CategoryEnvironment

Chicago mayoral candidate scorecard: Transportation

There are six candidates who want to be Chicago’s next mayor. What are their views on transportation?

EI = Environmental Illinois, a statewide environmental advocacy organization. Note that ALL candidates answered YES to all of EI’s questions asking about if they support certain green and sustainable transportation initiatives. I provide links to the answers of the candidates who had additional comments (Del Valle, Emanuel, Walls).

Candidate View Plan
Carol Mosely Braun Wants to double transit ridership and bicycling usage. Link. No plan at this time
Gery Chico Supports diverse, sustainable, and active transportation, including transit. No plan at this time.
Miguel Del Valle Supports diverse, sustainable, and active transportation, including transit. Complete streets. View plan details: One

View answers to EI questionnaire.

Rahm Emanuel Supports diverse, sustainable, and active transportation (think walking and biking), including transit, freight, and high-speed rail. Complete streets. View plan details: One, Two

View answers to EI questionnaire.

Patricia Van Pelt Watkins Unknown at this time No plan at this time
William “Dock” Walls Unknown at this time No plan at this time

View answers to EI questionnaire.

This post will be updated as more becomes known. If you have information, share in the comments below or email me.

Three of the six candidates pose for a photo after the community and environment forum downtown sponsored by Friends of the Parks.

More transportation analysis:

I should note that contrary to the belief of many Chicagoans (and perpetuated by the implications of at least one candidate), the Chicago Transit Authority is a quasi-governmental agency (or “municipal corporation”) created by the Illinois state legislature. A detailed description from Chicago-L.org:

The governing body of the CTA is the Chicago Transit Board consisting of seven members, of which four are appointed by the mayor of Chicago and three by the governor of Illinois. Each’s appointment must be approved by the other. Each board member serves a seven year term, staggered to minimize abrupt changes in policy. The board chooses a General Manager (changed to “Executive Director” in 1976 and now called “President” since March 1992) to oversee day-to-day operations. The first board took their oath of office September 1, 1945, with the first Executive Director, Walter J. McCarter, taking office in 1947.

The board, at least since Frank Kreusi, has always hired the president that Mayor Richard M. Daley chose, although it is not the mayor’s responsibility.

The grandest canyon

One of the informational boards at Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona say that while the Grand Canyon may not be the deepest, widest, or longest canyon in the world, many people consider it the grandest.

In this photo of my dad and sister, it’s almost 20 miles from here, at the south rim west of Yavapai Point, to the north rim (in the direction I shot the photo, slightly northwest).

This is Grand. And America’s Best Idea.

Readers Ask: Recommending bioswales

The second post in “Readers Ask,” from a planning student in Chicago.

I want to recommend bioswales for my Complete Streets project area which consists of a part of Grand in Chicago, Illinois  There are a lot of surface parking lots over there, and a big shopping mall which is built on a weird arrangement of slopes (Brickyard).  Since I know nothing about bioswales, I’m wondering what you could tell me about how I could go about recommending this. I have no idea what the rainwater runoff issue is over there, but I could only imagine that there would be one, with all the surface parking and weird slopage.

Bioswales are just one of many solutions to water runoff and stormwater collection. Another option is using permeable pavers in the parking lot. The real experts on this are Janet Attarian and David Leopold at CDOT. As a project manager at the Streetscape and Sustainable Design Program, he’s dealt with and implemented bioswales, permeable parking lots, and pollution fighting bike lanes – the works. There’s a parking lot, designed by CDOT, built with a bioswale AND permeable pavement on Desplaines between Polk and Taylor in Chicago (photo below)/

Parking lot has permeable pavement and a bioswale. The site is monitored by CDOT to see how it performs in the winter. Photo by Bryce.

EVERY parking lot has runoff – every parking lot should do a better job managing it. By not better managing our stormwater, we all pay the costs, be it through flood insurance, recovering from floods, or having to build bigger pumps and sewers.

Permeable pavement at Benito Juarez High School in Chicago, Illinois.

Perhaps you shouldn’t recommend a bioswale, but a parking lot that “captures 80% of its runoff” or something through a “variety of methods.”

Bioswale in Portland, Oregon, as part of a green street transformation.

The EPA lists additional Best Management Practices. The Cities of  Seattle and Portland are experts in this. Portland was even able to get parts of its bikeway built by rolling them into the Department of Environment’s Green Streets program, their efforts to reduce stormwater runoff and thus reduce the costs they pass on to their customers that pay for sewer service (like, everyone). I recommend this blog article about Portland’s sustainable design, written by a fellow planning student.

