Surprise! Road Lobbyist Says Driving, Uber Are Key to Chicago’s Transportation Future

Mike Sturino
Mike Sturino

In fairness, today’s Crain’s op-ed on “Fulfilling Chicago’s Transportation Destiny” by Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association president and CEO Michael Sturino isn’t godawful. To his credit, Sturino acknowledges that making the region’s transportation system “safe, sustainable, inclusive, and effective” will require multimodal solutions, including “increased emphasis” on CTA and Metra, traffic calming, better pedestrian facilities, and protected bike lanes. He also makes sensible proposals to address freight congestion, add charging station to encourage drivers to switch to electric vehicles, build more more riverwalk sections, and, of course, fix potholes.

But in a few places in the piece Sturino betrays the fact that one of his primary responsibilities as the head of a road-building lobbying group is to encourage more highway expansion and, by extension, driving. That’s exactly the opposite of what Chicagoland needs in order to have a safer, more efficient, and more equitable transportation system.

Sturino argues that “the interstate highway system throughout the city remains in a state of hypercongestion” and calls for tolling these expressways to manage congestion and promote transit ridership. Simply requiring drivers to pay a new toll to use these highways, which would help fund their upkeep, would be a great idea, but making motorists pay for something they’re used to getting for free would be a very heavy political lift.

Presumably Sturino is referring to former Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s proposals to widen expressways to create new “managed” lanes, which would offer a less congested option for buses, as well as car drivers who opt to pay a toll for a faster trip. Sure, that could potentially speed up the buses a bit and increase ridership somewhat. But as the Active Transportation Alliance and other advocates have pointed out, these expensive road expansion projects would also add more capacity for driving, inducing car trips and increasing surface street congestion and pollution.

Sturino also tips his hand a bit when he claims he’s in favor of “thoughtful” deployment of protected bike lanes but argues, “the city must not submit to the calls from a few to wage war on motorized vehicles.” The fact is, converting mixed-traffic (commonly known as “car”) lanes to bus- and bike-only lanes (with possible exceptions made for scooters and other e-mobility devices) on as many main streets as possible is just common sense from a safety and space-efficiency perspective. The amount of public space currently allotted to cars — big, heavy, largely empty metal boxes that created traffic jams and can easily kill people — is what’s thoughtless. Addressing that problem certainly doesn’t equal a “war on motor vehicles.”

“Similarly, Chicago must resist the temptation to combat transportation disruptors,” Surino continues. “[Ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft] must be viewed as friendly competitors to the current transportation system, promoting positive change.” Wrong again. Ride-hailing represents artificially cheap car transportation, propped up by venture capital, that serves as unfair competition with the CTA, dragging down ridership, creating congestion that slows down buses, increasing the number of crashes, and creating many other problems. Far from being “friendly competition” to transit, Uber recently admitted in its IPO that it views transit as an obstacle to its “growth strategy.”

Fortunately, new Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot seems to have a more clear-eyed view of the challenges posed to Chicago by Uber and Lyft. In her transportation platform, she promised to “decrease congestion by restructuring ride-hailing fees.” She pledged to help write and introduce an ordinance to increase fees for ride-hailing trips that begin in the transit-rich Loop, and use the revenue to fund dedicated bus lanes and expand 24-hour bus and ‘L’ service. Lightfoot also promised to implement a new fee for ride-hailing vehicles that operate in Chicago but are registered at addresses outside of Chicago.

Sturino can call such policies ill-advised yielding to “the temptation to combat transportation disruptors” if he likes. But it’s pretty clear which local leader has the best interests of residents at heart, and which one is more concerned with maximizing profits for road builders.


  • Cometstrike

    Whenever given a choice, drivers choose driving over mass transit:

    “Vision Zero failing as New Yorkers turn to cars over mass transit”

  • paulrandall

    Transportation disrupters are a good thing. They are making private ownership of cars and parking minimums obsolete. Trying to increase capacity on roads to reduce congestion is folly. Chicago is blessed with many abandoned rail corridors that are ripe for conversion. Building more dedicated bike infrastructure is a no brainer as long as measures are taken to deal with the gentrification driven housing displacement that occurs along these corridors. Projects like the 606 pay for themselves many times over.

