Tagfunding

Chicagoland transit funding has no traction

An electric train would head to Aurora more frequently than the once an hour schedule of today’s lumbering diesel train.

I reviewed Metropolitan Planning Council’s short and easy-to-read report about existing funding conditions of Chicagoland transit (CTA, Metra, and Pace) for Streetsblog Chicago. It was more eye-opening that I expected, mainly because I didn’t realize how poorly we fund transit here compared to cities nationwide and around the world.

The bit about only Atlanta spending less than Chicago when you compare our regions’ funding levels to what it was 20 years ago really caught some people’s attention.

The other part of the report, co-authored by Yonah Freemark who writes the blog The Transport Politic, that got some attention was the above map that showed how the Chicago region had more rapid (frequent) rail transit in 1950 than 2010. Lower mileage and funding over the past three decades meant fewer riders – that part is obvious and has been known to me, transit planners and managers. But this much? I had no idea.

My tweet about this map – to which Eric Fischer, Mapbox map designer and map historian responded with a map from one of the predecessor departments* of the current Chicago Department of Transportation – was retweeted ten times and clicked on over 100. That more than 70% of Chicagoland workers drive to work alone is not surprising given that our rapid transit network is built around rush hour service to downtown, where a minority of jobs are located.

* The department name on the map, published in 1939, is listed as Department of Subways and Traction, headed by commissioner Philip Harrington. This became the Department of Subways and Superhighways. The map shows two cross-Loop (east-west) subways linking Michigan Avenue businesses and intercity electric trains (that travel south, southeast, and near southwest) with the Union and Northwestern train stations (where people board trains to the west, northwest, north, and southwest).

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).

Federal funding primer and why projects take so long to construct

Many Chicagoans who ride bikes are in awe (myself included) at how fast the Kinzie Street protected bike lane (the first of its kind in the city) has been designed and constructed in four weeks.

I explain how it’s been possible to do something so fast:

  1. Federally funded projects, like “commuter bicycle parking” (u-rack manufacturing and installation, using CMAQ federal funding) in Chicago, are under the control of the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), which must review and approve every design.  If it takes IDOT six months to tell the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) it does NOT approve and requires revisions, it will take IDOT another six months to review and approve the revised design. I experienced this directly when I was modifying the current bike parking contract. That’s one extra year added to a project based on a cumbersome state review process. Cities and their mayors have been advocating the federal government to give federal aid directly to cities so they can work faster.
  2. All design work must be completed and approved by everyone before a contract can be advertised for competitive bidding. Federal funds generally cannot be used to pay for local city forces, like CDOT crews, to do the work.
  3. Then comes the procurement process…

[This process is nearly the same for all cities.]

While there is room for improvement in the above process, it’s may not be fair to blame the City or CDOT for taking a long time to implement a project like Stony Island (tentatively scheduled for 2014), when Chicago doesn’t have authority over it’s own roads*.

If every project were locally funded – CDOT is funding the project with budgeted but unallocated funds – and approved, we could see a lot more projects like the Kinzie Street protected bike lane happening very fast. It should be obvious, also, that Mayor Emanuel and new CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein are extremely motivated to show their commitment to the transition plan as well as complete this project by the Bike To Work Day Rally on Friday, June 17th.

*This can be interpreted in two ways:

  1. There are roads in the city that are under the jurisdiction of the state providing an additional burden when it comes to modifying them.
  2. The process described above removes from the City authoritative control of its roads when projects modifying those roads are funded in part by the federal government.

Construction on Kinzie Street has been happening at a breakneck pace.

Take a look at Day 7 construction on Kinzie Street

This must be the fastest project ever accomplished by city government – or at least this City’s government. The funding source makes a huge difference: The city is using its own money, using “mini capital project” funding that was budgeted but not yet allocated. If the city was using grant money from the state or federal governments, a four-week turnaround time for a protected bike lane would not be possible.

The pace continues at breakneck speed!

