The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Readings between meetings

On my list today:

Back to meetings...

Congestion pricing may finally come to New York

And not a day too soon:

Leaders in the New York state Senate and Assembly are expected to approve charging fees on vehicles entering the most trafficked parts of Manhattan, the New York Times reported on Monday. If the measure in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget gets the green light by the April 1 deadline, New York City would be the first place in the United States to adopt the policy known as congestion pricing.

It’s been a long time coming. Thanks to low gas prices, a growing populous, and the meteoric rise of ride-hailing converging with a decaying subway, traffic is noticeably worse in midtown Manhattan than even a few years ago. As of last year, average car speeds fell to 4.7 mph, not much faster than walking. It’s been estimated that such slow-downs cost the metro-area economy some $20 billion a year, and they result in rising vehicle emissions.

Meanwhile, the subway’s on-time performance is still 13 percent worse than it was in 2012, thanks to a host of maintenance delays and sorely needed upgrades that will take billions of dollars and years to resolve.

Enter congestion pricing, the policy prescription beloved by every transportation wonk. Early adopters such as London, Stockholm, and Singapore have proven that pricing packed roads is a viable way to cut down driver demand—perhaps the only way, since widening roads usually induces more of it. Traffic in London’s city center fell 39 percent between 2002 and 2014 after it cordoned off a fee zone. It has since seen a rise in congestion, pushing leaders to adopt an "ultra low emissions zone" that charges all combustion-engine vehicles an additional £12.50 to enter.

It works well in London, as far as I can tell; though the Tube has more passengers, it's also running better than it used to, and there are fewer cars on the road. I hope New York gets this soon.

Short distance office move

My team have moved to a new space we've leased on a different floor of Chicago's Aon Center. This morning, this was my view:

And now, one floor lower and facing the opposite direction, this is my view:

I actually prefer the south view, but only marginally. In fact, I'll probably keep taking photos of the south view. But neither view sucks.

Duke killed public transit?

CityLab reports that my alma mater has doomed the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit project in North Carolina:

DOLRT has consumed more than $130 million in public money. In 2011 and 2012, voters in Durham and Orange counties approved half-cent sales taxes to fund transportation improvements, including the light rail, to better connect major employers like UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke University, N.C. Central University, a VA hospital, and businesses in bustling downtown Durham. Construction of the estimated $2.7 billion project was to start next year; an application to the Federal Transit Administration was due this spring for federal funding of $1.25 billion. The state agreed to contribute $190 million.

But all this came to a screeching halt on February 27, when Duke University officials said they would not sign a cooperative agreement. (The project required 11 partners to ink cooperative agreements; only Duke, Norfolk Southern, and the North Carolina Railroad Company, which manages a major rail corridor, remain unsigned.) A week later, Duke declined a request to participate in a mediated negotiation with GoTriangle, the region’s transportation authority.

What happened?

In a letter to GoTriangle, Duke President Vincent Price and other officials cited issues with the light rail’s alignment along Erwin Road in Durham, which runs next to the university’s sprawling medical complex. Price expressed concerns that magnetic interference could hurt high-tech diagnostic and research equipment. Other issues included construction disruption that could affect a utility line, and vibrations from digging and placing the supports for an elevated track, and legal liability. In declining further talks, the Duke leaders said that the project’s route “poses significant and unacceptable risks to the safety of the nearly 1.5 million patients who receive care at our hospital and clinics each year, and the future viability of health care and research at Duke.”

That seems...unlikely. So what is Duke really complaining about? It's unclear. But that they brought this point up now and not in 2016 or even earlier seems intentional. And that's really crappy.

Weekend reading list

Just a few things I'm reading that you also might want to read:

And finally, it's getting close to April and the Blogging A-to-Z Challenge. Stay tuned.

The last moments of winter

Today actually had a lot of news, not all of which I've read yet:

And now, good night to February.

Boring Chicago politics

Tomorrow is Chicago's mayoral election (with an expected run-off on April 2nd), which is only one of the problems facing Elon Musk's proposal to build a high-speed rail line from O'Hare to the Loop:

The so-called O’Hare Express project sounded like the stuff of science fiction and for [36th Ward Alderman Gilbert] Villegas, it still is. The former Marine and Gulf War veteran’s inaugural trip on a retrofitted Tesla Model X in a mile-long tunnel in Southern California topped out at 40 mph and was bumpy going. He described the ride as uneven, like the feeling of driving a car on an unpaved road. “It wasn’t as smooth as I thought it would be,” Villegas told The Verge. “It certainly felt too experimental for someone to invest a billion dollars in.”

