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Looking down Madison Street. Photo by Daniel Butler. 

A new plan for the Chicago Department of Transportation was released today and Grid Chicago got to talk to commissioner Gabe Klein this morning about the Chicago Forward CDOT Action Agenda’s development, strategies, and goals.

I started reading the 100 page plan last night to prepare for today’s interview. After the obligatory messages from Mayor Emanuel and Commissioner Klein (as well as photos of a Brown Line train and the bean), there’s a timeline and a short historical narrative. This plan gives a new mission statement for the department and is the first time a vision statement has been adopted by the agency (which the timeline tells was created in 1992 after a reorganization of the Department of Public Works). The Action Agenda is important to ensure our transportation system (as envious or dubious as you see it) changes in good, appropriate ways. Not only do we know how CDOT will get us there, Chicagoans will be able document change and compare our status in 2014 to where we started in 2012.

Much of the plan’s actions are new and impressive, and it puts onto paper tasks and activities that CDOT was already doing (or announced it will do, like build new CTA stations). It gives the public more information than it’s ever had about how it can hold CDOT accountable for maintaining streets, improving traffic safety, and managing a transportation system.

Download the Chicago Forward CDOT Action Agenda (13 MB PDF). The plan is divided into six parts:

  • Safety first
  • Rebuild and renew
  • Choices for Chicago
    This is the main section for transit strategies
  • Serving Chicagoans
    Service, information, 311
  • A more sustainable city
    Read about green alleys and the Pilsen sustainable streetscape
  • Fuel our economy
    Increase Amtrak ridership, increase real estate and commercial activity, reduce freight delays

The plan can be easily criticized, but the plan deserves commendations. There is “missing data” from the document that, if not published now, must be printed in the first evaluation. For example, the plan calls for increasing the percentage of 311 requests resolved within the “allowable duration” to at least 95%, but does not list the current percentage. The enforcement section of “Safety first” is weak: the Chicago Police Department needs to issue its own action agenda as its assistance and cooperation is paramount to achieving many of the strategies in this plan.

The plan is fittingly broad and includes strategies CDOT may have overlooked in the past, like having good “customer” communications. Read on for our discussion about the Chicago Forward CDOT Action Agenda:

Is this the first comprehensive plan at CDOT?

Yes. CDOT has had a Complete Streets [policy], design guidelines (we’re now working on sustainable guidelines), and a bike plan, but it’s first time putting it altogether.

Do you believe that all traffic fatalities can be eliminated?

We’re already seeing a downward trend. I think it is achievable. You shoot for 0, you end up at 10. Every life is important, but it’s better than shooting for 50 and ending up at 70. We have to push ourselves.

You mentioned at the Central Loop BRT meeting that this is a two-year plan, but I notice that some things have deadlines beyond that. 

Some things are aspirational. We made the pedestrian fatalities elimination announcement last summer. We’re going to reference announcements we’ve made, but the plan is what we want to accomplish in two years. Overall we’re committing to these changes over two years.

Were there people outside CDOT working on this?

Yes, we had consultants that worked with us. We had input from Karina Ricks from Nelson/Nygaard. She’s worked with me before. We took all of the outreach from the pedestrian and new Streets for Cycling 2020 plans.

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Page 21 that discusses complete streets and installing more leading pedestrian intervals, leading bicycle intervals (!), and developing a plan to make some streets 20 MPH. The Albany Home Zone is pictured on this page. 

Aside from including the results of pedestrian and bike plan outreach, was there any other public input considered for this plan?

This is a plan for us. This is more of an internal document, but we want to make it public, so people know what we’re working on. It’s giving people a window into the agency. It wasn’t designed to go to the public, or to present our internal working plan. And we want people to know we have vision and mission statements.

We want to let the public know what we do. There are things like median landscape maintenance and Wacker Drive reconstruction that we manage, which a lot of people don’t know about.

This put a GUI (“gooey”) interface on the front of the agency, give people a sense of what we do. It even educates other city agencies about what we do.

CTA is mentioned quite often in the plan. Where are Metra and RTA?

We coordinate with so many different many agencies, but we coordinate with CTA on another level, because we work with them on so many projects (like stations, transit performance). We ran a lot of this by them.

There are many performance measures that are not performances measures at all? For example, “improve CTA’s on-time performance” on page 41. So if you improve it 1% over 10 years, has the plan achieved the right level of performance?

Very fair criticism. What you have to understand, we don’t run CTA. What we’re trying to do there is let people know that that’s a goal we’re working on. I can very much see your point. In some cases, we just can’t give measurable goals because it wouldn’t be fair to that agency.

It’s not going to be perfect, but I’d rather put something out and actually have goals for the agency, even if we don’t hit 100% of the goals, but 90% of the goals, than have a perfect plan.

