Activists: CDOT's next leader must ‘enact transformational change'

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After Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Gia Biagi announced her resignation earlier this month, advocacy groups have penned an open letter urging Mayor Brandon Johnson to pursue leadership that will “enact transformational change” in the city.

The letter, signed by more than a dozen advocacy organizations that are pushing for improved transit in the city, focused on climate change, equity and protection for motorists, pedestrians and cyclists.

“Enacting transformational change to our streets will be a cornerstone to addressing many of our city’s challenges – from environmental, climate, racial and disability justice, to affordable housing, education, labor rights and beyond,” the group said.

The letter cited pedestrian safety as an urgent priority for CDOT, with data showing increases in fatalities since the “Vision Zero” program was initiated in 2017.

The groups also emphasized the importance of moving forward in a climate-friendly way.

“Our climate crisis demands change, and we have entire communities with inadequate access to transit – or even sidewalks,” the letter read.

The letter praised Biagi for the “important strides” her department made in centering “equitable investments in disinvested communities,” and to mend CDOT’s relationships with transit advocacy groups.

Biagi announced her resignation last week. It will be effective on Friday, according to the city.

“As commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation, Gia Biagi has been instrumental in implementing transportation systems and critical public infrastructure that improves neighborhoods, connects residents, and promotes safe and sustainable mobility,” Johnson said. “I thank Commissioner Biagi for her efforts, and as a Chicago resident, I am grateful for her service.”

“It’s been an honor to lead an agency committed to creating safer access to opportunities for all Chicagoans, whether they walk, bike, drive or take transit,” she added.

Johnson praised Biagi’s department’s Strategic Plan for Transportation, which ensured that equity and mobility justice were part of CDOT’s approach to transit.

The department also pushed for increased access and safety in bicycling, with cycling networks expanded by more than 100 miles during Biagi’s tenure. Protected bike lanes also expanded by more than 60%.

Divvy service also expanded to every neighborhood in Chicago, making it the largest bike-sharing service in North America, according to a city press release.

Reflecting on her tenure, Biagi spoke to Streetsblog Chicago’s John Greenfield, discussing the challenges posed by the COVID pandemic, supply-chain issues caused by that pandemic, and the slow recovery of transit systems in its aftermath.

She also cited statistics that traffic fatalities decreased between 2021 and 2022, and that her department’s focus on problematic intersections was a big part of the reason why.

“We are working feverishly, with more than a thousand pedestrian safety improvements at intersections across the city,” she said. “(CDOT was) not doing anywhere near that scale previous to Mayor Lightfoot’s administration.”

There has not been a timeline established on naming Biagi’s replacement at CDOT.

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