On Tuesday, Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) crews were working on both the eastbound and westbound directions on the west side of the Kinzie Street bridge.

Crews work on the eastbound Kinzie Street at Canal Street, right before the bridge. It does not appear there’s a buffer here (guide lines painted before the stripes aren’t seen).

Painting stripes on eastbound Kinzie Street at Canal Street, right before the bridge.

CDOT workers inspect the stripes at the stop bar and crosswalk at eastbound Kinzie Street at Canal Street. It appears the stop bar is further from the crosswalk than at most intersections in Chicago.

photo of bike lane

Photo of workers (from StreetPrint?) applying green paint to a bike box and left turn lane on southbound Milwaukee at Desplaines/Kinzie. Photo by Thomas Gonzales.

Another case for integrating biking and transit

Integrating biking and transit can reduce a user’s transportation costs.

A friend just instant messaged me to describe his “bike instead of transit” commute,

“I spent $440 on Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) this year and $300 on bike stuff. When I was just taking the CTA it was $1032 per year. I used to have the monthly pass deducted from my paycheck, $86 per month. Now I pay as a I go, and I go much less.”

In some places, and for other people’s situations, commuters could bike TO the train or bus and reduce their costs by eliminating a transfer. Transit also lengthens a bike rider’s possible trip distance when they combine the modes. In this sense, providing services or facilities for people riding bikes attracts new customers or maintains relationships with existing customers.

The Department of Transportation is now funding projects that improve bicycling (and walking) connections to bus and train stations. We should continue focusing on expanding and improving our bikeway networks by connecting them with our transit networks. By doing so, we make each system more robust and give people more options to choose the route that’s best for them.

Boarding northbound Caltrain at Palo Alto University Avenue station.

Some buses can hold three bikes (see Seattle and Silicon Valley). Highway 17 Express bus Santa Cruz bound at San Jose State University stop. Photos by Richard Masoner.

Who wants to give up high-speed rail

UPDATED: 11/16/10 and 11/19/10 to include new reports from Journal-Sentinel about Walker’s campaign contributions and to reorder the timeline (now in chronological order) and news about North Carolina.

The Governors-elect of Wisconsin (Scott Walker) and Ohio (John Kasich) made it clear during their campaigns that they would put an end to current or upcoming high-speed rail construction paid for mostly by competitive grants from the Department of Transportation.

Illinois was the first state to start high-speed rail construction using federal stimulus money. Photo taken just outside of Springfield, right before IDOT announced the first phase of track construction (from Alton to Springfield) is complete and phase two should have begun yesterday, Monday (from Springfield to Lincoln).

Because of their stance, and because Secretary Ray LaHood has made it clear that Wisconsin’s $810 million and Ohio’s $400 can only be used for high-speed rail, the news changes daily. Here’s the latest in the chronology that’s happened in the past two weeks:

LaHood is laying on the pressure that high-speed rail will happen, but perhaps not in Wisconsin, if Walker has his way.

*3C stands for Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus.

Two Amtrak trains waiting to depart Chicago Union Station (CUS) in May 2010. Photo by Eric Pancer.

Road pricing is more fair than other funding schemes

I’ve written several papers on congestion and road pricing*. The most common type seen in the United States is HOT (high occupancy tolling) lanes. This is where drivers can pay to use uncongested lanes; drivers who carpool may use the lane for free or at a discount. Transit buses can always use the lane for free.

From the University of California Transportation Center comes new research on paying for roads with congestion versus paying for roads with sales taxes and their respective burden on poor residents.

Will research show that more people will benefit from paying sales tax to support a transit system than from paying (all kinds of) taxes to support a highway?

