Let’s *go* Brandon! Will Johnson keep his big transportation campaign promises?
1:45 AM CDT on April 6, 2023
Update 4/10/23, 1:45 PM: The Metropolitan Planning Council provided the following statement: "The Metropolitan Planning Council looks forward to working with Mayor-Elect Brandon Johnson to improve livability for all Chicagoans by prioritizing improvements to sustainable and equitable transportation. For CDOT and CTA to proactively address urgent transportation needs, the city should work to modernize human resources processes to ensure it can attract the best talent. Both agencies need to make key strategic hires to enable advancement of bus rapid transit, to operationalize transportation demand management, and to accelerate implementation of safe bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. See MPC’s Mayoral Briefing Book for additional information about MPC priorities."
Update 4/7/23, 6:10 PM: The Better Streets Chicago Action Fund provided this statement: "We’re so proud to have supported Brandon Johnson in this election. From early on, he demonstrated a willingness to listen and represent what our community has been fighting for — and his transportation platform reflected that. We look forward to partnering with him alongside our coalition partners to turn that platform into tangible action.”
Update 4/7/23, 10:15 AM: Streetsblog reached out to several local sustainable transportation advocacy organizations for their thought's on Johnson's election. Here are the responses we've received so far.
Active Transportation Alliance spokesperson Ted Villaire: "We congratulate Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson and wish him well as he prepares to lead the city of Chicago. We’re excited to work with the new mayor and his administration to transform our city into a vibrant and safe place to get around. The United States is in the midst of record levels of traffic crashes and traffic facilities because of poorly designed streets – and sadly Chicago is no exception. At the same time, riders have been extremely frustrated with Chicago Transit Authority’s reliability problems, its worker shortage, and its slow buses constantly caught in traffic. We’re eager to work with the new mayor to help address these issues and create a transportation system that is safe, reliable, and equitable."
Commuters Take Action member Luca Harsh: "Commuters Take Action is excited about Brandon Johnson's victory and the difference his transportation plan could make for the CTA. We're hopeful that he'll follow through, but we're also prepared to hold him to his promises if we need to. We're looking forward to collaborating with his administration."
When Mayor Lori Lightfoot was elected four years ago, Streetsblog Chicago predicted her victory was probably a win for sustainable transportation and traffic safety as – if she kept her many campaign promises. As we recently discussed, her mobility legacy is a mixed bag, ranging from passing the tax-increment financing districts to fund the south Red Line extension, to spending $7.5 million in taxpayer money on a gas card giveaway as a reelection ploy. Many of the proposals in her transportation plan went unfulfilled.
Similarly, the election of Cook County commissioner Brandon Johnson – who was endorsed by advocacy organizations like the Better Streets Chicago Action Fund and Commuters Take Action – as Chicago mayor appears to be a very good thing for the local livable streets movement. (As a 501c3 nonprofit, Streetsblog Chicago does not endorse candidates.) However, the proof will be in the pudding.
Johnson's opponent former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas didn't have a lot to say about improving walking, biking, and transit, other that his constant mantra about the need for more policing of the CTA system. That wisdom of that approach is debatable, given the recent history of policing on the ‘L’. He briefly mentions several other ideas for improving CTA service on his website, but there was little or nothing there about walking, biking, or addressing Chicago's traffic crash epidemic.
In contrast, Johnson's website features an extensive transportation platform that has much in common with the goals of the walk/bike/transit advocacy organizations that supported him. Here are some of Johnson's key transportation promises from his platform, candidate surveys, mayoral forums, and a Streetsblog email interview by Sharon Hoyer.
- Further amend state law to give Chicago more control over the design of state roads within the city
- Lower speed limits
- Improve intersections on DuSable Lake Shore Drive to protect people crossing the highway
- Require side guards and bigger mirrors on large trucks, and keep them off residential streets
- Get CTA staffing back to pre-COVID levels
- Make published CTA schedules accurately reflect the service provided
- Address CTA safety issues through better reliability and Transit Ambassadors
- Reduce the need for unhoused people to shelter on trains by passing the Bring Chicago Home ordinance
- Implement 500 new transit priority signals
- Build robust bus rapid transit routes with prepaid, all-door boarding and other time-saving features
- Make the CTA participate in the Cook County Fair Transit South Cook pilot program
- Provide free CTA fares to Chicago Public Schools students
- Provide reduced or free CTA fares to seniors, people with disabilities, and low-income residents
- Make more CTA stations Americans With Disabilities Act accessible
- Launch bussing for CPS special needs students
- Build the Red Line extension, starting construction by 2025
- Improve service on the Forest Park branch of the Blue Line
- Build more pedestrian infrastructure like curb extensions, pedestrian islands and raised crosswalks
- Install more audible pedestrian signals
- Install safe sidewalks on large streets that lack them, such as 130th in the Riverdale community
- Introduce a municipal sidewalk snow removal program, aka #PlowTheSidewalks
- Improve bike infrastructure, including building physically protected lanes citywide
- Create a grid of lower-speed bike-priority residential streets, aka the Bike Grid
- Invest further in the Divvy bike-share network and integrate it into the Ventra transit payment system
- Launch a CPS-wide bike education and repair program
It's a great to-do list, but obviously, many of these things are much easier said than done. So, as with Lightfoot, it will be important for advocates to hold the new mayor accountable for keeping his promises. That task is a major part of Streetsblog Chicago's mission, so we'll be providing regular updates on Johnson's progress in this department.
Our readers would surely point it out if we didn't mention the main area where Johnson arguably stumbled while discussing transportation during the campaign. Like Vallas, the mayor-elect said he would dismantle Chicago's speed camera program. That's despite the fact a recent University of Illinois at Chicago study found the cams prevented 200-plus injury and fatality crashes between 2015 and 2017.
However, Johnson did say he would phase out speed cameras by replacing them with street redesigns that prevent people from speeding in the first place, which is often a heavy political lift. But if he commits to implementing equally effective Complete Streets projects at each camera location before the cams are turned off, that would be an approach Streetsblog could get behind.
Brandon Johnson's campaign was all about promising fresh approaches to Chicago's many problems. So here's hoping he applies that philosophy to our city's traffic safety and mobility challenges as well. Godspeed to him!
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In addition to editing Streetsblog Chicago, John writes about transportation and other topics for additional local publications. A Chicagoan since 1989, he enjoys exploring the city on foot, bike, bus, and 'L' train.
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