CNT and Active Trans Launch “Transit Future” Funding Campaign

TF map no text
Map showing potential expansion of the local rapid transit system. Image: CNT

On Monday, Governor Quinn’s Northeast Illinois Public Transit Taskforce released its final report, underscoring the need for better funding for regional transit. Yesterday, the Center for Neighborhood Technology and the Active Transportation Alliance launched a new campaign, dubbed “Transit Future,” to raise that money via a new Cook County-based revenue stream that would help the region leverage federal dollars.

Transit Future calls on the Cook County Board of Commissioners to create a dedicated funding source for maintaining and expanding the transit system in Chicago and the rest of the county. Creating this revenue stream would allow the region to take advantage of federal funding sources like America Fast Forward, which provides long-term, low interest loans to cities for construction projects.

The campaign is inspired by the successful drive to raise $40 billion for public transportation in Los Angeles, which is bankrolling the largest expansion of transit in the region’s history. That campaign, called Move LA and spearheaded by former LA mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and former Santa Monica mayor Denny Zane, led to voters approving a half-cent sales tax increase in a 2008 referendum called Measure R. By 2013, four new transit lines had opened, with two more under construction.

Villaraigosa and Zane, as well as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook Count Board President Toni Preckwinkle, showed up to support Transit Future at a launch party last night at the University Club of Chicago, 76 East Monroe. A map on display at the event showed the potential for expanding the local rapid transit system.

In addition to well-publicized projects that will extend the South Red Line and build bus rapid transit on Chicago’s Ashland Avenue, the map shows other line extensions and new routes outlined in the region’s GO TO 2040 plan. Existing lines could be expanded to suburban destinations like Old Orchard, Schaumburg, Oak Brook, and Ford City, while new north-south lines could parallel Cicero Avenue and connect O’Hare and Midway airports.

Jacky Grimshaw, vice president for policy at CNT and director of Transit Future, emceed the event. “Building a world-class transit system requires a steady, long-term investment,” she told the crowd. “We’ve been falling short. There are over $20 billion in potential projects that are just sitting on the shelf that will help us to expand and improve our system, so that we can’t afford to fall short any longer.”

Emanuel told the audience that a coordinated effort between the city and county to create dedicated transit funding could unlock the region’s economic potential. “Our ability to recruit new companies, our ability to see companies expand, our ability for families to go from where they live to work, is dependent on a 21st Century public transportation system,” he said. “Because people years ago made a great investment, Chicago had the opportunity to become the city it is. For us to become the city we want to be, we have to continue to make that commitment to our public transportation system.” He noted that the city is already taking advantage of federal transportation loans for projects like the Red Line’s 95th Street station rehab and the Chicago Riverwalk extension.

Former LA mayor Antonio Villaraigosa speaking at the Transit Future campaign press conference
Villaraigosa speaks at the Transit Future Launch. Photo: Steven Vance

Villaraigosa told the story of the hard-won battle to raise the LA County sales tax, which is providing the funding source for paying back the $40 billion federal loan. In California, a two-thirds vote is required to pass a ballot initiative. He attributed the strong Democratic turnout in the 2008 election, propelled by Barack Obama’s first run for the White House, with allowing Measure R to narrowly pass. “Because people don’t want to tax themselves,” he said. “They all talk about traffic while they drive two blocks to the market in their single-passenger automobile.”

He joked that, by giving Chicago tips on how to win federal transportation dollars, he was speaking against his own interest. “We took the lion’s share of this money because we got [local] money and we’re putting it up… Y’all ought to be doing the same.”

Zane attributed the success of Measure R to bold leadership from Villaraigosa, as well as support from a broad coalition of business, labor, environmental, and social justice leaders. “We had to take a message to them that this was essential, that Los Angeles was coming to gridlock, and that we had zero billion dollars for additional infrastructure over the next 30 years,” he said. He advised Chicagoans to “build the kind of coalition, the kind of proposal, that people can unite around.”

