New Chicago plan aims for zero traffic deaths in ten years

By Robbie Webber

The city of Chicago is going for zero in 2022. In an ambitious transportation plan released last month, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and DOT Commissioner Gabe Klein lay out their vision of no traffic fatalities within ten years, down from the current average of 50. It’s a bold goal, and even if they only achieve a 50 percent reduction, it would be a significant accomplishment.

The plans other safety goals are equally far-reaching, including a 50 percent reduction in bicycle and pedestrian injuries within five years, a ten percent per year reduction in roadway crashes and injuries, and a five percent per year increase in adults receiving safety education.

And while the safety goals have received most of the press, and constitute the first chapter in the plan, the performance measures for sustainability, transportation choice, customer service, and economic development, if achieved, would be the pride of any city.

The plan lays out a multi-pronged approach, including education, enforcement, engineering, crash evaluation, and both carrots and sticks to encourage desired behavior. It also aims to shift an ever increasing percent of trips out of the automobile and onto bikes, feet, and transit. Signaling his desire to shift the focus of transportation planning and policy, Emanuel stated, ”Where we once built expressways that divided our communities, we are now reconnecting neighborhoods with new bus lanes and extensive and expanding bicycle facilities that offer safe, green, and fit ways to travel for all ages.”

While acknowledging that maintaining a transportation system as massive as Chicago’s is complicated and daunting, the introduction to the plan also recognizes that transportation represents the second largest expense of most households, and in some cases impacts spending on other necessities like clothes, food, and medical care. Although tied as the most congested city in the country, there is little mention of trying to ameliorate that issue, perhaps in recognition that congestion is the default condition of a vibrant urban area. Instead the plan promises a fix-it-first approach to infrastructure, tackling deferred maintenance on streets and upgrading transit stations that in some cases have not been renovated since being built 50 years ago. Improved customer service to fix problems, increasing the predictability of the existing system, maximizing safety for all modes of travel, and providing more alternatives to driving are some of the elements the plan lays out as its vision.

Robbie Webber is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI.