This week, CTA held open houses to update the public on the progress of the Red and Purple Modernization Project. Riders for Better Transit staff attended one of the meetings, and talked to CTA staff about some of the details.
What changes can riders expect?
Well, nothing too dramatic right away, but it’s clear that changes are on their way for these critical routes that provided nearly 20 million trips in 2011.
CTA received over 1,500 comments during the last round of public meetings in January 2011. They heard support for the modernizing four track alternative that does involve station consolidation, but offers benefits such as additional transfers, ADA accessibility and speeding up the route. Many riders also expressed serious concerns about the effects of consolidating stations--like extra walking time and new walking routes.
As a result of last year’s public comments, CTA eliminated two unpopular alternatives and added an alternative to the study that explores modernizing the line without any consolidation of stations.
This leaves four alternatives to be studied in this year’s environmental impact study: No action, basic rehabilitation, modernization with station consolidation and modernization without consolidation.
The CTA will now work to complete the draft Environmental Impact Study on these alternatives by the end of 2012, and riders and community members will have a chance to express their opinion on the findings of the study during the public comment period in early 2013. The revised alternatives, as well as the open house exhibit boards, can be found on the CTA website
The big trade off
When it comes to consolidating stations, no transit rider wants to see his or her station being closed. But most riders also would like to see the trains move faster. Consolidating stations would mean fewer stops and reduced travel time.
Under the consolidation scenarios, new entrances would be added to the stations to shorten walking distances from multiple directions. Some riders would therefore get a station entrance closer than the one they currently have.
But even a few blocks can be a dramatic change to a transit rider’s life. An extra 1/8 of a mile can add time to a commute, and it can be an even greater inconvenience for the elderly, disabled, and those with small children and strollers.
At the very least, overall station accessibility will be improved under any of the alternatives since it is a federal requirement that any major reconstruction must also include ADA compliance.
Ultimately, these are tradeoffs the transit-riding public and the neighborhood residents along the Red and Purple lines will need to decide.
Active Trans and the Riders for Better Transit campaign want to meet you! We’re hosting a social so that we can get together and share our love for transit.
Please join us for this evening of fun and get to know others who want to make transit better in our region.
Riders for Better Transit Social
Tuesday, February 7
Blue Frog’s Local 22 (22 E. Hubbard, near Grand station on the Red Line )
Special guests Greg Borzo and Tracy Swartz will share some insights on Chicago transit. Greg Borzo is author of The Chicago "L", a popular book that covers the complete history of Chicago’s greatest working antique and biggest “mover & shaker.” Tracy Swartz authors the RedEye Chicago column “Going Public” and just recently completed a journey riding every one of Chicago’s 139 bus routes.
The event is free and open to the public; no RSVP necessary. Light snacks provided; cash bar available. Please email any questions about this event to Brenna@activetrans.org.
See you soon!
Congress is currently debating our federal transportation programs and spending, and the way things are going, the impacts to transit riders could be disastrous. This week, a committee of the House of Representatives released the text of a bill (H.R.3864) that would effectively transfer all funding from the federal Mass Transit Account—and put it into the Highway Account. This move would destroy a dedicated revenue source for transit, established by President Reagan thirty years ago, and jeopardize $5 billion annually for the nation’s transit systems. Some are calling it a declaration of war on transit.
This means transit agencies nationwide would have to fight for general funds every year. For 2012, RTA was planning to get approximately 12% of its total budget from federal sources, and CTA alone usually gets about $250 million per year. CTA uses this money for capital projects like station rehab, track improvement, and new cleaner buses and trains. Loss of this funding could put the brakes on all sorts of maintenance and expansion projects throughout the region, and it could translate into significant service cuts, fare increases, or both.
The outlook in this bill for funding walking and biking projects is similarly bleak.
Congress will be acting on this bill immediately. Tell your Representative to vote against this bill, and that this is exactly the wrong direction for our nation’s transportation.
We need to invest in a transportation system with transit, walking and biking as an integral part. This bill instead represents a doubling down on highways and abandonment of transit riders and communities.
Funding for dozens of new transportation projects are at risk. At-risk projects include bus rapid transit, protected bike lanes in Chicago, suburban bike trails, the Lake Front Trail Flyover, Chicago’s bike share program, and CTA station repairs, among others.
That’s because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says the Chicago region now meets federal air quality standards and, as such, potentially loses roughly $80 million per year in funding for transportation projects that help reduce air pollution, called the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) fund. In total, 115 CMAQ projects totaling $411 million over five years are at risk.
The EPA is relying on air quality data through 2010, but air pollution levels actually exceeded standards in 2011. The EPA wants to use a technicality to exclude the 2011 data.
If the EPA changes our air quality designation, the CMAQ dollars would not be eliminated until Congress passes a new transportation bill—but that could happen as soon as this spring.
Meanwhile, the Illinois EPA (not the same as the U.S. EPA) says the region still has an air quality problem and that the 2011 data bears that out. If CMAQ dollars are lost, it will be more difficult to achieve air quality standards in the long run.
Please email the U.S. EPA by 5 p.m. on Thursday January 19 and tell them the Chicago region has not resolved its air quality problems, and that the EPA should use 2011 air quality data and keep in place CMAQ funding for clean air transportation projects.
Your support could make an important difference. Thanks!
Comments should be emailed to: email@example.com
Attention Docket ID No. EPA–HQ–OAR–2008–0476.
Last month Riders for Better Transit worked hard to spread the word about changes to the federal transit fare benefit that could cost transit riders even more to make their daily commutes.
Our members sent nearly 1,000 messages to the U.S. Congressional Delegation, explaining to them just how important it is for transit riders to be able to put aside $240 a month to pay for their transit fares, and that we should receive at least the same benefit as those who drive to work.
And what was the result?
In order to preserve the transit fare benefit at its current rate of $230--equal to that of the parking benefit for commuters--our federal representatives needed to vote for a bill that would guarantee permanent parity between the two.
As of January 1, the transit portion of the fare benefit dropped down to $125 a month, while the benefit for commuters who drive and park was increased to $240.
Congress’ inaction will hurt Metra riders since next month Metra fares are about to go up 25 percent. With February’s price increase, a monthly pass just to Metra's Zone C will now be $121. Monthly passes for Zones D through M will therefore exceed the amount of money that riders can put aside pre-tax to help pay for their commute.
Why did this happen?
Despite our efforts, the change that was necessary to save the transit fare benefit was lost in the noise of other discussions.
We know that millions of transit riders benefit from this program and will be negatively affected by this change, but our voice needs to be louder so our elected officials make this a priority.
Thank you to all of you who lent us your support. We’re not giving up! There’s still a chance we can make this change later this year. Riders for Better Transit will continue to be a voice for transit riders on this issue.
Join the movement to help us make an impact!
With 4,000 miles of streets and most of Chicago paved over to accommodate cars, it's hard to fathom how adding protected bike lanes and bus lanes to a tiny percentage of streets will force people out of their cars, as John McCarron insinuated in his article last week in the Chicago Tribune, "Chicago's war on Cars.”
This is no "war on cars." It is the city providing what most Chicagoans want: good alternatives to buying pricey gasoline to drive on congested roads, and safer streets that are walkable and vibrant.
Biking may not work for everyone, including McCarron, but it is an option for more and more people. Cycling has roughly doubled in Chicago over the past 10 years.
People cycle even more when you add protected bike lanes. Bike ridership took a huge jump during morning rush hour on Kinzie Street after installation of a protected bike lane.
A CDOT traffic count found that during the morning rush hour, bikes accounted for 53 percent of eastbound traffic on Kinzie. Protected bike lanes also reduce crashes of all types.
