Readers of Over the Bars know I like big ideas and big thinkers. Anyone who knows me well can testify that I am fond of making personal pronouncements. Richard M. Daley, the previous mayor of Chicago, was a big thinker who was not afraid to speak out in favor of his convictions. Relative to bicycling, his oft-repeated goal was to “make Chicago the most
bicycle-friendly city in the United State.”2 Under his leadership, Chicago had an ambitious run of installing more bike racks than any other City in the US, over 100 miles of bike lanes and the midwest’s first bike station. Things seemed to slow down towards the end of his reign and some have argued Daley ignored segments of the City. But it would be impossible to argue that Chicago did not take a giant leap forward under his administration.
Rahm Emanuel just won the run-off election in Chicago and given that he celebrated by meeting citizens at an L-stop, early signs and campaign promises suggest he will be a bike/tranist-friendly mayor and possibly eclipse the accomplishments of the recent Daley era. This may make many
Wisconsin readers’ heads spin, but Emanuel ran and got elected with a transportation platform that emphasized improving transit, bicycles and high-speed rail. Follow the link to his campaign website if you want more details about his thoughts on transit and rail, but I have pasted his bicycle issues below. All this was widely reported by the Chicago media during the campaign. Here are the details of his bike platform:
Expand Chicago’s Bicycle Network
More than 60% of trips in Chicago are three miles or less, and bicycles are an increasingly popular mode of transportation, particularly on short commutes to work and between neighborhoods. Over the past decade, the City has added about eight miles of bike lanes each year, but continues to lag far behind many large cities that are expanding their protected bike lane network and offering basic accommodations for bikes in business districts. Rahm supports full implementation of Chicago’s Bike Plan and will initiate a review of its goals and timelines to identify opportunities to expand the plan and accelerate the pace of implementation. He will continue to push the City to be a leader in expanding opportunities for biking, with a goal of also improving walkability and linking these two modes to public transit options.
Chicago’s 125 miles of bike lanes cover a small portion of the city’s 5000 miles of roads. Rahm wants to dramatically increase the number of miles added each year – from 8 to 25 – and prioritize the creation of protected bike lanes. His plan is based on a simple premise: create a bike lane network that allows every Chicagoan – from kids on their first ride to senior citizens on their way to the grocery store – to feel safe on our streets.
Under the plan, Chicago would be a pioneer in the creation and expansion of protected bike lanes, which are separated from traveling cars and sit between the sidewalk and a row of parked cars that shield cyclists from street traffic. He will prioritize the lanes on major thoroughfares that link communities to downtown and each other.
Complete the Bloomingdale Trail
The Bloomingdale Trail will be a 2.65-mile multi-use recreational trail built along an elevated rail line along Bloomingdale Avenue on Chicago’s northwest side. The tracks, which are currently unused, will be converted into a safe greenway that accommodates both pedestrian and bike travel, and connects the west side to existing bike lanes that feed into the Loop. There will be multiple access points that double as neighborhood parks and link the trail to existing bike and transit routes. The Damen and Western stops on the Blue Line, the Clybourn Metra station, and the North Avenue, Fullerton, Western Kedzie, Kimball, California, Milwaukee and Ashland busses all pass under, over or nearby the Trail. Thousands of Chicagoans will be able to use the trail to commute to work each morning, and it will serve as a safe route to school for thousands of children who attend one of the 12 public and parochial schools within easy walking distance.
The Trail will be the world’s longest elevated trail and a major tourist draw, but more importantly it will significantly increase transportation options for residents on Chicago’s north west side. The cost – $75 million – will be shared by local, federal, corporate and non-profit partners.
Rahm is committed to having the trail built and functional during his first term. He will ensure the City is expediting review of all related permits, and will co-chair the committee to raise private capital that portion of the fundraising effort. Because the Trail offers safe routes to schools and fits under the Obama administration’s sustainable communities initiative, Rahm will work to leverage federal dollars that are intended for these types of innovative pilot projects.
A spot for every bicycle
Safe bike lanes will help Chicagoans travel through the neighborhoods, but businesses and offices need places to safely store bicycles. Rahm will push an ordinance to change building codes for all office buildings with more than 200 tenants, requiring that they offer protected bike storage facilities at the rate of one spot for every 20 employees in the building. Under the plan, buildings will be able to work together to expand bike parking in the most cost-effective way possible. For new developments, Rahm will work with city departments and local developers to draft a change in the building code that would require secure bike parking based on the square-footage of the development, and offer incentives for increased bike parking, including a reduction in required car parking slots in exchange for enhanced bike parking facilities. He will also task his budget office with devising a plan to offer tax incentives for any company that offers shower and locker facilities on-site for bicycle commuters.
Rahm will also work to replace the bike parking that was lost in neighborhoods when 40,000 parking meters were removed and replaced with the current pay boxes. The meters served the dual purpose of providing a secure base to lock a bike. There are currently 12,000 bike racks, providing 24,000 spaces. Rahm will work to double that number by adding racks and sheltered bike parking in the neighborhoods and downtown to increase convenience and security for bikers who do not have parking at their buildings. Bike parking will be expanded at transit facilities, and co-planned with new car-sharing sites and walkability improvements to make it as easy as possible to get around without a car.
Meanwhile, north of the cheddar curtain…
Readers of Over the Bars know I like Milwaukee’s Mayor Tom Barrett. He lives in my neighborhood, and although I see him running more than biking, he does support making Milwaukee more bicycle friendly, is the driving force behind our streetcar project and supported high-speed rail. The streetcar is certainly a big idea and Barrett gets the credit for prying the money free from our anti-transit then county executive/now governor. He campaigned on those positions when he ran for governor. He lost to Scott Walker, who you can read about in any paper these days.
Given that the lightening rod issues in our last gubernatorial election were high speed rail, transit and taxes, Rahm Emanuel or anyone else with his transportation platform would not have won the election here in Wisconsin. That said, I can’t imagine or remember Mayor Barrett or any Milwaukee elected official ever making such bold statements as Emanuel or Daley on any issue. I would like Milwaukee to try to be the best at something, even if we don’t finish first in the end. It’s better to shoot for the moon and miss than aim for mediocrity and hit the target.
I’m sure Mayor Barrett and our alders know the electorate here. Perhaps they and feel our Milwaukee mentality would reject grandiose statements. Still, I wish our officials could make strong statements about something other than cutting taxes and still have some hope of getting elected.
Our last Mayor, John Norquist was a big idea guy. He pushed to get one of our urban freeway spurs torn down and now leads the Congress for New Urbanism in Chicago. Those are pretty big ideas, and I voted for Norquist too. Even with the chutzpah to tear down freeways, Norquist never stood on a soap box and proclaimed Milwaukee would be the best at anything.
Chicago is facing a difficult budget just like most every other city in the country, but Emanuel seems to realize that investment in bicycling, transit and rail are the most efficient way to stretch limited transportation dollars. Proclaiming Chicago will have the best bikeway network in the country will instill a sense of pride in the program. There are other cities where bicycling and transit are touted as the way to a healthy and prosperous future.
Mayors have made bold statements in support of bicycling and rail-based transit in cities as diverse and widespread as Austin, TX; Charlotte, NC; Columbia, MO; Louisville, KY; NYC, NY; Minneapolis, MN; Portland, OR, and Seattle, WA. It is worth noting that all of those cities are viewed as “youth magnates cities” and have experienced economic growth since they started making bicycle and transit improvements. In those political environments, “tax payers” seem to understand that tax dollars spent on bicycles and transit promote economic growth, improve health and save money in the long run.
I’m no longer young, but I still drawn to move to some of these youth magnate cities. That magnate analogy holds true in many ways. For instance I feel myself drawn to Madison these days too, not to more there though, just to protest.