It has been a while since my last post and there has been a lot going on. I’ll be brief but I expect to be writing on the following topics in the next couple of weeks.


You may be wondering what kind of connection beer has to transportation and land use. I’ve been wondering the same thing and I’ll have some information up soon. As an avid home brewer, I am very much interested in the burgeoning craft beer scene in Chicago and I intend on examining why. As in, does urban form have any affect on the location decisions of craft brewery start-ups? Are there any agglomeration effects? Does public transit play a role? We’ll see.

Transport Chicago

I have been involved with the Metropolitan Conference on Public Transportation Research (aka Transport Chicago) for the past four years in various leadership and committee  posts on the steering committee. The conference is tomorrow, so please, sign up if interested. This year, I will be moderating a session on transportation safety in the context of pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicular users. Someone you may know, Steve Vance from Grid Chicago, will be presenting. Post conference, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on my session and the rest of the conference.


I’ve been traveling lately. Last week to Wisconsin. Next week to Florida. I’ve got some ideas on both…to be shared soon!


We’ll see about this one, but I think it’s worth mentioning the effects zoning has on land use and transportation decisions. I’ve been realizing that some of what I have been talking about on the blog may be obscure to some of my readers and some basic definitions are involved. Zoning is a critical planning tool in land use development and this might be a good jumping off point into discussions of broader land use and transportation policy. Look for additional posts on transit-oriented development, public transit and other land use and transportation related policy briefs.

Dumb Deals Follow Up

Source: theexpiredmeter.com

It’s timely, isn’t it? I just wrote about the Chicago parking meter lease and how bad it is for urban policy and next thing I know, the City is getting hit with a $22 million bill to cover a year’s worth of free parking. Even worse, it’s part of a total $50 million the City owes.

So, why the bill? Isn’t Chicago Parking Meters, the company set up to administer the City’s parking meters is surely raking it in, to the tune of $108 million in gross revenues in 2011. It turns out that the City’s parking policies are in conflict with terms of the lease. When the City let’s disabled persons park for free (as is the law in Illinois), when the City closes streets for neighborhood festivals, when the City is reconstructing streets, these are all in violation of the lease terms.

This is a serious problem because it restricts the City’s ability to set parking policy, a fundamental urban planning tool that is now off-limits if it conflicts with the lease. Whereas the general public sees higher parking fees explicitly, it is now becoming clear that neighborhood festivals and construction projects now will cost a lot more money for the taxpayers of Chicago.

Smart Meters and Dumb Deals: What Chicago is missing out on.


Source: Jalopnik.com

Much has been said about the parking meter fiasco and how badly Chicago has been burned. I don’t have any more to add. Rather, I’d like to focus on missed opportunities in parking technology – opportunities at the meter that support urbanism and can generate real revenues for the city. Principally, this opportunity revolves around variable pricing policy.

While cars may be a part of urban life, free (or under-priced) parking does not have to be. Donald Shoup, author of the preeminent manual on the topic, The High Cost of Free Parking, states that planners tend to tackle street parking problems by increasing off-street parking requirements. “Rather than charge the right price for on-street parking, cities attempt to require the right quantity of off-street parking,” according to Shoup.

Chicago’s parking meter rates before the lease were low in many areas (they still are likely too low in some places). They were low because cruising and overcrowding of parking were the staples of urban life, particularly in many of the lakefront neighborhoods and downtown. Conversely, we know that if parking were priced too high, vacancies would be an issue. This is simple economics, the supply and demand curve (see below).

The Market Price of Curb Parking. Source: Shoup, VTPI

True market priced parking allow for free parking until an occupancy reaches 85%. This is due to the marginal costs of adding parking is zero, Yet, when demand (occupancy) increases, the marginal cost of adding additional parking increases. Because on-street parking capacity is fixed, costs must rise to meet demand. Thus parking costs should rise. This is what is called variable parking.

A smart parking meter, such as what has been installed in San Francisco, for example, can manage the availability of on-street parking by utilizing smart meters that can adjust prices dynamically, based on demand.

