Lightfoot Made Big Plans for Transportation; Let’s Make Sure She Follows Through

Lightfoot at the Clark/Lake station. Photo: Lightfoot for Chicago
Lightfoot at the Clark/Lake station. Photo: Lightfoot for Chicago

Without dismissing the real concerns many Chicagoans have about mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot’s record on police misconduct cases, ties to big-business interests, and other issues, yesterday’s election was most likely a win for Chicago sustainable transportation. As I’ve written, both Lightfoot and her opponent, Cook County board president Toni Preckwinkle, had generally progressive positions on walking, biking, and transit issues.

But Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor, took more sustainable-transportation-friendly stances on dedicated bike/walk funding, the North Lake Shore Drive reconstruction, camera enforcement of bus lanes, and reduced transit fares for low-income Chicagoans.

She also published a thoughtful and forward-thinking transportation platform that included many of the ideas I might have included if I had written it myself, and cited Streetsblog Chicago as a source. (In fact Streetsblog Chicago’s Steven Vance and Lynda Lopez, along with the Transport Politic’s Yonah Freemark did publish a similar document, the Chicago Sustainable Transportation Platform back in September.)

Here’s a list of some Lightfoot’s key transportation promises from her platform, the Active Transportation Alliance candidate questionnaire, and my email interview with her campaign.

Safety

  • Renew the city’s commitment to Vision Zero
  • Earmark $20 million a year for bike and pedestrian safety infrastructure

Traffic enforcement

  • Convene a panel of experts to evaluate how Chicago should improve its traffic cam network
  • Audit potential bias in ticketing; Focus police traffic enforcement on promoting public safety
  • End the police department’s stated practice of using bike enforcement as a pretext for searches
  • Look into stopping the suspension of drivers’ licenses for nonmoving violations.

Car trip reduction

  • Draft a Chicago Commute Trip Reduction Ordinance to reward employees who don’t drive to work

Transit

  • Reduce transit fares for low-income Chicagoans of various ages
  • Work to ensure every Chicagoan lives within a 15 minute walk of reliable 24-hour transit service
  • Encourage CTA to implement all-door bus boarding
  • Work with state legislators to permit fair camera enforcement of bus lanes
  • Revisit Ashland bus rapid transit plan, possibly with more left turns than originally proposed
  • Create 50 miles of dedicated bus lanes (Chicago currently only has 4.1 miles)
  • Support the creation of dedicated transit lanes as part of North LSD reconstruction
  • Develop a strategy for transitioning Chicago’s bus fleet to electric-only by 2030 or earlier
  • Upgrade the Metra Electric District line with frequent service and discounted CTA transfers

Equitable transit-oriented development

  • Increase the number of required affordable units in TODs from the current 10% to 15%.
  • Support efforts to spur equitable TOD on the South and West sides

Ride-hailing

  • Align licensing fees and background check requirements for taxi and ride-hailing industries
  • Increase fees for ride-hailing trips that begin in the Loop and use the revenue to fund transit
  • Implement fee for ride-hailing vehicles that operate within Chicago but are registered elsewhere

Biking

  • Install 100 miles of bikeways, including 50 miles of protected lanes
  • Build a continuous Chicago river trail
  • Work with regional partners to develop bike/ped paths that connect downtown Chicago to the suburbs

In the wake of Lightfoot’s victory, transportation advocates have expressed optimism about her big plans to improve the local transportation network. They’ve also stressed the need to hold her accountable for following through on these promises despite the car-centric headwinds she will surely encounter.

“The election is over and Mayor-elect Lightfoot must quickly get to work building a transportation network in which everyone can get where they need to go,” wrote Active Trans’ Kyle Whitehead in a blog post today. “As mayor, Lori Lightfoot can reduce traffic crashes and ease congestion by making it easier to get around without driving or riding alone in a car.”

This morning Freemark, a former Metropolitan Planning Council employee who currently lives in Boston, tweeted out a condensed list of Lightfoot’s transportation pledges (which helped inspire this post), and had this advice for Chicago residents:

Rest assured, Streetsblog Chicago will be here to remind Lightfoot of her promises to help create a safer, more efficient, more equitable, and more vibrant transportation system; cheerlead her accomplishments in this area; and, if necessary, call out her administration when the plans get off track. But if all goes well, the next four years should be an exciting time for Chicago transportation.

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  • kastigar

    When will the Weber Spur get opened up to bike and pedestrian traffic? Will the TIF funded shopping center building include access to the Weber Spur? Will the missing 2000-feet between the North Branch Trail and the Sauganash Trail get opened?

  • Jacob

    Great stuff. Now to make sure this stuff happens. Let’s hope she doesn’t pull a Rahm and invent new terms, like “buffer-protected” bike lanes.

  • Alex

    Increasing the affordable housing requirement for TODs will result in fewer TODs being built. This isn’t a pro-transit proposal

  • FlamingoFresh

    IF she wants to implement all-door bus boarding then I think they should make sure that these new electric buses they are ordering are designed to have possible three doors for entry to reduce loading and unloading times for passengers. If you’re going to commit go all in.
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/23a5ff69d570b34bb6df5ea37ab8c8624df010e1f5012553ba8e2af3cac4ba0e.jpg

  • rohmen

    TOD development in it’s current form is attracting new residents to transit rich areas, but is arguably still pushing out existing population around the TODs because of the luxury nature of the developments and the fact that no supply is being added mid-market (therefore rents are still increasing overall). Is it really any more pro-transit if the population you’re displacing with current TOD luxury development trends is being forced further out to areas that make them more car dependent?

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  • ben

    What is her position on the boring company?

  • William Reed

    On this issue of intracity Metra use, also referenced in Streetsblog’s recent article on the proposed new stations in Auburn and Edgewater:
    1. Lightfoot did not include any meaningful mention of Metra in her transportation plan.
    2. Lightfoot answered “Yes” to the ATA questionnaire regarding increasing frequency of service and decreasing cost of CTA connections on Metra Electric, but did not elaborate and as far as I know has made no other mention of this publicly.
    3. The 11 Metra lines may be the most underutilized existing transit infrastructure in Chicago. Increased frequency of service where feasible (given freight interference, etc.), decreased ticketing cost, and increased interconnectivity to other transit could lead to a massive increase in ridership of city residents and visitors, displacing many trips otherwise taken by car.
    4. The Metra Electric line is the most obvious place to improve service and ridership (given its dedicated passenger tracks, extremely high cost of ridership within the city compared to alternatives, under-resourced neighborhoods that it serves, etc.), but by no means the only line that has lots of latent ridership potential, particularly during off peak times.
    5. Lots of proposals are out there for how to increase Metra intracity ridership, including Crossrail, full conversion of MED to a CTA line, proof-of-payment ticketing systems, full fare integration with CTA, etc. etc.
    6. There’s an example of ambitious “commuter rail” (heavy passenger rail) development happening within the region currently with the expansion of the South Shore line, miraculously supported by GOP state government in Indiana and as far as I understand it also the Trump administration.
    7. The Chicago mayor has only one appointment to the Metra board, but actually has ZERO official influence in the General Assembly and with the governor’s office. Yet everyone fully expects the mayor to engage with Springfield to improve Chicagoans’ lots.
    8. Why isn’t there a bigger push for transit advocates for an ambitious plan for improving and better utilizing existing Metra infrastructure for city residents? Is it so hard to imagine major investment and ambitious new ridership goals?

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