Cook Dupage corridor comments

Don't forget to send in public comments on the Cook Dupage corridor transportation study - the deadline is March 31. Access the comment form here. My comments are below.

Also, the state legislature will be holding a number of public meetings in the next couple days to gather input on the state budget. Blagojevich's proposal dramatically underfunds transit - the previous capital bill funded highways and transit at a 2:1 ratio, Blagojevich would set the ratio at 10:1. If you have a chance, attend one of the meetings and demand adequate transit funding.

Chicago: South Side
3/25/2008, 5:30 p.m.
Kennedy-King College Theatre
6301 S. Halsted St., Chicago

Chicago: West Side
3/26/2008, 6:00 p.m.
Bethel New Life Auditorium
1150 N. Lamon St., Chicago

Chicago: North Side
3/27/2008, 6:00 p.m.
Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center
Olson Auditorium, 836 W. Wellington Ave., Chicago

Chicago: Southwest
3/27/2008, 6:00 p.m.
Oak View Community Center
4625 W. 110th St., Oak Lawn

Cook Dupage corridor comments

What do you think of the proposed transportation system, overall?
I strongly support the public transit components, and oppose the highway components. The current task is to make up for decades of underinvestment in transit and facilitate the Chicago region’s transition away from car dependence. Public funds are needed to prepare Chicago for the low-carbon future, which will cripple our economy if we don’t have good transit options in place. Emphasis must be placed on reducing traffic congestion by moving people onto transit, not by expanding roads that will be just as congested in ten years.

I am concerned about some specifics of the public transit components. Why has the Mid-City Transitway been proposed as a bus line rather than a new El line? Does the projected ridership of an extended Blue Line justify the costs? I am also concerned about priorities. In what order would these projects be built? I believe the Mid-City Transitway should be first in line. I also strongly urge the commission to make public key pieces of information, especially projected ridership of the different extensions and an explanation of why the Blue Line and Inner Circumferential Rail Line were proposed as rail while the MCT was proposed as BRT.

What do you think of the major projects included in the proposed system?

Elgin-O’Hare Expressway East Extension to O’Hare
I believe highway extensions should be the lowest priority - public funds should be invested first and foremost in public transit, which has suffered from underinvestment for decades but is far better in creating livable and sustainable cities.

DuPage J Line BRT (Bus Rapid Transit)

Mid-City BRT (Bus Rapid Transit)
I strongly support the Mid-City Transitway and believe it should be the highest priority because it would expand transit access to the densest areas under study, would provide a convenient link between O’Hare and Midway as well as transfers between the Blue, Green, Pink, Orange, and Red Lines, and would extend transit to a number of low income communities that are currently poorly served.

However, I wonder why the MCT has been proposed as a BRT rather than a new El line. It would have far more riders than the Inner Circumferential Rail Line, yet the ICR Line has been proposed as rail. Making the MCT a bus line might also hurt the prospects for high-density development in the neighborhoods it serves, and would make it impossible to service high riderships. What are the ridership figures reviewed by the commission? The MCT has the potential to greatly improve transit in Chicago and extend high-density development to large parts of the city, but this opportunity may be lost if we settle too easily on BRT.

I-355 BRT (Bus Rapid Transit)

Inner Circumferential Rail Line
As stated above, I wonder why this O’Hare-Midway link has been proposed as rail, while the higher ridership Mid-City Transitway has been proposed as a bus line. The ICR Line seems like a useful addition, but should be a lower priority than the Mid-City Transitway.

I-290 HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) Lanes
I oppose the widening of highways, which only encourage further reliance on cars. These funds should be devoted to public transit, not more subsidies to cars.

I-290 BRT (Bus Rapid Transit)

Blue Line Extension
Given the low density of the suburbs, I am concerned that the potential ridership of a Blue Line extension may not justify the costs. I would like to see ridership figures, and would also like to hear more details about how far apart stops would be and how often the line would run. It might make more sense to build a BRT line that connects with the Blue Line. I’m not opposed to an extension, I just don’t think the public has been given enough information to justify the expense.