Preckwinkle said modernizing our transit system is key for the region’s economic viability. “There are areas in Cook County that are critically underserved by public transit, and all but unreachable without a car,” she said. “These areas include suburban employment centers, making it difficult for those who are without a car to reach employment opportunities. This is a burden not only to our residents, but also to our businesses.”

She seemed to imply that she would push for creating a dedicated revenue stream through the county government. “Local revenues will allow us to build a better system [and leverage state and federal dollars],” she said. “In particular, Cook County is committed to playing a larger role in encouraging that support and driving those necessary investments.”

Since, unlike California, we don’t have referenda in Illinois, Active Trans Director Ron Burke acknowledged that it will be important for county board members to feel confident that they have political cover for creating a new funding source. Nine of the 17 commissioners have already signed on to give tentative support to the campaign.

“One of the reasons we’re optimistic that the county board will ultimately adopt a new revenue stream for transit is because we’ve seen this type of effort succeed in lots of cities around the country,” Burke said. “When you tie specific infrastructure projects to a revenue increase, to a fee increase, to a tax increase, voters often get behind it in pretty big numbers. They see how that money’s going to fund X and they see how X is something that they want and need that will help the economy and help them in their day-to-day lives.”

Check out a slideshow on the Transit Future campaign here.

  • Evan Jenkins

    Does the fact that this is missing a North Lake Shore Drive BRT line mean that the idea is dead in the water?

  • Alex Oconnor

    How about leveraging the assets we already have instead of building new construction into sprawl where transit make no sense. Increase metra frequency on several inner lines; Yes to BRT; yes to the south line via metra electric. Yes to brown line extension to Jeff Park should also run into Uptown.

    Instead of all these new line into areas that have less than 1000 people / sq mile….hello Oak Brook at 900 people / sq mile/…..lets increase frequency and built infrastructure where the built environment can support rapid transit.

    Stop repeating Metra’s decades old mistake of continually pursuing expansion into sprawl.

    This plan has some good points but is deep-sixed by unrealistic economic assumptions of how transit works in low-density auto-centric suburban sprawl.

  • Alex Oconnor

    Oh and as this

    make so succinctly clear…mass transit needs mass. Something these idiotic pie in the ski extensions into low density areas simply does not address.

    Overall a bad plan not worth supporting with some parts that are worth excising and supporting.

  • Alex Oconnor

    Population density and built form of Oak Brook extension as example

    just search Oak Brook and pick density….

    As for the claim of among the larger employment centers….sure…try getting to your job once you walk out of the station…….fubar

  • Roland Solinski

    Just a few corrections… Oakbrook Center is in DuPage County, not Cook.

    Also, with regard to LA’s Measure R, $40 billion is the total cost of the projects, and the majority of that comes from federal grants. LA only needed to put up 20% in local matching funds, so the sales tax only needed to raise $8 billion. Most of the federal financing is in grant form and not loans.

    Unfortunately the pie in Washington isn’t getting any bigger just because LA, Denver, Seattle, etc got their shit together and found matching funds. There is not enough Federal funding to build the most urgent projects, let alone these wish lists that cities keep creating.

  • aweg

    Any talk of the fact that sales tax is regressive and not a just way to fund transit expansions, especially if you consider that many of the people under-served by transit currently are also the individuals who would be hit hardest by sales tax hike? Is a sales tax increase the only local revenue stream being considered in Chicago? (The Illinois income tax is also regressive as it happens.)

  • pattyw

    Why not connect the Lime Line to the Brown Line? Seems like a no-brainer.

  • The Transit Future folks are aware that a sales tax is regressive, so they are considering many other sources of revenue as well.

  • I don’t think so but that seems like a missed opportunity for the TF designers.

