Check Out Recommendations From Lori’s Transportation Transition Committee

Lori Lightfoot at the 95th Street Red Line station. Photo via Active Trans
Lori Lightfoot at the 95th Street Red Line station. Photo via Active Trans

It bodes well for the next eight years of Chicago transportation policy that mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot tapped Streetsblog Chicago cofounder and deputy editor Steven Vance for her Transportation & Infrastructure Transition Committee. Along with SBC reporter Lynda Lopez and the Transport Politic’s Yonah Freemark, Steven published the Chicago Sustainable Transportation Platform last September. The document shares many good ideas with the transportation platform the Lightfoot campaign later released, so her team was wise to seek Steven’s input as she prepares to take lead our city.

The members of the committee were asked to submit memos recommending a single strategy to improve transportation and/or infrastructure, and all the memos were published this week. Let’s take a look at a few of the ideas that were floated, starting with Steven, of course.

Steven Vance: Install several miles of bus lanes

Steven recommended that within the first 100 days, the Lightfoot administration should pilot bus lanes on streets that have already been identified in past planning efforts by the CTA, the Chicago Department of Transportation, and the Metropolitan Planning Council. He also suggested adding bus lanes on six-lane Columbus Drive in Grant Park, which serves five CTA bus routes. In addition, Steven called for ensuring that bus-only lanes are added to North Lake Shore Drive as part of its upcoming reconstruction, without widening the drive.

Steven acknowledged that “people who oppose bus lanes are also a force to be reckoned with,” citing the CTA’s Ashland bus rapid transit project, which was shelved due to push-back from merchants and residents, suggesting that better outreach could help prevent such a backlash in the future. Ultimately, he said, the extra effort will be worth it. “Many Chicagoans are not privileged enough to live near one of the city’s fast and frequent ‘L’ lines, but they should not be punished for our inability to provide high-quality transit service because decisions have historically been made to favor car owners.”

Jon Hilkevitch: Abolish the Regional Transit Authority

The former Tribune transportation reporter recommended that Lightfoot work with state lawmakers to sponsor legislation in the Illinois General Assembly to withdraw the CTA from the RTA. He argued that “the structure of the RTA, which employs a staff several hundred on a 2019 budget of $41.9 million, only enforces the city-versus-suburbs tensions.” Hilkevitch adds that there’s little incentive for suburbanites to switch their commute from driving to transit and “the RTA must wear the jacket of blame for failing to provide leadership and fresh ideas.”

Amber Smock, Access Living: Improve transportation access for people with disabilities

Smock, the disability rights organization’s advocacy manager recommended retaining CTA president Dorval Carter and CTA chair Terry Peterson, “both of whom are long-time disability allies who have been vocal about the importance of building accessibility into improvements to the CTA.” In the near future, she called for seeking additional funding to make all CTA stations accessible; training for CTA staff regarding disability policies; and regulating micromobility and ride-hailing so that it doesn’t block curb access or sidewalks. In the longer term, she recommended requiring ride-hailing services to provide enough wheelchair-accessible vehicles to create parity for people with disabilities; improving bus service and frequency, since bus revenue is linked to paratransit funding; and including the disability community in all planning for autonomous vehicle technology.

Jacky Grimshaw: Equitable investment, eTOD, and reduced fares

Grimshaw, vice president for governmental affairs at the Center for Neighborhood Technology, argued that “not only should the benefits and burdens of transportation investment be equally distributed, but transportation investments should proactively correct for past disparities.” She called for passing a state capital bill and expanding transit to Roseland and Altgeld Gardens by improving Metra service while pursuing funding for the CTA Red Line extension. Grimshaw also recommended taking steps to encourage affordable transit-oriented development as a strategy to help connect low-income and working-class residents with jobs and educational opportunities. In addition she called for implementing a reduced-fare transit program, similar to the Seattle region’s successful ORCA LIFT card.

