Show your support for fun, safe and convenient trails at FPDCC budget hearing

Calling all trail riders!

The Forest Preserve District of Cook County (FPDCC) is holding its 2015 budget hearing on November 18, and we need enthusiastic trail users to make the case for more safe, convenient and accessible trails.

FPDCC is gearing up for the North Branch Trail Southern Extension, which will extend the popular trail from Devon & Caldwell to Foster & Kostner. While support for this project is high, there has been some criticism from local residents who are pushing for a less safe on-street route.

This meeting is a chance for the cycling community to further demonstrate our support for the project and explain why the project is essential for the neighborhood and the greater region.

Here are some important facts to keep in mind about bike trails:

  • Off-street paths encourage more people to ride bikes, which results in cleaner air and an overall healthier environment.
  • In areas where trails have been built, crime has decreased or remained the same, according the Rails to Trails Conservancy 
  • Cycling is a healthy and fun activity. It improves levels of well-being, self-confidence, and tolerance to stress.
  • Lastly, investment in trails can lead to higher property values. For example, a house located within a one-half mile of the Monon Bike Trail in Indianapolis is worth on average 11 percent more than an identical house farther from the trail, according to People for Bikes and the Alliance for Biking and Walking.

These future trail improvements are necessary in keeping Chicagoland one of the most bike friendly places in the country. Come out and show your support for safe trails!

What: FPDCC 2015 Budget Hearing
Where: County Board Room (118 N. Clark, Room 567)
When: 1 p.m. on Tuesday, November 18

Register Here. See you there!

This blog post was written by Sydney Prusak, Active Trans' advocacy intern. 

Register now for Active Trans Member Meeting & Advocate Summit

 

Register now for the 2014 Active Trans Member Meeting & Advocate Summit to be held Thursday November 13, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at Red Frog Events, 320 W. Ohio St., Chicago. 

All are welcome to attend this free event. We'll be discussing and formulating our strategies for putting biking, walking and public transit on the map in the 2015 municipal elections.

Whether you live in the city or suburbs, this is your opportunity to take action in support of healthier, more livable communities.

As people across Illinois go to the polls today to pick federal, state and county officials, we're already gearing up for the next round of elections in 2015 when local communities will vote for their municipal leaders.

Local elected officials in the city and suburbs exercise a great deal of power over the issues we care about. That's why this year's Member Meeting & Advocate Summit will focus on our advocacy priorities during the upcoming election.

Please join us in critical dialogue and grassroots action planning as we collectively push to take our movement to the next level.

Metra’s ten-year plan for fare increases: A gutsy decision

In its proposed Fiscal Year 2015 Program and Budget, Metra announced it's prepared, if necessary, to implement a ten-year plan for regular fare increases to fund not only its day-to-day operations, but also to begin the long slog to finally address their $8.6 billion backlog of and on-going annual infrastructure needs.

This is a gutsy move on Metra’s part given that fare increases used to fund operations are a touchy subject. The past reticence of Metra to adequately fund operations have led to below-industry wages, archaic business management systems and little in the way of operating innovations.

By assiduously avoiding fare increases over the last 25 years, Metra’s fare revenue growth has been below the Consumer Price Index and well below the growth of U.S. industry peers like Boston, Philadelphia and New York.

Metra is now faced with reversing that trend. They know that it was only six years ago that Illinois increased the region’s annual transit operating funds by approximately $400 million. Metra can’t expect a state that has its own dire financial difficulties to run to the rescue with more funding just so Metra and its sister agencies, Pace and CTA, can avoid regular fare increases for operations.

The long-time assessment that the region has been under investing in its transit infrastructure was confirmed in 2009 by the RTA in a comprehensive capital assessment analysis. It showed a ten-year capital need of $24.6 billion between 2010 and 2019 to bring the entire northeastern Illinois transit system to a state of good repair.

Based on capital funding trends, the region was short $17 billion to achieve this goal. Since 2009, the shortfall has grown to $26 billion, despite a five-year boost of $2.7 billion in infrastructure capital funding from the now expiring Illinois Jobs Now capital program.

The federal transit capital program has also been of little help. After three years of delay in reauthorizing the federal highway and transit programs, Congress kicked-the-can down the road with a no growth two-year funding bill in 2012.

This year facing a depleted Highway Trust Fund (which funds both the highway and transit programs), Congress granted an eight-month extension of the Fund with an infusion of general revenue rather than finding a long-term solution. This trend indicates that Congress is unlikely to do anything in the foreseeable future to even modestly increase transit capital funding.

So it is not surprising that Metra’s anticipates less than one percent annual federal funding growth over the next five years.

Metra’s budget is also doubtful on the prospects of a new multi-year state capital program. To confirm Metra’s skepticism, one only has to look at the past 25 years of practice where the state initiates a new five-year capital program every ten years. In other words, five years on and then five years off.

So it was inevitable and responsible for Metra to assume that its future financial destiny lies with what it controls through cost containment and regular, but modest, fare increases. This is prudent transit management.

