WBEZ Chicago Public Radio
Sometimes the best solution isn’t the newest one. Walking, biking, and public transportation have been part of the Midwest fabric for generations, but some communities have sacrificed these safe, clean mobility options over the years as cars grew to dominance.
Transportation is the leading cause of climate change in the United States, producing about a third of the nation’s carbon emissions, in addition to other dangerous air and water pollutants. But cars and trucks are not just dangerous in the long-term. Higher speed limits, bigger cars, vanishing bus routes, and nonexistent sidewalks put people directly at risk from collisions and limit options for those who do not or cannot drive. Nationwide, 6,283 pedestrians were killed by cars and trucks in 2018, up 43% from 2008. And as the COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated, walking and biking are critical means of safely moving people.
Fortunately, many cities and towns across the Midwest are rethinking their transportation infrastructure, to protect and support mobility with low pollution. From bike-share programs to bus rapid transit, comprehensive sidewalk networks to scooter pilot programs, smart multimodal transportation can mean a more connected and low-carbon future for the Midwest.
Buses, trains, streetcars, and other kinds of public transportation keep the Midwest moving, providing accessible and efficient transportation with minimal energy and land use. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing economic crisis, public transit systems are hurting for funds, as riders stay home, and local taxes shrink. ELPC worked with partners across the country and gathered public comments from the Midwest to secure emergency funding for public transit from Congress in the CARES Act. While Chicago has the largest system in the region, this funding is also critical to maintain mobility from Des Moines, IA to Cleveland, OH, Duluth, MN to Indianapolis, IN. Now that the infrastructure law and the Inflation Reduction Act have passed, there is new federal funding available to improve multi-modal and public transportation in the Midwest. ELPC is working with our colleagues to identify the best ways to use this federal funding, for regional connectivity, improving accessible mobility, and a more sustainable future for transportation.
Electrifying the entire fleet of CTA’s 1,864 buses will be the equivalent of taking almost 43,000 cars off the road.
Buses and trains are far more environmentally-friendly per person than individual cars, but they are not perfect. ELPC’s air quality monitoring team has recorded high levels of small particle pollution near busy Chicago city bus routes, where diesel engines emit pollution. Electric buses have all the benefits of public transportation, with far less air pollution, so ELPC consistently advocates for funds to electrify city transit fleets buses and school buses, prioritizing communities with high rates of respiratory illness and air pollution.
The COVID bike boom inspired a lot of new people to get out on two wheels, and bikes are growing as a popular tool for sustainable transportation. There are now nineteen major Midwest cities with bikeshare systems, providing millions of car-free trips every year. ELPC advocates for federal and state funding to be used for safe, multimodal infrastructure, including protected bike lanes, traffic calming, and trails. In 2023, we joined a coalition advocating electric bike rebates in Illinois, so our state could join communities like Denver to shift thousands out of their cars. Over half of all car trips in Chicago are under three miles. If more people walked, biked, or took public transit instead of driving, we could reduce traffic, carbon emissions, and other pollutants, and improve public health and safety for all.
This subterranean walkway system stretches for miles under the Chicago Loop, connecting multiple train lines to hundreds of buildings, shops, and homes. It protects pedestrians from inclement weather and traffic, while facilitating transit connections in this busy urban hub. With a patchwork of owners, this system is currently underutilized and undervalued, so ELPC has been working with city agencies and local stakeholders to improve navigation, coordination, and activation. Through public pressure in our communications campaign, we have seen cleanup efforts improve the pedway’s look and feel. Through our partnerships and engagement, we have seen new arts installations and public programming bring people together. We recently secured a grant to improve wayfinding and navigation, and we are continuing to identify further opportunities to revitalize the pedway as an asset to low-carbon transportation.