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.
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.