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Lightfoot’s capital spending proposal includes earmarks for sidewalks and bikeways

Will the earmark for bikeway upgrades include physical protection, like the new plastic curbs on Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square? Photo: John Greenfield

Update 11/19/20, 11:15 AM: The Active Transportation Alliance provided the following statement about the mayor's capital spending plan:

We’re excited about the potential for increased investment in sidewalks, bus lanes, and bike lanes. This is affordable, essential infrastructure that’s long been overlooked and underfunded. It makes our communities safer, healthier, and more equitable.

Funds should be focused on high-crash and high-ridership corridors in historically disinvested communities on the South and West Sides. We know how to make these streets safer and more comfortable for transit, walking, and biking. To date, we just haven’t had the funding and political will to do it.

This task is even more critical now given these are the same areas being hit hardest by COVID.

Mayor Lightfoot’s administration has released details for the city’s five-year capital improvement plan. Lightfoot plans to spend $3.7 billion over the next five years. The city will borrow $1.4 billion to fund projects over the next two years and borrow the remaining amount later. Lightfoot hopes that the funded initiatives will increase employment for Chicago residents. Most of the projects will require at least half of the staff to live in Chicago and the contracting process will prioritize women-owned, minority, and locally-owned businesses.

While details on what specific projects will be funded, sustainable transportation advocates may see a glimmer of hope as Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Gia Biaggi stated that the city seeks to fund traditional major infrastructure projects like bridge and viaduct repairs, but also focus on complete streets projects that make roads safer for people walking and biking.

According a report from the Chicago Tribune’s Gregory Pratt, $112 million will go towards sidewalk repairs and $49 million for “improvements to bike lanes, priority bus routes, and pavement markings.” I am curious whether “improvements to bike lanes” will go beyond refreshing paint and will actually include upgrading bikeways with physical barriers, like concrete or plastic curbs, that offer substantial protection from drivers.

Last month the City Council Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Committee passed an ordinance that would allow CDOT to install “vehicle impact protection devices, bollards and barriers” in the public way. Time will tell what these improvements will look like. It would be nice to see the city use a data-driven and community engagement-focused process to guide where to make improvements to the city’s bike lanes. 

Other infrastructure improvements include:

    • $164.3 million for 23 bridge replacement projects
    • $66.2 for 37 bridge repair projects
    • $16.9 for 13 underpass rehabilitations
    • $7.5 to improve vertical clearance for five viaducts
    • $250 million for residential and arterial street resurfacing, including green alleys which improve drainage and sustainability
    • $112 million for street lighting to replace 4,000 aging light poles, 300 blocks of complete light replacement, and strategic wiring stabilization repairs
    • $28 million for the traffic signal system
    • $132 million for city building renovations including Department of Family and Public Health centers and Chicago Public Libraries
    • $162 million for the city’s vehicle fleet and IT systems

Additionally the capital improvement spending includes $216 million for the aldermanic menu fund, a pot of discretionary money which allows Council members to pay for infrastructure projects in their wards. Menu fund allocations are decided by the alderman, unless they opt to hold a participatory budgeting election to let constituents propose and vote for projects.

Read the Tribune article here.

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