Category: Illinois

Where Chicago’s community colleges could build housing

The Illinois General Assembly and Governor Pritzker just gave community college districts in Illinois the authority to work with local housing authorities to develop affordable housing. The bill, HB0374, takes effect January 1, 2022. The text is very short (see the screenshot below or read the bill).

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What does this mean for community college districts? It probably means that they can lease their land to the local housing authority for that local housing authority to develop affordable housing for the community college’s students and their families.

The land is essentially free, since it’s already owned by the community college districts and it’s not taxed. Plus, community college districts have their own taxing authority (subject to caps) that can be used to pay for bond-based debt.

Three opportunities in Chicago

I’m going to point out three community college locations in Chicago that could be great places for new and affordable student housing to be built.

Malcolm X College

Across from the New Malcolm X college was the original Malcolm X college, and now it’s a huge vacant lot. The Community Colleges of Chicago sold it in 2016 to the City of Chicago, which sold it in 2017 to Rush University Hospital System (which is across the Eisenhower Expressway to the south).

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The land across from the New Malcolm X college has been vacant for half a decade.

Welp, Rush also wants to build housing – for unhoused people who use emergency rooms as a way to live and be housed. (People’s health dramatically improves when they have permanent housing and hospitals spend less money on treating them in expensive-to-operate ERs.) Rush and the Chicago Housing Authority could develop housing for both populations – the chronically sick and students – using funds combined with the Chicago community college district.

Additionally, the Jackson bus takes people to and from downtown, and the Blue Line has a station at Illinois Medical District a block away.

Humboldt Park

The Humboldt Park Vocational Education Center, which is operated by the Wilbur Wright community college, is another prime location for student housing. The center has a huge parking lot and lies along the California Avenue and North Avenue bus routes.

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Humboldt Park Vocational Education Center and its parking lot, which takes up more area than the building.

Parking lots love to be turned into homes, especially in gentrifying areas. That’s free land in a high-demand area where rent is north of $1,200 for a 1-bedroom apartment (I’m using HUD’s Fair Market Rent for the 60647 ZIP code).

Dawson Technical Institute

Then there’s Dawson Technical Institute in Bronzeville, which is about 2 blocks from the Indiana Green Line station and several east-west and north-south bus routes.

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Dawson also has a massive parking lot, on the opposite side of the Green Line tracks from the building on State Street.

Dawson teaches construction trades, which is perfect because the Green Line can take students to internships and jobs at all of the new construction in Fulton Market that’s ongoing and going to continue for the next three years (at a minimum).

What other good affordable student housing construction opportunities do community colleges in Illinois have?

Biss gives a short speech about good city-building policies

Transcript (I wrote this):

“We need the right land use policies, so around things like parking minimums, which are catastrophic, around things like height rules around transit nodes, around things like the way that bike lanes operate, and the design of roads that kind of allow for 35 mph and not 25 mph…all that stuff that we know is a disincentive to walking and cycling, is embedded in our municipal land use policies.

“What the state should do is not just increase investment in mass transit, but then condition that investment on municipal polices that encourage the kind of mixed-use development, transit-oriented development, walkability, bikeability.

“If you do that, if you have state dollars tied to these policies, you can change municipal polices across the state, and then you can have a real revolution in walkability and bikeability.”

Need help voting? Check out my crowdsourced voting guide for friends!

Vote “no” on the proposed constitutional amendment to create a “transportation lockbox”

Updated Oct. 10 with more examples of why this could be a problem. Updated Oct. 13 to include CMAP’s review of the amendment. I also posted an alternative version on my new Medium account

Illinois voters are being asked in the current election – early voting has started – to support or opposed a constitutional amendment that would restrict spending of certain revenue sources.

The amendment to the Illinois constitution says that revenues derived from transportation sources – gas and related taxes, license and registration fees, sales taxes for transit, airport fees – can only be used to fund transportation initiatives. (see full text below).

The problem this amendment intends to solve is that sometimes Illinois legislators spend transportation funds on non-transportation projects, people, and services, depending on their priorities at the time – even when existing laws says they can’t.