McCarron scoffs at new bus lanes, but you cannot compare the poorly designed State Street busway from the 1980s to modern bus facilities. Chicago needs to move people faster and more dependably by bus, and modern bus lanes all over the U.S. and the world prove that it can be done. And in many cases, cars move faster as well because the streets are less congested.
Active Trans and others encouraged people to write the Tribune in response to McCarron's ridiculous column, and wow did we write! These letters ran in the print edition yesterday, December 5.
The Tribune also ran what I wrote (included above) and other letters taking McCarron to task in the on-line edition. We must have really outnumbered any letters supporting McCarron—because the Trib didn't publish any!
We already know transit fares will be going up for many riders next year. Metra riders will pay 25 percent more to get around our region and CTA fare hikes are still on the table for 2012.
Unfortunately, there's a chance riders may be taking yet another hit. If Congress doesn't act this month, you may be paying even more for transit next year!
Right now transit riders and drivers can pay their fares and parking expenses with pre-tax dollars out of their paycheck -- up to $230 per month. Transit riders receive this commuter benefit through their employers and can save more than $1,000 each year on their transit expenses (if you're not already getting this benefit, encourage your employer to sign up now!)
But if Congress doesn't act now, at the end of this year that benefit program will be cut nearly in half for transit riders, costing many riders hundreds of dollars more each year.
Drivers will continue to receive the full tax benefit for parking expenses up to $230 per month. Transit riders deserve equal benefits. This represents a tax increase that will feel like a second fare hike for many transit riders.
Tell your members of Congress to have a heart this holiday season by supporting the Commuter Benefits Equity Act (H.R. 2412, S. 1034), which would preserve this important benefit for transit riders. Transit riders in the Chicago region can't afford to take another hit!
It’s been an eventful few weeks for transit in the Chicago region. So here’s a recap to keep you up-to-date.
Cook County backs off CTA funding cuts – thank you for taking action!
Thank you to our supporters who took action to prevent CTA funding cuts! The Cook County Board waded into the transit budget fray last week by suddenly proposing to slash county funding for the CTA by two-thirds, from $2 million to just $675,000—and jeopardizing at least another $128 million in RTA discretionary funding.
Riders for Better Transit responded by issuing an action alert and many of you took action, sending more than 1,000 messages to Cook County leaders in less than 24 hours. Our voices were heard. We’re happy to report that the next day Cook County dropped the proposal to cut CTA funding!
Update on fare increases and service cuts – Metra and CTA approve budgets
As Metra and CTA rolled out their budgets this fall, Riders for Better Transit issued an action alert to hold our elected leaders responsible for the lack of transit funding in our region.
We'll continue to face the annual threat of service cuts and fare increases as long as Chicagoland train and bus service is insufficiently funded. Our supporters have taken action by sending nearly 3,000 messages to their state and federal elected representatives!
These elected leaders hold the purse strings, and riders are speaking out in unison, sending a clear message that we need to increase investment in transit. We know many of you even received responses from your elected leaders, showing that our message is starting to get through.
Riders for Better Transit staff also gave public comments at CTA's and Metra's budget hearings. We still have a long battle ahead of us to win additional transit funding, and we knew this would not be an easy or short-term effort. With your help, we can continue to build the voice of transit riders to be a powerful force.
Metra fares are increasing
On Nov. 11, Metra’s Board approved its proposed budget, which includes an average 25 percent fare increase for 2012. We know this will be a hardship for many riders. Riders, please also note that Metra has changed the expiration policy for some tickets to help prevent stockpiling. Tickets bought after Nov. 12 will expire in February (details here).
CTA fare increases and service cuts remain uncertain
The CTA approved its budget Nov. 15. As we’ve written previously, the CTA proposed a budget with no service cuts or fare hikes, but this is largely based on the uncertain outcome of labor negotiations.
The union contract expires at the end of December, and depending on the outcome of labor negotiations, CTA may need to revisit its budget in the spring. We’ll keep you posted.
