Sustainable Chicago Spring 2011 : Page 23
SUSTAINABLE CHICAGO Spring 2011 The National Resource De-fense Council (NRDC) recently released the findings from its Smarter Cities project, a transportation study identify-ing fifteen metropolitan re-gions with the nation's leading transportation policies and practices. The study, created in collaboration with the Cen-ter for Neighborhood Technol-ogy (CNT), rated U.S. regions based on public transit avail-ability, use and cost, as well as other factors such as automo-bile use and innovative, sus-tainable transportation programs. The fifteen metro regions identified as "Smarter Cities" for transportation include seven large regions (populations greater than 1 million people): Boston, Chica-go, Philadelphia, Portland, OR, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.; four medi-um-size regions (between 250,000 and 1 million people): Boulder, Honolulu, Jersey City and New Haven, CT; and four small regions (less than 250,000 people): Bremerton, WA, downstate Champaign-Urbana, Lincoln, NE and Yolo, CA. "Innovative transit policies not only benefit the environ-ment, but they also add rich-ness to urban life by making city attractions and neighbor-hoods more accessible," said Paul McRandle, the project's Senior Editor. "By enhancing regional transportation programs, we can improve our quality of life, boost our local economies, re-duce air pollution and even benefit public health by mak-ing biking and walking safer and more enjoyable for com-muters." The transportation study is the second to be re-leased by NRDC's Smarter Cit-ies project, which aims to recognize and profile what leading metropolitan regions are doing to make themselves more efficient, sustainable and livable. The study noted that Chi-cago is not only home to one of the oldest and largest regional public transportation systems in the country, the Second City has long been a nation-wide transportation hub. Two million bus and rail riders course through the system each day, along with the over two billion tons of freight every year. Helping Chicago to earn a place among the top fifteen smart cities was GO TO 2040, the regional plan designed by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) to guide the area toward afford-able and innovative ways to manage increased demands on transportation and freight. The digital revolution has supplied bus riders with a powerful tool to take advan-tage of Chicago's public trans-portation. The Chicago Transit Authority's (CTA) bus tracker phone app and text service informs riders of where in the system their next bus is. The CTA has also created a frame-work whereby business own-ers can develop their own applications to display the in-formation in their restaurant, store or other location. The biggest hurdle for elec-tric vehicle market growth is 23 infrastructure. A $1.9 million Recovery Act grant is the basis for Chicago to be electric vehicle–ready by next year, with 280 electric vehicle charging stations throughout the city and its surrounding suburbs. The stations will be installed in downtown parking garages, at O'Hare and Mid-way airports, retail store park-ing lots and tollway plazas. Among the first of the new stations' users will be the City of Chicago, which will power a fleet of garbage and recycling trucks that soon will be com-ing online. The city has also desig-nated nearly forty charging stations for I-GO car sharing that will add solar canopies to its stations. I-GO, the Chicago nonprofit and brainchild of CNT, views itself as an exten-sion of the public transit sys-tem; this became manifest when the car-sharing service offered a seamless integration with the region's public trans-portation system through a CTA/I-Go smart card. One novel approach has been to train taxi drivers in the tactics of "hyper-miling," a set of driving techniques and maintenance standards de-signed to increase gas mileage. As of December 2010, all newly licensed taxi drivers are required to receive training in tactics such as stopping and starting slowly, unloading un-necessary cargo before driving and regularly checking tire pressure. Six of the country's seven largest railroad carriers have terminals in the Chicago Metro region, bringing nearly 500 freight trains through the re-gion each day. The freight traf-fic creates economic and industrial growth for the region—but also pockets of congestion, bottle-necked traf-fic at rail crossings and in-creased air pollution.