The lows and highs of Chicagoland’s 2021 transportation news
As we begin a new calendar year, Streetsblog Chicago felt it was important to look at some of the news stories that had an impact on the Chicago sustainable transportation scene, including some of the worst and best things that happened. First let’s get the bad news out of the way.
2021 saw a high number of pedestrian and cyclist deaths. There were at least 25 pedestrian deaths and 10 cyclist fatalities on Chicago streets last year, more than any other year in the past decade. Meanwhile, there were at least 1,317 fatal car crashes in Illinois, the highest number since 2005.
Illinois planned to spend much of its expected $17 billion in federal infrastructure funds on highway expansion. Despite Governor J.B. Pritzker’s statements that fighting climate change is a top priority, he’s also pushing for adding lanes to multiple expressways and Interstates, which will divert billions from sustainable transportation projects and induce more driving.
While the Chicago Department of Transportation announced plans for 100 miles of new or upgraded bike lanes, there’s too much reliance on paint instead of physical protection, and the plan won’t do enough to improve connectivity. “There’s still no clear strategy to build a citywide network that will get people riding bikes from point A to point B safely and comfortably,” wrote Active Transportation Alliance spokesperson Kyle Whitehead in a blog post.
The CTA saw an increase in the rate of violent attacks on riders and employees. Transit workers held a protest demanding better protection. The agency said it is currently “monitoring” unarmed Transit Ambassador programs in other cities that appear to be effective in deterring crime and encouraging rule compliance with important rules, but no action to improve safety is planned.
On the bright side, there were several positive developments in the local transportation scene in 2021. Here are a few of them.
Divvy set a new ridership record, with over 5.5 million rides taken in 2021, a more than 60 percent increase from 2020, when there were 3.4 million trips. And in December 2021, Divvy debuted a sleek new version of their electric bikes.
The CTA and Metra rolled out affordable fares. In early 2021 the Fair Transit South Cook pilot halved ticket prices on the Metra Electric District and Rock Island District lines. In an effort to win back riders, the CTA and Metra slashed prices on transit passes. The CTA also eliminated the 25 cent fee for transfers between buses and trains. Riders will continue to enjoy lower fares in 2022.
Pace committed to zero emissions vehicles by 2040. The agency’s earlier plans simply stated that Pace would explore the feasibility of transitioning to electric vehicles. But, thanks advocacy efforts led by Sierra Club Illinois, Clean Power Lake County, and the Climate Reality project, Pace recently committed to spending around $10 million to introduce electric buses to its North Division, which includes Waukegan and its neighboring suburbs.
Illinois took a step in the right direction for reducing vulnerable road user deaths. With the passage of SB1791 the Illinois Department of Transportation is now required to conduct a traffic study to consider design changes to a roadway whenever a vulnerable road user is killed. However the legislation did not include any funding for these improvements. In addition, there’s still work to be done on the formulas that DOTs use when conducting a traffic study, considering many of the formulas prioritize drivers over people walking and biking. You can read more about that issue in a Streetsblog USA piece on the need for a new national traffic-control manual.
Evanston is on track to redesign Chicago Avenue and Church Street to make them safer for people walking and biking and to create new public spaces.
Chicago permanently legalized scooter-share. The addition of scooter share to the micromobility menu gives Chicagoans even more options to get around without a car.
Prediction for this year: 2021 saw multiple protests and petition drives organized by groups like the Active Transportation Alliance, Bike Lane Uprising, and Better Streets Chicago (which I cofounded) calling for safer conditions for cyclists. Some of these efforts have already borne fruit on streets like Logan Boulevard in Logan Square and Clark Street in Edgewater. It’s likely 2022 will bring even more advocacy and direction action around sustainable transportation, and necessary and robust responses from city and state transportation officials.