  • Steve Schlickman

    I agree with you that the federal program is oversucribed but there is no way the feds are paying for $32 billion of LA’s projects. That would consume the entire capital investment program for the next 16 years. The feds pay off average 50% of a transit expansion or core capacity project. Even then I doubt that LA would get $20 billion from the feds over a ten year period the LA expansion time frame.

  • Thanks for the correction about Oak Brook.

    The $40 billion is expected to come from the sales tax increase.,_Measure_R_%282008%29

    From the Move LA website:

    Based on testimony from multiple labor, business and environmental leaders mobilized by Move LA, on July 24, 2008, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority voted to place 1/2-cent sales tax on the November, 2008, Presidential ballot. This was Measure R. If approved, Measure R would provide $40 billion over 30 years to build multiple transit projects including a major expansion of bus service throughout Los Angeles County, the Wilshire Blvd. Subway to the Sea, the Exposition Light Rail to Santa Monica, extend the Gold Line from Pasadena to Claremont, the Crenshaw Blvd LRT/BRT project, etc.

  • Pete

    It would be great if the Chicago area could have a world-class transportation system like this, but these plans will never be more than just plans if some fundamental changes aren’t made first. Mainly related to Illinois corruption. The way things currently work, Chicago could spend $1 trillion over many years and still not have the system complete.

    Between federal, state and local requirements, there are simply too many obstacles to building large public works projects. Millions of dollars are spent on consultants, environmental impact studies, minority contracting requirements, and good old fraud and corruption. Look at what’s been happening in Will County with the Peotone Airport. Millions have been spent with absolutely nothing to show for it. In that particular case its a good thing there hasn’t been more progress since that airport makes no sense at all.

    Regarding rail lines, no way can new ones be built unless we drastically change the public construction process. Reduce the number of environmental impact studies to a reasonable amount and intensity. No more relocating a rail line because the spotted grasshopper has a habitat there. Additionally, reign in the cost of third-party contractors and consultants. A lot of these fees are just out and out fraud on the taxpayers. Then look at changing the Davis-Bacon prevailing wage requirements. The practical effect of these is to drive up wages to inflated union pay scales which makes public projects unaffordable. Why should it cost nearly a billion dollars to build a new high school?

    Until the cost structure and inherent corruption costs of public construction projects is addressed, it will all be pie in the sky. The way we do things today, billions of dollars could be spent on this project over a 10 year period and it still wouldn’t be done, nor would it even be reasonably close.

    Transit advocates, start advocating for more efficient government! Otherwise your grand plans will never be any more than plans.

  • Ball So Hard

    Expensive rail projects on the low population density areas of the west side of the city and the western suburbs. While the high density corridor of Ashland gets medicore BRT service and the highly dense areas of Lincoln Park and the Lake Shore get nothing.

  • West-side rail doesn’t only serve the west side: it also helps people from north-and-west get to south-and-west (or just south) without having to go through the downtown bottlenecks.

    Lincoln Park and the lake shore already have the Red and Brown lines. If you put something reliable (i.e. not a bus) on the west side, all those used-car lots along Cicero could become something denser and really be a job engine.

  • Roland Solinski

    Possibly, but the lakefront BRT line is low-hanging fruit. It can be bundled into the LSD reconstruction and built for relatively low cost, possibly using highway funds instead of transit funds.

    At Ashland BRT costs for 6 miles of LSD, it’s only $60 million… the same cost as one L station. I’m sure the eventual costs will be higher because of the need for ADA access at stations, but still.

  • I’m not a supporter of the airport in Peotone, but the state has a lot to show for spending millions of dollars: land deeds that show the state as owner.

  • Simple

    You really have an overblown and cynical sense of the drag that corruption creates. Yes, it’s inefficient but not to the point of paralysis. Absolutely we should fight corruption, but don’t let it be a righteous excuse for inaction on transit investment. No other cities do, and if you don’t believe other cities building transit face similar corruption challenges as Chicago you’re fooling yourself.

  • Simple

    Tolling, anyone?

  • t800

    Oakbrook is an employment center, not a residential center.

