Elevating Chicago

GoTo2040 Archives

Officially Going to 2040

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Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

Yesterday, leaders of the 7 counties that broadly make up Chicagoland voted on the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning's (CMAP) final version of their Go To 2040 regional plan. Not surprisingly, it passed unanimously. Now what? Well, it's now up to the cities and counties in the region to get on with implementing the strategies CMAP has outlined, and funding and building some of the projects Go To 2040 calls for. First though, let's remind ourselves exactly what we're left with.

Because CMAP is regional, Go To 2040 tries to build toward a scenario where all of Chicagoland prospers equally in the next three decades. The plan talks about local municipalities partnering together to create livable communities, where water is preserved, human capital is attracted and retained, and people can get to and from their jobs in a timely fashion. When CMAP discusses competition, it is against other metropolitan regions--both nationally and internationally.

CMAP 2040 Capital projects

Image courtesy CMAP

If CMAP's models prove correct, Chicagoland will add 2.4 million residents by 2040. Many of them will be of working age. However, the plan makes no preference or prediction for where those jobs will be. This leaves us to mull over the likely outcomes: in one scenario, the region experiences a massive decentralization--the jobs move out of the current urban core and, in harmony with the livable communities CMAP advocates, people will live near where they work. In another scenario, jobs continue to accumulate as they have for the previous three decades--mainly near the loop, with suburban office parks (like those near O'Hare) dotting the periphery.

Note that neither of these scenarios is inherently better than the other. They both have their positives and negatives, and recognizing that the relationship between the city and its suburbs is symbiotic--not parasitic--is crucial to any kind of regional success in the next three decades. But in both cases, there will be winners and losers. Yes, a prosperous region is not a zero-sum game, but the past is instructive. The entire post-World War II era has been prosperous for America as a whole and the Chicago region in particular. But it would be foolish to argue that Chicago itself felt that prosperity as thoroughly as its suburbs have.

So how will this growth and prosperity shake out in the next generation? Without either a massive infrastructure change (which CMAP readily admits we don't have the money for) or a sudden, similarly massive change in how people do business (say, a continually growing emphasis on the service industry and a daily telecommuting approaching 50% of the workforce) I don't see any evidence for a fundamental deviation from the status quo. The vast majority of new jobs in the region will be where they are today: inside Chicago's city limits, and mostly in and around the loop. And in order to keep those business functioning (and ideally to attract new ones) people have to reach their jobs efficiently. Perhaps, with a good urban infill program, people will move closer to the dense core (a kind of melding of the two scenarios I outlined above), but for several reasons* that likely won't be enough.

What then, will be enough? Better transportation, simple (and as complicated) as that. Go To 2040 has listed just about every conceivable project Chicago could hope to undertake in the next 30 years here. I'll get into it in the future, but to put it simply: the questions over how our limited funds will be distributed for these projects will determine the shape and prosperity of the region. Will the West Loop Transportation Center add core capacity to the L (as opposed to simply being a high-speed rail hub)? Will the city spur development around the proposed red line expansion, or waste these new stations as park-and-rides? (Or, perhaps go another route all together--Gray Line, anyone?) Will the expansion of IL-53 grow as a real urban boulevard, or just a slightly prettier version of US-41? Will the Mid-City Transitway ever be real? These are the battles that will make a difference.

*the liquidity (or lack thereof) of housing and the state of public schooling in Chicago, just to name two.

Getting to 2040 with Meat AND Pudding

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Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

I got into a twitter argument conversation (ugh, I shudder at that phrase) with Lindsay Banks of CMAP over my post yesterday.  Such is the limit of the 140 character medium that I want to take a moment now to expand a bit, as it's possible there's a big BRT announcement coming up that would otherwise shelve this important discussion.

Here's the situation: GoTo2040's capital projects are broken up into two sections: fiscally constrained and fiscally unconstrained.  Constrained projects are those which CMAP has deemed worthy of funding from the (projected) limited dollars over the next 3 decades, while unconstrained are those other projects which CMAP has decided do not warrant our attention for now.*  I posited that CMAP is being too narrow minded in how they plan to use capital projects to help us reach their vision for the region--a vision I agree with.  As Lindsay said, CMAP revises the study in 5 4 years anyway, so if the fiscal outlook is rosier in 2015, unconstrained projects could edge toward reality.

But, with apologies to Pink Floyd, this is the point I was trying to make: funding the priority projects is almost all meat (higher gas taxes, more tolling, etc.), while the unconstrained projects [pdf] are--or at least in my view should be--the pudding for Chicagoland.  We can't have our pudding--projects like the Heritage Corridor or the Mid-City Transitway (which goes suspiciously missing in the bullet-point list on page 197 because it's listed as part of the Cook-DuPage Corridor) if we don't eat our meat first--fix the system we've got.  But what incentive do we have to eat our meat if there's no pudding at the end?  (This is especially true considering we have politicians who tend to worry about their re-election chances more than the long term health of the region.)

