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Could a "Car-Lite" Chicago Be a Model of the Future?

PHOTO: Community members, business leaders and policy experts are examining ways to make Chicago’s transportation infrastructure more sustainable for people, bicycles, buses and cars. Photo credit: morguefile.com
PHOTO: Community members, business leaders and policy experts are examining ways to make Chicago’s transportation infrastructure more sustainable for people, bicycles, buses and cars. Photo credit: morguefile.com
February 17, 2014

CHICAGO - With a growing number of residents not owning automobiles, and the increase in bicycle and transit use, business and policy experts are brainstorming ways to make Chicago a "car lite" city. According to Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, there will always be vehicles on the road, but it's time to rethink the way cities can be designed to better serve cars, buses, bicycles and pedestrians.

"We're at the beginning of a time of very significant change and opportunities to do things better and different, improve people's mobility with less pollution, and make the way we get around in Chicago's economy work better," he declared.

At an event last week, community members and business and policy leaders shared ideas and visions on how to improve the safety and effectiveness of the city's transportation infrastructure. An estimated 28 percent of Chicago residents do not own cars.

Learner said some suggestions to improve transportation patterns include additional bike lanes and better car-sharing programs. He added that another idea is to dedicate individual streets coming into the city specifically for cars, public transit, or bicycles and pedestrians.

"The street with cars isn't having bikes interfering, bikes aren't dodging cars, and the buses have more room to move faster to move more people around in our city," he said of such a plan. "That's the sort of creative ideas we're looking at."

Learner said transit is a viable alternative to driving, and the Chicago Transit Authority is looking to modernize the system.

"People at the CTA are working hard, but frankly we're dealing with a very old system that needs capital improvements," he cautioned. "But we can't have a green city unless we have a very green and effective public transit system."

Learner said a better transportation infrastructure could make the city a more attractive place for young people, and that, hopefully, in the future other cities will be able to look to Chicago a model of sustainable urban development.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL