WBEZ | Chicago http://www.wbez.org/tags/chicago Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en The health problems facing rural and urban poor in Illinois http://www.wbez.org/news/health-problems-facing-rural-and-urban-poor-illinois-110959 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/chinese.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>Each year, researchers at the University of Wisconsin&rsquo;s Population Health Institute put out the County Health Rankings. The rankings show how counties across the country match up on things like life expectancy and residents&rsquo; health.</p><p>Julie Willems Van Dijk is one of the directors.</p><p>&ldquo;The reason we do it is to raise awareness about how healthy our communities are, and how healthy they&rsquo;re not. To do so in a way that piques people&rsquo;s interest by comparing them to other counties in their community. And ultimately in a way that helps everybody see &hellip; that health in your community is not just about what the doctors and nurses do. But it really is about decisions that are made by businesses, by government,&rdquo; Willems Van Dijk says.</p><p>Most of the counties around Chicago do really well,&nbsp; but Cook County is way down near the bottom - 75 out of 102 Illinois counties in health outcomes.</p><p>Twenty spots down the list from Cook is Edwards County. Edwards County ranks 96th of all Illinois counties for health outcomes. It&rsquo;s worth looking at because unlike most of the sickest counties, it isn&rsquo;t particularly poor. Edwards County&rsquo;s poverty level is better than the state average.</p><p>&ldquo;Income, and especially poverty are definitely drivers of health,&rdquo; Willems Van Dijk says.</p><p>But that&rsquo;s not what&rsquo;s happening in Edwards County.</p><p>Edwards is due south from Chicago, down near where Illinois, Kentucky and Indiana meet. It&rsquo;s incredibly sparse with just 30 people per square mile. The Illinois average is almost eight times as much.</p><p>Misty Pearson is the administrator of the Edwards County Health Office.</p><p>Edwards is one of only two counties in Illinois without an official health department. That&rsquo;s why it&rsquo;s called a health office, instead of a department of health like in almost every other county.</p><p>&ldquo;We are not certified by the state of Illinois, by choice, I guess. Not my choice, I would change that if I could,&rdquo; Pearson says.</p><p>The health office isn&rsquo;t certified because Edwards County leaders are so against the state being involved in their county they refuse to take health funding from Illinois because it comes with strings attached - like state oversight.</p><p>&ldquo;Food sanitation, we don&rsquo;t have that. None of our restaurants are inspected. It does [make me nervous]. There are certain restaurants I won&rsquo;t eat at,&rdquo; Pearson says. &ldquo;The only thing we can do that a health department does is vaccines for children.&rdquo;</p><p>So Edwards County - despite its low health ranking and relative economic strength - isn&rsquo;t the best indicator of the state&rsquo;s health needs overall.</p><p>The state government can&rsquo;t force people to vaccinate their kids or make counties take its money.</p><p>Still, experts say Illinois needs to come up with policies that work for Edwards County with 30-people per square mile, and Cook County with 5,500-people per square mile.</p><p>They say it can be done. Because despite their differences in population and demographics the two counties face similar health challenges.</p><p>At the top of the list is access to doctors.</p><p>The Illinois Department of Public Health has a map of areas with a dearth of primary care providers.</p><p>There are a lot of downstate counties shaded in - but there&rsquo;s also a bunch of Chicago neighborhoods -- from Rogers Park up north to Austin on the West Side and Chicago Heights down south.</p><p>Harold Pollack with the University of Chicago says the state could help poor people in urban and rural areas by raising Medicaid rates, or just paying its bills on time.</p><p>&ldquo;I can tell you that as someone who takes care of an adult on Medicaid that there are services that we can&rsquo;t use because the providers that we&rsquo;d like to use don&rsquo;t accept Medicaid,&rdquo; Pollack says.</p><p>So physician shortages might not be the happiest point of unity, but Misty Pearson in Edwards County and Harold Pollack in Chicago say they - and others - will be thinking of it when they go into the voting booth.</p><p>In a little more than a week there will be millions of people at the polls. They&rsquo;ll each have different experiences and different expectations, but they&rsquo;ll all be voting on the future of one state.