Verifying LEED certification and eco-friendly features

Read more commentary on LEED certification.

If a building claims it has environmentally friendly features (is that the same as eco-friendly?) but hasn’t applied for and received LEED certification, should we still call it “green”?

I’m talking specifically about Emerald, a two-tower (mid-height) condominium development on Green Street in Chicago’s Greektown/West Loop neighborhood. I watched its construction from beginning to end because I passed it daily on my commute to work.

The development’s sales website claims that because it sits on Green Street, it’s “naturally eco-friendly.” The website says the building has “bamboo flooring, low-VOC paint and beautiful fabrics made from recycled fiber. Even our marketing materials utilize recycled paper manufactured with windpower and printed with soy inks.”

These scaffold panels are advertising office space in a new tower that has since been built on this site. The one on the right reads “Reflect the social conscience of your organization.” Photo by Payton Chung.

Additionally, it has a 4-pipe HVAC system versus an “inferior” 2-pipe system, and high efficiency windows.

But I looked in the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Certified Project Directory and didn’t find a project named “Emerald.” Let’s assume my search and the results are correct and Emerald does NOT have LEED certification. Are the claims on the website accurate? How can we trust that the paint truly has less volatile organic compounds?

If it was LEED certified would we trust it more then?

The building advertised in the photo above, 300 N LaSalle, received two certifications: Silver in Commercial Interior, and Gold in Core & Shell. The advertisement’s claims have some verification, but how trustworthy? My photo.

I’m not a LEED AP (Accredited Professional), but I understand that LEED certification requires thorough documentation. After a review of your application and submittals (essentially an audit), the USGBC makes its determination. I don’t believe anyone representing the USGBC inspects the building.

We then have to question why the Emerald developers didn’t seek LEED certification. Or did they?

Open letter to Blair Kamin about Safeway and Dominick’s

Blair Kamin, the Chicago Tribune’s architecture critic wrote about the new LEED-certified Dominick’s* (Safeway) grocery store in Lincoln Square at Lincoln and Berwyn. This store features copious bike parking of a decent quality and design (see photo below).

In February 2009, I wrote a letter to the General Manager at their 3145 S Ashland store (read my letter). Someone at the company promptly made a request to the City of Chicago in March 2009 for a bike rack. The request was denied because the store is too far away from the nearest public right-of-way.

The following is my letter to Blair Kamin, John Hilkevitch (Tribune transportation writer), and the CEO of Safeway, Steve Burd.

Dear Blair,

I would like your help in getting better accommodations for bike riders at a local Dominick’s.

I read your article about the new, LEED-certified Dominick’s in Lincoln Square with copious bike parking available. (This should help with the potential auto parking issues you identified by encouraging people to bike to the store.)

The Dominick’s nearest me, at 3145 S Ashland, underwent major renovation in 2008 and 2009. People who ride their bicycles to the store (myself included) locked them to the shopping cart guard rails that were removed during renovation.

Bike parking was not included in this renovation.

LEED certification shouldn’t be the only impetus for installing bike parking. Currently it only gains the development 1 point and more than 40 are needed (more for Bronze, Gold, Silver, or Platinum). Installing bike parking should be an economic decision.

A single bike rack (holding two bikes) will cost less than $300 and require no maintenance for at least 5 years (some bike racks installed by the City are over 10 years old and look/work fine). A car parking space costs $1,000 per year to maintain.

We currently lock to garbage bins in a sheltered area near the store entrance. I ask that Dominick’s install real bike parking here in 2010. If they do, I’ll then ask them to work on the bike parking situations at their other stores (like the store at 1340 S Canal).

Thank you for your attention to bicycle infrastructure matters in Chicago.

Steven Vance
http://www.stevevance.net

P.S. The Dominick’s at 3145 S Ashland also has the unfortunate situation of being in a strip mall far away from any public roads. This precludes the City from installing bike racks; the nearest public space is more than 50 feet away.

Jewel…you’re up next!

The bike parking area at the new Dominick’s grocery store in Lincoln Square. Sure beats locking to a garbage bin at the Dominick’s at 3145 S Ashland in Bridgeport. That store underwent renovation in 2008 and 2009.

What bike parking at 3145 S Ashland looks like.

*The store is not yet LEED certified. Blair reports it’s expected to receive a Silver rating.