This technology is enabling not just better revolution of parking, but management of parking as well.

The problem with Chicago’s parking meter lease is not just that Chicago no longer controls parking, an important revenue generator in its own right, it is that the City gave up the right to control planning policy on some of the most vibrant land it owns – the streets. The City gave up the right to manage its on-street parking, to further planning goals and livability projects that create complete streets. Such projects might be pop-up cafes, bike lanes, street parades and festivals, all of which can reduce parking supply. And all of which are penalized under the terms of the parking lease.

Pop-up cafe in Manhattan. Source: ecosalon.com

The shame is that at the moment when parking meter technology  is revolutionizing the way cities manage parking, Chicago has turned over almost significant control over to a private company. The shame is that transportation planning is moving towards complete streets policies and Chicago finds itself without the flexibility needed to make its streets more livable and more complete.




My Seven Transportation Conference Questions – Answered!

Capitol Hill

Capitol Hill (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Almost 2 weeks ago I responded to a Streetsblog article that had a list of seven questions to ask as the transportation bill conference committee that was underway. I was unhappy with the questions in the article and felt that they were more beltway politics than transportation policy questions. Tanya Snyder, Streetsblog’s Capitol Hill editor, was kind enough to respond to my post, and she addressed  in detail all of my questions. I appreciate the in-depth response and  urge you to check out the post.






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CDOT Plan: Reaction

The Chicago Department of Transportation just released its Chicago Forward Action Agenda, which is the department’s strategic plan. You can read a good summary of it over at Grid Chicago and the full plan is available here. The plan has six elements. Here is my immediate reaction to the plan.


  • Eliminate all pedestrian, bicycle and overall traffic fatalities within 10 years.

I agree that traffic fatalities can be reduced and/or prevent through structural and design changes, but I think only to a point. We can’t control driver behavior. While this is a laudable goal, I don’t see funding to implement the changes that CDOT’s studies may suggest. Definitely not over 10 years. I do, however, appreciate additional study that could lead to small, but immediate safety improvements, particularly for bicyclists and pedestrians.

  • Reduce pedestrian and bicycle crash injuries, each by 50% within 5 years.

Another laudable goal, but what I’d like to have seen in the actions list is (and perhaps this falls under the Complete Streets policy) a re-engineering of the roads to slow down traffic. This could be accomplished through technology like speed cameras, but also through road diets and lane width shrinkage.

Rebuild and Renew

One area that is missing, and kudos for Grid Chicago for asking Gabe Klein about this, is partnerships with the other transit agencies besides CTA. And while I accept that CTA and CDOT have close working relationships for historic, political and practical reasons, the CTA is not the only mode of public transportation in the city. I’d love to see the city partner to improve commuter rail stations, both downtown and in the neighborhoods in as meaningful a partnership as the City has with CTA.

Choices for Chicago

I cannot emphasize enough how happy I am to read that the car “should be a choice, not a requirement.” This is true multimodal thinking! Let’s hope that the plan does not do anything to make it easier to drive in Chicago. It is already easy enough. While not the purview of CDOT’s silo, I would have loved to see an action item stating that CDOT would work with the Department of Housing and Economic Development  on land use and zoning issues that would support transit and bike/pedestrian modes better.


The environmental value of a tree. Source: CDOT

One of the coolest things that I’ve seen around downtown, highlighted in this plan, is the GreenStreets campaign, where the trees have “price tags” that illustrate the environmental value of the tree.

Fueling Our Economy

I think the very first performance measure, to increase activity, sales revenue, and occupancy rates in neighborhood commercial districts, is a fantastic example of breaking out of the silo. This is a problem that will have to be addressed city-wide through multiple agencies. Recognizing that streets can “add value”  to the neighborhoods means that you begin looking at streets in “complete” terms, as in how can a street serve multiple modes simultaneously?

This is it, for now. I’m happy to see CDOT embark on a strategic plan with a clear vision for what Chicago should be. I cast a critical planners eye, but I hope to convey that this is, however imperfect, a wonderful product. Now let’s see the implementation plan.