News for April, 2012
Thursday, April 26th, 2012
Two years ago, in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, transportation officials and stakeholders in Chicago joined together to outline a plan to improve residents’ quality of life and protect the environment by strengthening transportation infrastructure. Officials from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA), Metra, Pace, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), and The Illinois Tollway acknowledged that spending on transportation accounts for a significant portion of a household’s annual income and that efficient transportation will reduce this financial burden, generate job growth, and contribute to the long-term health of the environment.
The goals outlined in the 2010 accord will never come to fruition without consistent funding, however, and even Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s new Infrastructure Trust may be able to finance new projects, like transit, but we’ll still need a dedicated way to maintain and upgrade them down the road. So, this past Monday, April 23, I attended the Earth Day Transportation Summit to discuss financing options for regional transportation.
During breakout sessions, all attendees were asked to discuss a set of funding options and rate each according to soundness of public policy, ease of implementation, feasibility of enactment, and potential for growth. Based on those criteria, here are the ideas that were most popular:
- Indexing taxes to inflation was the revenue option that most people supported. Currently, the state motor fuel tax (MFT) is 19 cents per gallon for gasoline, a price that has remained unchanged since 1991. Raising the MFT to reflect inflation would result in a tax of 32 cents per gallon, almost double the current rate. Even a small raise in the MFT would generate a significant sum: according to CMAP’s GO TO 2040 plan, an increase by eight cents, with a subsequently applied inflation index, would generate $19.4-billion dollars in revenue by 2040.
- Congestion pricing received the second highest ranking among summit attendees. Under congestion pricing, drivers would be required to pay a toll when entering or leaving the city or designated zone (cordon pricing); to pay an increased toll during preset rush hours regardless of traffic (fixed pricing); or to pay fluctuating tolls based on real-time congestion. Commuters would have to then choose to spend more on transportation, find an alternate (non-toll) route, or (the optimum goal) utilize public transit. GO TO 2040 estimates that revenue from congestion pricing could generate up to $12 billion dollars by 2040.
Is congestion pricing the best way to fund transit? Photo by Joe Bergantine
- A surprise winner, in third place, was increasing parking fees. If parking fees are higher, drivers can weigh the costs of parking when they decide on travel options. If driving is the chosen mode, they are less likely to stay in one spot for extended periods of time, thus reducing street congestion caused by drivers looking endlessly for a parking spot. But, since street parking in Chicago is currently leased to Chicago Parking Meter LLC, this measure would primarily affect parking lots and suburbs where the RTA has the authority to raise fees in parking lots associated with malls, movie theaters, and private garages. Parking fees are easily implemented, however, and the idea garnered widespread support.
All of the methods we discussed for creating a dedicated transportation revenue stream are feasible. The biggest roadblock is a lack of political will from our leaders. My hope is that the new focus on how we pay for infrastructure—brought about by discussion of Chicago’s new Infrastructure Trust—will keep these issues on the table and embolden our political leaders to start making difficult but important decisions about funding our transportation system for the long run.
Wednesday, April 11th, 2012
Did you catch Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on NPR’s Marketplace last week? Jeremy Hobson had questions about the mayor’s proposed Infrastructure Trust, how it would work and what kind of projects it would fund. It’s a quick read or listen here. (The audio begins at the 10:15 mark.) You can also catch tonight’s segment on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight, where some aldermen will weigh in on the mayor’s infrastructure trust.
About halfway through the interview, Hobson asked kind of an offbeat question about where Mayor Emanuel gets his inspiration. The mayor cited Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles but didn’t say exactly why.
Chicago or L.A.? Photo credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times
I think what Mayor Emanuel was referring to was Villaraigosa’s very innovative plan to build out his city’s public transportation system much faster than what’s typical for infrastructure projects of that scale. The plan is certainly inspiring and something we here in Chicago should be discussing as a model for funding our own transit needs. Here’s the back story:
It all started with Move LA, a project of community partners that set a goal and vision for expanding transit options for Angelenos. After a year of building support, Move LA got a measure on the ballot in 2008 to create a dedicated funding stream for new transit projects. With 68 percent of the vote, Angelenos approved Measure R, a half cent sales tax increase that went into effect in 2009 to raise $40 billion over 30 years to revamp the transit system and double the amount of existing rail in the city.
Mayor Villaraigosa took the plan to another level. Instead of accepting the anticipated 30 years it would take to fix LA’s transit system, he pushed to shorten construction time to 10 years by using the future Measure R sales tax revenue as collateral to get more money through a low-interest federal loan and long-term bonds.
Currently the Crenshaw Line, which would connect the Metro Green Line and Expo Line, has been authorized by the Federal Transportation Administration to proceed with project implementation. When all is said and done, Los Angeles will have a Westside subway extension, a regional connector to link downtown rail lines, a light rail extension to LAX airport, and bus-only lanes along some corridors. These projects will add 78 miles to the current transit system. On top of that, it is estimated that 160,000 jobs will be created, annual vehicle miles traveled will drop by at least 191 million miles, annual gasoline usage will decrease for 10.3 million people, and annual mobile source pollution emissions will decrease by 521,000 pounds.
