Why Was Active Trans Snubbed From J.B. Pritzker’s Infrastructure Committee?

J.B. Pritzker
J.B. Pritzker

Last week governor-elect J.B. Pritzker announced the members of his transition’s Restoring Illinois Infrastructure Committee. “Illinois’ role as a transportation hub for the nation is a critical component of our economy,” Pritzker said in a statement at the time, adding that his administration will prioritizing a capital bill “to build the infrastructure we need to restore Illinois’ place as an economic leader.”

The committee’s 45 members include a nearly comprehensive who’s who of Illinois transportation leaders. There’s MarySue Barrett, head of the Metropolitan Planning Council urban planning think tank; Tom Carper, board chair of Amtrak; CTA President Dorval Carter; Regional Transportation Authority head Kirk Dillard; and Chicago Department of Transportation chief Rebekah Scheinfeld. The roster also includes plenty of politicians and representatives from labor; the construction, engineering, architecture, and aviation industries; chambers of commerce; and other civic organizations.

However, conspicuously absent from the committee are any dedicated pedestrian and bike advocacy organizations. (MPC does frequently voice support for better walking and biking conditions, but it has a broader mission of “shaping a more equitable, sustainable and prosperous greater Chicago region.”)

According to a source, the Active Transportation Alliance — the region’s leading walking, biking, and transit advocacy organization – directly asked Pritzker’s organization to be included in the committee, and was recommended by others to the governor-elect. Two Active Trans reps served on Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel’s transition team in 2011. Moreover, current Active Trans director Ron Burke served as associate director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency from 2003-2008, so he has plenty of state government experience.

It’s not clear exactly why Pritzker’s people chose not to include Active Trans on the infrastructure committee. Burke declined to comment on the subject.

However, a couple of possibilities come to mind. Organized labor was a key source of support for Pritzker’s campaign, and there are plenty of entities that benefit from road-building projects represented on the committee. After current governor Bruce Rauner proposed widening multiple Chicagoland expressways to create more capacity for driving, Active Trans called for a moratorium on expressway expansion. That likely irritated some figures in the road-building lobby.

Active Trans has also been pushing for $50 million a year in state transportation funds to be earmarked for walking and biking projects, with a focus on improving conditions in lower-income communities. 27 Chicago CEOs sent a letter to Rauner and Pritzker asking them to commit to making the state Bike Walk Fund a reality, and multiple Chicago community organizations have voiced support for the idea.

While $50 million would only represent about 2 percent of the Illinois transportation budget, very little state money is currently used for walking and biking infrastructure. So it’s likely some labor, construction, and highway engineering folks would be loathe to see any funds diverted from road building.

We’ll probably never find out for sure why Pritzker’s team chose not to include dedicated advocates for walking and biking on the infrastructure committee. Notably, Pritzker expressed support for sustainable transportation in an Active Trans questionnaire for political candidates.

But one thing’s for sure. If Pritzker is serious about building “the infrastructure we need to restore Illinois’ place as an economic leader,” better facilities for walking and biking need to be a key component of his plan, since they’re a highly cost-effective way to promote safer and more economically vibrant communities.

  • Active Trans must think they still have some kind of worthwhile shot at something or they would be telling us why.

    When you are in the out group the only way to get respect is to be in the in-group’s face. Loudly as in ‘all up in their face.’ Think gay rights.

    Active Trans must think it is something else and not that they have been snubbed. And that is the quickest way to be kicked to the curb. It’s a big reason, for example, why leftists are treated like wimps.

  • Via Twitter:

    MarySue Barrett‏ @MarySueMPC
    5h5 hours ago
    Take my responsibility seriously to voice bike/ped priorities as member of ⁦@JBPritzker⁩ Infrastructure Committee ⁦⁦@greenfieldjohn⁩ ⁦@streetsblogchi⁩ ⁦@activetrans⁩ ⁦@ChicagolandCmbr⁩ ⁦@awennink⁩ ⁦

    That’s an evasive non-answer. What does it even mean? I’m sure Active Trans would take voicing automobile priorities seriously as well.

  • Why are politics being brought into this anyway. Why are automobile supporters bringing politics into what should be a straight up urbanist discussion. I say that to be clear who is introducing politics into the discussion. If Active Trans is being snubbed it is over politics not urbanist ideas. I bring it up because at some point I (we) are going to be accused of bringing politics into the discussion and I want to be on record as to who is bringing politics into the discussion and at what point.

  • Anne A

    Politics are being brought into it because it’s ultimately how we get projects funded and built.

  • Absolutely! I assume that Active Trans has a real base of real people. Somewhere in this “dust up” they need to be prepared to deliver first a real group of live people where Pritzker will notice with the implicit understanding that the next time it will be a group of live people where the media will notice.

    And indeed that may well be what is happening now behind the media scenes. I hope so. Active Trans need to be at the table. Even if they are constantly outvoted, they at least need to be at the table.

    imho.

  • Guest

    Pritzker made lots of phony promises to ATA when they surveyed the governor candidates earlier this year. Why did they ever believe him?

  • Curious as to what sorts of input led you to the conclusion they believed him. I would think they would at least sometimes adopt such a facade in order to suggest to him they believed him in order to lead him on so they could better ascertain his likely real beliefs. Or something like that.

  • TRPCLRMNTCST

    what choice did we have? hold your nose and vote for governor fat cat or jump ship to the coasts

  • TimSmith

    I suspect ActiveTrans is being left out because they (and Ron Burke in particular) have created an adversarial relationship with our transportation agencies instead of a collaborative relationship.

  • You likely know more than I do. Well for sure since you know a name, Ron Burke. And your theory may be correct. If the transportation agencies extended an offer to collaborate and Active Trans (and/or Ron Burke) declined, well yes.

    But somehow I can’t picture that. In fact the opposite seems more likely. Active Trans’ multiple requests for collaboration likely all rebuffed and/ or ignored. It’s almost built into agencies cultures: keep things close to the vest, quasi-secretive … You know the drill, yes?

  • Charlie Short

    I can say with confidence that you’re right on the money with this. It’s a combination of two things 1. They are often just simply wrong about certain issues (like whether or not a project has happened.) and 2. They don’t maintain any kind of real relationship with people that could be their partners. And that would be ok if my first point wasn’t true. Yes, the “city” and the “state” needs to be better, but Active Trans doesn’t have the first idea of how you can make the change to be better.

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