Tagcongestion

Happy birthday Gas Tax, it’s time to retire

Descending

Traffic congestion (right) won’t change until we give transit infrastructure (left) a better footing on which to compete.

Today’s apparently the birthday of the Yosemite National Park, NASA, and also the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax.

It’s time to go. Peter Rogoff, the administrator of the Federal Transit Administration said as much yesterday at the American Public Transportation Association annual meeting.

A meeting attendee asked Rogoff, during the Q&A session following his speech, about the insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund, where gas tax revenues go, and from which payments for road, transit, and bike projects are drawn. Rogoff replied,

We see a lot of governors taking this on. Wyoming raised its gas tax 15 cents. And on any given weekend there are more Democrats drinking beer in my backyard than in the entire Wyoming legislature. All options are being considered. Gas tax has diminishing returns. We can’t simultaneously lower independence on foreign oil and fund transportation systems dependent on the consumption of oil.

Here’s why the per-gallon gas tax is unsustainable: it loses purchasing power because of inflation. If it were sales tax based on the total cost of your fillup, this would be a completely different story, by decreasing driving instead of decreasing gas use (and yes, they are different because as cars become more fuel efficient, driving can remain the same or go up while gas use can remain the same or go down).

So “goodbye gas tax, hello mileage tax?”

Cross-posted to the Center for Permaculture and Appropriate Technology.

Figuring out how many CMAQ projects are for roads

Simplified, the purpose of Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) grant is to fund projects that reduce congestion and improve air quality. This usually means bicycle, pedestrian, and transit facilities and vehicles. But it also means road projects. Like intersection widening, new signals, changes to signal programming, and “signal interconnect” (timing the signals to cooperate with each other to have some free flowing traffic). It can also mean making grade separations at railroad tracks to eliminate backups when trains cross. However, not everything is infrastructure: there’s also marketing, encouragement, analysis, bike sharing, and education.

In a conversation I was having last night with some transportation advocate friends, one joked that most of CMAQ funds road projects. I agreed (probably because the irony of reducing congestion by making higher capacity roads was funny to me), and we moved on to other topics. I set out verify the actual distribution share for the six-county region in Northeastern Illinois.

I spent almost an hour converting the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s CMAQ 2012-2016 projects list from PDF to Excel and then quickly identified every project as being “road” or “not road”. I tallied the amount of proposed CMAQ funding for the projects to get the answer: road projects take up 25.7% of CMAQ funding.

But I can’t stop there! Now that I have CMAP’s data in a spreadsheet, I can get the average of Daily VOC eliminated for road and non-road projects, as well as the estimated cost per VOC kilogram eliminated.

On average, non-road projects have a lower cost per VOC kilogram eliminated ($4,109.37 versus $9,472.90). And non-road projects on average eliminate 19.7 times more kilograms of VOC daily (5.918 kg versus 0.301 kg for road projects).

There are some disclaimers! These are all estimates and not every project has received funding. Also, projects are not selected solely on cost per kilogram of VOC eliminated, or daily VOC eliminated. I’d also like to see estimates on the number of people affected by each project.

You can check my math by downloading my modified projects list (XLS).

Friday is final day for comments about Damen-Elston-Fullerton

Tomorrow, Friday, May 13, 2011, is the final day to email comments to Bridget Stalla, project manager for the Damen-Elston-Fullerton reconfiguration.

What should you do?

  1. Read an overview of the project and my analysis
  2. View photos of the posters at April’s open house to understand what will and won’t change
  3. Think of what you like or don’t like about the project
  4. Email your comments to Bridget: bridget.stalla@cityofchicago.org
  5. Think about posting your comments here.

My draft comments

Here’s what I plan to email Bridget tomorrow:

  1. Bike lane on Damen – There should be a bike lane on Damen connecting the two ends north and south of Fullerton. Additionally, the bike lane should go THROUGH both intersections. See an example of a “through bike lane” in this photo. Too often bicyclists in Chicago are “dropped off” at intersections, left to fend for themselves and get caught in the same problems as automobiles. But automobiles and bicycles are different kinds of vehicles and need different treatments and direction.
  2. Roundabout – Was a roundabout considered for any of the three intersections? What were the results of this analysis? A modern, turbo roundabout should be given serious consideration for at least one of the three intersections.
  3. Curve and wide road on New Elston Avenue – On “New Elston Avenue” between Fullerton and Damen, there are two regular lanes and one bike lane in each direction. The widening of Elston was not justified. The high radius curve on New Elston Avenue on the east side of the project, and two regular lanes in each direction, will likely cause higher-speed traffic than bicyclists are used to on many roads on which they travel in great numbers. Automobile drivers speeding around the curve may enter the bike lanes. This is a good case for protected bike lanes at least on this part of the roadway.
  4. Removing the center island – Was removing the center island an alternative the project team considered?
  5. Queue backups caused by Fullerton-highway ramp intersection – The project area should be expanded to include the intersection to the west of the project area, at Fullerton/Kennedy ramp. Westbound drivers constantly and consistently block the Fullerton intersections with Damen and Elston while waiting to go through the signal at the highway ramp.

