Transit benefit reaches parity with parking benefit, plus other new laws


Transit users whose employers provide pre-tax benefit programs stand to pay less taxes in 2012 and 2013. Photo by Erin Nekervis. 

January 1st always comes with new laws. This January 1st was a little different than most in that the United States was closing in on the “fiscal cliff”. The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 is expected to be signed into law by President Obama and includes provisions that raise taxes on a majority of Americans, and prolongs extended unemployment benefits, among other changes to the tax code. A major change, fought over for years by sustainable transportation advocates, is the coming yearlong parity of the transit commuter benefit with the parking benefit. These two programs deduct the cost of a monthly transit or parking pass before calculating taxes owed (“pre-tax benefit”).

The American Public Transportation Association released a statement:

For 2013, there is no longer a financial bias in the federal tax code against public transit use. This has always been an issue of fairness, and public transit advocates are pleased that the federal tax code will again provide transit riders with the same tax benefits according to those who drive to work.

The change will be retroactive to January 1, 2012, so workers whose employers implement this program will be able to receive tax benefits for any passes they purchased through the program last year. Unfortunately, the benefit expires December 31, 2013. This isn’t the first time that the transit commuter benefit will expire while the parking benefit remains. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA 2009, also known as the “stimulus”) raised the transit commuter benefit from $120 to $230 per month, but that expired on December 31, 2011. The parking benefit remained at $230 per month.

Continue reading Transit benefit reaches parity with parking benefit, plus other new laws

Top 5 lists: essential parks, walking, biking and transit stories of 2012


The Dearborn Street two-way protected bike lane.

In 2012 the Emanuel administration kept the momentum going for walking, biking, transit and public space improvements, with a number of big projects announced and/or completed. For Newcity magazine’s annual “Top 5 of Everything” issue, I submitted the following lists of the most important or interesting sustainable transportation and parks stories of the year. Did I miss anything?

Top 5 Wheelie Exciting Chicago Bicycling Stories

Hundreds of cyclists provide input for 645-mile Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 network

Comrade Cycles, Chicago’s first worker-owned bike shop, opens in Ukrainian Village

Couriers from around the globe gather here for Cycle Messenger World Championships

Final plans for Bloomingdale trail and “linear park” released; construction slated for 2013

CDOT builds Chicago’s first two-way protected bike lane downtown on Dearborn Street


Bollywood dancing at Open Streets on Milwaukee Avenue.

Top 5 Not-So-Pedestrian Local Walking Stories

Chicago’s speed camera ordinance passes, paving the way for safer walking conditions

Make Way for People plan to turn alleys, cul-de-sacs and parking spots into mini parks

City releases first-ever comprehensive Pedestrian Plan

Open Streets ciclovia expands to include Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park / Bucktown

Mayor Emanuel announces $100 million plan to complete the Chicago Riverwalk


The CTA Yellow Line’s new Oakton-Skokie station. Photo by Jeff Zoline.

Top 5 Rapidly Developing Transit Stories

CTA announces 5-month closure of south Red Line, $240 million 95th St. station rehab

Both CTA and Metra hike farecard prices

Sparkling new CTA stations open at Green/Pink Morgan and Yellow Oakton-Skokie

Amtrak train hits 111 MPH downstate, paving the way for high-speed service to St. Louis

Jeffery Jump debuts; plans for bus rapid transit downtown, and on Western, Ashland


Park district rendering of Northerly Island redesign.

Top 5 Blossoming Chicago Park District Stories

Rahm announces $290 million plan for 800 parks & rec projects citywide in next 5 years

Construction starts on four new boathouses along the Chicago River

$5 million Northerly Island rehab will add topography, native habitats and campsites

Take the Field plan earmarks $12 million for sports fields in underserved communities

North Grant Park, now Maggie Daley Park, will get climbing sculptures & skating ribbon

Fatality Tracker: Man killed in Jeffery Manor after truck driver fails to yield

View Jeffery Boulevard and 95th Street in a Larger Map; seen from the driver’s perspective.

2012 Chicago fatality stats*:

Pedestrian: 29 (13 have been hit-and-run crashes)
Pedalcyclist: 7 (1 is a hit-and-run crash)
Transit: 10
Skateboard: 1 (1 is a hit-and-run crash)

The Tribune reported that tow truck driver Robert Parks, 63, struck pedestrian Morris Giles, 59, at 8 AM on Saturday, December 22, in the Jeffery Manor neighborhood. Giles died at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn the following morning. The driver was making a left turn from southbound Jeffery Boulevard onto the eastbound lanes of 95th Street when he failed to yield to the pedestrian, who was crossing 95th. Parks was cited with failure to yield to a pedestrian and failure to exercise due care. Both men lived near the crash site.

* The information is only accurate as of this post’s publishing time. View previous Fatality Tracker posts; see a data table listing all who’ve died.

