Next South Shore alderman must expand and protect existing transit

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A Metra Electric train crosses Yates Boulevard out of the South Shore station. Photo by Jeff Zoline.

Applications are being accepted by Mayor Email until Friday, January 25 at 5 PM.

Alderman Sandi Jackson of the 7th Ward, which includes South Shore, South Chicago, Rainbow Beach, and Jeffery Manor, resigned effective Tuesday. Mayor Emanuel has 60 days from Tuesday to appoint a successor and hinted at the process in which he would vet candidates. A website will be launched today; people can submit applications to be considered for the job by a panel of four – yet unnamed – community representatives.

The Chicago Tribune reported, “The next alderman for the South Side ward must have a record of ‘community involvement and engagement,’ the mayor stated in a news release. Emanuel hopes to pick the replacement by mid-February.” On Sunday, the Chicago Tribune speculated as to who might be jockeying for the position.

I talked to four residents in the South Shore neighborhood about the transportation issues and assets to understand the needs in the community that the next alderman should address. Community members are organizing rapidly: two of the three residents I interviewed, independently, knew of each other through a brand new organization called Reclaiming South Shore for All (RSSA), led by Mia Henry. Henry was planning for an RSSA meeting when I caught her on the phone; she only had time to convey that the Jeffery Jump “was a good move for people” in the neighborhood. Continue reading Next South Shore alderman must expand and protect existing transit

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Transition Plan: We’re making the move to Streetsblog Chicago!

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Steven and John collaborated on this post. All photos by David Lepeska

You may have noticed that recently Steven and I have been posting more frequently and have started including a Today’s Headlines section first thing in the morning. Those of you who follow the Streetsblog family of transportation news sites may be experiencing déjà vu. It’s no coincidence: we’ve been gearing up to launch Streetsblog Chicago, which goes live next Tuesday, January 22. Needless to say, we’re extremely excited.

While Grid Chicago will go dormant at that time, we’re going to leave the site up as an archive. With Streetsblog Chicago we’ll be shifting to a bit more news-centered focus, with a higher quantity of more timely posts, covering a broader range of sustainable transportation and public space topics. We’re confident the change is going to result in Chicago’s walking, biking and transit issues getting more attention than ever, both locally and nationwide. Here’s a message from Streetsblog editor-in-chief Ben Fried on why the time is right for Streetsblog Chicago.

We’d like to thank you, our readers, for your loyal support these past two years. We invite you join us in celebrating the new site with a launch party next Thursday, January 24, 6-9 pm, in the second floor lounge of Revolution Brewing, 2323 N. Milwaukee. Hope to see you there!

Read Steven’s perspective on how Grid Chicago came to be, and how we came to be Streetsblog Chicago, after the jump.

Continue reading Transition Plan: We’re making the move to Streetsblog Chicago!

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Construction update: Jackson buffered bike lane installed after 1.5 year delay

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At Ogden Avenue, where the bike lane ended but continues 1.5 years later. 

One of the first protected bike lanes to be installed was Jackson Boulevard, back in 2011. Although the Jackson ptoected lane was originally slated to extend from Western Avenue to Halsted Street (1.5 miles), with some buffered bike lanes within that section, construction stopped at Ogden Avenue while the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) finished design negotiations with the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT). The state transportation department has jurisdiction over the segment from Ogden Avenue to the end of Jackson at Lake Shore Drive (Route 66), and IDOT wanted more info about the proposed lane from CDOT.

More than 1.5 years after the original bike lane installation on Jackson, the missing segment got its buffered, instead of protected, bike lane in December.

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The segment between Ashland Avenue and Laflin Street, an historic district, is too narrow to have a bike lane without removing a travel lane so CDOT installed shared lane markings instead. If more people start riding bikes at the intersection of Jackson and Ashland, I foresee many conflicts at two points: drivers must turn left from the left-most lane across the bike lane path or from the bike lane itself; drivers and bicyclists going through will meet each other on the opposite side of Ashland as they head straight to the middle of the same lane on Jackson.