Other Comments:
I am concerned that the opportunities for public input have been too few thus far. I hope that the commission will provide much more information about why it made the proposals it did, and give the public many more opportunities to participate in this important plan.

I thank the commission for its work and applaud the cooperation demonstrated by the many public officials involved in the process. I hope that unified planning will continue in this spirit of cooperation, because our region will suffer terribly if it cannot expand transit options before carbon taxes and rising gas prices make car-only transportation systems obsolete.


The dark side of congestion pricing

If you follow transportation politics, you will have heard awhile ago that the Bush administration has been strongly promoting congestion pricing over the last year by disbursing funds to cities willing to expand their use of road tolling. The highest-profile initiative is New York's plan to start charging a fee for cars and trucks to enter Manhattan below Midtown, but federal money will also go to new efforts in Seattle, San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Miami. (If you live in New York, by the way, right now is crunch time for the congestion pricing initiative so call your representatives in the legislature and on City Council to ask for their support.)

I admit that as I've been reading about the administration's backing for congestion pricing I never gave much thought to why a viciously reactionary regime would be pursuing policies that I strongly support. This article explains it all, and it's just as bad as we should have assumed it would be.

Basically, free market ideologues/corporate shills (they're one and the same) in the Department of Transportation have come up with a fiendishly clever plot to privatize the roads while starving transit, leading to big profits for the companies that they work for in between stints making transportation policy. Philosophically, they see roads not as a public good but as something to be rationed according to how rich you are, like any other commodity. This is why they've been promoting congestion pricing and other kinds of tolling. After establishing the principle of user fees on roads, phase two is to sell public roads to corporations, which can drive fees even higher for their own profit. The third key component is to starve public transit so people won't have any alternative but to use the privatized roads.

I should have known that the Bush administration would come up with a way to make the transportation system even worse: just as dependent on cars, but squeezing corporate profits out of everyone at the same time. The effects are already being felt - the money to fund the congestion pricing initiatives came from diverted pork barrel spending, some of which (although probably not much) financed public transit in small cities - including my hometown, which now has to rely on volunteers with cars to replace some buses. The number of major new bus and rail projects on track to get federal funding has fallen from 48 in 2001 to 17 this year. And, as Chicago residents know, the privatization of roads is a growing trend.

The best story in the article is the conflict over how a DC subway extension to Dulles airport should be done. The Department of Transportation threw a temper tantrum when Virginia decided to use a public agency to build it using toll road money instead of selling the toll road to Macquarie Holdings, a company that the general counsel at the Federal Highway Administration used to work for. The Department of Transportation killed the subway extension. Macquarie and the notorious Carlyle Group are now circling the project like vultures.

The alternative to the Bush administration's dystopian future is not, as some politicians in the article would have it, to stick with roads free and numerous. The transportation system should be a public good, it should not be commodified - but the environmental and public health costs of using it must be borne by those responsible. Congestion pricing should be a key component of shifting people away from cars and onto transit, which should also remain a public good. Ironically the Bush administration might be starting us down that path by pushing congestion pricing - but only if the next president makes a serious effort to fund the expansion of transit systems across the country.

McCain is a long-time opponent of Amtrak and has helped the Bush administration try to dismantle it, and many of McCain's advisers are free market fundamentalists like the people who run the Department of Transportation, but it's hard to predict who would actually end up making policy in a McCain administration. There is some reason to think that both Clinton and Obama would be more supportive of transit, but since they're both centrist opportunists, the political climate in the country would probably be the biggest factor in shaping their policies. Even tho transit use keeps setting records and the price of gas keeps going up, political support is still pretty anemic. It's going to depend on citizens pressuring the politicians or nothing will get done.


Cheney is a comic book villain


Raddatz [ABC News]: Two-third of Americans say [the Iraq war i]s not worth fighting.

Cheney: So?

Raddatz: So? You don’t care what the American people think?

Cheney: No. I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls.