An update on cyclist Justin Carver, critically injured by a left-turning driver

View Larger Map

Google Streetview of the crash site, 26th and East in Berwyn, from the driver’s perspective.

Click here to donate to a fund that will help cover Justin’s medical expenses.

Steven and I don’t normally devote full posts to non-fatal bicycle crashes, but the case of Justin Carver, a friend of a friend of mine, really hit home with me and has also struck a chord with the local bike community. Because of a careless move by a driver, Justin is currently in the intensive care unit, fighting for his life with a traumatic brain injury and several broken bones.

According to Justin’s wife Kim MacGregor Carver, Justin bicycled from their home in Oak Park to his job at the Stickney-Forest View Public Library several times a week. On Monday, December 3, around 5:15 pm, he was riding north on East Avenue in Berwyn, a residential street. When he came to the intersection of 26th Street, the driver of a southbound Chevrolet Suburban SUV made a left turn onto 26th and failed to yield to the cyclist, striking the left side of his body.

Justin, who was wearing a helmet, sustained severe head injuries. Although there were no skull fractures, there was trauma to the front of his brain and bleeding on the brain, and he received lacerations to his forehead. He also suffered compound fractures to his left tibia and fibia, a broken clavicle and scapula on his left side, and a broken finger in his left hand. “I have to imagine the helmet lessened the impact,” Kim told me on the phone yesterday afternoon, speaking from Justin’s hospital room. “I believe that if he didn’t have his helmet on it could have been over instantly.”

Continue reading An update on cyclist Justin Carver, critically injured by a left-turning driver

Concerns from locals about protected lanes on the West Side boulevards


Cyclist on Douglas Boulevard in the 24th Ward before protected lanes were installed.

Eboni Senai Hawkins, founder of the local chapter of the African-American cycling group Red Bike and Green, recently emailed me that some local residents are “up in arms” about the protected bike lanes being built along the West Side boulevards. This 4.5-mile route leads from Garfield Park to 24th Street in Little Village. 24th Ward Alderman Michael Chandler has asked the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) to suspend construction of the lanes on Independence Boulevard, which runs south from Garfield Park, until these issues are resolved. I called Eboni last night for more info and her perspective on the situation.

So what are people’s concerns?

Basically they’re creating a protected bike lane on one side [of Independence] by moving the parked cars to the middle on [the southbound] side, and on the other side going north they’re just doing it as a buffered bike lane, with the bike lane to the left of the parked cars. So essentially they started implementing this particular design for these bike lanes and then there was ticketing that wasn’t supposed to happen that all of the sudden happened because people didn’t know where to park. The lanes are half constructed. So all these tickets were issued and everyone’s up in arms in this particular community, which is mostly Lawndale. [The tickets have since been dismissed.]

A special concern is the number of churches that are along this corridor. They’re concerned about their congregation and their ability to park. And there’s also this concern about safety. Basically people kept saying at the meeting, you have to get out of your car in the middle of the street.

Continue reading Concerns from locals about protected lanes on the West Side boulevards

Dearborn Street’s celebrity status skyrockets


Active Transportation Alliance posted a 1:50 video showing before and after conditions

The Dearborn Street two-way protected bike lane looks to be the biggest deal, nationally, in bicycle infrastructure since the City of Chicago built the Kinzie Street cycle track three weeks after Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office. If it had an account on Twitter, it’d be competing with Justin Bieber.

Here’s a collection of “chatter” about the project from within the short 90 hours it’s been open.

“More than just bike benefits”


The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) produced their own 1:50 video interviewing Chicago transportation commissioner Gabe Klein about the economic benefits of building bicycle infrastructure and showing scenes from the press conference and of people bicycling in the Dearborn Street bike lane.

“Back to the Future moment”

Architecture “observer” Lynn Becker reviewed how this new piece of infrastructure fits into the history and culture of Chicago, then and now. The following are unconnected excerpts.

On Friday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Department of Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein dedicated the city’s most ambitious commitment yet to the ideal of taking biking beyond the recreational to make it an integral part of Chicago’s transportation system.

It was a Back to the Future moment, as Chicago rose the crest of the first major bike boom back in the 1890’s, when the introduction of the affordable safety bicycle set sales soaring.  It also created a new industry, with Chicago at its center.

The Trib’s John Kass, as part of his ongoing battle against the 21st Century, rails against “elitist politically coddled bicyclists” by indulging his usual habit of seeing everything in Chicago he doesn’t like as a Rahm Emanuel plot, raising spectres of traffic tickets and tolls for bikers.

It’s like having to learn a new language, relearning how we “read” the city as we move through it.  No doubt about it, it’s a bold initiative, and a real gamble.  It not only serves a constituency, but aims to shape behaviour.

Read on for Becker’s full commentary and a video of Klein and Emanuel’s speeches. Continue reading Dearborn Street’s celebrity status skyrockets