Smart Streets, Complete Streets ordinances pass; Plow the Sidewalks introduced

Today’s City Council meeting was very eventful from a livable streets perspective. The Smart Streets Pilot ordinance to test automated enforcement of bus lanes, bikeways, and loading zones passed. The Complete Streets ordinance to require the Chicago Department of Transportation to include walk/bike/transit upgrades in all roadway projects was approved. The Plow the Sidewalks ordinance for municipal sidewalk snow clearance was introduced. And an ordinance was submitted, with the support of almost all of the 50 alderpersons, that would specify that bike riders as “permitted and intended road users.” Here’s a recap of the legislation.

Bike Jam for a @bikegridnow

— Eric Allix Rogers (@EricAllixRogers) March 15, 2023

Chicago Bike Grid Now! led Bike Bus rides to City Hall this morning, ending with a die-in to call for more protections for cyclists.

Smart Streets Pilot ordinance

This legislation allows for using cameras mounted on city-owned infrastructure, like poles and buses, within the central city to issue tickets by mail to drivers who stand or park in bus lanes, bus stops or bike lanes, as well as to manage parking in loading zones. (The ordinance does not allow for camera enforcement of driving in bus and bike lanes, which would require new state legislation.) It was introduced in January by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and alders Daniel La Spata (1st Ward), Brian Hopkins (2nd), Andre Vasquez (40th), Brendan Reilly (42nd), and Matt Martin (47th.)

“The passage of this ordinance is an exciting step toward a safer and smarter transportation system,” Lightfoot said in a statement. “While we continue to deepen our robust investments in infrastructure improvements, these pilot programs give us another tool in our toolbox to improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as speed up our bus network.”

Now that it has passed, the city will start choosing camera vendors and camera locations. The pilots will run through June 2025 within the area bounded by Lake Michigan, Ashland Avenue, North Avenue, and Roosevelt Road. Read more about the initiative here.

A Loop Link bus lane and shelter today. Photo: John Greenfield

The ordinance passed the in a voice vote, with the only dissenters being alders Pat Dowell (3rd) and David Moore (17th.) At a Pedestrian and Traffic Committee meeting earlier this month, Moore voted to approve the measure after being reassured that the program couldn’t be expanded to his Mid South Side district without another Council vote. But today he told Streetsblog he changed his vote after getting feedback from constituents who drive downtown and don’t want to be ticketed for illegal parking. “You’ve got to get the community involved and have those conversations. I don’t think there was enough opportunity for input from community members from all across the city.”

In contrast, La Spata said he’s very happy the ordinance passed. “Our infrastructure only matters if it’s functional. It doesn’t work if you have so many vehicles that are blocking those lanes.” He disagreed with Moore on the community input issue. “I think we’ve heard from people around the city that they want to be safe, no matter how they’re getting around town. I feel like there was a robust demand from Chicagoans for this kind of action.”

Complete Streets ordinance

The Complete Streets ordinance was sponsored by Martin, whose North Side district saw the tragic crash deaths of toddler Rafi Cardenas, 2, and ward volunteer Peter Paquette, 75, last summer. The legislation, which passed today in an uncontested voice vote, requires CDOT to incorporate sustainable transportation safety improvements into repaving and streetscape projects; mandates that the department to create design guidelines and a toolbox of standard safe streets element; and requires CDOT to regularly report on these developments to the City Council. Read more about it here.

“I’m thrilled about the passage of our Complete Streets Ordinance,” Martin said. “It’s critical that our city make pedestrian, cyclist, and transit rider safety an integral part of routine infrastructure planning. While more changes are needed to protect the most vulnerable users of our streets and fully reach Chicago’s potential as a multimodal city, I’m heartened that this ordinance will set a baseline for safety and provide alderpeople and residents with visibility into CDOT’s progress every year.”

We are so grateful and proud of the work of our local lawmakers, advocates, activists, and supporters who helped pass the Complete Streets Ordinance and the Safe Streets Pilots Ordinance today at Chicago City Council meeting. And one step closer for #PlowTheSidewalks ordinance!

— Active Trans (@activetrans) March 15, 2023

Vasquez seconded that. “I am elated that Ald. Martin was able to move this forward, so that CDOT can prioritize the safety of pedestrians. It’s needed and I look forward to seeing the results.”

Plow the Sidewalks ordinance

The disability rights group Access Living and the transportation advocacy organization Better Streets Chicago, which originally proposed this legislation to pilot a city-run sidewalk clearance program, held a press conference at City Hall this morning before Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) introduced the ordinance at meeting.

We’re so thankful for @gilbert36ward taking leadership and for his support of #PlowTheSidewalks.

Today we were proud to stand alongside him, @AccessLiving, and many of our City Council supporters to announce the introduction of an ordinance for a pilot program!

— Better Streets Chicago (@chi_streets) March 15, 2023

Villegas discusses the Plow the Sidewalks ordinance at todays’s press conference while nine other alders who’ve endorsed the measure stand by.

“Snow and ice-covered sidewalks are the number-one complaint we get from out community in winter,” said Access Living transportation policy analyst Laura Saltzman at the presser. “For wheelchair users, people who are low-vision or blind, and other folks with mobility issues, having consistently clear sidewalks is not just a luxury but a necessity. It is the difference between getting to the doctor, or your job, or just hanging out with friend [or not.]”

“Sidewalks are the cornerstone of our transportation system,” said Better Streets policy lead Michael Podgers at the event. “Whether you walk, roll, bike, drive, or ride transit, you will use a sidewalk at some point in your day. Yet, the city continues to inadequately manage the public way when snow falls and ice builds – something Chicago is no stranger to. The city must take responsibility for keeping [sidewalks] plowed and free of snow and ice in the exact same way the city plows streets for drivers.”

The ordinance was introduced with out further discussion, and assigned to the Pedestrian and Traffic Safety committee.

Intended Road Users ordinance

I’ll confess that this one took me by surprise. After the meeting Vasquez tweeted that he introduced an ordinance to the Committee on Transportation to amend the Chicago municipal code so that it says “bicyclists shall be permitted and intended users of all roadways [emphasis added] in the city, except as otherwise explicitly provided in this code, or by clear, conspicuous signage posted on the public way…” 44 of the 50 City Council members signed on to endorse the measure.

Today, I introduced an ordinance into the #Transportation committee that would formally designate cyclists as intended users of the road! We got 44 Alders signed on! @bikegridnow @activetrans @chi_streets @bikelaneuprise @streetsblogchi

— Ald. Andre Vasquez, Political Account (@Andrefor40th) March 15, 2023

Why is this important? It all goes back to the Illinois Supreme Court’s notorious Boub versus Wayne decision in the wake of a 1992 bike crash. Jon Boub was badly injured when he rode his bike across a wooden bridge across the Du Page River in Wayne Township in rural Du Page County. Earlier in the day a crew had removed asphalt from between the planks, which wouldn’t have been a problem for a car driver, but caused Boub’s front wheel to get stuck, throwing him over the handlebars.

The court ruled that bike riders are “permitted” but not “intended” users of Illinois roads, and so the township wasn’t liable. This decision set a precedent that when Illinois municipalities install bike lanes, they take on additional liability, because otherwise they wouldn’t be responsible if a cyclist crashed there due to unsafe conditions for bikes.

So if Vasquez’s ordinance passes, there would be no disincentive for Chicago to install bikeways on any street, and there’d be an incentive to maintain safe conditions for cyclists on every roadway where biking is allowed. That’s because bike riders would be defined as “intended users” of that street, whether or not it has bike facilities.

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