OCT 11, 2021
New CDOT division would oversee ‘key’ city contracts including controversial bus shelter agreement set to expire next year
CDOT Comm. Gia Biagi answers questions during a budget hearing on Friday.
A new division of Chicago’s Department of Transportation would oversee key transportation agreements starting next year, including the city’s growing contract for the Divvy bike share program and an agreement for a planned e-scooter program, transportation officials told aldermen on Friday.
Department of Transportation Comm Gia Biagi detailed the proposed “Citywide Services” division during the department’s budget hearing Friday. Aldermen also took the time to ask about ward-specific paving, restoration and bike issues and about the city’s contract with advertising firm JCDecaux for bus shelters.
Biagi reported that her department has paved 660 blocks of streets and alleys so far this year, with another 189 blocks left to finish before the end of the year. Additionally, transportation officials have caught up on speed hump work and have another "300 or so to push out” before the end of the year.
The department of transportation’s (CDOT) new Citywide Services division under Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s proposed budget would be staffed with 11 employees and helmed by a deputy commissioner with a salary of $142,680.
Staffing under the new division would also include a “Senior City Forester,” an “Engineering Technician,” one “Assistant Project Director,” three “Program Directors,” one “Project Coordinator,” a “Coordinating Planner,” one “Assistant Commissioner” and a “Staff Assistant.”
Biagi told aldermen on Friday the division will be responsible for "key customer service contracts such as our Divvy bike share program, which will achieve full citywide coverage next year.”
Employees under the new citywide services division would also be responsible for the city’s bike rack installation contract and its contract for median and plaza maintenance. Future “micro-mobility transit programs,” which could include an electronic scooter program aldermen are on track to approve this year, would also fall under the new division’s jurisdiction.
Ald. Howard Brookins (21) in June introduced an ordinance (O2021-2861) backed by the Chicago Department of Transportation that would enact a permanent citywide shared e-scooter network.
The proposal was sent to the City Council’s Committee on Committees and Rules by Ald. Raymond Lopez (15) but has since been reassigned, and aldermen are scheduled to vote on the ordinance during a Wednesday transportation committee meeting.
Brookins expects the ordinance to pass this month, he told The Daily Line on Friday.
Finally, CDOT’s new citywide services division would oversee the contract the city has with JCDecaux for bus shelters.
Responding to a question from Ald. Scott Waguespack (32), Biagi told aldermen the JCDecaux’s contract is up "very shortly" as the city gave its last extension option in 2019, and the extension expires in December 2022.
“Sometimes they do a good job, sometimes they don’t," Waguespack said of JCDecaux and suggested the expiring contract would be an "opportunity to open it up to other firms."
Ald. Tom Tunney (44) said he has "good feelings" about JCDecaux but asked whether "the furniture stay[s] with the city" should the city not award the company another contract.
The "assets are owned by JCDecaux,” deputy Comm. Mark Maloney told Tunney.
Chicago’s 20-year contract with JCDecaux has “been shrouded in controversy” from the beginning, the Sun-Times reported last year, as Ald. Brendan Reilly (42) pressed city officials for a review of the agreement allowing the French company to install the 2,200 bus shelters across the city and sell ad space on the structures.
Restoration after work
Multiple aldermen took transportation officials to task for not quickly restoring public surfaces after sidewalk and utility work is completed. Some also raised concerns about the quality of grass that is planted after construction is complete.
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5) said a major complaint she hears from residents is the "length of time to restore parkway" after work is done..."I think this has been consistent over the years."
Hairston also cited issues with workers tossing trash into residents’ yards and being charged for construction crews’ use of the fire hydrant outside of her home.
“The other thing is, once they are finished with the project, whose responsibility is it to move the [construction] horses, wood planks, cones, the barricades?”
Biagi told Hairston that contractors are responsible for that work. Deputy Comm. Tom Carney said restoration requirements are in CDOT’s rules and regulations, and they are enforced by the department’s division of infrastructure management.
Lopez complained of inconsistencies with restoration work throughout the city in which "one neighborhood is going to get one thing and another neighborhood is going to get something else."
Bike lanes, speed cameras
CDOT in September released its Chicago Community Cycling Network Update, under which the department plans this year and in 2022 to spend $17 million on 100 miles of “new and upgraded bike lanes,” according to a CDOT news release.
Ald. Anthony Beale (9) said he loves bike lanes but "bike lanes are a huge problem."
Beale said the protected bike lane on Woodlawn Avenue between 111th Street and 103rd Street is an issue in his ward because it is not getting swept, as he said the South Side lacks a proper street sweeper for the narrow bike lanes.
Biagi told Beale transportation officials would find a sweeper to use in his ward.
Ald. David Moore (17) cited the same issue with sweeping bike lanes during last year’s department of transportation budget hearing, saying the protected bike lanes look “raggedy” when there isn’t coordination between sweeping the main street and the bike lanes.
When it comes to bikers, Ald. Emma Mitts (37) asked if there are restrictions or rules for people biking at night, as she has seen some bikers with "no lights, no nothing. I couldn’t believe it."
Mitts suggested it might be a matter of education and said she doesn't "want to see any incidents that occur from that."
Biagi touted the CDOT’s Safe Ambassadors program, which sends people out to community events to give away helmets and lights. She also pointed to the department’s learn-to-ride program for adults and said the department is also considering launching a learn-to-ride-at-night program.
Ald. Matt O’Shea (19) asked if it was possible to have more speed cameras installed in his community, as he said speeding is a big problem in his ward.
Placement of the speed cameras, which ticket drivers for traveling as little as 6 miles per hour over the speed limit, are "linked to school and park zones," Biagi told O’Shea, adding that the city could look into so-called high crash corridors in his ward.
Chicago has 162 speed cameras in 69 zones throughout the city, Biagi said. And each camera costs $4,000 per month.
Biagi also announced that new signs for Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable Lake Shore Drive would be “formally” unveiled later this month, and she “looks forward” to attending the unveiling with Moore.
The City Council approved the renaming of Chicago’s iconic lakeside drive in June, nearly two years after Moore and Ald. Sophia King (4) proposed their ordinance (SO2019-7918) to rename the outer portion of Lake Shore Drive as Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable Drive to honor the Black man of Haitian descent considered the city’s founder.
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