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As is often the case in Chicago, some drivers are using the new buffered lane on Jackson as a parking lane.

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Where people riding bikes need a dedicated lane most on Jackson is east of Halsted, approaching Union Station, past the Chicago River, and towards the Financial District, State Street, and Wabash Avenue. Aside from the addition of new bike-friendly concrete infill on each side of the metal grate bridge, there are no plans to extend the Jackson bikeway east of Desplaines Street (the first street east of Halsted). The one-block extension to Desplaines Street, which has some semblance of a protected or buffered bike lane where it meets Jackson, is listed in the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 as a “Crosstown Bike Route” to be installed between May 2013 and May 2014.

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Metra takes another step to get wifi on trains

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People ride a Metra train. Photo by Clark Maxwell. 

Metra is looking for board approval to hire Xentrans to help them find the best solution and vendor who would test wi-fi service on one route. The contract is worth $200,000.

Xentrans has previously done work with the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), an agency providing bus, express bus, and light rail transit around San Jose, California. Wifi is available on all its Express coach buses (that are similar to Pace’s express routes that run on the I-55 expressway) and three light rail routes.

Xentrans doesn’t provide the infrastructure itself. According to its website, it manages projects and consults, providing “unbiased, vendor-independent, technology-agnostic consulting…for in-vehicle wireless system design and deployment”. Metra had previously solicited proposals to provide the wifi at no cost to the transit agency.

Continue reading Metra takes another step to get wifi on trains

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Charging by the mile, a gas tax alternative, sees serious movement

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The Illinois Department of Transportation is ready to build many more lanes and flyovers at the Circle Interchange, shown here in a postcard from 1963. Posted by Brandon Bartoszek. 

Because of vehicles with higher fuel efficiency, slightly less driving, and the gas tax not being changed since 1993, the motor vehicle fuel tax, or “gas tax”, has failed to pay for everything that Congress has legislated that it should pay for. The Highway Trust Fund, which includes the Mass Transit Account, has received several infusions of money from the “general revenue fund” – to the tune of over $60 billion.

But a new report from the Government Accountability Office, the congressional think tank focused on financing, past, present, and future, has made the country take a giant step forward in considering a switch to a fee that more accurately charges usage. The report, like all GAO studies, was commissioned by the House Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee*.

The gas tax charges drivers based on their use of petroleum, different vehicles can go different distances on the same amount of petroleum: essentially, some pay less than others for the same use of the road. Addiitionally, the counts of how much people drive has decreased (called vehicle miles traveled, or VMT), yet our demand for funds to maintain and build new infrastructure outpaces the incoming revenues from the gas tax. Lastly, the federal gas tax hasn’t changed at all, sticking to a cool 18.4 cents per gallon (for non-diesel drivers) since 1993. “While the gas tax was equal to 17 percent of the cost of a gallon of gas when it was set at its current level in 1993, it is now only 5 percent” (Streetsblog).

Continue reading Charging by the mile, a gas tax alternative, sees serious movement

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First CTA fare hike in four years begins today

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A Blue Line train towards O’Hare approaches the UIC-Halsted station. CTA has added more runs to the O’Hare branch, in its “plan to reduce crowding” (more commonly called “decrowding plan”), which are short-turned at UIC-Halsted station. Photo by Jeff Zoline. 

The 55% of Chicago Transit Authority passengers who use passes will see an increase in their per-trip fare when they buy new passes or reload a Chicago Card Plus today. This is the first fare increase since January 2009. (See the full schedule of fares on CTA’s website.)

My friend Ryan Lakes, an architect, bike polo player, and West Town Bikes volunteer in Humboldt Park, strongly recommended I watch “Taken For A Ride“, a documentary about the systematic dismantling of rail transit in tens of cities nationwide, and the conversion of those routes to diesel buses manufactured by General Motors. I strongly recommend it, too. It was released in 1996, but watching it today shows me how transit history repeats itself.

Continue reading First CTA fare hike in four years begins today

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