City transportation department unveils strategic plan
Daniel Burnham famously advised Chicago to “make no small plans.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration is following that sage advice.
The Chicago Department of Transportation on Thursday released a 79-page “Strategic Plan for Transportation” in the city billed as the “nation’s first urban transportation plan developed in response to the coronavirus pandemic.”
The blueprint includes no fewer than 84 “strategies” and hundreds of “one-to-three-year targets.” The overriding goals are to make public transportation faster and more accessible, Chicago streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists and expand bike share, bike lanes and dedicated bus lanes.
Transportation Commissioner Gia Biagi unveiled the massive plan during a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday for a street redesign project on 71st Street from Jeffery Boulevard to South Shore Drive. The project includes full roadway resurfacing, improvement to comply with the Americans for Disabilities Act and a buffered bike lane connecting to the Lakefront Trail.
The strategic plan promises more of the same and then some, if the city can find the funding to pay for those sweeping recommendations when Lightfoot’s three-year, $3.7 billion capital plan runs out.
Among the recommendations:
• Establishing “safer speed limits” and reviewing “automated enforcement procedures with a focus on equity.”
• Identifying and implementing rapid bus corridors, installing with one or two “pop-up” lanes during the first year and improving travel times on high-ridership bus routes.
• Expanding Chicago’s “bike network” while prioritizing protecting bike lanes “where feasible,” expanding “micro-mobility solutions” that fffinclude electric scooters and increasing the “availability of public charging stations for electric vehicles.”
• Establishing “curb space management strategies,” a “citywide truck route network,” a “comprehensive freight plan” and a “traffic management center to respond to changing traffic conditions and modernize traffic signals.”
• Assess the viability of “equitable pricing and other congestion-mitigation strategies” and “incentivizing the use of public transportation and bikes to reduce single-occupancy vehicles trips.”
• Making permanent expanded outdoor dining opportunities that rescued restaurants forced to close their dining rooms and limit capacity during the pandemic and implementing similar outdoor programs for other types of small businesses.
• Increasing the “purchasing power” of aldermanic menu funding.
• Generating “new revenue options to provide reliable funding for critical infrastructure” and increasing “access to and flexibility of funding sources to allow for more equitable investments” on Chicago streets.
Audrey Wennink, director of transportation for the Metropolitan Planning Council, said the sweeping plan “does a really good job of reflecting Chicago’s many and diverse” transportation needs — from “mass transit to walkability and traffic safety.”
“Considering everything from the equity challenges … and that transportation can be a tool to address them. And also recognizing the related aspects of transportation that people don’t always think of as really core functions. Like public art. How important that is. How important placemaking and public spaces are. How important greening our city and planting trees is. That will all make the city much more livable and walkable,” she said.
“I like the fact that it recognizes how important affordability is to people. That almost a third of the city of Chicago’s residents don’t have cars. Thinking about making an affordable system that people can walk. That’s free. And bike. That’s inexpensive. And take transit that’s affordable. That’s really important. Making sure there are a lot of options to get around without a car.”
Wennink noted the plan has “benchmarks at the one- and three-year mark, so we can see what we should be able to expect to be accomplished in what time-frame and we can track progress.”
But, she added: “It’s important for the public to understand what is funded with current funds and can they do all of this? How will they do all of this?”
A press release that accompanied the report quoted Biagi as saying that the massive plan presents an opportunity to “reimagine Chicago’s streets and transportation assets” to “address historic economic, racial and social inequities” made worse by COVID-19.
“Where you live in Chicago shouldn’t determine how much access you have to all the opportunities that the city has to offer,” Biagi said.
“Streets are a resource for achieving a more equitable, sustainable and just future for our city and we must act urgently to equip communities for a successful and just recovery.”
The Streets for Cycling Plan already had identified about 645 miles of “different levels of bike lanes” to be delivered by 2020. So far, the city has installed “about half of them,” Wennink has said.