In a post yesterday about Mayor Richard Daley’s attempt to secure direct stimulus dollars from the federal government, we mentioned that the city’s inability to provide matching funds could be a major impediment. Today brought news from the Sun-Times that the city already ...
In a post yesterday about Mayor Richard Daley’s attempt to secure direct stimulus dollars from the federal government, we mentioned that the city’s inability to provide matching funds could be a major impediment. Today brought news from the Sun-Times that the city already missed out on some much-needed federal investment:
Chicago will forfeit $153 million in federal funds to create 10 miles of special bus service because the feds refused to allow more time for the city to approve new fees for downtown parking and deliveries.
Chicago now will abandon its futuristic plan to create “bus rapid transit service” in four corridors that would include dedicated lanes during rush periods, traffic lights that turn green for hybrid articulated Chicago Transit Authority buses, fewer bus stops and front and rear boarding by passengers who pay in advance at kiosks or portable fare boxes.
What went wrong? Daley claims that the credit crunch forced the city to pushed back his effort to pass the “congestion reduction” ordinance. Unveiled in early December, the funds generated from downtown parking could have been used to match the federal investment in bus lanes. But because the plan wasn’t approved by December 31 -- the deadline set by Bush Transportation Secretary Mary Peters -- the city was forced to forfeit funds for the once-promising project.
Aside from what it may happen once the stimulus bill passes Congress, this episode underlies the city’s haphazard approach to managing downtown congestion specifically and transit planning more generally.
Daley has the correct idea: dis-incentivizing downtown driving by leasing parking garages and parking meters (resulting in rate hikes) and implementing a congestion fee will ultimately benefit Chicago in the way of reduced traffic, increased public transit use, and improved air quality.
But the Daley administration is making a major mistake by not tying these reforms to transit funding. The Sun-Times elaborated in an editorial on December 7:
[H]ere’s the rub: While higher meter rates might push Chicagoans onto the CTA, the city and state have done little to improve our aging bus and rail system. A state capital bill, which includes money for the CTA, is stalled and, as we noted above, none of the parking meter deal money is going to the CTA.
The city could have mandated sensible rate hikes to their garages and parking meters through government legislation (Chicago’s meter rates were stuck at 25 cents for 20 years), but that would have forced Daley to exert political capital he had no interest in using. Instead, he leased them off. The result: public transit use will increase, but without a sustainable funding mechanism in place for the agency to manage the uptick in demand. Low-income residents will now be burdened by both less-than-adequate transit options and high driving costs.
Daley could learn a lesson from the Big Apple. There, the state Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver torpedoed one of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s signature legislative priorities -- a Manhattan congestion pricing plan that would have generated over $350 million to support mass transit development. Working from scratch, Bloomberg then gave his Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan department wide latitude to enact a host of incremental but important street reforms in the hopes of paving the way for the ultimate resurrection of the congestion pricing proposal. The American Prospect’s Dana Goldstein reported on these changes in a November profile of Khan:
Sadik-Khan’s department has reclaimed two car lanes on Broadway, one of Manhattan’s most clogged thoroughfares, and turned them into “Broadway Boulevard,” an artery of public plazas where pedestrians can lunch or just relax right in the middle of the street—if they find it relaxing to be surrounded by frantic traffic. On Ninth Avenue along Manhattan’s West Side, the Transportation Department has instituted New York’s first experiment in “complete streets,” an idea Sadik-Khan imported from Copenhagen; a new bike lane there is protected from parked cars and traffic by plastic bollards and a buffer zone.
Due to funding shortfalls, few projects of similar scope have gotten off the ground here. Still, now is the time for the city to extend transit’s reach so that keeping cars off the streets won’t burden those without quick and easy alternatives.