A bird’s eye view of the new configuration.

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.

For a fair division of commuting space

UPDATE: Transportation writer Jon Hilkevitch (“Hilkie”) published an article today about crosswalk enforcement in Chicago based on a new state law the Active Transportation Alliance helped pass that removes ambiguity about what drivers must do when a person wants to cross the street (they must STOP).

But I’m updating this post because he also writes about the crazy pedestrian situation I describe below at Adams and Riverside. I’ve quoted the key parts here:

The situation can be even worse downtown, where a vehicles-versus-pedestrians culture seems to flourish unchecked. Simply walking across Adams Street outside Chicago Union Station at rush hour can feel like you’re taking a big risk, as pedestrians dodge cars, buses and cabs and then must maneuver around the panhandlers and assorted vendors clogging the sidewalks near the curb.

It’s a mystery why such mayhem is tolerated by city or Amtrak police. The highest volume of pedestrian traffic downtown is right there at Adams and the Chicago River outside the station, according to a study conducted for the city.

“The cabdrivers have no concern with pedestrians trying to cross Adams in the crosswalk,” said Richard Sakowski, who commutes downtown daily on Metra from his home in Oswego. “They cut in front of other drivers cursing and yelling, pull from the center lane to the curb and stop in the crosswalk, not caring who they might hit. It is a very dangerous situation that the city does not care about.”

Chicago officials disagree, yet they have for years studied the problems around the downtown commuter rail stations without taking major action.

The city has received more than $10 million in grants to develop an off-street terminal on the south side of Jackson Boulevard just south of Union Station to address traffic safety issues and the crush of taxis and buses vying for limited curb space, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation.

“No timetable yet, but construction could begin in the next few years,” CDOT spokesman Brian Steele said.

Read the full article.


Every weekday afternoon in Chicago, over 100,000 people need to get to Union Station and Ogilvie Transportation Center to get on their Metra trains and go home. If you’re watching them walk, it seems like they don’t have enough room. The multitude of private automobiles with a single occupant and the hundreds of taxicabs also traveling towards these train terminals block the tens of buses that are trying to get commuters to the stations or to their neighborhoods.

Let’s look at Adams Street between Wacker Drive and Riverside Plaza. Riverside Plaza is a pedestrian-only thoroughfare (privately owned) alongside the west bank of the Chicago River and connects both train stations.

People “wait” to cross to the south sidewalk on Adams Street at Wacker Drive because they want to get to the entrance of Union Station. I use wait lightly – they creep out into the street and jog across whenever there’s the slightest opening (against the crosswalk signal).

Those who didn’t cross Adams Street at Wacker Drive now have to cross at Riverside Plaza. Thankfully, there’s a timed signal here for the crosswalk that stops traffic on Adams Street. It doesn’t always work because taxi drivers park their cabs on all segments of Adams Street here, sometimes on top of the crosswalk stripes themselves.

Take a look at the data (from the City of Chicago Traffic Information website):

  • 41,700 pedestrians, walking in both directions, were counted on Adams Street immediately west of Wacker Drive in one 10 hour segment, between 7:45 and 17:45, in 2007.
  • 14,300 vehicles, westbound only, were counted on Adams Street immediately east of Wacker Drive in one 24 hour segment, on September 20, 2006.

For simplicity, divide the number of pedestrians in half to get the actual number of people walking toward the train station in the afternoon. 20,850 commuters walk on Adams Street to get to Union Station. But trains don’t stop at 17:45. There are several more leaving every 5-10 minutes until 19:00. So add a couple more thousand pedestrians. Imagine that a couple hundred of them will be walking in the street because the sidewalk is crammed (I haven’t photographed this yet).

Now for vehicles. We don’t know how many are delivery trucks, taxicabs, or buses were counted. Only two bus routes come through here. (On Madison Street, in front of the Ogilvie Transportation Center, there are twelve bus routes and fewer walkers.) Some of the vehicles are turning right or left onto Wacker, so we can probably decrease the quantity that’s actually passing by the same count location as the pedestrian count.

Spatial mismatch

So now we know a little bit more about how many people, and by what mode, travel on Adams Street between Wacker Drive and Riverside Plaza. Walking commuters have little room (so little that some choose to walk in the street) on their standard 10-14 feet wide sidewalks and motorized vehicles get lots of room in four travel lanes. Then, the vehicles that achieve the highest efficiency and economic productivity are delayed by the congestion, in part caused by the least efficient vehicles.

Is the space divided fairly? What should change? What examples of “transportation spatial mismatch” can you give for where you live?

Is Chicago ready for Tokyo-inspired elevated pedestrian bridges at intersections? Las Vegas has several of these, as well as every Asian city with a few million residents. I first brought this up in the post, World photographic tour. Photo by Yuzi Kanazawa.

Traffic: It never ends

Automobile congestion on the Kennedy Expressway* (I-90/94), taken from the L tracks above Lake Street in Chicago, Illinois.

Other things that never end (a roundup of sorts):

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