Their finding is that funding transportation with sales tax is less fair than funding with congestion pricing. In the latest issue of Access, Lisa Schweitzer and Brian Taylor write:

This analysis has focused on one side of the ledger: the question of who pays. But transportation systems have both costs and benefits. Indeed, the access benefits of travel are transportation’s raison d’être. So while regressivity can be viewed as a cost of road pricing (and of most other ways of paying for roads), pricing confers transportation benefits that other transportation finance mechanisms do not. Tolls and taxes can both pay to build a road. But congestion pricing can also reduce traffic delays, fuel consumption, and vehicle emissions, often to a surprising degree. Sales tax finance for transportation, by comparison, does none of these things.

I think the appropriate direction of this research should next discuss and examine the fairness of using sales taxes to provide operational and capital funding for transit. In Chicagoland, the Regional Transportation Authority is partially supported by a local sales tax. While sales tax financing for road building may not reduce traffic delays, fuel consumption, or vehicle emissions, supporting a reliable, robust and expansive transit network can do all of those things by reducing the number of single occupant vehicles on the road.

*Here’s one I’ve written: Implementing value pricing on a highway in Southern California, which I excerpted in HOT lanes and equity.

Non-auto construction projects in Chicago

There are 17 construction projects listed here and none are about automobiles. Additionally, there is information about 2 studies for bus rapid transit-like projects.

Download all of these into Google Earth with this KML file.

A couple of these projects are being held up by the current Illinois roadway construction workers’ strike. UPDATE: Apparently a deal has been reached to end the strike.

Streetscapes

  • Blue Island/Cermak – I wrote about this project at length in October 2009. Construction should begin as soon as the strike is resolved. CONSTRUCTION UPDATE, 10-21-10: Bioswale, or creek, is mostly complete at Benito Juarez Community Academy (BJCA). Plaza with permeable pavers, and sheltered bike parking also complete. Photos here.
  • Congress Parkway – Full details and renderings from CDOT (PDF). Project should begin in 2010 and will narrow lanes, reduce number of lanes, straighten lanes (no more mid-intersection lane shifts), widen sidewalks, and improve crosswalks. Will add a lot of landscaping and unique and decorative lighting.
  • PROPOSED: Lawrence Avenue between Ashland and Western. Reduce the number of travel lanes from four to three, adding bike lanes and a center turn lane. Project limits include the rebuilt Ravenswood Metra station at 1800 W Lawrence. More details on Center Square Journal. Construction wouldn’t begin until 2011.

Transit

  • Morgan/Lake Green and Pink Line CTA station (new) – Details and renderings from CDOT (PDF) – Overview from Chicago Transit Authority – Tons of bike parking included at the beginning, how it should be. Construction should start this year. To better serve the West Loop area, where more people are moving to, but also has lots of existing businesses.
  • State/Grand Red Line CTA station renovation – Construction should finish this year.
  • 35th/Federal Rock Island Metra station (new) – Construction started in 2010.
  • LaSalle/Congress Intermodal Center – To improve connection between buses and the LaSalle Metra station. Mentioned in the Congress Parkway streetscape presentation (PDF).
  • Wilson Red Line CTA station renovation – Down the street from a new Target store that opens this weekend and hundreds of brand new housing units in the Wilson Yard development. Will use TIF funds from the Wilson Yard district. Overview on CTA Tattler.
  • Ravenswood Metra Station – A popular station on the Union Pacific-North line (to Kenosha). Will add longer and sheltered platform and become accessible. Details with Chicago Square Journal.
  • FLOATING: New Green Line CTA station at 18th or Cermak. Roosevelt station serves three lines. South Loop neighborhood fast growing. The new station would improve transit access to McCormick Place (at least if built at Cermak). Follow the Chicago Journal for more news on this topic.

morgan cta station rendering

Rendering from the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) showing context-sensitive design. See the full presentation (PDF) for architectural influences.