By the way, we will be reporting on how we perform. We will put out an update in a year. We’re going to track our performance. There are goals we will miss, and there are goals we will surpass. In DC, we knocked out in 6 months some of the 2-year goals. Then we reset and made more stringent goals; others we didn’t achieve because they ended up requiring legislative or other changes. It’s okay to make mistakes and miss something. If you didn’t set the goal you may not have done anything.

Look at the 1-year progress report from DC (PDF). We’re working on [project tracking] dashboards.

What do you want Chicagoans to gain from reading this plan?

I’d like them to learn the history of CDOT, and transportation in the city. Then learn what our priorities. Six priorities, with safety being number one. We want to provide excellent choices, and we think Chicago can lead the region and the world in transportation options, safe, and complete streets. We want people to know we’re doing the basics really well, like potholes and paving.

There’s a method to our madness: we’re focused, and we’ve a great plan. The plan is going to cover the gamut. To let people know we make streetscapes, install bike racks, have Safe Routes Ambassadors; it’s Chicagoans tax dollars at work.

In past articles, this document, before its release, was referenced as the Fast Forward Agenda

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  • Bmbcgo-chat

    Gabe Klein is a nut job!  So let’s lay this out, he’s in Chicago for 2 days, and is talking to the mayor about speed cameras.  Now, he wants to lower speed limits?  Hmmm, it’s not about money? 
    It’s time for him to go.  He’s been here for one year, and traffic has not improved at all in Chicago.  Signals aren’t synchronized, traffic does not move.  He is worthless.

    • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

      Are you kidding me?

      Please go to the beginning of Grid Chicago and read everything Gabe Klein has done for ALL Chicagoans since his arrival.
      His job is not just about synchronizing traffic signals so automobiles can move. His department is called “transportation”. That means water taxis, transit buses, private shuttles, bicycles, people walking, people who use wheelchairs, train stations, multi-use trails, etc…

      • Bmbcgo-chat

         What has he done?  Nothing, but push his speed camera agenda (oh those poor children, they are dying by the dozens by all of the speeding cars). 
        This article sums up Gabe’s approach
        http://www.suntimes.com/news/otherviews/6267233-452/drivers-are-the-new-smokers-in-city.html
        What nut jobs like fail to understand, is that people need to get places in a reasonable amount of time.  Buses aren’t reliable, biking isn’t always practical, and this nation has prospered because of mobility provided by the automobile.  To try and make driving “unattractive” does not stimulate growth.
        Gabe is a complete nut job, with no sense of reality.  He needs to go.

        • http://twitter.com/aka60643 AKA60643

          No, he’s not a nut job at all.  He gets it – building infrastructure that prioritizes car traffic over everything else is NOT working.  It’s not solving our problems.  Cities with more viable transportation options function better.

        • Clark Wellington

          “buses aren’t reliable”

          And yet, when CDOT proposes ways to fix this (i.e., BRT), you complain. I’m fairly sure there’s no data showing that reducing the modeshare of private automobiles equates to lower economic growth. Take a look at NYC, Hong Kong, London, etc.

          What you fail to understand, is that car owners aren’t a privileged class who have the right to own the road. Look at the stats on what percent of travel is done by walking, biking and public transportation. People who use those modes could use some love too.

          • joejoejoe

             Conventional buses are reliable, that’s a strawman argument that Bmbcgo-chat is making. Whatever the merits of BRT, they stand alone, not as a “fix” for unbroken bus service. 310 million passenger trips for CTA buses in 2011 – that’s an impressive total delivering service again and again to nearly 1 million daily riders.

    • George

      I agree — completely nuts. Chicago is a Democratic city, but a conservative one. People do not want their money or time wasted with this silliness. I predict that if Gabe Klein gets half of what he wants, it will impact Emmanuel negatively in the next election. People are already complaining about the new bike lanes on Kinzie and in the loop. Just wait til he createsv100 miles of new bike lanes and wipes out half of Western for a BRT. The City is sending everyone in earshot a message that you are “uncool” if you are not young or fit enough to bike and/or you have to drive a car into work. What makes it even worse are Klein’s public statements that opposition can be fixed with good PR and the only reason that people would oppose his plans is because they “don’t get it.”

      • Lee

        Are you saying this because you think the two-year Action Agenda doesn’t address driving? Or do you believe CDOT should not be
        a transportation department, but instead just a department of driving?
        If you read it, you’d know the Action Agenda does include positive actions
        for all road users, including drivers. Just because this document looks
        at the big picture and not just at driving doesn’t make it anti-car. It makes it balanced and realistic, responding to Chicago’s transportation reality. Just quickly skimming the Action Agenda, these are all commitments that directly relate to improving the driver experience:
        — Ensure predictable, safe, and reliable motor vehicle operations
        — Modernize traffic signals to improve vehicle throughput
        — Improve reliability of auto travel on major streets
        — Improve pothole repair
        — Improve street resurfacing
        — Improve bridge conditions
        — Restripe pavement markings
        — Increase Chicago region’s share of state transportation funding
        — Improve Chicago Traffic Tracker
        — Provide electronic signage on major arterials providing current traffic conditions
        — Fund a citywide signal optimization plan to update signal timing and operations on two-thirds of city’s signals
        — Provide better alternatives to drivers to help reduce the number of other drivers in your way causing traffic

        • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

          I missed this comment. Thanks for reading the Action Agenda and listing some of the great features within it.

