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Chicago unveils wide-ranging transportation plan

The Chicago Department Transportation's new two-year plan calls faster repair potholes city. File photo.

The Chicago Department of Transportation's new two-year plan calls faster repair of potholes in the city. File photo.

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Updated: June 12, 2012 8:19AM

Within two years, the speed limit on Chicago’s residential streets could be 20 mph, and pedestrians would get an extra three seconds to cross the street before cars try to beat them to it at many intersections.

Those changes are among dozens proposed as part of the Chicago Department of Transportation’s ambitious two-year plan that covers streets, alleys, bridges, rail traffic and even airports.

“We only put things in there that we think are realistic. [There are] some aspirational goals, but we plan on actually doing them,” Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein said. “This document goes from high-level policy shifts down to very specific deliberations and metrics that we commit to hit over the two-year period.”

Safety is the top priority, the department says, and that includes a goal to eliminate all pedestrian, bicycle and overall traffic crash fatalities within 10 years.

“Some people might look at that and say, ‘Is that a realistic goal?’ We spent a lot of time thinking about that and we absolutely think it’s a realistic goal,” Klein said.

To increase safety for pedestrians, plans include installing countdown pedestrian signals at 300 intersections this year, and 100 more in 2013 if funding is available.

The city also plans to alter stoplights at 100 intersections this year to give pedestrians an extra three seconds to cross and to make the change at 100 more next year if funding is available.

There would be less noticeable projects, too, including maintenance on some of the city’s bridges. The goal is to regularly invest in the bridges as much as possible to reduce the cost of rehab work.

And although the city had a mild winter this year, potholes are still on the department’s mind. The plan states a goal of repairing all potholes before the next winter starts and has set a goal of patching potholes within 72 hours. The department wants to develop an online dashboard that updates the progress in fixing potholes.

“We’re trying new technologies, new materials. We’re trying anything and everything to make sure we fix them as quickly as possible and repairing the remaining ones before they become a larger problem,” Klein said.

So where’s the money for these projects? Chicago pays nearly two-thirds of Illinois’ gas tax revenues but gets less than half of these funds for transportation improvements. The city wants the federal and state governments to cough up a bigger share of the funding and wants to create a city enterprise fund to support transportation needs.

Status updates on projects would be offered at the end of each year to help Chicagoans know what has been done and what still needs to be done.

“We’re going to be honest and let people know, and we’ll also be setting new goals as we finish the ones we’ve planned,” Klein said.

The 100-page Chicago Forward plan can be found at

Among the projects cited in it:

◆ Replacing the Lake Michigan shoreline retaining wall from 43rd to 45th Streets, Montrose to Irving Park Road and at Fullerton Avenue by the Theatre on the Lake.

◆ Reconfiguring the accident-prone Damen-Elston-Fullerton intersection on the North Side.

◆ Tearing down the 60s-era roadway overpasses on Western over Belmont and on Ashland over Pershing. They would be replaced with “attractive, modernized” intersections.

◆ Reconstructing the historic Torrence Avenue vertical lift bridge over the Calumet River and rebuilding the Wells Street Bridge over the Chicago River.

◆ Rehabbing existing bike lanes and add 10 more miles of bike lanes each year, plus creating up to 100 miles of protected bikeways by 2015.

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