This guest blog post was authored by Steve Schlickman, executive director of the UIC Urban Transportation Center and member of the Active Trans Board of Directors. 

Tell your members of Congress to support bike and transit commuters

It’s time for change. As we wrote last spring, our commuter tax benefit system favors car travel over public transportation and bicycle commuting. The benefit is an employer-provided federal tax benefit that allows commuters to purchase tax free transit passes, carpooling rides or parking.

Currently, the monthly benefit for car parking is $250, compared to just a $130 benefit for transit users (down from $245 last year). The transit benefit reduction has already cost commuters up to $100 a month in additional travel expenses.

We need Congress to pass legislation that will increase the tax benefit for transit users and bicycle commuters. Six members of Congress from the Chicago region -- including Dan Lipinski, Mike Quigley, Brad Schneider, Bill Foster, Tammy Duckworth and Jan Schakowsky -- are already supportive, but we need a greater commitment to get this off the ground.

Here’s what’s on the table:

  • HR 2288: Under this bipartisan-sponsored bill, the Commuter Parity Act would raise the transit benefit and lower the parking benefit for commuters, making both $220 a month. The bill would also increase the monthly commuter bike benefit from $20 to $35 and would make bike share memberships eligible for the benefit as well. 
  • S. 1116: The companion bill in the Senate, the Commuter Benefits Equity Act, removes the parity between transit and parking benefits, keeping the bike benefit the same. Additionally, the EXPIRE Act includes a commuter benefit for bike sharing.

If we continue on the current path and do not take action on these bills, the bike benefit could be repealed altogether.

Commuting by public transit reduces congestion and improves air quality, making the region a better place to live. With fewer cars, the streets are safer for bicyclists and pedestrians, encouraging more active transportation.

The transit benefit also helps both employers and employees save money. Commuters spend less on transportation per month, and a higher transit tax benefit reduces employers’ payroll taxes. Furthermore, the benefit allows more employment options for workers because travel costs are limited.

This is an urgent issue so we need to act now before it is too late! Show your support for equitable transit benefits by signing a letter to your local member of Congress and taking action through the League of American Bicyclists’ alert. We need to let Congress know that all commuters deserve the same transit benefit, regardless of how they get to work.

This blog post was contributed by Sydney Prusak, an Active Trans advocacy intern.

Active Trans helping to develop state's first township-wide bike plan

Active Trans is excited to be working with Wayne Township officials to develop a comprehensive bike plan that should be completed by the end of this year.

Once completed, Wayne would be the first township in Illinois to adopt a bike plan. Over the summer, residents and elected officials brainstormed ideas for making the six-community area in Chicago’s northwest suburbs – Wayne, West Chicago, Bartlett, Hanover Park, Carol Stream and St. Charles – safer and more accessible for people riding bikes (see right).

As The Daily Herald reported this week, there are many recommendations in the plan that aim to make cycling safer and easier while also building a bike culture throughout the communities.

Some of the proposals will be easier to accomplish, such as painting bike lanes and installing wayfinding signs and bike racks. Other infrastructure improvements would require a funding source from these communities.

At the meeting over the summer, residents said they enjoy riding trails in the area but said they had trouble getting to them in the first place. Bike lanes, trail connections and side paths were high priorities and something we plan to address in the township’s plan.

Michael Sewall serves as an Active Trans communications intern. 

Chicagoans want a safer and more accessible North Lake Shore Drive

As the public process for the reconstruction of North Lake Shore Drive continues, the demand for biking, walking and transit improvements throughout the corridor is becoming increasingly clear.

Last week the reconstruction project team released an updated timeline and a list of the top 20 ideas raised during in public comments at the July meeting and submitted online through the project website and email address.

The top 3 ideas match the priorities we identified based on conversations with members, community residents and longtime trail advocates:

1. Separating people biking and walking on the trail.
2. Improving transit service throughout the corridor.
3. Improving east/west walking and biking connections to the lakefront.

More than 260 commenters mentioned separating people biking and walking to make the trail safer for everyone. Just last month a crash between someone biking and someone running on the trail left a Chicago woman seriously injured, raising the issue of creating a separate trail once again.

Mayor Emanuel also addressed trail congestion and safety at a recent press conference for a new park on the lakefront.

Improving transit service was featured in more than 180 comments while more than 130 commenters talked about improving east/west access. The transit comments mostly focused on implementing a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line to move more people through the corridor.

The project’s study area is not limited to just the lakefront path itself, but also includes the surrounding intersections and adjoining city streets, which are crucial to addressing current safety and connectivity issues.

The project is still in its conceptual stages with the next public meeting expected to be held in summer 2015, and construction will likely not begin until 2019.

You can leave a comment in support of a top 20 priority or give feedback regarding where you think an improvement is needed on the project’s online comment form. Send an email to info@northlakeshoredrive.org to receive future email updates on the project.

