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People riding a bicycle and driving a truck, respectively, share the road on Monroe Street in downtown Chicago. Trucks occupy a section of CDOT’s two-year plan. Photo by Joseph Dennis. 

The Chicago Department of Transportation on May 11 released its 100-page, two-year plan to “ensure that Chicago continues to be a vibrant international city, successfully competing in the global economy with a transportation system that provides high- quality service to residents, businesses, and visitors”. That’s the Chicago Forward Action Agenda’s vision statement. Grid Chicago talked to CDOT commissioner Gabe Klein that day about the plan’s development, role in shaping the transportation systems in the city, and select performance measures and action items. In the first part, we discussed the deep partnership with CTA and CDOT, public outreach for the plan (via the Pedestrian and Streets for Cycling planning processes), and eliminating all traffic fatalities. In this part, we talk about congestion, enfacing and consolidating loading zones, and bicycle and truck deliveries.

Download Chicago Forward (13 MB .pdf) to follow along.

There are many performance measures that don’t seem to be 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?

That’s a 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.

What about CDOT’s ability to manage congestion? That greatly affects the CTA’s ability to run buses reliably for over 1 million trips per day. Aside from signal optimization and upgrades around the city, including Transit Signal Priority, the plan doesn’t mention goals to change road congestion (which could include decreasing the number of single occupancy vehicle trips). Can you address this?

For one thing, we don’t have full control over the parking meters. In my prior life I was really working with the parking system to upgrade it, and to use that as a congestion pricing mechanism. However, [there is a] private entity that manages the parking. They’ve upped the prices, but it’s not dynamic (which I think is optimal) but we’re interested in working with the company to give a better customer service experience with parkers. Like giving better information. If they knew about the parking and traffic situation downtown, they might use another mode. Knowledge is power, and there’s way we can get the information out there.

We did have to prioritize what we want to do in two years. We’re a small DOT. We’ve a lot of work on our plate, but we don’t have a lot of resources. 800 people, includes front line workforce. With consultants, it’s over 1,000.

Even though we don’t run CTA, we work seamlessly with them. I feel comfortable doing transit stuff, especially on BRT. We’ve gotten $150,000 from Rockefeller to work on “soft costs”. BRT can help relieve congestion. It moves considerably faster and it can be an alternative to driving.

[There's a] carrot and stick approach, cordon pricing, parking pricing, and parking info (often seen in Europe).

We’re trying to use a lot of carrot. Give people a lot of options. So the SOV [single occupancy vehicle] isn’t the default on every trip. I can walk my kid with me to the grocery store and not get run over. It’s about firing a lot of different cylinders.

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A digital parking information sign indicates the number of free spaces (“freie platze”) in Bremen, Germany

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A similar digital parking information sign outside Truman College on Sunnyside Avenue, in Uptown, Chicago. 

I was curious about the truck section on page 87. It has some actions that don’t seem to have outcomes. For example, “evaluate curbside loading zones to encourage commercial use only, simple enforcement, and increased turnover and availability.” What is the outcome of this evaluation? What is simple enforcement?

My feeling is the loading zone system needs an overhaul. We have to be honest of where we are, so we’re not going to put in detailed goals until we’ve mapped out comprehensive strategies. We’ve a general idea of what we want to do. Those listed items are our goals. We don’t know yet how to get there. We could have specified that we’re going to put together a plan or evaluation.

What is simple enforcement? You have to two different types of loading zones: 15 minute loading zones, commercial loading zones (which are paid for by a nearby business). It’s unusual, it’s hard to enforce because you don’t know which vehicles are associated with that store, versus making the loading zone available to any commercial vehicle for a commercial purpose, regardless of what store they’re associated with. We just want to make enforcement simpler, more logical for the users.

[I asked Klein about loading zones because it was the only element of the plan that dealt with truck traffic, but not in a way that I expected. I expected, as part of livability goals and traffic management, to see time-based management of deliveries, and other initiatives that kept large, polluting vehicles away from more vulnerable travelers and walkable and bikeable neighborhoods. There's a system being used in Europe called micro-distrubution where freight vehicles, including trains, stop outside the city limits, and offload their goods onto smaller, more efficient vehicles. Addressing loading zones is an excellent part of the plan, as they, along with better parking management, have direct impacts on traffic flows and congestion.]

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According to Mayor Daley’s bicycle messenger day proclamation, “delivering goods by bicycle is a solution to Chicago’s growing pollution, congestion, and gridlock, helping reduce emissions that contribute to smog and global warming”. Photo by Jeremy Hughes. 

Was bicycle messenger or cargo bike use considered in this plan?

It’s hard to get bicycle messengers and their organizations involved in planning, based on my experience in other places. We’d love to see more goods transported by bike, or by electric vehicle, or by NEV. I think those are great ideas, and I don’t think those are addressed in the plan.

What elements of the Chicago Forward Action Agenda are you looking forward to seeing materialized in the next two years, and what action items do you think are missing from the plan? Read all coverage of Chicago Forward

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