Other Transportation & Infrastructure Transition Committee members

  • Angel Mendez, HERE Technologies
  • Carol Ross Barney, Ross Barney Architects
  • Vig Krishnamurthy, City Solutions
  • Duana A. Love, TranSmart Technologies
  • Ivan Solis, HACIA
  • James P. Connolly, Laborers’ District Council of Chicago & Vicinity
  • John C. Robak, Greeley and Hansen
  • Kirk Dillard, Chairman RTA (who presumably doesn’t support abolishing the RTA)
  • Kitty Freidheim, Freidheim Consultants
  • Dr. Kate Lowe, the University of Illinois at Chicago
  • Kimberly Slaughter, HNTB Corporation
  • Marc Poulos, Indiana-Illinois-Iowa Foundation for Fair Contracting
  • Ron Burke, Active Transportation Alliance
  • Robert Ginsburg, advisor to Chuy Garcia
  • Roberto Requejo, Elevated Chicago
  • Sharon Feigon, Shared-Use Mobility Center
  • Wilbur C. Milhouse III, P.E.

Take a look through the different proposals and let us know what you think in the comments section.

  • Dennis McClendon

    What a depressing group of self-serving statements. The architect wants fancier stations; the disabled advocate wants better service for the disabled; the data-gatherer wants more data gathered; the DBE advocate wants more DBE contracts; the infrastructure consultant wants more infrastructure consulting; the transit consultant wants to advise on an expensive but pointless Red Line Extension. And Hilkevitch wants to blow up the RTA because, well, apparently because he doesn’t think the signs pointing to CTA at the airports are prominent enough.

    Why not seize this moment, with a new mayor, a new governor, and one-party control in Springfield, to resurrect RTA as a true regional transportation agency, one that could set service patterns and fares to best serve the entire region?

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Right, those selfish disability right advocates are always trying to improve access for people with disabilities. Why don’t they think of someone else for a change? And Steven Vance rides CTA buses — it’s pretty self-serving of him to push for better bus service. (Sarcasm.)

    Seriously though, it makes sense for the committee members to make recommendations that relate to their areas of expertise.

  • Jeremy

    I would like to see the CTA experiment with temporary bus bulbs on some routes. I would bet that bus bulbs on LaSalle and Stockton would reduce travel times on the 156. They might also reduce times on the Ashland and Western buses.

    I would also like to see CDOT pedestrianize north Michigan Avenue from Thanksgiving through the following Sunday. Only allow buses, paratransit vehicles, and cross traffic at a few intersections. There are so many shoppers, the extra walking space is needed. Throw in performance space for musicians and food trucks, and it could probably be a decent event to draw more shoppers to the area.

  • Michelle Stenzel

    I’m glad that Ron Burke of Active Trans cited to the Streets of Cycling 2020 plan in his memo numerous times and pointed out the lack of progress toward completion. The plan was created in 2011-2012 and published in December 2012. In more than six years, only 12 of 60 miles of the designated Spoke Routes have had bike infrastructure added, only 5 of 310 miles of potential Greenways have been added. I really hope there is new energy toward progressing on the Streets for Cycling 2020 plan under the new administration. The upcoming addition of 10,000 new e-bikes to the Divvy system has huge potential to attract significant new ridership, but only if there is adequate infrastructure in place to allow people to feel safe while riding them.

  • Carter O’Brien

    It’s too bad Joe Schwieterman isn’t on this list, I hope they reach out to him as well.

  • david vartanoff

    Not in order of priority.
    Step 1, Metra within CTA’s service territory accept CTA fares as full payment. Install the ventra readers on the platforms NOW.
    Step 2. Increase frequency on MED so it becomes a useful option.
    Step 3. In lieu of Red Line extension, restore the previous station at 130th on the South Shore Line and add Kensington–Hegewisch service toMED (MED owns that track segment, thus has rights to operate.)
    Step 4. Get out the lane paint for congested segments of Ashland.(bus only in rush, as a start) and others.
    Step 5. ventra readers at back doors of CTA buses/all door boarding.
    Step 6. Transit signal priority/queue jumps on Ashland and others.
    Step 7. No more CTA L station rehabs without ADA (Belmont Blue for example)

  • Tooscrapps

    Step 8. Automated/photo bus lane/stop enforcement, ideally attached to buses.

