In the Loop: May 30, 2013 - Metropolitan Planning Council

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In the Loop: May 30, 2013

Flickr user Steven Vance (cc)

Chicagoans try out their new Divvy bikes.

In the Loop is your round-up of what's going on in the transportation world, posted in conjunction with Talking Transit.


Chicago’s busy investing in its future thanks to the formation of an Infrastructure Trust that will allow the city to partner with private investors to fund much-need upgrades to streets, buildings and other types of public infrastructure. Some of those funds could be used for a planned bus rapid transit (BRT) line on Ashland Avenue or to implement performance-based parking pricing. But private corporations are also working independently, funding private bus networks and improved water taxi service in Chicago and elsewhere. Let’s just hope they’re being designed for resiliency.


BRT brings to mind faster buses, but it will also mean nicer stations. The Chicago Architecture Foundation plans to announce winners for its BRT station design competition June 6. Better transit could mean more walkable, transit-oriented development (TOD) around stations, but so far, Chicago has been lagging on this front compared to other cities, at least according to a new Center for Neighborhood Technology study. Part of the problem is that Chicago’s population growth has been limited; according to new Census figures, the city’s growth of 10,000 people between 2011 and 2012 was the least of major American cities. Those new Chicagoans, though, will benefit from a major bike sharing program called Divvy, which will launch this summer—just in time for the completion of new protected bike lanes on Milwaukee Avenue.

San Francisco may be a step ahead. On bike to work day, that city found that 76 percent of all traffic on Market Street—the main drag through downtown—was made up of bikers. Now the local transit system is considering relaxing the rush-hour ban on bikes it currently enforces.

Bike infrastructure is cheap compared to the big investments necessary to keep our roads in good shape—a particularly big concern considering the recent collapse of a portion of Interstate 5 north of Seattle. U.S. infrastructure spending, it seems, is not keeping pace: Since 2008, allocations to maintenance and new construction of roads, transit and public buildings have dropped considerably. New Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx might be able to do something about that, but at his confirmation hearing, he hesitated to identify any new source of funding for infrastructure and said, “We’re not going to toll our way to prosperity,” indicating that tolling existing highways to pay for their maintenance would not be an administration priority.

What might help, though, is an increase in sales tax revenues, which pay for many of our nation’s transit systems, including Chicago’s. The Senate has passed, and the House is considering, a bill that would require internet transactions to be subject to the same local and state sales taxes as brick-and-mortar stores. More revenues like that might make grand projects like the renovation plans for Los Angeles’ Union Station possible. So would new state transportation legislation like that recently passed in Colorado and Maryland. Another option is using value capture mechanisms to take advantage of the increasing property value around new infrastructure to pay for improvements.

MPC Research Assistant Parfait Gasana contributed to the research for this post.


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