      • untitledreality


        People are already complaining about the new bike lanes on Kinzie”

        I love this one. To all of the people complaining about the backed up traffic on Kinzie because of the protected bike lanes… KINZIE WAS ALREADY A TWO LANE ROAD!!! It was not four lanes… it was TWO. After the bike lanes were installed it is still TWO lanes… and while automobile traffic on Kinzie was terrible both before and after the bike lanes during rush hour, bicycle traffic has improved considerably, allowing bicyclists (who now represent almost a 50% mode share on Kinzie, a safe, fast route into downtown.

    • Guest

      I’m confused – I didn’t realize that Mr. Klein had a magic traffic wand that he could wave to make traffic mysteriously go away. Imagine that, all of those fools who spend years in school learning that traffic expands to fill the space that’s allotted to it could have saved countless hours and made every driver’s life easier by purchasing some magic traffic pixie dust.

      And instead they spend our tax dollars on providing alternatives to sitting in traffic…

      • http://twitter.com/aka60643 AKA60643

        providing alternatives to sitting in traffic…  is exactly what we need.  If the city has a wider range of viable, reliable modes of transportation, then fewer people will be sitting in traffic.  If transit is more reliable, more people will use it.  If biking is safer, more people will do it.  Magical, eh?

    • http://twitter.com/#!/Justinhaugens Justin Haugens

       You’re commenting as though one year is sufficient time to correct everything.  Some cities believe that inconveniencing the driver is better overall than concentrating on them.

  • joejoejoe

    Thanks for this reporting and sharing this report. It’s great that CDOT is putting out a plan that is more than PR for people to chew on. Less great, calling Chicago, quote, the “City of Broad Shoulders” on page 13. Maybe a consultant from the “Large Apple” wrote that one? Anyway, I think we can all agree that Ryne Sandberg was one heckuva poet!

  • joejoejoe

    Ok..just finished reading.

    1) Love the “green alley” plan that incorporates increased water permeability and higher albedo to reduce the urban heat island effect. Heat kills more people than every other kind of natural weather combined and reducing the urban heat effect in Chicago will save more lives than pedestrian safety could ever dream of saving. The Moscow Heat Wave of 2010 killed 11,000 people.

    2) Fixing the freight rail delays should have a higher priority. I’m opposed to the Infrastucture Trust because I think it lacks proper oversight and is undemocratic but if this admin is going to use it, using it as a business-to-business infrastructure tool to help freight traffic would be a great start. Union Pacific and CSX actually have attorneys that won’t fall for any snowjob that Morgan Stanley or Citigroup try to pull unlike, say, the City of Chicago.

    3) 6 of 11 of CDOT’s civic partnerships involve BRT? You all love the BRT! I know you are trying to brand it differently so may I suggest “The Spork of Transit Modes” as a motto?

    4) CDOT should think of adopting checklists like they do in aviation and medicine for priorities. It’s great to talk about all this stuff but if you have a Complete Streets checklist and make following it part of bids and payment, then a Complete Streets plan gets implemented. If all you have 2 year plans and PR campaigns about Complete Streets, you get projects like the Fullerton Parkway rebuild which is “complete” only in the sense that it completely eliminates pedestrian and bicycle access to Lincoln Park.

    http://gridchicago.com/2012/complete-streets-policy-what-complete-streets-policy/

    5) Great report overall. I’m a tough grader because I think politicians are mostly surrounded by sycophants and grifters and rarely hear anything remotely resembling honesty but this report was well done and far more detailed than your average city product. Nice job CDOT!

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  • http://twitter.com/aka60643 AKA60643

    Gabe Klein is looking at the BIG PICTURE, not a strictly car-centric one.  CDOT should have shifted to this approach long ago.  I’m glad we have a commissioner with the vision to take on this huge challenge in a comprehensive way, instead of the piecemeal approach that has traditionally been followed.  There’s a huge amount to fix. I’m encouraged by this plan.

    I’m disappointed by the fact that people are obsessing so much about the idea of a 20 mph speed limit on residential streets (should have been done years ago) and are completely overlooking the positive impacts of the viaduct project announced yesterday.  
    I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised though, given the abundance of selfishness shown by many drivers’ insistence on speeding, tailgating and running red lights, regardless of how that may impact other road users.

  • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

    Pretty cool that they used a photo of my block, AKA The Albany Home Zone, as an example of a street designed for all users.

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  • Daniel Butler

    Thank you for crediting my work. I greatly appreciate it. =)

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