transportation – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop Chicago Community Stories Mon, 19 Feb 2018 15:45:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 King tribute raises disparities in public services for South Side Sat, 12 Jan 2013 14:54:53 +0000 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.

Elected officials in attendance will be asked to support a new arts and recreation facility for Bronzeville.

Pointing out that there’s no large, “Class A” park district fieldhouse between the Loop and 55th Street east of the Dan Ryan, SOUL has been organizing for such a facility to be located at 35th and Cottage Grove.  Several area churches and park advisory councils have signed on to the campaign.

Support will also be solicited for a Cook County Land Bank — with a goal of rehabbing up to a thousand vacant foreclosed homes in the next two years — and for a CTA bus route on 31st Street.

The 31st Street route was eliminated in 1998 as a cost-cutting measure.  CTA recently extended the 35th Street bus to cover 31st Street from Kedzie to Cicero on a trial basis.

The Bridgeport Alliance, a member organization of SOUL, has been working to restore the entire line, said Shani Smith.  Currently there’s no bus service for Bridgeport and Bronzeville between Cermak and 35th Street, a mile-and-a-half gap.

Infrastructure trust and Red Line extension Wed, 18 Apr 2012 23:56:37 +0000 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.


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.

“I don’t think distance-based fares are the right way to help pay for transit improvements,” Grimshaw writes. “It strikes me as unfair to make the poorest residents pay more to travel than wealthier people who live closer to downtown.

“We should not punish those who have been forced farther out of the city’s central core by rising real estate prices with increased transportation costs, especially when they have been denied the good transit access that many of us have enjoyed for so long.”

In other posts, Grimshaw recalls that Mayor Emanuel promised to make the Red Line extension “his top priority” during last year’s campaign.  She calls the extension “a ticket out of poverty for many on the Far South Side” who have “very low access to jobs.”

She discusses the ambitious expansion of mass transit now underway in Los Angeles, cited by Emanuel as an inspiration.  The huge project is financed by federal loans and long-term bonds paid for by a small sales tax increase.

Chicago has the nation’s highest sales tax, but broadening its base to include services could raise significant revenue while allowing a reduction in the rate, Grimshaw points out.

(In 2010 the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability evaluated proposals to expand the state’s sales tax base and found they could raise $500 million to $2 billion a year.)

That could allow the state to “create a dedicated revenue stream to invest in capital projects that would fill existing transit gaps,” Grimshaw writes.

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Traffic camera concerns Thu, 27 Oct 2011 20:19:37 +0000 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.

Chicago’s $84 million deal with Redflex Traffic Systems is the largest automated traffic enforcement contract in the nation, and it stands out because Chicago pays Redflex for the equipment, but the city’s transportation department operates the system, Celeste Mieffren of Illinois PIRG said.

That eliminates some of the worst features of the privatized traffic enforcement industry found in the report, particularly incentives like ticket quotas and disincentives for safety improvements that “put profits over public safety.”

“The good news is that Illinois and the City of Chicago have done a decent job of implementing protections for the public in these contracts,” said Meiffren. “But with this new bill to expand the scope of automated traffic enforcement in Chicago, we want to make sure that they don’t fall into the same traps that we’ve seen in other places across the country.”

Chicago plans to add speed detectors to red light cameras near schools and parks under legislation now making its way through Springfield.

The automated traffic enforcement industry has “significant political clout,” deploying lobbyists and campaign contributions to shape traffic enforcement policy – and sometimes traffic safety policy – in ways that boost their bottom line, according to the report.

One example:  some Redflex contracts penalize cities that alter yellow light timing – though adding a second or two to the length of a yellow light can reduce stoplight violations and accidents dramatically.

With 2,000 camera systems nationally, accounting for 40 percent of the market, Redflex is the largest supplier of automated traffic enforcement systems in the nation.

Many cities are turning to automated traffic enforcement under pressure from budget deficits, according to the report.  In general, it’s part of a larger trend of outsourcing management of public services.

Local governments should put public safety over profits in these contracts, and should make sure contracts protect from conflicts of interest, avoid incentives based on volume of tickets or fines, and retain control over traffic policy and engineering decisions, according to the report.

The group urges cities to heed Federal Highway Authority recommendations and consider traffic engineering solutions for problem roadways before turning to enforcement.

The Active Transportation Alliance, which supports the speed enforcement cameras, is doing that kind of work.  With its Better Blocks and Safe Routes to School programs, the group helps communities plan for improving traffic safety to encourage more walking and biking, said Ethan Spotts.

Planning experts from ATA meet with community members in libraries, schools, and block parties, tour areas and get input, and help develop recommendations for improvements to calm traffic, which can include curb bulb-outs, stop signs, or improved lighting and intersection marking.  Many improvements are funded by aldermanic menu money, Spotts said

Alternatives to cuts Tue, 11 Oct 2011 21:49:57 +0000 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.

Though the city hasn’t provided current figures, the measure could provide as much as $500 million to the city, schools, and other agencies, Patel said.  The bulk of the surplus is in 16 downtown TIFs, where subsidies have gone to highly profitable corporations, she said.

‘High-rent’ areas

Those are the “high-rent” areas where Emanuel said TIFs are inappropriate during his campaign.  His TIF reform panel, however, recommended criteria that would allow them to remain in place.  (It also recommended reviewing TIFs with the option of declaring a surplus.)

