A transportation task force commissioned by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel put forth a report with more than 50 recommendations to improve city mobility, including launching an e-scooter pilot and an autonomous vehicle (AV) pilot, establishing a governance framework for data sharing and improving the availability and use of micromobility services.
- The report outlines innovative strategies to support a modern, multi-modal transportation system that integrates new mobility services and technologies. The 20-person task force came to its conclusions by speaking with stakeholders and examining challenges to Chicago's existing transportation network, including accessibility, congestion from ride-hailing services and a lack of funding to improve infrastructure.
- The mobility goals in the report also put a focus on environmental health and sustainability. Key actions include requiring the city to be a leader in its use of electric vehicles (EVs) by supporting a transit authority transition to 100% electric buses by 2040, testing EV charging infrastructure throughout the city and investing in a municipal EV fleet.
This report provides a hefty set of recommendations that would be challenging for Chicago to take on all at once. However, there is some low-hanging fruit the city could tackle in the short term while planning for some of the longer term goals. For example, the city could appoint a Chief Mobility Officer, develop guidelines for pilot programs for new mobility methods such as scooters and advocate for an increase to Illinois' statewide gas tax.
Recommendations that could take some longer-term work include an AV pilot, modifying municipal code to allow additional micro-mobility devices — pedal-assist bikes, scooters and electric scooters — to be used in bike lanes, installing more smart traffic signals and other smart systems to better manage traffic and curbside congestion and pursuing legislation to allow the city and transit agency to enforce bus lane traffic and parking infractions with cameras.
The city already is on its way toward implementing some of the recommendations, such as further bike-share investments. Just last week, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Department of Transportation proposed an amendment to the city's contract with Motivate — now owned by Lyft — to expand the Divvy bike-share system. Lyft's $50 million investment will expand bike-share service to all parts of the city and more than double the existing fleet by adding more than 10,000 new bikes, all of which will be pedal assist.
Last year alone the city also promised $5 million in upgrades to popular bus corridors, launched a $33 million transit safety improvement initiative, announced a $2.3 billion extension of Chicago's most-used train line and advanced strategies to expand EV use in the region. These and other efforts to beef up the mass transit network in recent years even earned accolades from The New York Times in an article explaining how Chicago has become an example for other major U.S. cities in revitalizing its transit system.
Chicago thus far has not allowed dockless bikes or scooters on its streets, barring a six-month dockless bike-share pilot last year. The report indicates what might have caused some of the holdback: existing regulations that prevent such vehicles from legally operating in the city. The report suggests it's time for the city to move forward into that mobility space after thoughtfully changing municipal code and drawing up appropriate mobility governance.
The report also addresses the common municipal and citizen complaint of dockless vehicle clutter by noting mobility innovations should be adopted, but they must not block the public right-of-way. That provision ensures citizens' safety and accessibility, especially for people with disabilities who use assistive devices. In addition, the report suggests improving safety, accessibility and equity with a pilot to test ways to improve curb access for wheelchair-accessible vehicles, as well as a study on paratransit service innovations.