  • Courtney

    I have lots of ideas but since I’m limited on time:
    1. Work with IDOT on bus-lanes in BOTH directions on LSD; create bus-only lanes on Sheridan Rd. from Foster Ave to Howard during the times of 7am-11am; 3pm-7pm which means eliminating FREE parking for private vehicles on Sheridan from Devon to Howard during those hours.
    Work with CDOT to create bus-only lanes on Michigan Ave in downtown Chicago
    2. BRT on Ashland and Western ASAP
    3. Speed up the fu**ing buses!! 22, 77, 80, 81, 55, 6, and so many more. (See: camera enforcement for bus lanes, all-door boarding, signal priority, ELIMINATE some stops)
    4. Physically protected bike lanes on as many streets as possible
    5. Study an equitable way to start to eliminate free residential parking. We need to be planning to phase out free residential parking within the next 15 years. The streets should not be used as a storage facility for folks’ cars. See Amsterdam as a guide, among others
    6. Raise the tax on Lyft and Uber and use it to fund bus-only lanes and protected bike infrastructure. Use the data from Lyft and Uber rides to improve bus service.
    7. Implement congestion pricing
    8. Camera enforcement of a 20 MPH speed limit on CDOT-controlled roads (thinking big here, LOL). Use revenue from tickets to fund road diets and subsidies for e-bikes to replace dangerous delivery trucks

  • david vartanoff

    Yes!

  • Austin Busch

    As far as Sheridan goes, there’s a conspicuous amount of free parking next to the huge parking garage from Col Priztker. I’d love to see a city policy that starts with removing street parking along structured garages and surface lots. It should at least be used for bus jump and PBLs, or even parklets.

  • ChicagoCyclist

    IMO, the biggest, long-term transportation problem that the City of Chicago faces is an incomplete mass rapid transit network. We, unfortunately, have a “spokes only” network. Cities the size of Chicago (and larger, should Chicago actually grow) absolutely need to have a true connected “network” of “mass rapid transit” lines — please note the word choices: “mass,” “rapid” and “network.” I didn’t say “public transportation;” and I didn’t say “transit.” Both of those sad abstractions lead, typically, to inequitable, unfunctional mobility. A complete connected network of mass rapid transit lines means everyone has access; everyone can and will use it. Why, because its rapid, affordable, and efficient. Without developing that truly connected network of mass rapid transit lines — which traditionally has meant “subways” but can now mean gold-standard Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). BRT — aka, “subway trains-on-wheels” — costs much, much less than urban subway/elevated rail lines. New (circumferential) subway/elevated lines would be crushingly expensive and, therefore, politically impossible. Therefore, following the lead of successful, progressive cities around the world, Ms. Lightfoot should develop truly “gold-standard” Bus Rapid Transit circumferential lines. Gold-standard BRT must have: dedicated/barrier-protected busways, level-boarding, pre-payment, specially designed and branded buses with 24-7, high frequency service, and robust signal preemption. These BRT lines would connect our existing mass rapid transit “spoke-only” design. Without mass rapid transit — along with a real, Amsterdam-style bikeway network, and more accessibility for all users of surface transportation — Chicago will, alas, wither and eventually die as a city.

  • planetshwoop

    How would you replace the revenue from the city taxes? That’s an unfortunate challenge to eliminating parking.

  • planetshwoop

    I’ve wondered how a “circle line” would change how we talk about the geography of the city. Instead of just North, South, West Sides, you might have “inner West” or “Outer West” etc. Not that we need another barrier to separate us, but the points where the lines meet become a lot more valuable, so it would change how we think about the city I believe.

  • planetshwoop

    My wishlist today is less pragmatic than usual.

    Congestion charge for the Loop
    Equal fees and taxes between taxis and Uber/Lyft/Via etc.
    Depave Lake Shore Drive. Or at least ban cars (not buses) every Sunday for a city-wide Ciclovia.

    I would love to see sidewalk chalk on Lake Shore Drive instead of busted bumper bits.

