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King tribute raises disparities in public services for South Side

A Sunday tribute to Martin Luther King’s legacy will seek to hold elected officials accountable for addressing disparities in public services for South Side residents, including the lack of a major park facility in Bronzeville.

Dr. Otis Moss III of Trinity United Church will keynote the “Call for Accountability,” sponsored by Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation, Sunday, January 13 at 2:30 p.m. at West Point Missionary Baptist Church, 3556 S. Cottage Grove.

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Infrastructure trust and Red Line extension

Mayor Emanuel’s proposed infrastructure trust will be discussed at a community meeting on the Red Line extension in Roseland on Thursday.

Representatives of Grassroots Collaborative, the NAACP, AFSCME and other groups have been invited for a panel on “threats and opportunities” related to the infrastructure fund at the quarterly meeting of the Red Line Oversight Committee of the Developing Communities Project, said organizer John Paul Jones.

The meeting takes place at 11 a.m. on Thursday, April 19 at Lilydale First Baptist Church, 649 W. 113th Street.

DCP has been pushing since 2003 to extend rapid transit service to the city’s last unserved area.  After being on hold for decades, the project was approved by the CTA in 2009.

The project — which would extend the Red Line from 95th to 130th Street and add four new stations — is proceeding steadily, Jones said, with an environmental impact study and public outreach now underway.  Consultants conducting the environmental study are expected to report tomorrow.

Earlier this year the CTA hired Goldman Sachs, Loop Capital, and Estrada Hinojosa to serve as financial advisers for the modernization and extension of the Red Line.  Jones said it’s possible the infrastructure trust, if passed, could also come into play.

DCP executive director Gwen Rice said the group wants to weigh the benefits of public-private financing and make sure the community is at the table when decisions are made.  One of the group’s priorities is making sure that work on the extension goes to local residents, she said.

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When the infrastructure trust was first announced on February 29, the city’s chief financial officer Lois Scott created a small stir by saying private financing for the Red Line extension could be paid for with distance-based fares.

In her new blog for the Center for Neighborhood Technology, CTA vice chair Jackie Grimshaw rejects the idea.

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Traffic camera concerns

Chicago now has one of the best red light camera deals in the country – and should be careful to maintain that distinction as it adds speed detectors to cameras around schools and parks, according to a new report from Illinois PIRG.

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Alternatives to cuts

With Mayor Emanuel’s budget proposal expected to emphasize austerity with heavy cuts to city services, proposals to bolster revenues — and ensure that sacrifice is truly shared — are gaining traction.

“We’re afraid [the budget] is going to be heavy, heavy, heavy on cuts” including public safety and other city services, with the main impact “on working families and public sector workers,” said Amisha Patel of the Grassroots Collaborative, which is holding a “corporate welfare tour” Wednesday morning (see below).

The group’s initiative to return hundreds of millions of TIF funds to the city and other taxing bodies has the most momentum right now.  Seventeen aldermen cosponsored the Responsible Budget Ordinance – which would return 50 percent of surplus TIF dollars from all TIFs with balances over $5 million – and more have signed on since it was introduced last week.

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Obama’s base

Wondering how President Obama is doing with his base?  You could check with the $35,000-a-head donors at his 50th birthday celebration at the Aragon Wednesday night. Or you could check in Thursday morning with his original base, the members of the Developing Communities Project in Roseland, where Obama was a community organizer from 1985 to 1988.

DCP members will be celebrating the day with a birthday cake.  They;ll also get a progress report on the Red Line Extenstion, which the group has advocated for many years (CTA is completing an environmental impact study).  And kids from DCP’s summer organizing camp will give a presentation on their transit projects.

The party starts at 11 a.m. on Thursday, August 4, at Lilydale First Baptist Church, 649 W. 113th.

Gas prices

Dean Baker of CEPR thinks the media should challenge politicians who call for no-holds-barred domestic drilling as a solution to rising gas prices.

He does the numbers – the U.S. has petroleum reserves of 22.3 billion barrels and consumes 6.9 billion barrels as year.  Given the requirements of exploration and drilling, “in the most optimistic ‘drill everywhere’ scenario, we would save less than 20 cents from our $4-a-gallon gas.”  Quite likely much less.

Opening the nation’s strategic reserves “will at best buy us a couple of months nationally, with no assurance of relief here” in the Chicago area, according to Scott Bernstein of the Center for Neighborhood Technology, writing at Planetizen.

Bernstein points out that a 10-cent increase in the price of gas costs the Chicago area economy $240 million a year, and “financial pressures caused by rising gas prices may push households coping with unemployment and underemployment in even greater financial distress.”

It’s a lot worse for residents of areas with less access to public transit and less proximity to jobs and shopping.  Looking at the period from July 2000 to July 2009, when local gas prices rose from $1.99 to $4.30 a gallon, CNT found that transportation costs in well-served, “location efficient” communities rose from 9.7 to 12.6 percent of personal income; in less convenient places, transportation costs rose from 27.9 to 35.8 percent of income.

That’s a good argument for a national infrastructure bank which could accelerate local transit improvements, Bernstein writes – and for a range of practical strategies, from tax breaks for transit use and carpooling and car-sharing, to maintaining transit service and creating a comprehensive plan for regional transit.

