We have an opportunity to promote transportation change. With the decision of nearly one third of City Council deciding to not run for re-election, the field is open for candidates to commit to transformative improvements in transportation access in Chicago.
This platform was originally written for the 2019 mayoral election by Yonah Freemark, Lynda Lopez, and Steven Vance. The majority of the issues brought forth in 2019 remain in 2022; some have been modified by Steven.
These ideas are free for mayoral and alderperson candidates to take or borrow as they please.
We need transportation options that work for all of Chicago—South, West, and North Sides—and that meet the needs of people no matter their wealth or abilities.
We need a transportation system that minimizes pollution, helps us reduce our carbon footprint, and ensures we protect the special environment of Chicago.
We need transportation that improves our communities, builds local business, saves lives, and promotes public health.
A transportation platform for 2023
Here are the key issues the next mayor of Chicago must support if we are to achieve a sustainable transportation future.
1. Better bus service citywide
Over the past decade, ridership on Chicago’s buses has declined dramatically. At the heart of the problem is that bus service simply isn’t reliable enough. Buses are the most-used transportation mode in Chicago, but riders must leave for work up to two hours early to be able to take two or three rides, waiting significant time in traffic, in boarding, and between rides. We need better options. As a candidate, I will commit to:
- Creating $100 million in new annual revenues to spend on bus service expansion within one year; this will increase bus availability by approximately 12%. Revenues can be derived from an increased fee on ride-hailing trips that end in and near downtown and other areas with high-quality transit service, and an increase on the property transaction tax paid by the largest sales, and potentially a downtown parking surcharge.
- These funds will increase the number of buses on most routes throughout the city and ensure people wait less time for the next bus. Many bus routes end before 8 pm, so we will double the number of routes with all-day service at least every 10 minutes, with the goal of bringing 90% of all Chicagoans, and 100% of Chicagoans in neighborhoods with incomes below the city average, within a maximum ten-minute walk to all-day, frequent transit within two years.
- Directing CTA to implement all-door boarding and proof-of-payment on all buses within one year, which will speed buses by reducing the amount of time they wait around for passengers to board.
- Directing the Chicago Department of Transportation to work with CTA to triple the number of intersections with Transit-Signal Priority and bus stops with bus bulb-outs and boarding islands to prevent buses from being stuck merging back into car traffic.
- Building at least 20 miles of bus lanes in the city within two years, in order to speed buses. Corridors will be selected to maximize travel time savings for commuters with the longest journeys to work, such as travelers who reside in the Far South Side of the city.
- Working with the Illinois General Assembly to allow CTA and Pace to use cameras on board buses to cite motorists who are blocking bus lanes.
[At the time this platform was originally written, “ghost” buses were not prevalent. The issue is caused by CTA being unable to provide every scheduled run due to workers not showing up for work. The commitment to resolve this situation is not listed here because the solution is unclear. In the interim, the CTA must adjust the schedule to show the number of runs it predicts it can actually provide.]
2. An integrated CTA and Metra system with fair fares
Chicago was built around its commuter rail lines, especially on the South Side, yet most of the city’s residents rely exclusively on the CTA because Metra is too expensive and inconvenient. Transit fares are still expensive for many residents, and revised fare policies can make using it more equitable. As a candidate, I will commit to::
- Immediately begin negotiations with Metra leadership to integrate CTA and Metra services, which may involve identifying new revenues to support expanded service. Integration includes developing a unified branding system, reworking schedules to simplify transfers, and treating Metra stations as transfer hubs.
- Securing a unified fare structure within one year for CTA and Metra throughout the city that ensures that customers can transfer for free between the services and maintains the same fare (including converting Metra’s monthly passes to 30-day passes that CTA uses) for both services within the city limits.
- Collaborate with state legislators and suburban county boards, which help oversee Metra, to develop a new service plan for Metra’s services in the city within one year that will increase the number of Metra trains stopping at most stations daily, such as the Metra Electric and UP-North. This plan will be implemented in full within three years.
- Implementing a “fair fare” within one year that ensures that low-income families throughout our city have access to cheaper single-ride tickets and monthly passes. See how it works for the 271,000 New Yorkers who use this and read about how to support Active Transportation Alliance’s advocacy.
- Implementing a fare capping system on Ventra within one year that ensures that low-income families who cannot afford a CTA or Metra monthly pass at the beginning of the month can pay for it “as they go.”
3. Making more room for more walkers and bikers
The City has made good progress in recent years making our neighborhoods more friendly for residents to walk and bike. But there’s a lot more to do, especially on the city’s South and West Sides. As a candidate, I will commit to:
- Implement the strategies of the 2022 Climate Change Action Plan to make sure that the air quality of our city continues to improve and we take our part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
- Plowing city sidewalks. The City of Chicago plows all roads in Chicago and the Chicago Transit Authority plows some of the sidewalks around its stations and bus stops, but relying on thousands of property owners to individually remove snow from the sidewalks that front their properties has meant inconsistently plowed, and unsafe and inaccessible, paths to and from transit facilities. (Better Streets Chicago)
- Making Vision Zero—the goal of eliminating road traffic fatalities by 2026—the primary motivator for street design and enforcement in Chicago. Prioritizing saving lives as we’re redesigning streets to make them narrower, expanding the use of traffic calming designs, and lowering speed limits.