Proposed changes to 31st Street Harbor

Copied directly from the 31st Street Harbor Traffic Impact Analysis (PDF), prepared for the Chicago Public Building Commission by AECOM.

See Exhibit B on page 12 for a drawing and list of proposed changes. They’re exciting. When designing for the lakefront, the stakes are pretty high.

The only mention of “bike” or “bicycle” is misnaming the Lakefront Trail as the “Chicago Lakefront Bike Path.” Can’t anyone get this right? According to the LEED Strategy document, though, the project aims to get 1 point for a “bicycle storage/changing room.”

Stay on top of construction updates with this blog.

The 31st Street Harbor project is one of two new harbors being designed for the Chicago Park District along Chicago’s lakeshore. Located in the Bronzeville neighborhood on Chicago’s south side, the 31st Street Harbor will incorporate extensive new community amenities and a new 950 slip marina. These include over two new acres of green space located on a peninsula of land formed by a 1,200 foot long breakwater sheltering the new harbor, providing exceptional views of the Chicago skyline to the north. The breakwater will also create new underwater habitat and provide opportunities for fishing.

Photo shows the new breakwater and pier under construction. See Exhibit B.

The existing surface parking will be removed and relocated within a new parking structure covered by an accessible green roof that allows park users improved views of the lake while reducing impervious surface. Landscape plantings will include native plants selected to provide food and cover for the twice yearly bird migrations through the City, while also reducing maintenance and irrigation demands. A new fully accessible play area that connects the green roof area to the beach will replace an older existing playground, while improvements to pedestrian and vehicular circulation will improve connections to the neighborhoods in Bronzeville to the west. Located atop the green roof will be a new LEED Certified community center and restaurant, providing sorely needed facilities currently missing along the south lakeshore.

The marina itself will include approximately 950 new slips ranging from 35’ to 80’ in length, on site covered storage in the parking structure, fuel dock, marina store, dedicated shower facilities, and a public access boat ramp. Additionally, youth sailing programs and storage for small craft including kayaks will be provided, allowing this facility to make boating economically accessible to a very large portion of the community.

Breakwater and pier construction panorama at the beach in August 2010.

As part of these improvements, additional parking accommodations in addition to the new parking structure are being planned. Approximately 200 new parking spaces will be incorporated along the Fort Dearborn access road north of 31st Street, serving 31st Street beach. A new surface lot west of Lake Shore Drive and immediately south of 31st Street will be constructed with a capacity of over 150 spaces.

The existing attractions of Burnham Park near 31st Street will remain, including 31st Street Beach, the beach house, and the Burnham Skate Park.

Parking options:

  • 31st Street Harbor Parking Garage (310 covered spaces)
  • Surface Lot on Fort Dearborn north of 31st Street (202 spaces)
  • Surface Lot off Moe Drive south of 31st Street (161 spaces)
  • Total: 573 spaces

[Currently this beach has 188 auto parking spaces, a difference of 355% compared to the proposed quantity. It currently has about 14 bike parking spaces and needs more but I cannot find evidence that this number will increase when the new harbor opens.]

New blogs I like

Now that I’m without a job, I’ll have more time for reading, commenting, and writing. And job finding. I just started reading these two blogs today and they’re quite exciting. Both blogs started this year.

  • MAX FAQS – MAX means Metropolitan Area Express, the name for Portland, Oregon’s regional light rail system. I’m not sure who writes it (that’s left out on the introduction post), but they’ve very knowledgeable about the operations of TriMet and light rail in general.

Two trains at the Rose Quarter Transit Center, northwest of the busy and multi-modal Steel Bridge in Portland, Oregon.

Sustainability is more than individuals installing rain barrels to water their lawn (for free). But we all should so less water goes down the drain and into costly water treatment plants.

Can we use location-based services to make urban planning “rise”?

Facebook launched a feature called Places that allows its users to “check in” to Places and to see where their friends are. People can also see where the most popular venue is at any given time (provided they have friends there).

SeeClickFix has mobile apps (and a website) that enables users (in participating locales) to report issues (like graffiti and potholes) in their neighborhoods.

Augmented reality apps for smartphones overlay the virtual world (of yellow pages and restaurant reviews) on the physical world depending on where you point your phone’s camera.

Is there something (an app, a concept, a teaching) that we can develop that uses these apps or the same technology to raise awareness of “urban planning” in all of our cities’ citizens? Such a scheme would attempt to educate and involve more people into the city’s social, cultural and built environments, the urban fabric (buzzword alert!), as well as the history of their surroundings.

