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Critique of the Gabe Klein Era by “Moe Torrist” Is Running on Fumes

This man is *not* Moe Torrist.

Since transportation commissioner Gabe Klein announced he’s resigning at the end of the month, he’s received plenty of praise for his work promoting safer, more efficient and more vibrant Chicago streets. However, after all the bold initiatives he’s spearheaded, he probably didn’t expect his sendoff to be all wine and roses. Yesterday the Expired Meter featured a guest post by the pseudonymous "Moe Torrist," an open letter to Klein sarcastically thanking him for his work to “eliminate cars from the streets of Chicago.”

For a site catering to aggrieved drivers, the Expired Meter, written by the also-pseudonymous DNAinfo contributor "Mike Brockway," is a usually well-researched, reasonably balanced blog. Brockway sometimes writes sympathetically about non-automotive transportation topics, and even did a nice writeup of our Bus Rapid Transit Advocate Social, but his reports often give too much airtime to ill-informed cranks.

Traffic camera protesters by Gompers Park. Photo: Mike Brockway, The Expired Meter

For example, in a recent article about a traffic camera protest, he quoted organizer and WVON radio host Mark Wallace claiming there are no recorded incidents of any children being killed around city parks or schools by drivers in the last 26 years. In fact, Chicago Department of Transportation data shows motorists killed 15 children in school and park safety zones between 2009 and 2011 alone, not to mention the 126 adults killed and 2,050 people seriously injured in safety zones during this period.

Likewise, while the critique of the Klein era by "Torrist" includes dozens of links to other articles as backup, his own writing contains plenty of half-truths and outright misinformation. The best thing I can say about the author is he’s an avid Streetsblog Chicago reader – he links to us four times.

Let’s look at a few gems from this anti-love letter. First of all, despite what 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack has said, nobody is trying to eradicate cars from Chicago. However, this city spent most of the 20th Century promoting driving at all costs -- Klein simply tried to level the playing field to make walking, biking, and transit convenient and appealing. Almost everyone agrees there are too many cars here, so if we can convert as many unnecessary car trips as possible to more efficient modes, everyone will get where they need to with less delay.

Workers prepare speed camera signs near Gompers Park. Photo: Phil Velsquez, Chicago Tribune

While trashing CDOT’s traffic camera programs, Torrist calls Chicago’s standard 30 mph speed limit and 20 mph school zone limit “artificially low.” However, studies show that while pedestrians struck at 40 mph have an 80 percent chance of death, those hit at 30 mph have a 60 percent survival rate, and those struck at 20 mph almost always survive, so these speed limits make perfect sense.

“Thanks to you, motorists who exceed Chicago’s artificially low speed limits on their way to work, by a mere 6 miles an hour, will finally be treated as the vicious criminals they are,” the author tells Klein. Actually, drivers currently need to exceed the speed limit by 11 mph to be ticketed, and anyone going over 40 mph on city streets certainly deserves to be fined. Furthermore, nine cameras recorded more than 200,000 people speeding within their first 40 days of operation. Over 200 were driving over 60, ten were traveling over 80, and one motorist was driving a terrifying 90 mph, so clearly more enforcement is needed.

The city's first pedestrian scramble. Photo: John Greenfield

Despite all the links to other publications, Torrist is fond of throwing out unfounded claims about the carmageddon created by Klein’s initiatives, with numbers seemingly pulled out of the author’s tailpipe. For example, he says the State/Jackson pedestrian scramble “only allows three cars to get through the intersection, during each green cycle” and has “cars backed up for blocks in all directions.” Documentation please?

Likewise, he claims, “thousands of motorists” have been inconvenienced simply because one out of the five lanes on Dearborn previously dedicated to motor vehicles was converted to protected bike lanes. “With all of those [three] travel lanes there was capacity for about 40,000 vehicles each day, but in reality there were only about 13,000,” Klein pointed out at the ribbon cutting. “Too much space and not enough cars caused it to feel more like a highway rather than an urban street, which led to speeding and [crashes].” Since the reconfiguration, I’ve used Dearborn many times during rush hours and have yet to see a traffic jam.

The author lists Petterino’s restaurant, Dearborn and Randolph, as one of the businesses that’s unhappy with the lanes. That’s odd, since drivers crashed into its storefront on multiple occasions before the road diet was implemented. Now that traffic has been calmed and the bike lane further distances the eatery from moving cars, it's less likely such a disaster will occur again.

Lake Petterino's
The Dearborn protected lanes help keep Petterino's from becoming a drive-in. Photo: Steven Vance

Speaking of Dearborn, Torrist perversely argues that the PBLs have decreased bike use, citing Streetsblog posts by Kristen Maddox reporting that there were 389 cyclists riding them during the a.m. rush on July 24 and only 195 during the same period on October 24. Newsflash: more people ride bikes when it’s warm out. Meanwhile, on August 13 CDOT tweeted that bike counts showed the number of northbound cyclists doubled on Dearborn during that morning's rush hour compared to the same time last year, from 272 to 575.

The author digs up the old accusation by Bike Chicago owner Josh Squire that it was a conflict of interest for Alta Bike Share to win the Divvy contract because Klein did consulting work for Alta before joining CDOT, even though the commissioner recused himself from the bid process. Squire eventually dropped his beef, acknowledging, “No matter who ends up operating the program, it’s great for Chicago,” so why hasn’t Torrist given up this tired claim as well?

The Southport People Spot. Photo: John Greenfield

Torrist goes on to slam Klein for other road diets, BRT, parking spot conversions for Divvy stations and People Spot parklets, the Chicago Pedestrian Plan and other forward-thinking initiatives, many of which will benefit drivers by decreasing traffic crashes. While the commissioner’s work will have a positive effect on the city for years to come, the author snidely concludes by telling him, “Much like a lingering cold sore, we will truly miss you when you are gone.”

"Things this guy hates about Gabe Klein are exactly what I think makes city better for non-motorists," commented Streetsblog contributor Shaun Jacobsen. That’s the funny thing: turn Mr. Torrist’s rant upside down and it represents the highest praise for the commissioner’s tenure.

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