Thursday, February 3, 2011

The mayoral candidates talk green transportation

By John Greenfield

[This piece also runs in Time Out Chicago,]

In December a coalition of eight transportation and environmental non-profits sent letters to all of Chicago’s mayoral candidates asking them to endorse a Sustainable Transportation Platform, with strategies to make car-free travel in the city and region safer, more accessible and more appealing.

“As road congestion increases and gas prices rise, in order for Chicagoland to continue to be a vibrant metropolis we’re going to need to create more accommodations for biking walking and transit,” explains Ron Burke, executive director of Active Transportation Alliance, which is spearheading the lobbying effort. Although, as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the alliance can’t endorse a particular candidate, Burke says the goal is to educate the candidates on the issues.

The coalition also includes Center for Neighborhood Technology, Environmental Law & Policy Center, Illinois PIRG, Metropolitan Planning Council, Midwest High Speed Rail Association, Natural Resources Defense Council and Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago.

The plan, online at, urges the hopefuls to support increased funding for non-motorized transportation, plus new initiatives like transit-oriented development, bus rapid transit, bike-and-ped-friendly “complete streets,” and a Midwest high-speed rail system with Chicago as the hub.

The platform calls for better infrastructure for non-motorized transportation in the region, bankrolling these projects by securing a bigger slice of the funding pie. For example, Chicagoland represents 70 percent of the state’s population but only receives 45 percent of the Illinois Department of Transportation budget. The document also calls for raising the state gas tax, one of the lowest in the country, in order to fund transit and bike facilities.

The plan also recommends increasing CTA and Metra service; adding dedicated “bus rapid transit” travel lanes, and making Chicago the center of a Midwest high speed rail system. Other ideas include promoting “complete streets” that are safe for all users; expanding the use of car sharing over private ownership; improving the congested Lakefront Trail and providing incentives for transit oriented development.

Active Transportation Alliance has posted a sign-on form at so citizens can lobby the politicians to endorse the platform – so far over 200 people have signed on.

We contacted the four front-runners’ campaigns for statements about whether they will be supporting the platform, and how they would promote green transportation if elected.

Carol Moseley Braun

"I absolutely endorse the goals of the Sustainable Transportation Platform, especially those for public transportation,” says former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun in a statement. “It will decrease carbon emissions and thereby improve public health and also help relieve our dependence on fossil fuels. Public transportation makes Chicago work, and we can and must do a better job of making walking, biking and riding the bus or taking a train more attractive, convenient and affordable."

Gery Chico

"Improving our transportation system is critical to the future prosperity of Chicago,” responds former Chicago School Board President Gery Chico’s spokeswoman Brooke Anderson. “As mayor, Gery will work with these groups and others to develop a more sustainable transportation system that is accessible to people in all of Chicago's diverse neighborhoods. Gery is pleased that these groups are proposing substantive ideas to advance the dialogue on this important issue."

Miguel del Valle

"Without specifically responding to every suggestion in the Chicago’s Sustainable Transportation Platform, I agree that we must aggressively advocate for local, regional, state, and federal plans and funding to increase public transportation and make Chicago friendlier to bicycles and pedestrians,” says Chicago City Clerk Miguel del Valle in a statement. “Transportation is Chicago’s second largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions. Investing in the future of the environment has the added benefit of creating more jobs.”

“A first step is to ensure we are not leaving any federal transportation money on the table through negligence or lack of foresight,” says del Valle. “An estimated $385 billion in federal, state, and local funds will be available for regional transportation investments over the next 30 years.

“Chicago should also seek a larger share of existing transportation funding by effectively advocating for a fair distribution of state money,” says del Valle. “The Chicago area gets 45% and downstate gets 55% even though the Chicago region represents 70% of the state’s population and 78% of the state’s economy. Another area of imbalance is the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA); we are not getting our fair share of funding. 82% of Chicago-area transit riders use the CTA, but it only receives 59% of operating subsidies from the RTA. On the other hand, METRA gets only 12% of the area's riders, but receives 27% of the funding. My administration will advocate for changes in these allocations.”

“Finally, contrary to our goals of sustainability, our state allocations of transportation funds focus too much on roads over other more sustainable forms of transportation," del Valle says.

Rahm Emanuel

“The greatest investment we can make in our infrastructure, our economy and our environment is by focusing transportation resources on our public transit system,” says former White Hous Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel in a statement. “Cities around the world have made this commitment and Chicago will be out-competed if we don't catch up. That's why I secured nearly $250 million for the Brown line redevelopment, and why we earmarked an unprecedented amount of funds in the recovery act for transportation investments.”

“But there's a lot more to do,” says Emanuel. “I'll be laying out a comprehensive transportation agenda before the election so that voters have a clear sense of my commitment to transit, biking and pedestrian infrastructure. With the right leadership and the right priorities, Chicago can improve the transportation infrastructure we currently have, save money, and significantly expand options for every neighborhood.”

Burke says Active Transportation Alliance has scheduled a meeting with Moseley Braun for early January, a meeting with Emanuel is also likely, and they’re waiting to hear back from other candidates. “We want to make sure the next mayor has these issues on the radar screen the minute he or she steps into that fifth-floor office at City Hall,” he says.


The O said...

I cannot help but be skeptical at ALL of the candidates' attitudes toward this topic. It feels like most are merely tipping their hat to the issues in this article - there seem to be a few more details in R. Emanuel's response. But, really, are any of these candidates passionate about this topic? I'm not convinced.

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