This blog post was written by Roxanne Bertrand, Active Trans' Advocacy Intern

Join the fight for better biking, walking and transit by becoming a member today!

It's Member Drive season here at Active Trans!

We're looking for 200 new and renewing members to help strengthen our work in advocating for safer, more convenient travel for bicyclists, pedestians, and transit users alike.Win a bike

Your membership funds important programs and initiatives that:

  • Build more trails, bike lanes, sidewalks and transit options
  • Win legislation that supports safe, orderly streets that are friendly for biking and walking
  • Encourage more people to bike, walk and use public transportation
  • Educate thousands of people of all ages annually about safe bicycling

Members also get extensive benefits, including discounts at over 100 bike shops and businesses, Active Trans’ 2013 seven county Chicagoland Bike Map, event discounts, a $10 discount on a Divvy bikeshare membership and more!

But wait, there's more! All new or renewing members are entered to win a brand new bicycle, courtesy of Village Cycle! 

Are you an existing member? You can enter your name in the raffle by referring a new member – just have them mention you on the transaction page.

To add your support, visit our Member Drive page here!

Where do candidates for Illinois governor stand on active transportation?

The 2014 election season is upon us and Active Trans has asked candidates running for Illinois governor to respond to a candidate questionnaire in order to provide insight into their positions on issues related to our mission.

As a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, Active Trans does not endorse candidates for public office. The purpose of the candidate questionnaire is purely informational.

View the letter and questions we sent candidates here (PDF).

2014 Illinois Gubernatorial Candidate Questionnaire & Responses

Pat Quinn (Democratic candidate) -- View the questions and candidate responses (PDF)

Bruce Rauner (Republican candidate) -- The Rauner campaign chose not to respond to our questionnaire.

Chad Grimm (Libertarian candidate) -- The Grimm campaign did not respond to our questionnaire.

You can learn more about the statewide elections taking place on November 4, 2014 and access important information for voters at the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Illiana Tollway boondoggle moving ahead – for now

The votes have been cast, but this battle is far from over.

On October 9, the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s (MPO) Policy Committee, which oversees and approves federal funding in the state, voted to move the GO TO 2040 regional plan forward with the Illiana Expressway still included.

This followed a vote a day earlier by the board of Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) not to approve the regional plan because it still includes the politically charged Illiana.

Active Trans joined several other regional advocacy organizations and residents in testifying against the Illiana at both meetings because it conflicts with the stated sustainability and efficiency goals of GO TO 2040. Not to mention the $1.1 billion project cost will likely largely be passed on to taxpayers to fund this “public-private partnership” over the next 40 years.

CMAP, based on its own staff’s research and analysis, anticipates that the tolls will be too high to attract the truck traffic needed to adequately fund the project – likely forcing the cost onto taxpayers. The Illiana will also take precedence over many other critical transportation projects, leaving behind needed improvements to existing public transit and commuter rail systems.

The fate of the project is now likely in the hands of courts. Leading Chicago environmental groups have partnered in a lawsuit to block the project, challenging the legality of the Policy Committee’s approval and the Illinois Department of Transportation’s (IDOT) authority to move forward. With a gubernatorial election on the horizon, there are still many unresolved questions about the ill-conceived tollway.

This blog post was written by Roxanne Bertrand, Active Trans' Advocacy Intern

Underfunded Metra forced to raise fares to replace aging fleet

Last week, Metra unveiled its rail line improvement plans for the next ten years – and it’s not going to be cheap.

Metra, the second largest commuter rail line in the country, plans to replace and restore old passenger cars and locomotives, and install Positive Train Control (PTC) on all trains.

PTC is a system that forces train compliance to speed limits and can automatically stop rail cars. Our outdated commuter rail system desperately needs these upgrades to ensure a reliable and safe regional public transportation system.

About 16 percent of the $2.4 billion cost of the improvement plan will be passed on to Metra riders through fare increases. Raising fares is never a good thing, but under the current funding structure the cash-strapped agency’s options are limited.

Metra deserves credit for taking action and developing a plan to replace and restore old passenger cars and locomotives, but these fare increases are further proof we need to change how we fund public transit regionally.

With young people driving less, the need for an improved transit network will only be heightened in coming years. According to a recent report by the Illinois Public Interest Research Group, Millennials are veering away from cars.

From 2006 to 2013, the share of people commuting by car between the ages of 16 and 24 fell by 1.5 percent, while this age group’s share increased in active transportation modes, like biking, walking and public transit.

Young people are sick of sitting in traffic and they are more and more attracted to cities with an extensive public transportation network. In order to remain competitive and attract new businesses and a creative workforce, Chicagoland needs to prioritize public transportation.

Our Transit Future campaign addresses these issues by establishing a dedicated revenue stream to build and expand the transportation network in Chicago and surrounding suburbs.

Sign our petition to support increased investment in transit and fill out this brief survey if you’re interested in volunteering to help organize transit supporters in your neighborhood.

This blog post was contributed by Sydney Prusak, an Active Trans advocacy intern.

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