by Mick Dumke
As if your last experience on the road--any road--in Chicago weren't convincing enough, the numbers [pdf] prove it: traffic around here sucks. Rush-hour drivers in the Chicago area spend an average of 46 hours a year--that's on top of normal traffic times--sitting in congestion. Three of every five miles of local roads are congested, and the total length of rush hour--morning or evening--has grown over the last decade from seven to eight hours a day. Traffic delays result in our cars burning an extra 142,000 gallons of gas a year--and cost us millions of dollars in wasted fuel, time, and business. The Chicago area's congestion is among the fastest-growing in the country.
In other words, it's a good thing the feds are chipping in more than $153 million to help ease traffic congestion here, on ideas ranging from the seemingly obvious, such as improving the efficiency of CTA bus routes, to the kinda innovative, like creating incentives to keep vehicles out of the Loop.
Mayor Daley appeared with federal officials Tuesday to discuss some of the plans, which is itself probably a good thing. The last time someone brought up the possibility of trying to reduce traffic downtown--before federal dollars were offered as collateral--he dismissed the idea.
Last year, 14th Ward alderman Ed Burke proposed City Council hearings on the possibility of imposing a London-style surcharge "in a bid to ease downtown traffic congestion, reduce air pollution, and bolster funding for the city’s beleaguered transit system." Daley's response? He said he had an "open mind," then added, "Let's not rush to that and scare everybody off. We're trying to keep businesses here."
Business leaders also pooh-poohed the idea and it died a quick death.
On Tuesday, though, the mayor was talking about raising the rates for downtown parking meters and public garages. Essentially, this revisits the idea of a congestion toll--though it technically penalizes people for stopping and parking.
It's probably not going to be any more popular with the business community than Burke's call for hearings. "We've expressed concern about previous congestion proposals because of their impact on both businesses and their employees," says Justin DeJong, a spokesman for the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. "We'll be looking at this more closely in the coming weeks."
But if Daley wants it now (and why wouldn't he?--the city's not paying and it could make the place more attractive to an international Olympics committee), they're going to have to compromise and live with it.