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Transportation Fri Dec 31 2010

What's Ahead: Thoughts on 2011

With 2010 coming to a close today, Gapers Block asked two environmental advocates who helped put together Chicago's Sustainable Transportation Platform to reflect on 2010 and discuss their hopes for 2011. Via e-mail, this is what they had to say:

Brian Imus, director of the Illinois Public Interest Research Group (Illinois PIRG)

1. The privatization of Chicago's parking meters - allowing a Morgan Stanley backed set of investors to reap the profits for the next 75 years from the city's parking meters - sparked public outrage as parking rates quadrupled overnight in some parts of the city, meters malfunctioned, and critics, including the city's own Inspector General, argued that the city received hundreds of millions of dollars less for the meter system than it was worth. In 2011, as the new mayor and city council undoubtedly face a big budget deficit, let's hope - rather than considering the sale of more taxpayer-owned assets - the city increases government transparency and more citizen input in important budget decisions.

2. The new federal health care law gives states the tools - and funding - they need to make fundamental improvements in health care. Now, whether Illinoisans actually see lower costs, higher quality, and more stable coverage is up to our leaders in Springfield. Let's hope they stand up to the health insurance industry and support a strong health insurance exchange for Illinoisans that will ensure health care reform delivers lower costs and higher quality for consumers.

3. No one likes wasting time in traffic. Unfortunately, northeastern Illinois has some of the worst traffic congestion in the country. Residents waste about $1,000 per year on work time and extra gas lost while idling in traffic. At the same time, public transit, which alleviates traffic congestion, faces a funding crisis. The Chicago region is facing a $10 billion hole in funding just to keep the system in good working order. Let's hope lawmakers in D.C., Springfield and at Chicago City Hall support increased funding for transit to fix our broken transit funding system, and bring fast, reliable public transportation to everyone.

4. More than 200 scientific studies have linked low dose exposure to bisphenol-A (BPA) to prostate and breast cancer, obesity, altered brain development, cardiac disease, asthma, diabetes, and early puberty. Children age 2 and under...are both the most susceptible to BPA's hormone disrupting effect and, according the National Institutes of Health, they also have the highest exposure. Despite delay in Springfield in 2010, lawmakers should take action in 2011 to eliminate BPA from baby bottles infant formula cans and baby food jars and reform our toxic policy.

Jennifer Henry, Natural Resources Defense Council (Midwest Office)

1. Chicago River - Hopefully, the pollution (living and not) can be addressed in our waterways. The long legal battle over MWRD's [Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago] dumping of human...bacteria into the Chicago River should come to a conclusion and hopefully it leads to the decontamination of effluent from the District's treatment plants. It is also time to get serious about stopping the Asian carp's advance on Lake Michigan through the waterways with a permanent solution that will also address the other invasive species queued up to follow.

2. Transportation - We would like to see the new Mayor, the state, and the federal government focus transportation investments on infrastructure that cuts pollution while providing a platform for economic development and job growth. From restoring the CTA service that was cut last year to painting new bike lanes; from developing new Bus Rapid Transit routes to installing traffic calming mechanisms at intersections that are dangerous for pedestrians--there are any number of opportunities to enhance the quality of the environment and livability of the city while putting people to work and improving the appeal and accessibility of Chicago's commercial centers. Just as important, a convenient network of transit, bike, and pedestrian options also provides an affordable way for Chicagoans to get around.

3. Major sources of pollution - Let's get serious about our air pollution scofflaws--we need to end the health toll being taken on Chicago from the Fisk and Crawford Generating Stations, as well as Indiana's State Line coal plant. We should also find out about new permits from BP's massive refinery expansion in Whiting, Ind.--and hopefully they will be vastly improved.

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