Your ballot says: “The proposed amendment adds a new section to the Revenue Article of the Illinois Constitution. The proposed amendment provides that no moneys derived from taxes, fees, excises, or license taxes, relating to registration, titles, operation, or use of vehicles or public highways, roads, streets, bridges, mass transit, intercity passenger rail, ports, or airports, or motor fuels, including bond proceeds, shall be expended for other than costs of administering laws related to vehicles and transportation, costs for construction, reconstruction, maintenance, repair, and betterment of public highways, roads, streets, bridges, mass transit, intercity passenger rail, ports, airports, or other forms of transportation, and other statutory highway purposes, including the State or local share to match federal aid highway funds.”

A “yes” vote means you want the Illinois Constitution to have this amendment.

A ChiHackNight member asked the #transportation channel in our Slack about this amendment.

Just got my copy of Proposed Amendment to the Illinois Constitution and bicycle and pedestrian paths are perhaps intentionally not listed as possible places to spend transportation tax revenue. Thoughts?

Very little (oh, so little) money is spent on bike and pedestrian things. Despite what you’ve read, there’s no way to guarantee that the recovered money – the small portion that’s being diverted – would be used to enlarge the pot spent on bike, pedestrian, or transit projects.

Existing laws dictate how the money is supposed to be spent

Many of the money categories in the amendment are already protected by either state or federal law. For example, the Passenger Facility Charge that each airline traveler pays to each airport on their itinerary can only be used on certain capital improvement and maintenance projects at that airport. The PFC differs by airport.

And just so we’re clear, there is no such thing as a “road tax” or “driving tax” in any part of Illinois. There is no fee for anyone to use the roads. What gas taxes are supposed to be spent on, first, and then allowed to be spent on, second, are defined in 35 ILCS 505/8 (from Ch. 120, par. 424). 

Bike lanes and sidewalks are rarely called out separately because they are part of streets and roads, which are funded, and I don’t think it’s significant that the constitutional amendment doesn’t list “bicycles” and “pedestrians”.

It’s up to IDOT and other agencies that have jurisdiction over a road to choose to include those things as part of larger road changes. This constitutional amendment won’t change any policies, which are already mildly supportive of bike and pedestrian infrastructure.

Priorities and policy makers are the problem

I oppose this on the grounds that it restricts setting state priorities while it doesn’t actually prioritize anything within transportation.

Sometimes there are things that are more important than what the state buys with transportation money.

I have a huge problem with those things it buys, though. The priorities that Illinois legislators have for spending transportation moneys isn’t going to improve.

The state built the MidAmerica-St. Louis airport in Mascoutah for $313 million to serve as a “secondary” airport to the St. Louis airport. It opened in 2000. There are only flights to tourist destinations in Florida; the St. Louis airport never had a capacity problem.

The Illinois Department of Transportation wants to extend the St. Louis light rail through rural areas for 5.3 miles, but is still obtaining funding. However, they are spending about $300,000 annually on something for this project.

Illinois budget line item screenshot

A screenshot of the Illinois FY17 enacted appropriations showing spending $330,010 annually for a project to extend a light rail station to an underused airport that cost the public $313 million.

That is exactly the kind of thing that has to stop and this amendment doesn’t do it. That money can still be spent on bad projects. There’s no shortage of bad projects, but there’s also no shortage of good projects that don’t get funded. States are already spending most of their money on new roads instead of maintaining existing ones.

Since projects are often selected and prioritized to serve political needs, and politicians oversee specific geographies, good projects will still linger in some geographies while bad projects are implemented in others.

In other words, the $300,000 on spending for the light rail extension to the underused airport can’t go to build pedestrian overpasses along well-used multi-purpose trails in DuPage County. It’s going to stay in that downstate legislator’s district because “economic development”.

Staff at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, Chicagoland’s designated regional planning organization, issued a memo to the board a few days before I wrote this describing that the amendment is “unclear” on so many topics. They cite their discussions with unnamed amendment proponents who explain how the lack of clarity won’t be a problem because the General Assembly can pass laws clarifying that bike lanes won’t need a dedicated user fee if the amendment passes and that it doesn’t impinge on the rights of home rule cities to use gas taxes as they need to.

