November 9, 2013
By Moe Torrist
By Moe Torrist
On November 1, 2013, you announced your resignation as Chicago’s Transportation Commissioner. In the wake of that announcement, you have received the heartfelt thanks from those who seek to eliminate cars from the streets of Chicago.
But please don’t think that Chicago’s motorists are ungrateful for all that you (along with Mayor Rahm Emanuel) have done, in your brief two and a half year stint as Transportation Commissioner. To that end, we, the motorists of Chicago, would like to offer our sincere thanks for all of your good works. In particular, we would like to sing your praises for all of the following accomplishments…
First and foremost, thank you for bringing speed cameras to the streets of Chicago. Thanks to you, motorists who exceed Chicago’s artificially low speed limits on their way to work, by a mere 6 miles an hour, will finally be treated as the vicious criminals they are. This accomplishment is all the more remarkable when you consider that all of the data you presented, about speeding and pedestrian safety, was a complete fabrication.
Even more impressive is the fact that even though you touted speed cameras in the name of pedestrian safety, you have managed to select camera sites with almost no pedestrian traffic. For example, the camera site at 1100 West Irving Park (3 blocks away from the postage stamp-sized Challenger Park) has virtually no pedestrian traffic. Oh well – shouldn’t let those pesky facts stand in the way of progress (especially when the choice of locations such as Challenger Park appears solely designed to maximize speed camera ticket revenue).
RED LIGHT CAMERAS
Next, we thank you for helping Chicago to keep its title as the Number One city in the country for red light cameras. Nothing gives us more civic pride than knowing that Chicago is actually a leader at something besides the number of annual murders. Not to mention how thrilled we were to hear (from Chicago’s Inspector General Joe Ferguson) that red light camera sites were chosen for maximum ticket revenue, instead of some silly old thing like traffic safety.
YELLOW LIGHT SIGNALS
In yet another profile in courage, you stood up with City Hall to oppose longer yellow light signals at Chicago’s red light camera intersections. In opposing the longer yellow light change, Chicago took the position that modifying each traffic signal for a longer yellow would be a major problem. Clearly, the City should not be burdened with such a time-consuming task, even though a longer yellow signal would prevent deaths and injuries at these intersections. Of course, it is purely a coincidence that shorter yellow lights also serve to maximize the City’s revenues from red light camera tickets.
PEDESTRIAN SCRAMBLE INTERSECTION
In a further victory for pedestrian safety, you installed a “pedestrian scramble” intersection at State Street and Jackson in the Loop, creating a traffic nightmare at one of the busiest intersections in the city, with cars backed up for blocks in all directions. With one stroke, you have improved that intersection by: (a) only allowing three cars to get through the intersection, during each green cycle; and (b)preventing cars from making any turns at that intersection. (Who needs to turn onto State Street or Jackson anyway?) Of course, the mere fact that other cities such as Denver, Vancouver, Kansas City and Milwaukee had previously abandoned these intersections as unworkable — didn’t deter you from dusting off this cockamamie traffic scheme.
ASHLAND AVENUE BUS RAPID TRANSIT
We would also be remiss if we didn’t thank you for your “magnum opus” project –the Ashland Avenue Bus Rapid Transit Line. In order to save Ashland bus riders an average 8 minutes of commute time, you proposed spending $161 million for a Bus Rapid Transit line (“BRT”) on Ashland Avenue. As a sop to the anti-car crowd at the Active Transportation Alliance (which receives an undisclosed amount of Chicago grant money to push the city’s transit agenda), your BRT proposal would remove 2 out of 4 lanes for car traffic (turning one of Chicago’s three vital north-south arterial streets into an all day parking lot for Chicago commuters). And for an extra commuting challenge, the current local No. 9 Ashland bus service will be running in the same lane as all other traffic, causing a conga line of vehicles to stop every 2 blocks.
Not only would Ashland Avenue be in perpetual gridlock (along with all the other parallel streets, which are already clogged at rush hour, as drivers seek alternate routes). The Ashland BRT project would have the added benefit of prohibiting left turns (forcing both cars and trucks to go four blocks out of their way, burning extra gas and creating more chances for vehicle versus pedestrian/bike accidents on narrow side streets). As if that wasn’t too much to hope for, the BRT line would also create a barrier at many intersections, preventing vehicle traffic, and forcing cars to go even further out of their way to access local businesses (and forcing local residents to take a circuitous route when coming and going from their own homes). We, the motoring public, can hardly wait for the fun to begin. Of course, we are confident that you have given the Ashland BRT the same kind of crackerjack, detail-oriented planning you put into the Loop BRT lines.
We are also in your debt for your innovative road diet projects (such as the one on Lawrence Avenue), that are turning vital traffic arteries into all day traffic jams. Especially as a single line of cars must wait behind the local Lawrence Avenue No. 81 bus, as it stops every 2 blocks. Well maybe all that traffic won’t be a problem, once the motorist customers who used to patronize businesses along Lawrence Avenue start avoiding it like the plague, rather than wasting their time sitting in traffic. Not to mention the fact that the City’s own Lawrence Avenue average traffic counts (“ATC”) in that area exceed the 20,000 vehicle per day threshold, which the Federal Highway Administration says is the maximum ATC to allow a road diet (without creating unacceptable traffic congestion).