Guess how much it’ll cost each LA resident? $25 a year. Would Chicagoans be willing to invest $25 per year for similar benefits? It’s something to think about as you wait for the next bus to show up or fill up your car with gas.
Thursday, April 5th, 2012
CNT invites you to attend the Equity Express Green Financial Education Train-the-Trainer Workshop May 3 & 4, sponsored by PNC Bank.
Equity Express is an innovative workshop curriculum that helps participants achieve goals by lowering expenses, living healthy, and helping the environment. Participants share strategies to reduce expenses on energy, transportation, communication and food, and discover how their choices affect their health and the environment. Households have seen savings up to $200 a month.
Organizations have used the curriculum to put on their own Equity Express Workshops, or integrated the materials in to their existing programs. Organizations using Equity Express include:
- Centers for New Horizons
- Aunt Martha’s
- Trinity United Church of Christ
- North Side Community Federal Credit Union
The free Train-the-Trainer workshop is a 2-day session that brings in staff from a variety of organizations for interaction and discussion. We invite up to two trainers from each organization. Breakfast and lunch are provided. The workshop will be held at CNT’s offices, 2125 W. North Ave. Chicago, IL.
Space is limited, so please contact Adam Mays (email@example.com, 773-815-5985) if you are interested in attending, or would like more information.
Download a fact sheet »
Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012
As a candidate for mayor, Rahm Emanuel vowed to make CTA’s Red Line Extension his top priority in improving transportation in Chicago. Just a few weeks ago, as Mayor Emanuel, he announced the creation of a $1.7 billion “Infrastructure Trust” that would support “transformational” projects, including the Red Line extension. Then just a few days ago, Emanuel re-announced his plan with a slight twist—it now includes $7 billion worth of infrastructure projects.
What is the extension? Why is it a priority for Mayor Emanuel?
The Red Line is the workhorse of the CTA system, accounting for 245,402 riders per weekday, which is nearly a third of total train ridership. It is 22 miles long, running from Howard Street on the North Side to 95th Street to the south. In recent years there have been a number of proposed improvements. CMAP has identified the most feasible extension and included it in the GO TO 2040 plan.
The South Extension project would add 5.5 miles to the Red Line, taking it from its current terminus along I-57 and following the Union Pacific corridor down to 130th St. It would operate on an elevated structure for its entire length. Stations are planned at 103rd, 111th, and 115th. Estimates for completion of the project range from 2016 into the unknown, as the project has been on the table since the late 1960s, when the Red Line was expanded to 95th Street.
Map showing how the Red Line would extend to 130th street. Map by John Paul Jones/Developing Communities Project
The Red Line expansion represents a ticket out of poverty for many people on the far South Side. The lack of rail connections in this part of Chicago means people have no rapid, inexpensive way to get into the city for work. A map from one of our recent publications, Prospering in Place, shows that the end of the Red Line to the south has “low” or “very low” access to jobs.
This map from CNT's recent report, "Prospering in Place" shows that the end of the Red Line to the south has “low” or “very low” access to jobs (in light blue). Copyright 2012 Center for Neighborhood Technology
Many of the un-served neighborhoods are disadvantaged already, and the lack of access to jobs keeps unemployment and poverty rates high. The map below, also from “Prospering in Place”, shows high poverty concentrations on the South Side of Chicago.
This map, also from "Prospering in Place", shows high poverty concentrations on the South Side of Chicago (in dark orange). Copyright 2012 Center for Neighborhood Technology
The same lack of access to jobs also hinders residents from having easy and safe routes to essential services, including hospitals and schools. New rail stations provide a chance to revitalize blighted neighborhoods through creation of transit-oriented developments that would include affordable housing, shops, and other mixed-use retail outlets within walking distance of the new stations.
At the CTA, where I sit on the Board of Directors, we are in the midst of completing the required Environmental Impact Statement for the expansion, which is expected to be finished in 2014. The CTA is moving forward with the process on our end to ensure the project can proceed as soon as funding is secured. We’re encouraged the extension remains a priority for Mayor Emanuel.
Monday, April 2nd, 2012
Housing counselors know that their clients need to be prepared for the full cost of owning a home, which includes taxes, utilities, maintenance costs, and other expenses in addition to the mortgage payment. However, some may not have considered the impact that transportation costs have on a family budget, or how these costs are related to where that family lives. Transportation costs represent the second-largest and fastest-growing expense for the typical American family, and they can vary widely based on the location of a home, the size of the household, household income, and other factors. Read more »
Monday, April 2nd, 2012
A Green Infrastructure Portfolio Standard would help cities scale up their green infrastructure, especially in urbanized areas in need of stormwater management methods.
For the past year, CNT, in partnership with American Rivers and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, has been working with officials in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Grand Rapids, Michigan to develop a new way to manage stormwater in developed urban settings: the Green Infrastructure Portfolio Standard (GIPS). The GIPS pilot program takes a cue from the popular Renewable Portfolio Standard and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard policies enacted in many states across the country to encourage renewable energy and energy efficiency use, respectively. The GIPS is intended specifically to help developed areas scale up green infrastructure practices relatively quickly, since stormwater regulations that apply only to new developments or redeveloped sites are inadequate for this purpose. Read more »