  • david vartanoff

    Interesting you mention a circle or circumferential setup; Metra was supposedly planning one 3 decades ago. Indeed Chicago needs connectivity outside the CBD. I have at times suggested a N-S L or similar on the West side basically linking O’Hare directly to Midway for starters. The point is of course to give users entirely new, more convenient, travel options. Imagine extending the Ashland Green Line to Midway (and restoring Jackson Park on the east end), and a line to O’Hare, Add an inner N-S link restoring the Paulina Connector of years ago linking the Medical Center to the Blue Line and beyond to the Brown, as well as extending the Brown west to the Blue.
    Along with these rail extensions we must add transfer stations so that the Metra routes become useful for more than 9 to 5 workers in the Loop.

  • Austin Busch

    What city tax revenue? It’s free unmetered street parking along this part of Sheridan, and it’s not even well-used. If anything, it costs taxes to maintain for little use. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/373b393771bb13702ad1940e8abb1cc3c20eec3e864ce8a1402009532c2e3d05.png

  • Jeremy

    I don’t know how the city advertises to attract tourism, but a regular Ciclovia, the riverfront paths, lakefront path, 606, Big Marsh Park, and the growing number of skate parks should attract a decent tourist base that would be looking for “urban athletic activities”. I would also like to see a bike marathon, kind of like the Olympic road race.

  • rwy

    I’d like to see improvements to speed up the 147. It’s hardly an express when it takes so long to go from Foster to Howard.

  • planetshwoop

    I misread your comment. I thought you were calling for the elimination of garages.

    Sorry.

  • Austin Busch

    Ah yeah, eliminating the garages is a less-than-likely dream in my lifetime. Since they’re built, may as well make the most of them and use street space for something else.

  • Courtney

    Sheridan from Foster to Howard only has a few blocks of paid parking. I think it’s worth getting rid of those spots, along with the free parking from Loyola to Howard. At the very least there should be no free parking from Loyola to Howard during rush hour periods and Id even go so far as to say during the weekends. Bus riders deserve quality service at all hours.

  • Courtney

    Bus only lanes on Michigan Ave are also needed. I can’t tell you how many times my trip time extended due to traffic or inconsiderate cabbies on Michigan.
    Unfortunately Sheridan Rd. in Edgewater and RP (can’t speak to other sections due to lack of knowledge) is controlled by IDOT. IDOT has shown they’re not all that interested in pedestrian, biking, or transit equity.

  • Courtney

    I feel like LSD is a bit much for a Ciclovia every Sunday at least right now.
    I could see it being popular downtown on State St. or Michigan. Buses would have to be rerouted but IMO it would be worth it.

  • planetshwoop

    Columbus Ave in Grant Park.?

  • what_eva

    Isn’t parking already banned on Sheridan during rush hour in one direction? Lower barrier to get to both and longer hours.

  • Courtney

    Yes and enforcement can be hit or miss. I ride the 147 often and it struggles to merge back into traffic, drivers and delivery trucks are notorious at particular stops, etc etc.
    I like your optimism that the current ban could be a gateway to longer hours and in both directions.

  • ChicagoCyclist

    Yes, such circumferential lines have been talked about / planned for many decades — and we may need 2-3 in the City proper, plus another 1 or 2 in “inner ring” suburbs, and then 1 or 2 in the outer suburbs (connecting Metra lines). You can see the scale of the problem. This article (and Ms. Lightfoot’s dominion) is focused on the City of Chicago proper. One fairly recent proposal (still rather “conceptual”) was Transit Future: https://www.cnt.org/projects/transit-future.