This letter wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t thank you for the poorly designed bike lanes that create traffic gridlock (along with commuter confusion), by eliminating crucial vehicle commuting lanes along Kinzie, Dearborn, and other streets. Of course, none of this could have happened without your previous experience in D.C., where your Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes were an unmitigated fiasco.
Ironically, your bike lane crown jewel, the Dearborn bike lanes, seems to have actually discouraged bike use. According to a recent Streetsblog article, theDearborn bike lanes are only used by 195 bikers during the 8-10 am rush hour (98 bikers an hour), and this number was a decrease by half from the same measurement taken just three months earlier. And in return for this benefit to dozens of cyclists, thousands of motorist commuters have been forced to either sit in traffic on Dearborn Street, or find another way in and out of the Loop at rush hour.
Last, but not least, you are also owed a big kiss on the lips from the business owners on Dearborn Street (such as Trattoria No. 10, Petterino’s and the Goodman Theatre). Just ask them how they feel about: (a) the rush hour traffic nightmare; (b) the loss of street parking; and (c) the fact that patrons have to play “Dodge-’Em” with bikers, as they are forced to cross an active bike lane when exiting a vehicle and making their way to the front door of these businesses.
THE DIVVY BIKE CONTRACT
For pure entertainment value, we tip our hats to you, for the ethical stench created by the City awarding its bike rental vendor contract to Alta Bike Share. We especially found it fascinating that: (a) you collected a $10,000 consulting fee from Alta, shortly before your appointment by Mayor Emanuel as Transportation Commissioner; and (b) the City rejected the other major bidder, Bike Chicago, despite its lower bid. For an administration that set for itself a goal of government transparency, this twisted tale was about as clear as the swamp on which Chicago once sat 300 years ago. To top it all off, the Divvy bike contract itself stands to be a money-losing proposition for Chicago taxpayers.
VANISHING STREET PARKING
Along with your other daring assaults on the scourge of automobiles, Chicago drivers (as well as struggling small businesses) are finding that scarce metered and non-metered parking spots are vanishing, in favor of: (a) Divvy Bike racks; and (b)“people spots” or “parklets,” both of which could easily be located on the sidewalk or elsewhere off the street.
As for the Divvy bike racks, locating them on the street gives bike renters the thrill of backing an awkward, unwieldy 75-pound bike into an active traffic lane. Now that bike rental companies in Chicago can be sued, for accidents that weren?t even their fault, the Divvy folks might want to reconsider this idea.
As for “people spots” or “parklets,” not only do they take up scarce parking in dense commercial areas that support local business. These so-called street amenities have previously given other cities like San Francisco the added benefits of: (a) a gathering place for the homeless; (b) a city subsidized outdoor ashtray; (c) a readymade kiosk for street side drug sales; (d) excess noise; (e) excess trash; (f) a target for vandalism; and (g) a traffic hazard waiting to happen.
Of course, since money is no object for a city with enormous annual budget deficits, you were absolutely correct to ignore the naughty naysayers who complained that: (a) Chicago will have to compensate Chicago Parking Meters for all those parking spaces taken over by the new parklets; and (b) Chicago shouldn’t be subsidizing a parklet, giving free/unlicensed outdoor seating for restaurants, when actual city neighborhood parks are left to rot.
THE MASTER PLAN
As if to put a cap on all your stunning achievements, in September of last year, you released your master plan for ridding Chicago of its car infestation. The highlights of that forward thinking plan included: (a) imposing a 20 mile per hour speed limit on nearly all neighborhood streets; (b) intentionally decreasing the amount of road available for vehicle traffic; (c) traffic chicanes and bumpouts, which turn straight driving lanes into zig-zag obstacle courses (what fun for drivers in rainy and snowy weather); and (d) ramping up automated traffic enforcement with red light and speed cameras.
After reading this glittering manifesto, the motorists of Chicago knew exactly how much Gabe Klein was looking out for their interests. Now that we understand the kind of dictatorial power grab you were planning, we can understand why your former boss, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, encouraged you to explore other career options.
In conclusion, Gabe, the motorists of Chicago thank you from the bottom of their heart, for all the little things you have done for the four wheeled users of Chicago streets. And much like a lingering cold sore, we will truly miss you when you are gone.
Love and Kisses,
THE MOTORISTS OF CHICAGO
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Moe Torrist is a lifelong car aficionado, having been conceived in the back of a VW Minibus, during the Woodstock Music Festival. Moe has lived in Chicago for the last 20 years, making an exhaustive study of aberrant motorist behaviors. His major scholarly works include “Nose Picking In Traffic — An In Depth Investigation” and “Sex On The Expressway — An Exploration of Auto-Erotic Behavior.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Expired Meter accepts guest opinion submissions on the subject of motor vehicle transportation from any and all points of view. Have an interesting and intelligent point of view on driving in Chicago or motor transportation in general? E-mail The Expired Meter at: info (at) theexpiredmeter.com.
Evidently there is in fact an active opposition to the Messianic Mania of the Urban Cycling Movement. Take a look at this article and let the fun begin! This might just be the antidote to the Leftist drivel swilled inside the Bluer-than-Blue Bubble that floats lazily over Chicago.