Bridges

  • Halsted Street over North Branch Canal of the Chicago River. Replaces 99-year old moveable span with fixed span. No information on how it will accommodate the Halsted Street bike lane. Construction to begin in 2010 (PDF). CDOT project number 74062.
  • Navy Pier Flyover – Elevated section of the Lakefront Trail to bypass current bottleneck where the Lakefront Trail currently enters the Lake Shore Drive bridge over the Chicago River and DuSable park. Details from CDOT presentation on July 15, 2010.
  • PROPOSED: 35th Street pedestrian bridge over Metra/Illinois Central tracks and Lake Shore Drive to lakefront and Lakefront Trail. Bridge will be self-anchored suspension, like the new Bay Bridge from Oakland to San Francisco. Overview on Burnham Centennial (drawing says 2007).

Rendering of the Navy Pier Flyover as it travels over the Lakepoint Tower condominiums as seen at the Cities and Bicycles forum with David Byrne in June at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Other

  • Various CREATE projects. All CREATE projects involve railroads in some way and most projects will construct grade separations. I’ve written about CREATE.
  • The Chicago Park District opened a new beach at Oakwood/41st Street this year. The grand opening for the beach house happened this past Saturday.
  • The Chicago Park District is currently building a harbor and marina immediately south of the 31st Street beach. The Public Building Commission of Chicago has the details and renderings. AECOM, the architect of record, produced these concept drawings (PDF). It appears how bike riders currently navigate the intersection at the entrance to the beach will change to be a little more normal and not force bike riders on the sidewalk. It’s unclear how many new parking spaces are being created along the lakefront – the fewer the better. The concept plan shows a new parking lot on the west side of the railroad tracks, a design I wholly support.
  • FLOATING: Luann Hamilton mentioned at the Cities and Bicycles forum with David Byrne in June that CDOT was thinking about a buffered bike lane on Wells Street.

31st street harbor concept rendering

Rendering of the 31st Street harbor concept plan. As seen in the contractor’s presentation to the Public Building Commission of Chicago.

Related

Although not construction projects, two additional proposals merit your attention. The Chicago Department of Transportation and the Chicago Transit Authority each received grants this month to study and develop two corridors with bus rapid transit-like features. CDOT’s plan is to develop a priority bus lanes for up to seven routes between the Metra stations and Navy Pier and North Michigan Avenue (the Miracle Mile). Thank you to Kevin Z for the update.

CTA’s grant money is to fund the development of a speedy bus service from the southeast side to the West Loop via the north-south Jeffrey Avenue.

High-speed rail wrap-up

So let’s recap the week of high-speed rail announcements.

On Wednesday (1/27), President Obama in his State of the Union speech talks about how $8 billion in funding for high-speed intercity passenger rail (HSR) will be a major jobs creator.

Photo: Tri-Rail is a commuter rail service between Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Palm Beach. In five years, a high-speed train will whisk travelers between Tampa and Orlando. The hope is that a second link between Orlando and Miami will come afterwards.

The next day, in Tampa, Florida, he announced the winners of the $8 billion dollars of funding. Actually, the White House Press Office “leaked” the press releases the night before.

So what did I do for “high-speed rail week”?

I wrote a few articles and created a couple summaries:

If you want to read some more opinions about this part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (or stimulus), check out these articles I’ve selected:

Rep. Mica of Florida is confused about how best to support high-speed rail

From Associated Press writer Joan Lowy’s article, “White House doles out $8 billion for fast trains,”

Rep. John Mica of Florida, the senior Republican on the House transportation committee, complained that the Midwest lines awarded grants will achieve top speeds of only 110 mph and were “selected more for political reasons than for high-speed service.”

No, John, the Midwest was selected because it had a comprehensive plan with a regional approach, and with all Midwest states on board a collaborative effort to make Chicago the hub of an expansive network of fast trains that go to many, desirable destinations.

The Midwest was also selected because many of the Amtrak routes showed increased ridership over the past three years (2006-2009), and the ones that received a higher state subsidy or targeted improvements (with funding from the states) that reduced travel time and increased reliability showed an especially high increase in ridership.

And excuse me, Florida received a lot of money for a high-speed train between Tampa, Orlando, and Miami.

View more of my articles on this expanding topic.

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