Lightfoot’s Climate Action Plan calls for “a zero-emission transportation network”

The Bloomingdale Trail, opened in summer 2015. One of the goals of the climate plan is to "improve air quality by expanding the city’s walk, bike, and transit options." Photo: John Greenfield
The Bloomingdale Trail, opened in summer 2015. One of the goals of the climate plan is to "improve air quality by expanding the city’s walk, bike, and transit options." Photo: John Greenfield

Given that Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot recently called our multi-modal metropolis “a car city,” and is currently advancing a plan to spend $7.5 million in taxpayer money on free gas cards, in effect paying people to create more greenhouse emissions, you could be forgiven for assuming that she doesn’t give a hoot about climate change.

But let’s give her the benefit of the doubt and take a look at today’s announcement from the mayor’s office about Lightfoot’s 2022 Climate Action Plan, which the city is billing as a “community-informed plan to mitigate climate-change impacts and position Chicago as a job-creator and economic leader in new economy.” The actual document will be released later this year.

The mayor heralded the document at an Earth Day event with aldermen and other community leaders at Plant Chicago, a sustainable food business incubator building in Back of the Yards founded by my longtime Chicago Critical Mass crony John Edel. According to city officials, in 2008 under then-mayor Richard M. Daley, Chicago became the first major U.S. city to develop an all-encompassing climate action plan, and the purpose of the new document is to “reposition Chicago as a global leader in climate action and economic growth.”

Along with using greenhouse gas emissions inventory data, Lightfoot’s office led the development of the 2022 plan by hosting listening sessions, virtual town halls, and an open comment period that collected feedback from over 2,100 residents, according to officials. City departments and sister agencies were also enlisted to help define the plan’s goals.

The results are in! This year, Chicagoans were invited to share their climate priorities- and they delivered! From interactive virtual town halls, two online surveys, facilitated conversations with community partners, and comments on the draft plan, over 2,100 Chicagoans from 70+ community areas helped shape the format and content of the plan. Here are the top priorities from the Fund Your Future activity.
How each dollar of funding to fight climate change in Chicago should be allocated, according to community input for the CAP. Image: City of Chicago

“Now more than ever before, cities across the world have a responsibility and moral obligation to take action and prioritize protecting residents and businesses from climate impacts.” Lightfoot said in a statement. “Chicago is no exception. The 2022 Climate Action Plan demonstrates a commitment to pursue ambitious climate action in ways that deliver meaningful community-level benefits. We can alleviate historic environmental burdens and invest in community health, safety, and resilience by equitably investing in critical clean energy infrastructure and nature-based solutions, catalyzing a workforce prepared for all facets of the green economy, and encouraging innovative new types of economic growth and job creation.”

According to city officials, the 2022 CAP builds on Lightfoot’s budget for this year, which includes the $188 million earmarked for  climate mitigation in the Chicago Recovery Plan’s, and sets a goal of reducing emissions in Chicago 62 percent by 2040.

The new climate plan includes five pillars (the city’s words):

  1. Lowering costs for households and businesses through utility savings and expanded access to renewable energy including a commitment to retrofitting 20 percent of all building types in the city of Chicago, retrofitting 90 percent of the city’s own building portfolio by 2035 and expanding Chicago based community renewable energy by 20MW
  2. Reduce waste by committing to introducing an organics waste collection system by 2025 and diverting 90 percent of our residential waste by 2040 and create jobs through expanded materials reuse opportunities
  3. Delivering a zero-emission transportation network and improving air quality by expanding the city’s walk, bike, and transit options, increasing CTA ridership, and supporting municipal and commercial fleet electrification
  4. Invest in our clean energy future, by upholding our commitments to 100-percent renewable energy for City operations by 2025 and city-wide by 2035, investing in 30MW of renewable energy on City property by 2030 and encouraging a transition from fossil fuel based power plants during peak energy demand to clean battery storage technologies
  5. Strengthen communities and protect health by enabling community resilience investments and enabling health and racial equity criteria in decision-making

Obviously the third pillar is of the most interest to Streetsblog readers. In fairness to Lightfoot, her gas card proposal is part of the larger Chicago Moves plan, which also includes $5 million for free transit cards (50 percent less than she wants to spend on free gas cards.)

And this week the city announced the Better Streets for Buses initiative, a community input program to determine which roadways should be prioritized for bus improvements, which hopefully won’t be killed or watered down due to pushback from drivers and merchants, as well as bureaucratic inertia. That’s what happened with past bus projects like the Ashland bus rapid transit corridor and Loop Link, respectively.

Image: City of Chicago
Image: City of Chicago

In February the CTA announced “Charging Forward,” its first-ever roadmap for electrifying the entire fleet. However, that’s not slated to happen until 2040.

The Chicago Department of Transportation is also in the midst of a project to install 100 miles of upgraded and new bikeways in 2021-22. But advocacy groups like the Active Transportation Alliance have pointed out that the current bike plan is too scattershot to create what Chicago actually needs: a citywide network of connected, physically protected bikeways.

Regardless, the Climate Action Plan initiative, which the city says will focus on improvements to African-American, Latino, lower-income, and working-class neighborhoods, has gotten some kind words from local sustainability and environmental justice advocates.

“Equiticity is pleased to see the 2022 Climate Action Plan’s firm commitment to make walking, biking, and transit access more viable for racially marginalized communities,” said Oboi Reed head of the mobility justice nonprofit Equiticity in a statement. “Our ‘Go Hub: A Community Mobility Center,’ located in North Lawndale, brings together hardware – bikes, scooters, and other infrastructure – with software – Community Mobility Rituals and advocacy to increase mobility in a neighborhood experiencing severe transportation inequity. Racial equity, mobility justice, and environmental justice are all inextricably linked, and require ambition and coordination to improve life outcomes for Black, Brown, and working communities.”

Check out materials related to the 2022 Climate Action Plan here, and let us know what you think in the comments section.