’s assistant Wayne Frazier, who handles infrastructure issues, told me that the ward did additional outreach this year, and new residents were involved. The work of a Spanish outreach committee resulted in good turnout at the ward’s Spanish-language PB meetings, and there were generally 35 to 60 residents at all of this year’s PB meetings, Frazier said.

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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.”