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On a Roll
Chicago transportation plan headed in the right direction.
Courtesy CDOT

Chicago’s Department of Transportation (CDOT) released a two-year plan in early May that strengthens the signal sent early on by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CDOT commissioner Gabe Klein: transportation culture in Chicago is in need of an upgrade.

The Chicago Forward plan looks ahead to a city with a transportation system that’s safer, more efficient, attentive to its infrastructure, and better captures its economic value.

One of the performance measures in the plan is to eliminate all traffic deaths in ten years, an ambitious goal. Klein told the blog Grid Chicago, “I think it is achievable. You shoot for zero; you end up at ten. Every life is important, but it’s better than shooting for 50 and ending up at 70. We have to push ourselves.”

Sweden has implemented a Vision Zero campaign to stop fatalities by 2020. They, like the United States, are seeing decreasing traffic deaths. Sweden’s fatality rate per 100,000 citizens in 2009 was 3.84 compared with Chicago’s rate per 100,000 of 16.75. In 2010, the fatality rate in Chicago dropped considerably to 11.65 deaths per 100,000 residents.

The streets started to change almost immediately after Emanuel was elected. The city’s first protected bike lane appeared and crosswalk enhancements were installed at a faster rate. In an earlier interview with AN, Klein explained that he wanted Chicago to be a walkable and bike-able city. “I think there was a push in the past to make it so that cars moved through as quickly as possible. Then cities lost their self-confidence and catered to the transient drivers who passed through.”

Many of the projects in Chicago Forward have been previously announced, and are in design or construction phases. The plan packages them together and presents them to the public as the department’s “To Do” list. Existing projects include the Bloomingdale Trail elevated park (to be completed by 2015) and a green alleys program. Chicago Forward contains new projects as well: a travel management program for workplaces and a diversion plan to redirect and reuse road asphalt and construction waste.

Five days after the release, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, critiqued the plan’s shortcomings, focusing on funding and finance. “The document does not include a budget for the programs identified in the plan, such as expected revenues or cost estimates over the next two years,” according to a statement.

Still it’s a leap in the right direction. Chicago Forward represents a clean break from the past when CDOT leadership changed every other year and communication about the agency’s role was lacking. In addition to providing a simple glance at the organization’s responsibilities, the plan also shows that CDOT is ready to challenge itself in creating a safe and robust transportation system.

Steven Vance