- Instructing the Chicago Police Department to end its abusive over-ticketing of cyclists on the South and West Sides in order to encourage—not punish—biking throughout the city. In addition, change the City code to allow for riding on uncrowded sidewalks and explore decriminalizing it altogether.
- Adding at least one “people plaza” and one pedestrian-only street—dedicated space for walkers and bikers—in every community area within three years. Working with the city’s Small Business Improvement Program to encourage the development in these areas of “pop-up” local retail and food providers in neighborhoods with low access to such amenities. In addition, instructing the Department of Planning and Development to review each community area for streets that are appropriate for the “Pedestrian Street” zoning designation, which is used to improve and preserve the walkability and people-friendly form of a street, and propose new ones.
- Identifying ten major intersections per year that are poorly designed for bikers and pedestrians, and committing funds to redesigning and reconstructing them within a year. Example intersections that are currently difficult to cross and deserve improvements include 87th Street and Cottage Grove in Calumet Heights; the Dan Ryan overpass at the Red Line station at 47th Street; Ogden Avenue and Cermak Road in Lawndale; and Elston and Lawrence Avenues in Albany Park.
- Doubling the number of miles of protected bike lanes within two years, and doing that again within four. Installing at least 50 bike corrals—where people can park their bikes securely—per year in both residential and commercial areas.
- Implementing a “Bike Grid Now“: streets designed for 10 MPH traffic on a networked subset of 10 percent of Chicago’s streets.
- Working with city council to develop a new program that encourages businesses and families to purchase electric and cargo bikes to replace car- or truck-based travel in order to reduce emissions, potentially through small subsidies or reductions in business permit costs. Denver follows the example of cities in France and Germany to help families and businesses buy these bikes.
- Selecting and funding at least ten miles of streets each year for renovations that will add new street furniture and street trees. Urban trees provide shade for pedestrians and lower surface temperatures.
4. Creating new high-quality transit lines
While Chicago has a large transit system, we haven’t expanded it much for decades which means we haven’t been able to respond to the problem of jobs and housing being developed away from each other, and people have to take multiple transit rides each day.
Many choose to buy and drive a car, which is eight times more expensive than relying on transit to commute. The last new line—the Orange Line—opened in 1993. As a candidate, I will commit to:
- Identifying and securing funding within two years for a new high-quality transit route—potentially using frequent, all-day, two-way service along an existing Metra line—that will connect communities from Little Village to Albany Park. Working with communities to prevent displacement of both existing renters and homeowners around stations.
- Selecting three major routes for high-quality bus rapid transit, such as North Michigan Avenue and Garfield Boulevard, within one year, including dedicated lanes and top-notch stations. Corridors will be selected based on their ability to improve service for communities with the longest commutes to work and with the highest rates of poverty. Beginning construction within three years.
- Direct the CTA to resume planning several Chicago ‘L’ extensions, including the Brown Line from Kimball to Jefferson Park, the Circle Line, and a West Loop Subway.
- Advance planning on the Crossrail Chicago link, which would allow Metra services to be expanded and improved, for the benefit of riders throughout the city.
5. Committing to equitable transit-oriented development
We’ve seen a lot of interest in new development around our transit system in recent years, but most new apartments built have been unaffordable to our city’s residents. As a candidate, I will commit to:
- Working with the city council to revise regulations related to new projects near transit within one year to allow for Transit-Served Location density bonuses to apply in all business, commercial, and downtown classes. For the entire history of the TSL/TOD ordinance, density bonuses have only applied in “-3” zoning districts; the Connected Communities ordinance, however, has a new “parking swap” bonus.
- Modify the Affordable Requirements Ordinance (ARO) to require that builders and buyers of high-cost single-family housing contribute fees to the city’s affordable housing fund to help close the City’s affordable housing gap. Currently, only multi-family buildings have to contribute funds to the ARO. Fees would be higher for houses near CTA and Metra stations.
- Instructing the Chicago Housing Authority to spend down at least $50 million per year of its unspent reserve funds on constructing or acquiring permanent affordable housing units within a half-mile of CTA rail stations. This should fund at least 300 new units of housing for very low-income households annually.
- Set parking maximums in TOD areas for non-residential developments; the Connected Communities ordinance adopted in July 2022 set parking maximums only for residential developments. This strategy will reduce the cost of construction and reduce nearby pollution and traffic.
- Working with the city council to develop requirements that employers provide employees pre-tax benefits to purchase transit passes and allow workers to opt-out of parking in exchange for funds to buy a bike or buy funds for transit use.
- Developing a Transportation Demand Management program to encourage commuters to switch out of their cars. The program will require that all new major developments near transit are designed for at least 70% of commuters to get to work by walking, biking, or transit. The Connected Communities ordinance allows for the transportation commissioner to set rules for TOD projects.
- Instructing the CTA to develop a new customer-focused group within the agency whose purpose is to build transit ridership; this group will ensure that CTA’s services are understandable for people from across backgrounds—linguistic, ethnic, or otherwise.
6. Stopping wasteful projects before they get off the ground
In Chicago, we have to prioritize: We only have so many funds to spend on transportation—so we have to make sure we pick the right projects. As a candidate, I will commit to:
- Ensuring that the reconstruction of North Lake Shore Drive does not rebuild the highway that is currently there, but is instead reconnects the city with the lakefront. I will instruct the Chicago Department of Transportation, and work with the governor and Illinois Department of Transportation, to consider the option of eliminating the highway altogether or, if that is infeasible, replacing it with a pedestrian-friendly boulevard, as it was originally designed to be.