Supreme Court captured by business

This is a good article on how the Chamber of Commerce helped push the Supreme Court from an ally of consumer groups thirty years ago into the body that recently struck down a lawsuit against the maker of faulty medical equipment. The author draws an interesting distinction between the professional classes - largely content with existing inequalities and a state that genuflects before capitalists - and the majority of the population, increasingly angered by corporations and the ever-increasing gap between themselves and the rich. Yet political elites remain responsive only to the professionals. This just points up once again what the left needs to be doing: creating strong grassroots groups and democratic businesses. Without the organizational and financial power that businesses draw on just as a matter of routine operations, the left is hopelessly outmatched. Which is why we're stuck with candidates like Clinton and Obama.


Western expansion

There was some big news for Chicago in the paper two weeks ago, but no one seemed to notice. A committee of suburban mayors and county commissioners presented an ambitious proposal for long-term transit improvements on the far West Side and in the western suburbs. The plan calls for the Forest Park Blue Line to be extended up to 13 miles along the Eisenhower, to the Yorktown Mall in Lombard, and for three new north-south transit lines to make it easier for rich people from the suburbs to take transit into the city, for poor people to take transit to their degrading jobs in the suburbs, and for everyone to make intersuburban commutes.

One of those three lines is the Mid-City Transitway, proposed as a bus rapid transit (BRT) line. The other two are a rail line between O'Hare and Midway thru the suburbs, and a BRT line connecting Schaumburg, Elmhurst, Oak Brook, Naperville, and other far west suburbs. A fourth BRT line even further west and widening of the highway are also being considered. (This is the best news article - the Tribune article wasn’t worth much. The preliminary recommendations can be found here.)

The plan would be expensive - between $5.5 and $8 billion dollars - and would probably take a couple decades to complete assuming the money could be found. It’s also well back in the line of transit expansions - the Circle Line, airport express, and extensions of the Red, Orange, and Yellow Lines are all much further along. But it’s still a big deal - the plan is a product of an exceedingly rare cooperative spirit among suburban and county officials, and it would be a big step forward in the transit capacity of the Chicago area. The Cook-DuPage corridor is a major location of jobs but currently has almost no transit options outside the two Metra lines that run a couple miles north and south of the Eisenhower. The Mid-City Transitway, which I’ve argued for before, would be a particularly important expansion of service to fairly dense low-income neighborhoods that have limited transit access.

In fact the Mid-City Transitway seems far more worthy than the Circle Line, and ten billion times better than the airport express line, which should be eliminated altogether from expansion plans. But do we want a bus rapid transit line for the MCT, or should we fight for an El line? Any thoughts on the pros and cons? As for the Blue Line extension, there's still a lot of details we don't know - how far apart the stops would be or how high ridership would be in a comparatively low-density area. What do yous think about the proposals for the suburbs? The only proposal on the table that seems obviously bad to me is widening of the Eisenhower.

The commission website is here. They're accepting public comments until March 31, which can be sent to lenskiw@rtachicago.org (download a public comment form here and send it as an attachment). They're also holding public meetings, but the one in Chicago was yesterday - others are listed on the website.


Bike safety ordinance up for a vote

Update The bike safety ordinance was passed today - good job everyone who called (altho, since Daley supported it, it was probably a done deal anyway). Daley defended bike messengers and then, in his inimitable style, offered some advice to everyone: "You have to be careful if you are reckless."

The Chicago city council will be voting on this ordinance Wednesday. Don't know if it will have any effect, but at the very least it's a good symbolic move. Call your alderman now.

From the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation:
The ordinance would fine motorists up to $500 for endangering a bicyclist. It identifies specific behavior, including:
  • Requiring a minimum of three feet of clearance while passing bicyclists
  • Prohibiting a motorist from opening a door into moving traffic, reducing the danger of “dooring”
  • Raising the fines for vehicles parked in bike lanes or marked shared lanes
  • Requiring motorists to yield to oncoming bicyclists when turning left, which prevents a “left hook” crash
  • Prohibiting motorists from turning right in front of a bicyclist, which prevents a “right hook” crash
  • Requiring motorists to exercise due care for bicyclists in addition to pedestrians
For fun, check out the incredibly high levels of vitriol that drivers direct at bikers in these comments.