  • johnaustingreenfield
  • johnaustingreenfield

    Sure, it’s logical to choose driving because it’s currently heavily subsidized and encouraged by car-centric infrastructure. But obviously if we want to reduce traffic fatalities, move people around cities efficiently, and fight climate change, we’re going to have to change our public policy strategies.

  • planetshwoop

    I think making the roads smaller will help a lot more than bump-outs. People will have to slow down because there is just less space. Over the longer term, this makes plowing, fixing potholes, etc. cheaper because there is just less to do.

    I wish that would enter into these “fix stuff” conversations more often. Not “Illinois has a $10B deficit of road repair”. Well like, what if we just got rid some of the overpasses and bridges? (I’m looking at you, Lake Shore Drive.) For example, the world hasn’t ended since the Western overpass was torn down and over the long haul, I expect that saves money.

    Also, as much as I am frustrated by Uber/Lyft, the delivery services are frustrating too. Ok, actually it’s Amazon. I think most UPS/FedEx drivers try, but Amazon Delivery should be renamed “Near Death Experience in 2 hours or less” for those near those trucks.

  • paulrandall

    Correlation does not equal causation. This data is not precise enough to correlate ride hail with increased ownership in a way that could be effectively used to inform urban planning decisions. It’s also not surprising that coming out of the recession that car ownership increased slightly.

    Don’t kid yourself, the TOD experiment of reducing parking minimums would not be working without them. I’d like to see Schaller’s census data segregated by neighborhood instead of metro so we can evaluate where hail drivers are parking at night in the cities.

    Anecdotal evidence in my LP, TOD adj neighborhood is that, over the last 5 years, residential street parking has become slightly more, not less available, even though we have lost 212 of 233 off street, monthly residential parking spaces in redeveloped shared use commercial parking lots. If there are more privately owned cars here than before where are people parking them? Maybe in new, denser buildings with parking structures but I doubt that adds up to a statistically significant amount.

    I think that people are giving up their cars and using a combination of transit and ride hail where before they used a combination of their own car, transit & bike. That’s positive trend because it reduces the neighborhood parking load, cruising for free residential street parking, and builds support for public policy that is moving towards eliminating parking minimums and increasing spending on bike infrastructure.

  • paulrandall

    To change public policy you have to build broad consensus by uniting different constituencies behind change. Middle class people who live in Chicago, who own homes that were built prior to 1957, who own cars, who vote, who show up at community meetings, who park either on the street or in shared use commercial lots are very easy to organize when they feel that their ability to continue to own a car is threatened by significant loss of available, affordable parking. Ignore them, disrespect them, label them, preach to them, take their parking away without any reasonable plan to better manage existing parking and change will face more entrenched opposition, be more difficult to achieve and take longer to implement.

  • Kevin M

    Maybe you’re right: the car keys will be gripped by our dying hands in a post-climate-change world. In its final chapter, humanity will hold on to its highest achievement and truest passion: The freedom to drive! We can’t go /backwards/ and live like our ancestors did. Its evilution, baby!

  • paulrandall

    That’s not what I said. Adopt a zealous strategy, trash anyone who disagrees by misrepresenting their views to fit your own narrative, and see what that gets you. Change is coming your opinion not withstanding.

  • sam K

    That article doesn’t really have anything to do with your assertion. If driving is rising in NY, it’s surely because of all the dysfunction with the MTA. When the subway is working, no sane person chooses to drive into Manhattan.

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  • TakeFive

    Uber’s loses are more due to plays other than ride-share. My guess is that their ride-share business is very close to being cash-flow positive. Since Uber and transit are both in the transportation business then by definition they are ofc competitors; IPO filings have little to do with the real world however unless you’re just looking for propaganda points.

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