Emanuel has opposed using TIF surpluses, but he may be “coming around,” the Sun Times notes in an editorial backing the measure.

He should.  The reason he’s given – he’s against “one-time budget fixes” – doesn’t really apply.

It resonated with voters who’ve seen parking meter and Skyway privatization funds squandered.  But TIF accumulations are a different animal – taxpayer money sitting unused in a mayoral slush fund, to be handed out to politically favored developers and corporations.

Declaring a surplus would be sweeping the slate clean, a first step toward reform – and the TIFs will go on to accumulate new funds, taking in $500 million every year.

It’s a smart response to the recession, which is a big reason city revenues are down.  Freeing up the funds would also act as a stimulus to the city’s economy; heavy job cuts will add to the downward spiral of unemployment, foreclosures, disinvestment and destabilization.

Grassroots Collaborative will hold a press conference with supporters of the Responsible Budget Ordinance at City Hall on Wednesday morning (October 12, 9 a.m.) followed by a trolley tour of downtown corporations that have gotten TIF subsidies, including the Chicago Board of Trade, Miller Coors, the Willis Tower, and United Airlines.

Taxing traders

The campaign for a financial transaction tax got renewed impetus last week with a specific proposal from Stand Up Chicago and the Chicago Political Economy Group spelling out just how it would work here.

It would cover contracts sold on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Chicago Options Exchange, though the exchanges wouldn’t pay the fee.  Buyers and sellers would pay 25 cents per contract – a trivial amount on an average contract of $233,000, but with 12 million contracts a day, it would add up to $1.4 billion a year.

As we noted Friday, Bill Gates and, at one point, President Obama are among many prominent supporters of the concept; the New York Times just urged consideration of a national transaction fee.  In Chicago, 25 aldermen backed a related proposal last year.

Since Emanuel is a former CME board member, this could be his “Nixon goes to China” moment.  If not, it’s likely that support for the measure will grow, as discontent over corporate profiteering rises.


Meanwhile there’s another huge pot of money that goes untouched.  As Inspector General Joe Ferguson noted in his report on budget options, there are 620,000 commuters earning a living in Chicago but paying their taxes elsewhere.  He estimates their earnings at $30 billion a year, based on the area median, but it’s likely much more, since they include many of the highest earners, economists say.

In a study done years ago, UIC economist Joseph Persky says he found that more than half of all earnings in the city went to suburban residents.  “I don’t see any reason that would have changed,” he said.

Indeed, the imbalance could well have increased – particularly because downtown development spurred by TIF seems to have benefited suburbanites far more than city residents, as the Chicago Reporter revealed earlier this year.

According to data supplied by the Reporter (thanks to Angela Caputo), residents of the collar counties held 23,824 more Loop jobs in 2008 than in 2002, while Chicago residents lost 21,057 Loop jobs in the same period.  (Suburban Cook residents lost about 1,900 Loop jobs.)

Nonresidents making a living in Chicago take advantage of all the city’s services and infrastructure; they just don’t pay for it.

One possibility for capturing a portion of that wealth is a commuter tax – an income tax on nonresidents working in the city.  Philadelphia and other cities have one, and New York City had one for two decades, before the state legislature abolished it in a bid for suburban votes.  (Mayor Michael Bloomburg has been pressing for its reinstatement.)

Ferguson estimates a 1 percent tax would generate at least $300 million; it could well be much more.  Several City Council members have spoken favorably of the idea, but politically it’s a tough climb, requiring approval from the state legislature.

Congestion pricing – a charge on vehicles entering the central district during business hours — would capture some of the revenue now being lost from out-of-towners, suggests Ron Baiman of CPEG.  The City Council could enact it.

The Center for Neighborhood Technology supports such a charge, said Maria Choca-Urban, the group’s director for transportation.   It would reduce congestion and auto emissions, she said – but revenue should be used to improve public transportation.  “If you’re going to put in place a deterrent to driving, you have to improve the alternatives,” she said.

With the CTA facing billions in unmet capital needs – and major portions of the city (notably the Far South Side) still unserved by rapid transit – there’s plenty of room for improvement, and those investments would mean badly-needed jobs.

[The Active Transportation Alliance points out that CTA service cuts and fare increases are expected in the forthcoming budget.  “Unfortunately, the threat of fare increases and service cuts have become an annual tradition in our region because our elected leaders have failed to adequately fund transit,” the group comments. “The consequences of service cuts and fare increases would be far-reaching, impacting our mobility, our economy, our quality of life, our environment and the congestion on our streets.”]

Ferguson envisions a complex collection system requiring electronic tolling sensors on every street leading downtown and transponders in every car.

London has a somewhat simpler system; commuters buy permits at shops, and a system of cameras identifies vehicles entering without paying.  Buses, cabs, and delivery vehicles are exempted, and residents of the central area can get a 90 percent discount on the charge.  In 2006, London’s congestion charge brought in nearly $400 million.

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Obama’s base Wed, 03 Aug 2011 21:54:52 +0000 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 Wed, 23 Mar 2011 23:19:39 +0000 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 Wed, 16 Feb 2011 23:37:10 +0000 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 Tue, 16 Nov 2010 23:17:08 +0000 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.