Spending is based on politics, not performance or need

With the amendment, the state will have to dream up some other transportation project in that district – I see a highway widening in their future. Without the amendment, the state could use that money for an important project in that area, but even that isn’t supposed to happen because the state already has laws dictating how project-specific bond funds can be spent.

This is also the problem with the Illiana Tollway that Governor Quinn so much wanted to build to gain favor with Southland legislators.

Whatever the case is, adhering more to performance (merit) measures on transportation spending – rather than political and district appeasement – is the most important change we can make.

It makes us inflexible

Finally, I question the amendment text. It’s hardly possible or easy for us non-legislators to know if the text covers everything that transportation funds are currently allowed to be spent on. What if there’s some project that turns out not to be an eligible recipient for these funds? Do we wait for the next election when we can get another constitutional amendment on the ballot, or hope that the Illinois Supreme Court will interpret the amendment to favor that project?

In fact, we already have a lot of laws that say how transportation-derived moneys are to be spent. The amendment, then, is a solution to the problem of trusting our state legislators.

The Civic Federation says that money is transferred from the various transportation funds to close budget gaps. “Limiting access to transportation-related revenues such as motor fuel taxes and motorist user fees could put additional strain on the State’s general operating resources” and “similarly affect local governments”. They also said that year-to-year figures of transfers and diversions have been calculated differently.

Additionally, DOT workers’ pensions may be paid for by transportation funds. Does this amendment cover that provision? If not, where else in the state’s budget would their pensions be funded?

Some of the work done by staff at other state departments is funded by some transportation user fees. Would the lockbox cut off their funding supply? A little of the work each department can be considered transportation related, but will the road lobby proponents of this amendment see it that way?

I dislike the inflexibility the amendment creates. Constitutions are meant to protect our rights. I don’t think that there’s a right that gas taxes must be used to pay for roads, while a sliver goes to build new CTA stations.

My writing partner at Streetsblog Chicago, John Greenfield, wrote an article that interviewed leaders at three transportation advocacy groups who were all in favor of the proposed amendment. The Tribune editorial he responded to is against it because it seems like a scam that the road lobby is promoting.

I am not in favor of the amendment.

Playing around with Chicago data: who’s running red lights?

Range Rover with Illinois license plate "0"

A Range Rover with Illinois license plate “0” is seen moving 40 MPH in a 30 MPH zone through a red light at Ashland and Cortland.

I’m just seeing who’s driving around Chicago one night, using the Tribune-published dataset of over 4.1 million tickets issued from red light cameras.

The City of Chicago has installed at least 340 red light cameras since the mid-2000s to reduce the number of people running red lights and crashing. They’re supposed to be installed at intersections where there’s a higher-than-average rate of right angle (“T-bone”) crashes, which are more injurious than other typical intersection crash types.

Assessing safety wasn’t the Tribune’s story angle, though. It was about showing spikes in the number of tickets issued, which I verified to some extent. The article called the tickets issued during these spikes “undeserved” and “unfair”. The data doesn’t have enough information to say whether or not that is the case; a video or extensive photo review is necessary to rule out rolling right turns while the light was red (a much less dangerous maneuver unless people are trying to cross the street).

The first query I ran assessed the number of people who get more than one ticket from a red light camera. Since I was tired my query was a little sloppy and it missed a lot of more useful order choices and didn’t select the right fields. I fell asleep and started again in the morning. This time, I got it right in just two tries – I needed to try again because I mistakenly put HAVING before the GROUP BY clause.

Here’s the first query, in its final form, to retrieve the number of tickets for each license plate in each state (I assumed there may be identical license plates among states).

select max(ticket_number), max(timestamp), license_plate, state, count(*) AS count FROM rlc_tickets group by license_plate, state HAVING count(*) > 1 order by count DESC NULLS LAST

It resulted in 851,538 rows, with each row representing a unique license plate-state combination and the number of red light violations that combination received. You can reasonably assert that cars don’t change license plates more than a couple times in a single person’s ownership, meaning you can also assert that each row represents one automobile.