  • ChicagoCyclist

    Here, Ms. Lightfoot, is the model to follow, in transportation, and on other fronts as well:
    Vancouver Unveils North America’s Boldest Climate Action Plan
    https://usa.streetsblog.org/2019/04/25/vancouver-unveils-north-americas-boldest-climate-action-plan/

  • david vartanoff

    Looking at their map, I see they, too show a Paulina Connector both north and south similar to what I have suggested before. It would be highly useful if it connected to the Orange Line so that ultimately an O’Hare to McCormick Place route could be established.
    They show an east-west crosstown which looks to be around 71st. I prefer extending/restoring what we already have on 63rd for several reasons. . Running a 63rd St crosstown from JP extending to Midway, opens both work and travel access to a large area not currently well served as well as the Obama center if and when built. Transit Future shows a truncated MED whereas I support the Gray Line/GoldLine plans which would restore frequent rapid transit service on MED not only to South Chicago, but Blue Island, and the mainline at least as far south as Kensington, and in future to the abandoned Willow Park Station at 130th. Additionally, as Metra owns the South Shore Line tracks within Illinois, I would initiate all day frequent service to Hegewisch with restoration of the four local stations that once existed between there and Kensington. (The Red Extension is planned to terminate exactly where South Shore had a station at 130th until the 60s)
    Transit Future shows a direct O’Hare–Midway route, I concur.
    As I have said elsewhere, all Metra within CTA service territory should be immediately fare integrated–put the ventra readers on the platforms. Random POP checkers can challenge to keep down farebeaters.

  • what_eva

    Enforcement is always the rub, especially with the constant understaffing at CPD. A fix would be some additional camera enforcement (cameras on buses), but who knows if the suburbanites and downstaters would pass it.

    Delivery trucks are also a constant pain. I’ve mentioned before that I think there should just be a ban on deliveries in the loop before like 9:30 or 10 AM. Maybe that should be for any truck that would park on any bus route where it isn’t a legal parking space. I’ve mentioned before that I see the same crap by the Belmont L where trucks block the bus stop.

    My optimism is likely foolish ;)

  • what_eva

    I’ve always felt that it’s basically a local from Howard down to Devon. Most riders north of Devon would be better off getting the Red Line or taking it to the Red Line at Loyola. Even south of there, how much better is it than taking the Red Line? With 143 and 146, the areas served aren’t nearly as close to the Red Line, but 147 so much of its service area is close to the Red. Then on the south end you get the joys of Michigan Ave traffic. I know it’s a few extra blocks from State to Michigan, especially if you’re going somewhere east of Michigan like NMH/Northwestern downtown campus.

  • what_eva

    That’s a tough one on Michigan due to all the right turns. On the Loop Link streets there is mostly 4 lanes to work with. Cars kept 2 lanes, buses get 1 and the last is used for the stops or right turns. With only 3 each way on Michigan you’d have to drop down to 1 lane cars, 1 lane buses, 1 lane right turns.

    A BRT-style center bus lane doesn’t really work because the buses all run elsewhere that wouldn’t be BRT (ie you can’t do left door buses).

    Perhaps the best idea (though it’s unlikely) is the most radical, get rid of the cars completely. Bus and Bike lanes and widen the already crowded sidewalks to get some induced demand for more pedestrians.

  • ChicagoCyclist

    Locating the best, most functional, most efficient, most feasible (from cost and other POVs) routing for circumferential lines, is of course very important and must be done. My primary point (in my original post) was simply that we need a real, complete, connected rapid mass transit “network” — whatever that network ends up looking like. Check out this visual: “Subway systems at the same scale.” You can see that “spoke-only” systems are not true, connected “networks.” Taking our existing mass rapid transit system (i.e. the “L”) from Andersonville to Logan Square involves going all the down to the Loop, then back up and out to Logan Sq. No good! I would love to see these same-scale subway maps with all the system stations shown on them (as dots along the lines). The density of stations is as important as the connected, complete nature (or coverage) of the network.

  • ChicagoCyclist

    Whoops, here is the link: http://fakeisthenewreal.org/subway/

  • david vartanoff

    Well aware that CTA’s legacy L routes fail on connectivity except via the Loop. FWIW, before the current Blue Line went into a subway, one could use what we now call the Pink, change at a junction on Marshfield and head north (only as far as Logan Sq) skipping the Loop. Elsewhere in this thread I suggest O’Hare direct to Midway as an example of a highly useful route that would exponentially increase travel options. The bottom line problem is lack of funding–in the Federal budget DOD vacuums up immense sums wasted on useless junk. Until we completely rethink our financial system, we are condemned to tiny steps and necessary repairs.

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