  • madopal

    Speaking of west side…I had asked on Twitter about the E/W lines that were identified on the BRT report by the MPC: streets like Irving Park, Grand, and Fullerton. It seems like the opportunity to correct the mistakes of the expressway scars isn’t being used. It’s nice that they’re thinking of the west side, but going N/S on the west side isn’t very useful. It seems like the thinking is the typical “everyone goes to the Loop/airports” that has plagued this city’s transportation since the 60s.

    If we added vibrant E/W to this model, you’d have west side neighborhoods that could get to many of the popular east side neighborhoods, and the beaches wouldn’t be their private playgrounds either.

    As it is now, it *still* would take a zillion years for someone to get from Logan to Evanston or from Dunning to the beach. But under this plan, they can either a) still have 2 transfers to get to the Loop, or b) get to Midway/O’Hare slightly faster.

    Seems like a missed opportunity. BRT should be considered on those E/W streets. Our grid is our strength, and we’re already to N/S heavy.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Why would anyone north of Belmont want to use LSD BRT when the Red Line is there?

  • Roland Solinski

    Lime Line would (presumably) merge onto the Blue Line and stop at Jefferson Park where the Brown Line would (presumably) end. The Lime Line might even go all the way to O’Hare.

  • Roland Solinski

    Well, that’s why I think calling it BRT is a bit of a misnomer. It would just be exclusive bus lanes for the routes that currently use LSD, maybe with a few stations north of Belmont and ones at Fullerton/North for the park/beaches only. Not a full BRT with stops every half-mile.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Just dont see people trudging from Clark Street down Fullerton to stand on the median on LSD from November to March. You’ve got the historic district south of Fullerton east of Clark, so how much more density is going to be built to support a BRT?

  • Right now, if you live between the Blue and the Green (but farther from them than you’d like to walk) on the west side, you are utterly screwed when it comes to going anywhere without a car. That whole swathe of Chicago is massively car-centrically built (partly because of past transit decisions), yes, but also? You have to take a bus to a bus to get freaking anywhere, and people who HAVE to do it, but if you don’t HAVE to most people would really rather not.

    Even if the north/south BRT routes only funnel those Chicagoans (which is, by the way, millions of people) to the rail lines and then the rail lines take them east, that’s an extremely worthy goal and will replace a lot of car trips.

    Which isn’t to say that getting east from far-west on the north side isn’t ridiculous, because oh hell yes it’s ridiculous. But please don’t say that “north-south is already overserved,” because it’s only overserved if you live a mile or less from a north/south rail line. Which is only true along the lake, for the most part.

  • Mkyner

    Instead of terminating the Brown Line at the Jefferson Park Blue Line station, have it turn south at the Edens along the unused railroad right-of-way just west of the interstate, then terminate the Brown Line next to the Montrose Blue Line stop. This looks like the north end of the Lime Line anyway. Plus, with two Metra lines crossing there as well, closer proximity to O’Hare than the Loop offers, and Edens and Kennedy access, the area around Montrose/Cicero could be developed into another business hub for the city.

  • Unfortunately, that right-of-way is (as we speak, perhaps — this spring construction starts) being converted to a bike trail. I guess you could elevate over it, but that seems complicated given the other givens.

  • Scott Sanderson

    Would be great to have this stuff.

  • One scenario would be for bus service on LSD to remain as-is, not converting it to BRT, but with the buses using car-free lanes. So the same people who are currently catching LSD buses north of Belmont would get faster service, and the quicker travel times would attract new riders for whom the bus routes are more convenient than the Red Line.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Last week there was an article in the Wall Street Journal about “Bright Flight”.

    “Chicago’s Cook County, by contrast, was the biggest net loser of highly educated people, with 3,825 departing from 2008 to 2012.”