851,538 vehicles, which make up 35.1% of all violators, have received 2,601,608, or 62.3%, of the 4,174,770 tickets. (There are 2,424,700 license plate-state combinations, using the query below.)

select count(ticket_number) from rlc_tickets group by license_plate, state

Here’re the top 10 vehicles that have received the most violations:

  1. SCHLARS, IL, 78
  2. 9720428, IL, 59
  3. 8919589, IL, 57
  4. A633520, IL, 52
  5. 3252TX, IL, 45
  6. A209445, IL, 44
  7. N339079, IL, 44
  8. X870991, IL, 41
  9. 239099, IL, 41
  10. 4552985, IL, 40

The next step would be to design a chart to show these vehicles’ activity over the months – did the vehicles’ drivers’ behavior change, decreasing the number of red light violations they received? Did the vehicle owner, perhaps a parent, tell their child to stop running red lights? Or has the vehicle owner appealed erroneously-issued tickets?

When I ran one of the first, mistaken, queries, I got results that put license plate “0” at the top of the list, with only nine tickets (license plates with two or more zeros were listed next).

I googled “license plate 0” and found a 2009 Tribune article which interviewed the Range Rover-driving owner of license plate “0” and the problems he encountered because of it. The City of Chicago parking meter enforcement staff were testing new equipment and used “0” as a test license plate not knowing such that license plate exists. Tom Feddor received real tickets, though.

I then looked up on PhotoNotice the license plate and ticket violation number to find, indeed, the license plate belonged to someone driving a Range Rover at Ashland Avenue and Cortland Street on July 17, 2008. An added bonus was Feddor’s speed in that Range Rover: the camera recorded the car going 40 MPH in a 30 MPH zone.

I was done browsing around for the biggest offenders so next I wondered how many tickets were issued to vehicles licensed in Arizona, where U-Haul registers all of its nationwide vehicles. Arizona plates came in 29th place for the greatest number of tickets.

select count(*) AS count, state from rlc_tickets group by state order by count DESC NULLS LAST

As you may have expected, four surrounding Midwest states, and Ohio, rounded up the top five states after Illinois – but this isn’t notable because most visitors come from there and they each only comprise less than 1.3% of the total tickets. The next state was Florida.

  • 3,986,739, IL
  • 51,104, WI
  • 40,737, MI
  • 27,539, IN
  • 8,550, OH
  • 7,684, MN
  • 7,139, FL

What’s next: I’m working on finding a correlation between the number of reported crashes, and type, at intersections with red light cameras and the number of tickets they issued. I started doing that before running the numbers behind this blog post but it got complicated and it takes a long time to geospatially compare over 500,000 crash reports with over 4.1 million red light tickets.

What else do you want to know?

I will delete all comments that don’t discuss the content of this post, including comments that call red light cameras, or this program, a “money grab”.

Compiling and mapping Chicago-area campgrounds

I’m adding Chicago-area campgrounds to the Chicago Bike Guide to entice new users and to espouse the enjoyment of medium-distance bike camping (which I’ve now done officially once, earlier this year).

<The Chicago Bike Guide is available for Android and iOS.>

I’m taking a systematic approach to finding all the publicly-owned campgrounds in the area by looking at primary sources.

First, though, I’ve used Overpass Turbo to create a list of all existing campgrounds in OpenStreetMap. You can see a gist of these places.

Camp sites at Greene Valley forest preserve I mapped.

Camp sites at Greene Valley forest preserve I mapped.

The next method is to find out which campgrounds are operated by the county forest preserves, which are usually well-documented on their respective websites. Then I will look at state parks in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, operated by states’ respective Departments of Natural Resources (DNR). Next I will look at national parks and finally commercial campgrounds.

The app will display campground information such as alcohol rules, if cabins or lodging is available, and how you can get there (which trails or train lines).

I’ve so far mapped the campgrounds in two ways, as nodes and as areas. At the Greene Valley forest preserve in DuPage County, for example, I’ve mapped the 11 individual camp sites (see map), but at Blackwell forest preserve in the same county, I’ve mapped the area as the camp site (see map).

Blackwell has over 50 sites in a discrete area and it’s more efficient to map them as a single node, while Greene Valley had far fewer sites but scattered over a couple areas.

Cross-posted to Web Map Academy.