We might be closer to realistic solutions if we made it a little harder for politicians to spout nonsense.

Transit advocates mobilize around House hearing in DuPage

With the House Transportation Committee holding a field hearing Sunday in DuPage County, transit advocates will demonstrate tomorrow morning in Chicago calling on Congress to step up support for transit operations.

Transit Riders for Public Transportation, Locals 241 and 308 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, and local environmental justice groups will march from CTA offices at 567 W. Lake at 10 a.m. tomorrow (Thursday, February 17) and rally at the Thompson Center at 10:30.

They point out that the CTA fired a thousand transit workers and reduced bus service by nearly 20 percent last year – and that similar service and workforce cuts have taken place across the country.  They estimate that well over 100,000 transit workers nationally lost their jobs last year due to service cuts.

They’re calling on Congress to enact dedicated transit operations support – and  they want Chicago’s next mayor and City Council to “aggressively support transit operations.”

Meanwhile, another group of transporation advocates is welcoming the field hearing – and hoping they’ll be invited to testify.

U.S. Representative Randy Huldgren, a freshman Republican from Geneva, is hosting the hearing, Sunday, February 20 from 1 to 3 p.m. at the DuPage Airport.  Transportation Committee chair John Mica (R-Florida) will moderate.

The Transportation for America Illinois Coalition praised Mica for seeking out viewpoints on a new surface transportation bill and called for a focus on transit jobs and repair of existing infrastructure, along with greater flexibility for states and greater commitment to high-speed rail.

The group includes the Center for Neighborhood Technology, Metropolitan Planning Council, Illinois Chamber of Commerce, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Quad Cities Passenger Rail Coalition, Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce, Midwest High Speed Rail Association, Illinois Public Interest Research Group, Active Transportation Alliance and Natural Resources Defense Council.

Transit advocates cheered last week when President Obama proposed a new surface transportation act authorizing $556 billion over the next six years.  It would replace a 2005 bill which has been extended since it expired in  2009.

Funding has been a major stumbling block, with increased fuel efficiency eating away at the federal gas tax, and political leaders afraid to take on the issue.  But today the leaders of the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce testified at at Senate committee hearing in favor of increasing the gas tax, which hasn’t been raised since 1993.

Reforms in how funds are allocated are also needed, said Brian Imus of Illinois PIRG.  Currently transportation funds are allocated based on the number of miles of highway within a state.  That can favor larger states with fewer people — and it gives states a “perverse incentive” to concentrate on building new roads, regardless of other needs, he said.

Transit funding creates far more jobs than highway construction, and it addresses problems of congestion and air quality, he said.

But funding matches required of states are higher for transit than for highways, and current law requires more extensive planning and studies for transit than for roads, which can be a political liability, he said.

Wisconsin reconsiders on high-speed rail

Under pressure from rail supporters in Wisconsin – including business leaders and newspapers that endorsed his gubernatorial candidacy – Governor-elect Scott Walker has backed off his opposition to investing in rail.

Walker made opposition to a high-speed rail between Madison and Milwaukee (connecting to Chicago) a centerpiece of his campaign, demanding the $810 million in federal stimulus funds be used for roads instead.

But with an upsurge of support for the rail project — and in the face of insistence by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood that a diversion to road building wasn’t an option — Walker now says he’s open to spending the money on existing rail lines in Wisconsin.

One option he’s proposing is upgrading the Hiawatha line from Milwaukee to Chicago to handle speeds of 110 mph, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.  It’s not clear if such a shift will be acceptable to the U.S. Department of Transportation, however.

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has offered to spend the stimulus funds here, but high-speed rail proponents are still pushing for the Milwaukee-Madison line, said Dan Johnson-Weinberger of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association. “It’s the best thing for Chicago, it’s the best thing for Illinois, it’s the best thing for everybody,” he said.  “Madison needs Amtrak service.”

He said there’s been an “explosion of grassroots energy and enthusiasm” in favor of the project, with events planned around the state for a November 20 Day of Action.

And he noted that the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, which endorsed Walker in this month’s election, just issued a strong editorial backing the high-speed project.

“I think there’s a decent chance that all this pushback will push Scott Walker not to make a terrible mistake,” Johnson-Weinberger said.

Walker opposed the new rail line saying the state couldn’t afford $7 million a year in operating costs.  It’s likely the federal government would cover 90 percent of that, as it does for the Hiawatha line, however.

Campaign donations from road builders favored Walker over his November opponent by a nearly 10-to-1 margin.

But after campaigning on a promise to add 1,000 jobs a week to Wisconsin’s economy, Walker’s been hurt by talk by owners of a new rail car plant about moving to rail-friendly Illinois.

In today’s Tribune, Dennis Byrne applauds Walker’s [previous] stance, citing a Congressional Research Service report (pdf) that questioned ridership projections underpinning claims of economic and environmental benefits of high-speed rail.

“It comes down to whether people in Minneapolis are somehow different from people in Bavaria or Kyoto,” said Johnson-Weinberger.  High-speed rail would be cheaper, faster, cleaner, and more accessible than air or auto travel.

And lowball ridership projections overlook the prospect of rising gas prices in the years to come, he said.



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