</p><p>&ldquo;How are we going to make these budget numbers work &hellip; and also pay for the services that people in the state actually want and will continue to demand,&rdquo; says Pollack..</p><p><em>Patrick Smith is a WBEZ Reporter/Producer. Follow him on twitter <a href="http://twitter.com/pksmid" target="_blank">@pksmid</a>.</em></p></p> Fri, 17 Oct 2014 12:32:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/health-problems-facing-rural-and-urban-poor-illinois-110959 Are Chicago's shorter yellow lights unsafe, or just unfair? http://www.wbez.org/news/are-chicagos-shorter-yellow-lights-unsafe-or-just-unfair-110955 <p><p>Chicago&rsquo;s red light cameras are under increased scrutiny, after a <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/watchdog/redlight/"><em>Chicago Tribune</em> investigation</a> found glitchy cameras may have issued thousands of tickets in error. The report also found many yellow lights are slightly short of the city standard of three seconds.</p><p>WBEZ has been looking into yellow lights too &mdash; and we&rsquo;ve found something else. Many traffic experts say Chicago flouts industry best practices with how it programs its traffic control devices &mdash; and one engineer says it may be &ldquo;entrapping&rdquo; drivers into running red lights.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Should I run? Should I stop?</span></p><p>Our inquiry started with Pavel Gigov, a North Side resident who, incidentally, is not a transportation engineer. Gigov drives a car, and like many of us, he&rsquo;s gotten a red light camera ticket or two. He got one in April at an intersection he normally drove through on his way home from work, and thought something was strange.</p><p>&ldquo;The light turned yellow and my immediate reaction was, OK, let me figure out what to do,&rdquo; Gigov recounted. &ldquo;And before I could actually even put my mind around what the decent thing to do is &mdash; should I run? should I stop? &mdash; it was already red and I was in the middle of the intersection.&rdquo;</p><p>The intersection was at W Peterson Ave. and N California Ave., in Chicago&rsquo;s West Ridge neighborhood. The streets are pretty wide: each has six or seven lanes across, and like many Chicago roads, the speed limit is 30 miles an hour.</p><p><iframe frameborder="0" height="450" src="https://www.google.com/maps/embed?pb=!1m16!1m12!1m3!1d209.6174687124326!2d-87.69939310755217!3d41.99043739075356!2m3!1f0!2f0!3f0!3m2!1i1024!2i768!4f13.1!2m1!1scalifornia+ave+peterson+ave!5e1!3m2!1sen!2sus!4v1409930061367" style="border:0" width="600"></iframe></p><p><em>Gigov received his red light camera ticket at the intersection of W Peterson Ave. and N California Ave. Like many Chicago intersections, the streets have a speed limit of 30mph.</em></p><p>Gigov said the moment he crossed into the intersection, he saw the flash of the red light camera going off.</p><p>&ldquo;And I knew that there was something that was going to be in the mail pretty soon,&rdquo; he laughed.</p><p>Sure, enough, Gigov got a $100 ticket in the mail. He paid it, but still, he wondered: wasn&rsquo;t that yellow light kind of short?</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Is it safe? Is it fair?</span></p><p><a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdot/supp_info/red-light_cameraenforcement.html">Chicago&rsquo;s Department of Transportation says</a> the city&rsquo;s yellow light intervals &ldquo;fall within the guidelines of the Federal Highway Administration&rsquo;s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, and adheres to recommendations by the Institute of Transportation Engineers.&rdquo; That&rsquo;s half-true.</p><p>First, the true part: <a href="http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/htm/2009r1r2/html_index.htm">the MUTCD does, indeed, recommend</a> that yellow lights fall between 3 and 6 seconds. At the intersection where Gigov got his ticket, a frame-by-frame video analysis of the traffic signal showed that the yellow light lasts exactly three seconds &mdash; the minimum recommended under the MUTCD guidelines.</p><p>But three seconds falls short of what the yellow light interval should be, if the city were to follow ITE recommendations as it claims. Gigov said he worries that in flouting best engineering practices, Chicago may put drivers at risk. Particularly at red light camera intersections, where each traffic violation could bring dollars into the city&rsquo;s coffers.</p><p>&ldquo;Are we trading in accidents for revenue?&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Unfortunately in the City of Chicago, that&rsquo;s a legitimate question.