In June, Musk said that one of the reasons he chose Chicago to host the first “publicly useful” Boring Company venture was that “the number of approving authorities is small.”

He had reason to believe that he had automatic approval from one of those authorities — the Chicago City Council. Musk’s bromance with [Chicago Mayor Rahm] Emanuel is strong. During their joint press conference in Chicago last June, the mayor praised Musk as “one of the great visionaries of our time” and jokingly asked for Boring Company stock.

Emanuel’s decision not to seek re-election (he’s abdicating power to write a book about why mayors rule the world) is disastrous for Musk’s O’Hare Express.

It’s possible that Musk could successfully sell his futuristic tunnel to the 14 mayoral candidates lined up to succeed Emanuel in May, but that prospect looks equally bleak. When asked to their opinion on O’Hare Express, the response from Chicago’s mayors-to-be has ranged from neutrality to open contempt.

“It’s going to die on its own. This thing is goofy,” said former Chicago Public Schools chairman Gery Chico during a candidate forum earlier this month according to the Chicago Tribune. Paul Vallas, another mayoral hopeful, had harsher words: “I’d kill it,” said Vallas according to the Tribune. “I can’t wait to kill it.”

Well, that's all pretty unfortunate. I would love to see high-speed rail from O'Hare, but I also know how this city works. We'll get it someday. Just not in the 2020s.

Stuff that piled up this week

I've had a lot going on this week, including seeing an excellent production of Elektra at Lyric Opera of Chicago last night, so I haven't had time to read all of these articles:

And I shall begin reading these...soon. Maybe tomorrow. Sigh.

Difficult vote ahead

Chicago's mayoral primary takes place Tuesday with 256 12 people on the ballot. That means the election will likely determine only the two people who will stand in the runoff election in April.

Many local news organizations have round-ups of the candidates' policy provisions, and interactive tools to help voters figure out who mirrors their own policies most closely. I've gone through Chicago Public Media's guide twice, the second time choosing "No answer" for items that matter less to me than other matters.

My results? Even though the thought of a third Mayor Daley makes me want to move to Saskatchewan, it turns out I don't have to hold my nose and vote for Bill Daley: he's almost at the bottom of my list, with 37% matching policies, ahead of only attorney Jerry Joyce who has no chance anyway.

My top three, to my surprise, are Amara Enyia, Lori Lightfoot, with 69% and 67% matching policies respectively, and a tie between Bob Fioretti and Garry McCarthy at 63%. Enyia and Fioretti will be lucky to clear 10% of the vote, let alone the 50% required to avoid a runoff, so I'm not really considering them. Lightfoot and McCarthy both have fighting chances.

Of the questions that really matter to me, Enyia and Fioretti get one (in favor of city income tax), everyone but Daley, Paul Vallas, and Joyce support an elected school board, and everyone except Daley, Joyce, LaShawn Ford, Toni Preckwinkle, and Willie Wilson support ending "aldermanic perogative."

Lower priorities of mine include raising ride-share fees to benefit the Chicago Transit Authority (Lightfoot and McCarthy say yes, Enyia says no); hiring social workers to assist police in mental-health calls (everyone says yes except Daley and Joyce); and opposing a city-run casino (Enyia agrees with me; Lightfoot doesn't).

So the front-runner for my vote right now is Lori Lightfoot, in part because I believe either Daley or Preckwinkle will also be in the runoff, and Lightfoot has a chance. That said, I would bet a dollar that the April 3rd runoff will be between Daley and Preckwinkle, because they both have huge machines backing them. And this is Chicago.

And all this is just a smaller version of what will happen a year from now when my party starts voting for its nominee to run against the president 619 days from now.

Whither Chicago's middle class?

The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) has published a study of Chicago income by census tract, and has found a disturbing trend:

Chicago’s middle class, once the backbone of the city, is declining so swiftly that it’s almost gone, and a set of maps from a local university lays that reality bare.

The dynamic stands to affect nearly everything about Chicago going forward, from politics to schools to who will live here.

“It raises a lot of questions as to what kind of city it will be,” said Janet Smith, co-director of the Nathalie P. Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement at the University of Illinois at Chicago, which compiled the maps that document Chicago’s shrinking middle class — and an increasingly polarized city — over the past five decades.

UIC’s maps show that fully half of the city was middle income in 1970, including large swaths on every side of town. Today, just 16 percent of the city’s 797 census tracts are considered middle income. Those middle income areas are confined mostly to the corners of the city, and to thin strips between areas of wealth and poverty.

Lutton goes on to examine the economic, cultural, and other trends that are driving this change.