Possible scenarios

1. While riding the train through a neighborhood, the new location-based service that encompasses everything about urban planning might aggregate information relevant to the location and activity. Perhaps the application would display to the user information about the history of this particular elevated train’s construction on this branch as well as pull up information on upcoming schedule changes. Lastly, the transit operator may ask the user to take a survey about this particular trip, looking for information on how the user accessed the station (via bike, walking, car, or bus?).

2. My friend Brandon Souba created a proof-of-concept app called Handshake that tells you about nearby app users with similar interests. But this hardly raises civic or urban awareness. Maybe non-profit organizations who need volunteers could create profiles in Handshake and when you’re near a staff member or the headquarters, your phone alerts you to a possible volunteer opportunity.

3. What are your ideas?

Philadelphia Water Department moves away from Deep Tunnel-style water management

West North points out that instead of spending $8 billion to build new sewage holding tanks throughout the city, the Philadelphia Water Department plans to conver impervious surfaces to pervious, natural surfaces. The American Society of Landscape Architects has more information on The Dirt:

The green infrastructure proposal would turn 1/3 of the city’s impervious asphalt surface, or 4,000 acres, into absorptive green spaces. The goal is to move from grey to green infrastructure. Grey infrastructure includes “man-made single purpose systems.” Green infrastructure is defined as “man-made structures that mimic natural systems.” As an example, networks of man-made wetlands, restored flood plains, or infiltration basins would all qualify as green infrastructure. The benefits of such systems include: evaporation, transpiration, enhanced water quality, reduced erosion / sedimentation, and restoration. Some grey / green infrastructure feature integrated systems that create hybrid detention ponds or holding tanks, which are designed to slow water’s release into stormwater management systems.

And, like Portland, Philadelphia is accomplishing more than just better stormwater management.

…the city is calling for a triple-bottom line approach, aiming for: more green spaces, improved public health, and more green jobs. [The Dirt]

Portland is building “Green Streets” that combine bicycle facilities with green infrastructure like bioswales inside curb extensions. This plan did not arise perhaps as altruistically as Philly’s (actually with a little controversy), but more as a way to build bicycle facilities with bioswale funding.

Meanwhile, the Deep Tunnel system in Chicago continues to expand. But it’s not all bad. The City of Chicago will showcase green infrastructure in a new streetscape in the Pilsen neighborhood.

Tribune points out why we need something better than Deep Tunnel

60 billion gallons of rain fell on Cook County on Friday night, according to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District’s (MWRD) president Terrence O’Brien.

The world’s largest wastewater treatment plant just north of Navy Pier in downtown Chicago. One of two plants in the city limits. Photo by kendoman26.

That’s enough to fill 1.2 billion of these Suncast rain barrels*. The rain was too much for the Deep Tunnel – the underground network of  water reservoirs. They hold water runoff during storms before it goes to the water treatment plant for cleaning, after which it will flow into one of the water channels in and around Chicago. But the storms on Friday were too much – the MWRD had to release sewage into Lake Michigan because the reservoirs were full.

This in turn forced the Chicago Park District to close the beaches.

“All 109 miles of the Deep Tunnel system were filled during the storm, O’Brien said.”

We find ourselves in a situation similar to that of traffic congestion. Building new and wider roads doesn’t relieve traffic congestion. The same might be true for Deep Tunnel construction. Longer and wider tubes won’t reduce our water usage or how much stormwater is directed to the sewers (Chicago has a combined sewer, draining sewage from buildings and stormwater from the street). The Chicago Tribune article doesn’t exactly point out the solution, and it only hints at the problem: We get more water in our tunnel than we can handle.

The Chicago Harbor Lock separates the Chicago River from Lake Michigan was opened to allow the river to discharge its overflow into the lake. The water at Chicago’s magnificent beaches could have been contaminated so the Park District closed swimming at ALL beaches until at least Monday morning. Photo by Norma Fernandez.

Chicagoland needs a better stormwater management plan that incorporates sustainable best practices. We can start by encouraging landscaping that absorbs stormwater instead of acting like a slope towards the nearest drain. New streetscape projects can have bioswale planters. What other ideas are there to reduce the amount of runoff that has to be stored in hundreds of underground tunnels?

*The MWRD sells rain barrels to the public online for pickup. Rain barrels are just one part of a multi-pronged solution to stormwater management.

Norma Fernandez

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