Cropped 2040 Capital Projects.jpg

Mmmmm... Meat and pudding


So what would I like to see in the draft that isn't there now? (Beside the Mid-City Transitway?) Two things.  First, a more complete, prioritized description of the unconstrained projects.  CMAP includes a brief paragraph on the Illiana, Metra Southeast, Metra STAR, and Cook-DuPage Corridor projects.  Are these the top four unconstrained projects or merely four they chose to expand on and itemized in alphabetical order?  Secondly, are the unconstrained projects off the table until every priority project is finished?  If gas prices really spike in the next 2-3 years (to, say, $5.50/gallon), do we really want to add lanes to I-94, I-80, I-88, and managed lanes to I-55 before expanding Metra's reach?  I suppose that's what the 2015 revision is for, but I'd rather see the professionals at CMAP give us even a rough outline of these contingencies than wait and let politicians decide these matters.

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*Note: I'm reserving the right to comment on the inclusion of certain projects over others on the constrained list.  I'm trying to get the numbers to work out and want to take my time and get this right.  It's coming though, and in the meantime I just wanted to make clear that I'm not demanding we do all the unconstrained projects--just that they be given a higher profile in the draft plan.  Hope this makes everything copacetic.

Go To 2040...Better (Part II)

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Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

Sorry for the recent lack of publishing.  There are likely some changes around here on the horizon, but we'll get to that later.  Today, I'd like to post the second part of my review of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning's (CMAP) draft Go To 2040 Plan, available online here.  Today I'm looking at the overall vision of their section on Regional Mobility.  I'll get into the specifics of the projects they include (and some they don't) in part III.

"Symptoms of decline include the dehumanizing effects of ever-worsening traffic congestion, painful cuts to public transit, a backlog of deferred maintenance on roads and bridges, and antiquated buses, trains, and stations. Inadequate investment in transportation infrastructure is partly to blame. But ballooning costs, inefficient investment decisions, and a lack of consensus about priorities are at least equally at fault, and maybe more so."  --Go To 2040 Draft, page 152.

That's about as concise a description of the challenge we as a metropolitan area face as I've ever seen.  The next step is figuring out what to do about it.  There are two fundamental questions driving Chicago's transportation choices in this document, though neither is explicitly stated as such.  One, considering the expected demographic changes to the area, how do we want everyone to get where they're going?  Then, based on the answer to that question, how do we pay for the maintenance, improvement, and creation of the infrastructure necessary to make it happen?

CMAP answers the first question largely by arguing for more of the same investments we've seen in the last few decades.  I understand--and agree with--the current ethos of "fix it first," so it's good to see GOTO2040 make the call to "prioritize efforts to maintain and modernize the existing system."  (p. 152) But I refuse to believe that it'll take 30 years to bring the current system up to a state of good repair.  And even so, I don't see the wisdom in simply reinforcing the system that has brought us to our current combination of crippling congestion and unsustainable sprawl.

In fact, CMAP agrees with this idea.  On page 156, they proclaim: "The region should strive toward fostering an environment...where ease of mobility is ensured and where car ownership is not a requirement for living, working, and recreation."  Currently, car ownership is a necessity in the majority of Chicagoland, including large swaths of the city itself.  Without a bold plan to expand non-auto transportation options, that plainly won't change.

I realize most of the current fiscal situation augurs against bold planning.  The status quo in Illinois currently allocates 55% 45% of transportation funding to Chicagoland, despite the area being an economic engine much greater than this percentage.   Most other funding mechanisms need federal (or at the very least state) backing to be productive.  The federal gas tax has been stuck at 19 cents since 1993, and needs to be increased and pegged to inflation.  As cars become more efficient though, that tax will yield less and less revenue, so finding a replacement is a necessity.

CMAP Transpo Funding.jpg

To that end, CMAP backs a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) fee, though cautions it must be "implemented carefully" so it is not regressive or overly burdensome on the freight industry.  Performance parking (changing metered rates throughout the day with the aim of continually filling 85% of the spots in a particular area) can be implemented locally, but without adequate transit options to help people reach these areas it can cripple nearby businesses.  Most promising though is congestion pricing.  Whether it means turning some expressway lanes into High Occupancy-Toll (HOT) lanes or implementing a central area charge similar to London's, a well-run congestion effort could do wonders for Chicagoland's transportation infrastructure.

