Advocates urge planning agency to empower cyclists, pedestrians with its priority projects

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning's current list of priority projects focuses on improving roads and highways to the detriment of cyclists and pedestrians, an advocacy group says.

The agency's board on Wednesday will vote on an update of its 2050 plan, a move that also affects the eligibility of transportation projects for much-needed federal funding.

Leaders with the Active Transportation Alliance warn that the document ignores traffic safety and environmental consequences.

"We're concerned by expanding these roads and not shifting regional focus toward more sustainable, safer modes of travel like transit, walking and biking - we're going to see an increase in fatalities and crashes," ATA Director of Planning David Powe said Tuesday.

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning is required to update its 30-year plan every four years, agency Executive Director Erin Aleman said. Wednesday's meeting reflects tweaks to CMAP's ON TO 2050 program necessitated by changes related to employment and population, among other issues.

The agency is "very concerned about safety," Aleman noted. "We have seen increased crashes and fatalities and serious injuries across the region. Some of it is due to reckless driving and changes in travel patterns that we've seen over the course of the pandemic.

"We've been working with our communities to think about and activate local safety plans to help mitigate the worst impacts of this."

Meanwhile, Powe noted the U.S. "is in a climate crisis. We've seen an increase in emissions from transportation at the regional level. We should be shifting people into cleaner, more sustainable forms of transportation not into automobiles."

Aleman said that "over 90% of the funds anticipated between now and 2050 are spent on improving, maintenance and modernization of the existing system as opposed to expansion."

Priority projects include a mix of road and transit plans. For example, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning lists the Chicago Transit Authority's Red Line extension south from 95th to 130th streets as a crucial upgrade.

Another is reconstruction of I-290 in west Cook County that includes upgrades to the CTA's Blue Line and the expressway.

"The reason we've inserted ourselves into this process and made as much noise as we have is because we see this plan as destructive and unnecessary, aspects of it at least," Powe explained

The ATA's intent is to alert authorities ahead of the next major region plan about "how important it is to hundreds of people in Chicagoland that we stop expanding roadways, and we start investing more in transit, cycling infrastructure and pedestrian access as well," he said.

Suburban projects prioritized by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning include improvements to Route 60 in Lake County, Route 47 in McHenry County and Route 83 in DuPage and Lake counties.

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