Active Trans Blasts CMAP’s ON TO 2050: “Car-Centric Planning in a New Mobility Veneer”

Traffic on I-55. The CMAP plan calls for widening this expressway, as well as I-290. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers
Traffic on I-55. The CMAP plan calls for widening this expressway, as well as I-290. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers

Active Transportation Alliance executive director Ron Burke didn’t hold back his feelings after the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the region’s planning organization, which makes decisions about which transportation projects get federal funding, approved its ON TO 2050 Plan. He slammed the document, which was approved by the CMAP board this morning, as more of the same old car-focused urban planning masquerading as a forward-thinking approach.

“Chicagoland’s new regional plan, called ‘ON TO 2050,’ has plenty of good ideas on paper to tackle the problem of too many cars and traffic crashes, but it lacks the mechanisms, funding, and leadership to actually implement a new mobility future and move away from the car-centric status quo,” Burke said in a statement.

Burke noted that previous regional plans have laid out similar goals, but a recent analysis by Active Trans shows the region is just as car dependent today as it was in 1980. Moreover, driving has increased 4 times faster than the population since 1980, the study found.

“The over-reliance on cars and driving alone continues because the state and most suburbs build communities and fund transportation in ways that make cars the only viable choice for most travel,” Burke added. He noted that road projects constructed by the Illinois Department of Transportation account for most of the federal transportation funds used in the Chicago region. Meanwhile, the state spends almost none of its own money on biking and walking, while state support for transit was cut by more than 15 percent since 2016.  Likewise, nearly all transportation spending by Chicago suburbs and counties in the region is for car-centric projects.

“As a result, even when CMAP plans call for alternatives to driving, these ideas take a back seat to road projects that lead to more driving and compete with alternatives, like the multi-billion dollar plans to expand I-55 and I-290 included in ON TO 2050,” Burke noted.

Burke argued that this car-centric mentality ignores decades of research and experience demonstrating that road expansion only encourages more driving, thereby and makes our region less healthy, sustainable, and equitable. “It also ignores the need for the Chicago region to embrace a new mobility future that makes it easier and cheaper to swap cars for public transit, shared use ride services, walking, and biking. With fewer people driving alone, we will save lives, reduce congestion, and increase the region’s economic competitiveness and equity.”

Burke added that a recent decision at CMAP to make dedicated biking and walking projects ineligible for $40 million dollars annually of federal Surface Transportation Program grants is another example of this car-focused approach. “Most regions already spend STP funds to support a multi-modal set of projects,” he noted. “Until recently in the Chicago region, these funds were passed through to the City of Chicago and the suburban councils of government, with suburbs spending nearly all their STP money on roads.”

Due to pressure from the federal government to comply with existing law, CMAP approved setting aside between 8 and 15 percent of the region’s STP dollars in a new Shared Local Fund over the next five years, Burke said. “In making the change, the suburban CMAP members insisted that bike and pedestrian projects be ineligible for these funds to reduce competition with the road projects they prefer.”

Burke concluded by underscoring the need to let politicians know that more of the same car-centric planning will not be tolerated. “Below ON TO 2050’s ‘new mobility’ veneer remains an entrenched old mobility bureaucracy led by the suburbs and IDOT. That won’t change until mayors and village managers from the suburbs, and the governor, embrace the future and prioritize safer and more efficient modes of travel.”

Such a stiff, immediate backlash from the region’s leading sustainable transportation advocacy group does not bode well for ON TO 2050 as a supposed roadmap to a less car-dependent future.

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  • JamesIV

    Who really cares what Ron Burke thinks? Did he have a say in creating the document? If so, then why is he so upset? He leads an advocacy group, not IDOT. Doubt that they really care what he thinks.
    Also, is there a copy of the document available?

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Here you go:
    I added a link at the top of the piece; thanks for the reminder.

  • Daisy’s World

    The problem is that research and experience show that expanding roads in urban areas only makes traffic congestion as bad or worse in the long run by inducing more people to drive.

    Economists call this “induced demand.” If you build it, they will come. Widening roads to relieve congestion is like loosening your belt to accommodate weight gain without also changing your diet. You feel relief at first, but it doesn’t last. Traffic congestion is not about too few roads, but about too many cars.

  • Michael J. Erickson

    Yes, James. Ron had a say, as did hundreds of others, and IDOT/CMAP produced the same old document regurgitated upon us, again. Lots of platitudes and highway projects as far as the eye can see, and the nose can smell. No bike highways, no electric Metra, nothing to reverse climate change or make us healthier as a people. Help us take over their system…make it our system. Don’t give up James. Ride on my friend!

  • Michael J. Erickson

    Way to go Ron! It is time to take over IDOT and CMAP with proven bike projects that save lives, save injuries, make travel fun, and cost $100 million, or $200 million each. The data is available to prove that the benefits outweigh the costs many times over…especially compared to highway projects. With the right mix of super expensive (compared to what?) bicycle highway projects we can push IDOT’s wish list into the waste bin.
    Start with an elevated bicycle highway system on top of every SRA in urban and suburban areas. Start with an elevated bicycle highway system on top of or across every unsafe not fun road, and on top of or across the monstrous mega-multi-lane intersections that IDOT/CMAP has built for cars. We have to force the issue.
    It took 60 years to get “Ethyl” lead out of gasoline, and IDOT/CMAP is still poisoning us. Let’s take 6 weeks to 6 months to get IDOT/CMAP out of the long-range transportation business…using their data against ’em! Thanks for speaking out. Let’s take it over!


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