    “Demographers cite several causes for the shift, including soaring property prices in coastal areas, stagnant paychecks and heightened wariness about the increase in debt that is often the price of admission in bigger cities. The proliferation of regional technology hubs in places such as Raleigh also plays a role, while taxes are often lower in parts of the South.”

    “It’s a kind of middle-class flight—a bright flight,” said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, a think-tank in Washington, D.C. “People are moving to where the cost of living is reasonable.”

    $40 Billion, plus the cost of pensions reform added to property taxes, extension of the Illinois tax temporary tax, plus the Illinois corruption tax. Certainly we do need to improve our transit system, but not with every pie in the sky idea.

  • duppie

    Willie, Have you ever taken the 147 downtown? If you want to go to Michigan Ave or the hospitals in streeterville, it is the fastest way to get there from Edgewater. Problem is that the buses get stuck in traffic and thereby become unreliable from a planning point
    Bus only lanes (some call it BRT), with separate exits at Belmont, Irving Park and Foster would make these buses more reliable. That is why we need bus only lanes

  • Mishellie

    I feel like something missing from this map is an east-west connection from blue to red on the north side. I live in LS and avoid going East because it’s such a pain to get there. I work on the mag mile and it takes me almost an hour for my five mile commute via public transport.

  • Mishellie

    I couldn’t agree more. Getting form Logan to Mag Mile for work every day takes me 45 to an hour – and thats the shortest I could find.

  • Lizzyisi

    I would. Anything east of Halsted (and there’s lots of housing east of the Halsted) is closer (or just as close) to the Drive than the L. And the red line during typical commute times is crowded and unpleasant, to the point that sometimes it’s too crowded to board. Even if the bus is also crowded and unpleasant, it’s closer, and at some stops, you can pick your poison in terms of route. BRT on the Drive would be great.

  • HJ

    “This plan has some good points but is deep-sixed by unrealistic economic
    assumptions of how transit works in low-density auto-centric suburban

    Spot on.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Many times I’ve taken the 147. We used to have a joke about the breakdowns.

    Why is the intersection of Foster and Sheridan like an elephant’s graveyard? It’s where the 147 goes to die.

  • madopal

    When I say “overserved,” it’s not on the west side. You are 100% correct about being screwed between the Blue & Green lines.

    However, nothing in this plan unscrews it. Even if the designated Lime Line is rail, it changes a bus -> L transfer to an L -> L transfer at best.

  • madopal

    Yup, and again, the assumption is all traffic is to the Loop. Sucks if you live in Logan and work at Lawrence & Ravenswood. And there’s been plenty of job growth in north side neighborhoods. I can totally see a growth area for those priced out of lakefront areas being able to conveniently get to Evanston/Andersonville/Lincoln Square/beaches. Also, the west side could easily support more density, so if the lakefront communities are built out or rejecting building up, there’s plenty of space on the west side. The only thing stopping it is convenient E/W transit.

  • Jim Mitchell

    I’ve been saying this since 1991, when I first moved to Chicago (Old Irving Park). It’s ridiculous that the fastest way to get to the northeast side from the west/northwest side is to drive or, alternatively, (1) take the Blue Line to the Loop and (2) transfer to the Red, Brown, or Purple Line to go back north/east. The irony is that, 80 years ago, Chicago *did* have a complete transit system, logically integrating N-S and E-W routes by means of *streetcars*. Well, the streetcars are long gone, replaced by auto-centric road designs (some would say at the behest of GM/National City Lines after they bought out the streetcar franchises just so they could shut them down and sell a bus or a car to everybody in Chicago; others would call that a paranoid fantasy … I do not know who is right or really care, but the fact remains, a great street rail transit system disappeared from Chicago in the 1950s, and the rails are still there under the asphalt).

  • Nathanael

    Chicago corruption is actually a lot more efficient than NYC corruption. Chicago corruption gets stuff done: NYC corruption often doesn’t. (Look up the Tweed Courthouse for an early example of how corruption went overboard in NYC.)