We encourage CTA management and labor to negotiate in good faith to find any possible efficiencies on both sides that could prevent service cuts and fare increases, but we recognize that ultimately the CTA’s budget deficit is the responsibility of our elected leaders who have put transit on the back-burner.
Please tell your friends (and maybe even your family, over turkey dinner) that they can help too.
As Active Transportation Alliance employees, we always attempt to walk, bike or take transit when visiting clients or attending meetings away from the office.
Recently, I needed to be at McHenry West High School to lead a student session at 3 p.m. on a weekday as part of a larger project in McHenry County high schools.
McHenry County is 40+ miles northwest of downtown Chicago, and McHenry (the city) is about a 50-mile drive from the Active Trans offices.
While McHenry (the city) does have a Metra stop on the Union Pacific NW line, the station is served from Chicago only three times daily--and none of those times were even close to assisting with my schedule. Crystal Lake is served more regularly and lies about an 8 mile bike ride from McHenry West High School, but Tuesday’s weather was not at all conducive to biking, so I made other plans.
McHenry County has three Pace bus routes, one of which runs between Crystal Lake and McHenry. However, once again, the schedule did not work to my advantage for my meeting time, since the route shuts down midday from about 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Luckily I had a contact who had offered to pick me up, so I took the Metra to Crystal Lake and my contact drove me the rest of the way to my meeting.
After the meeting, I planned to catch Pace Bus Route 806 to the Crystal Lake Metra station for my return to Chicago. I had looked at the map, and the route traveled right past the school and, according to its schedule, would get me to the station at 4:59 to catch the 5 p.m. train. At least I hoped it would…
I stepped out of the school, about 1/2 a mile south of downtown McHenry, and looked left and right for a bus stop sign but saw none. I had 20 minutes before the bus was scheduled to pass, so I walked about 10 minutes down the road, looking for a bus stop sign. Finding no signs, I decided to stand next to a traffic light just outside a post office and wait vigilantly, ready to wave down the bus when it did arrive.
Once the bus arrived, I chatted a bit with the driver who, after I said I was hoping to catch the 5 p.m. train to Chicago, assured me “I usually make that one.” We arrived at the train station with about 2 minutes to spare.
I consider myself an “advanced” transit user, but navigating the options for travel in this situation was a challenge even for me. I commend Pace and McHenry County for the transit options that are currently available, and they are certainly a first step, but there is still a lot of work to do in relation to signage, education and level of service to make transit a viable option for residents and commuters in McHenry County, especially those who cannot or do not have access to a personal vehicle.
In recent weeks, Active Trans has appeared at both CTA and Metra budget hearings with the urgent message that service reductions and fare hikes are not the answer. Instead, what's needed is more support from our political representatives who hold the purse strings.
If you want to help make transit better in Chicagoland, support Active Trans' Riders for Better Transit campaign.
Over the last week, representatives from Active Trans' Riders for Better Transit campaign attended both the CTA and Metra public hearings about their proposed budgets for 2012.
We made sure to tell the transit agencies that our riders need fares to stay low and that we can’t face any more service cuts.
It seems like every year there’s a doomsday scenario when transit agencies are faced with the dilemma of increasing fares or cutting service, and our only option as riders is to try to adjust.
We told Metra and CTA it’s time to end this cycle.
Unfortunately, some key players were missing from the hearings—our elected officials!
To really solve the problem, we need to look at the way public transportation is funded by our elected leaders at the local, state and national level. Transit in our region has been significantly underfunded and riders are suffering today as a result.
Thanks so much to our Riders for Better Transit members who came out to the hearings with us!
Representatives from Mercy Housing, DePaul University student government, the Mikva challenge and the Natural Resources Defense Council—our partners in this effort—came to show their support and add their voices.
Check out these pictures of the CTA hearing—it was a packed house!
It’s clear that riders in Chicago care about the state of our public transportation. We need to use this energy to focus on getting results and winning more funding for transit!