Basically, CMAP is using today's bleak economy to hamstring the next 30 years worth of planning  Every demand-side indicator--a growing population, especially of aging boomers and more auto-hesitant millenials, which is inclined toward good transit and other green transportation--says a bold vision would be welcomed.  Instead, we're given "more comfortable and attractive trains, buses and stations, traveler information systems, state of the art pavement materials with longer life spans, signal timing improvements, bus stop improvements, corridor upgrades" (pg 165).

All of these are great ideas, and will certainly help the system.  But every single one (with the exception of info systems and the nebulous "corridor upgrades") is a small-bore, relatively inexpensive change that can be phased in as current infrastructure needs replacing.  If we're going to convince people to elect leaders who will do things like enact congestion pricing, we need to give these politicians a vision they can sell that's greater than "more attractive trains."  There's nothing a politician loves more than ribbon cutting photo-ops.  The question is what's behind the ribbon between now and 2040.

Go To 2040... Better (Part I)

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Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

As one of the United States' major metropolitan areas, Chicago is required by law to have a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO).  In the past, the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission (NIPC) along with the Chicago Area Transportation Study (CATS) were responsible for this planning.  They merged in 2006 to form the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), which is responsible for the next 30-year plan, known as Go To 2040.  CMAP came out with their draft plan last week, and it will be formally accepted by the city CMAP Board of Directors and Policy Committee in October.  In the meantime there will be ten open houses where you can share your comments, starting this past Tuesday in DuPage County, and finishing in Chicago on August 3 at the CMAP office at 233 S. Wacker Drive, Suite 800.  If you can't make any of the meetings, you can also submit written comments to them via email.

There's a lot to go over, so I'm going to break down my thoughts into a few installments over the next week or so.  They've split it up into 5 sections: Livable communities, Regional Mobility, Human Capital, Efficient Governance, and Context and Best Practices.  Although vital to the ongoing success of the entire Chicagoland area, the last 3 are less germane to what we're doing here, and so I'll address them together later on.  First up though: Livable Communities.

Although this is a regional plan, you can see right off the bat Chicago's imprint on it in the definition CMAP uses for livability: a "healthy, safe, and walkable" community that has "a sense of place."  (Page 5) I'll drink to that.

CMAP Regional Development.jpg

And don't let it be said that CMAP doesn't understand the land use problems facing the region.  There's the chart above, showing how much we've spread out as a region, especially over the last 50 years.  And though they don't call it out in very strong language, CMAP tells us we can't continue that way: "'Greenfield' development is, in the long run, more costly by many measures."  (Page 49) That's a pretty sharp--and true!--statement, but this draft then spends most of its time softening that blow.

Continue reading...

News and Notes

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Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

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Car companies have to find something to promote during Bike to Work Week, right? Photo by the author.


It's Tuesday.  Ivory Coast plays Portugal at 9am, and if this doesn't get you psyched for the match, then I can't really help you.  Here are some news and notes that'll fill your morning while you wait for kickoff.

  • It's Bike To Work Week!  It looks like there might be a few showers today, but then it'll clear up for the rest of the week.  Go enjoy it, stop at any of the pit stops that'll be all around the city.  The Active Transportation Alliance is all over it, as is Bike Chicago.

  • Oooooh, pretty trains go fast

  • The Trib had a few transportation items yesterday with decidedly mixed results.  First is Dan Simmons' "Reverse Commute Takes Their Time" which ignores the basic fact that commuting in any direction takes time.  I think the bigger story here is that reverse commuting exclusively on transit is possible in Chicago at all.  Let's not forget how good we sometimes have it: many cities don't have anywhere near the robust suburban transit options that Pace and Metra provide.  One of the examples Simmons uses is Carmen Cartegena's Elmwood Park-to-Schaumburg commute.  I'm not convinced that's a true reverse commute, but let's say it is: is it any faster in the other direction?  Can it be done from Schaumburg's residential areas anywhere near as easily as the denser Elmwood Park?  And couldn't the headline just as easily be "Reverse Commute Saves Their Money"?

  • Next up is Jon Hilkevitch's pretty balanced piece (though I'm not enamored with the chip-on-our-shoulder headline) "Chicago on the Low-end of High Speed Rail." He makes the case that as many benefits as HSR may bring to Chicago, it won't be as big a boon for us as it will for other regions, including the planned Florida, California, and upstate New York lines.  He notes that this is partly because Chicago is already a remarkably connected city, especially with two major airports serving the city.  This is also something to keep in mind as the US DOT parcels out HSR funding: as worthwhile an investment as Midwest HSR may be, it's going to be tough for us to make the argument that we're the best place for those limited dollars to go.

  • Finally, last Friday the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) published their draft GoTo 2040 Plan.  You have about 6 weeks to comment on the report, and there will be an open house at their office on South Wacker on August 3.  I'm still digesting all of it and hope to have some preliminary thoughts up later this week.

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