  • Alex Oconnor

    There is no employment center; is however an employment muddle.

    Once you get to an Oakbrook stop how does one get to the employment “center” ….walk??? Nearly impossible to walk in Oakbrook

    Just try walking in this muddle :,-87.9623235/Oak+Brook,+IL/@41.850837,-87.948323,691m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m8!4m7!1m0!1m5!1m1!1s0x880e4c160764fbcf:0xd0a3cae7b30200ec!2m2!1d-87.9535534!2d41.8397865

  • R.A. Stewart

    I could be wrong about this, and I’d be the first to acknowledge that the trends have yet to bear me out, but I keep doubting that the allure of the South can be infinitely expandable. Or is no one else put off by the prospect of hellish, interminable summers and the region’s, shall we say, peculiar politics and culture?

    You and I and undoubtedly most here agree that we need to improve our transit system. Desperately, I’d say. And sooner or later, and the sooner the better, that improvement needs to move beyond renovating stations and repairing track, necessary as those are, into serious expansion.

    Chicago managed to stand near the top of the (very low) heap of U.S. transit for a long time, simply because we didn’t go quite as far as many American cities in destroying what we had had up to the 1950s. But we’ve been standing still–worse, as we’ve slashed already-skeletal bus service and allowed rail infrastructure to rot–through a decade in which other cities around the country, let alone the world, have undertaken ambitious programs of upgrading and new construction. Everything I’ve read indicates that the bright folks and their employers like transit, and I doubt that our comparatively pathetic, and stagnant or slowly declining, system escapes their notice.

    Not to minimize the question of how transit is paid for. Still, I notice there is always money for new roads. There’s always money for boondoggles like the Illiana tollway and the Peotone airport. Here’s a modest proposal, not that it will ever happen: a moratorium on all new road-building projects in the six-county area until spending on transit equals spending on roads over the previous decade.

    The sad fact is that we are unlikely ever to see more than a fraction, if any, of the “Transit Future” proposals become reality; sadder, perhaps, is that even if all of it were accomplished tomorrow, we’d have a close-to-adequate, not a world-class, transit network. And, like others, I see details I have issues with. No east-west rail or BRT on the North Side? The Ashland BRT still stopping at, what, Wilson? Montrose? Nothing on Western?

    But, in a way, just having ambitious schemes like this talked about at this level changes the game. It’s kind of like the way that, after the Occupy Wall Street protests, suddenly economic inequality was something not even the Tribune could ignore. Or the way it changes things just to have a U.S. President talk about climate change as a serious reality. We may still be very, very far from doing anything meaningful, but in a sense we were orders of magnitude further away when we weren’t even talking about it.

  • R.A. Stewart

    But I think we can all agree that it’s a soul-killing center.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Check out Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios. Not only does he hire his family on the payroll, but large property owners get referred to select friends and family for property tax appeals. Cha ching!

    Same with our part time city councilmen. How many Alderman (name Alderman Burke as a biggie) represent the city or plaintiffs in lawsuits against the city! Cha ching!

    How many contractors are not the lowest bidder? Cha ching!

    The only difference between Tweed and Chicago is Chicago corruption doesn’t involve hiring gangs of enforcers anymore. We’re much more subtle, but the cost is the same.

  • R.A. Stewart

    How do you know it’s April Fools’ Day on the North Side?

    There’s a CTA bus running, and its sign doesn’t say “Not in Service.”

  • L -> L is 300% better than bus -> L. Speaking as someone who had to do it for work.

    This also makes it possible for westsiders to use Midway Airport without having to drive to it — the X54 used to go straight down, a one-butt trip, but since they took it away you have to wait for TWO busses, at which point it is faster to go downtown and come back out. Which is ridiculous — we shouldnt’ be forcing any travellers to go through the downtown oversubscribed snarl of transit that don’t NEED to be downtown.

  • madopal

    I agree, and more people need to know about how the surface lines used to service the W/NW side.


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