Occupy Chicago’s nickname for Chicago’s infamous Mayor Rahm Emanuel, “Mayor 1%,” is looking more accurate than ever—but for reasons that do not fit the self-proclaimed “99 percent’s” typical narrative. More likely, Emanuel’s plan to spend millions on the 1% percent will receive applause from the Occupy crowd, good “environmentalists” that they are.
This $91 million expenditure will go towards bringing roughly 650 miles of new protected bike lanes to the city of Chicago over the next eight years. This, Mayor Emanuel says, will add more “transportation choices” and help the city recruit start-up companies.
Ironically, while safety is another stated reason for the new bike lanes, the project actually forces opposing lanes of motor vehicle traffic much closer together. The bike lanes, which are normally only painted lanes that run with motor vehicle traffic, will now run along the sidewalk, with permanently installed pillions that protect them from parked cars. This, in turn, also moves parking lanes closer to moving traffic, as the overall lane space is much tighter, with approximately seven feet of road space removed on each side of the street for the bi-directional bike lanes.
Currently, just 1.3 percent of Chicagoans commute by bicycle, a number that, according to the city’s “Chicago Forward: CDOT Action Agenda,” needs to be much higher.
Just over 1% of Chicago commuters choose to travel by bicycle. While this number has almost doubled each of the last two decades, it’s still less than the enviable 6% rate in Portland, Oregon or the 4.5% achieved in chilly Minneapolis. Even in the central portion of the city, only 2% of all trips (errands, lunch, and commute) are by bicycle. We can do better — much better.
Continuing to invest in the right infrastructure and safety enhancements will keep increasing the number of Chicagoans who choose active transportation and, by extension, contribute to a healthier, happier, and more productive populace and city.
The bike plan is just part of a massive infrastructure initiative for Chicago that ranges from rebuilding water systems to roads that will cost the city billions upon billions of dollars. The plan’s funding mechanism, a “public-private infrastructure trust,” has been highly criticized both over transparency concerns and how private interests will affect the project.
Emanuel defended his plan and public-private funding mechanism to Bloomberg Businessweek in an interview published last week, claiming, “It will fully comply with all the laws that are on the books. It’ll be totally transparent. Every reform, every change, every amendment I adopted, all dealt with governance. I understand people’s concerns based on past actions that they all participated in…. We’re the only economy that still does its infrastructure on a socialist model, state-owned….do you know there are 147 different projects that are all public-private in Canada, just north of us? It’s a tool. It’s not an end.”
The city still faces a $650 billion budget shortfall, along with a public pension crisis and looming teachers strike. Chicago is now leading the country as a “world class city,” on pace to hit 500 murders this year, but due to lack of funding, there is a police shortage and the city is now being patrolled by the Nation of Islam.
Despite this, the Chicago media began pumping out propaganda to support the Mayor’s plan, touting the mayor’s ambition to become the country’s “bike-friendliest city” and focusing its coverage on bike and pedestrian safety and more “travel choices.”
Even CBS 2 Chicago’s traffic reporter Kris Habermehl chimed in during his report on the newly announced 33 miles of lanes to be completed this year (along with one that will have its own bicycle traffic signals). According to Habermehl, “each mile will cost about $140,000, but if it keeps the bicycles separate from the cars and bicycles a good and viable way to come into the city of Chicago, why not?”
So, will Occupy Chicago and the rest of today’s outspoken “champions against corporate and government collusion,” on the institutional left, speak out about this kind of government and corporate partnership?
Something in my gut tells me no, probably not. If Mayor 1 Percent’s spending helps a different 1 percent, the 1 percent of Chicagoans who ride their bikes to work, at a cost of $7.3 billion in overall infrastructure spending in the next couple years alone, $91 million on bike lanes should be plenty to keep them quiet.