&rdquo;</p><p>The city claims it implements a blanket policy on yellow light intervals, regardless of whether there&rsquo;s a red light camera: three seconds when the speed limit is 30mph or lower, and four seconds when it&rsquo;s 35mph or higher. &ldquo;Chicago&rsquo;s yellow times are more than adequate for a driver traveling the speed limit to react and stop safely,&rdquo; it states on the <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdot/supp_info/red-light_cameraenforcement.html">CDOT website</a>. The policy bucks a growing trend among transportation agencies nationwide.</p><p>&ldquo;The idea of a constant time is not typical,&rdquo; said James Taylor, a retired traffic engineer in Indiana.</p><p>While there&rsquo;s no federal mandate that requires transportation agencies to follow a method in determining yellow light intervals, Taylor said more places are adopting a <a href="http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/nchrp_rpt_731.pdf">mathematical equation</a> that has been developed by the Institute of Transportation Engineers.</p><p>&ldquo;It keeps getting more and more widely accepted,&rdquo; said Taylor, &ldquo;as opposed to the system you&rsquo;re talking about where we just say let&rsquo;s just make all of them three (seconds), or three-and-a-half, or something like that.&rdquo;</p><p>A 2012 <a href="http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/nchrp_rpt_731.pdf">survey</a> of more than 200 transportation agencies in the U.S., Canada and Germany, found only 6 percent timed their yellow light intervals the way Chicago does. By contrast, the largest chunk &mdash; almost 40 percent &mdash; used the ITE equation.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Using the ITE formula</span></p><p>The ITE formula for the length of yellow lights factors in the specific conditions of an individual intersection, such as speed limit and the grade of the road. It also uses numerical assumptions based on extensive field studies.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="Y=t+(1.47V/2a+64.4g)" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/yellow-light-fomula-1.png" style="height: 64px; width: 200px;" title="" /></div><div class="image-insert-image ">Where:</div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>Y = total clearance period (in seconds)</em></div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>t = perception-reaction time (usually 1 second)</em></div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>V = 85th percentile approach speed (mph)</em></div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>a = deceleration rate (ft/sec&sup2;)</em></div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>g = percent of grade divided by 100</em></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">The equation assumes a perception-reaction time, <em>t</em>, of one second for the average driver, based on field measurements. In other words, it takes about that long for a typical driver to see that the light has changed to yellow, and to decide what to do.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">The fraction shown in the equation calculates how long it should take to decelerate to a stop, based on a typical driver&rsquo;s approach speed (<em>V</em>), a comfortable deceleration rate (<em>a</em>), and the grade of the intersection. Traffic engineers recommend using the 85th percentile of approaching traffic to determine a typical approach speed. If that hasn&rsquo;t, or cannot, be measured, a commonly accepted approximation is to add 7mph to the speed limit. &nbsp;Field studies have also found that a comfortable deceleration rate, <em>a</em>, for drivers is 10 ft/sec&sup2;. In Chicago, the grade of the street, <em>g</em>, is negligible, so we assume it to be zero.</div><p>Plug the numbers in for the intersection where Gigov received his yellow ticket, and it yields a yellow light interval, <em>Y</em>, of 3.7 seconds &mdash; that is, 0.7 seconds longer than it actually lasts. Studies show that could significantly change outcomes at an intersection.</p><p>&ldquo;Increasing the yellow by one second would decrease violations by 50-60 percent, and reduce crashes by 35-40 percent,&rdquo; said Davey Warren, a transportation engineer who spent most of his career with the Federal Highway Administration.</p><p>That agency has been pushing transportation departments nationwide to adopt the kinematic equation. In fact, in 2012 it made a change to the MUTCD that would require agencies to switch to engineering practices to determine yellow light intervals by mid-June of 2017.</p><p>Many traffic engineers were surprised to hear that Chicago does not already use widely-accepted engineering practices to calculate its yellow light intervals.</p><p>&ldquo;There is a general rule with engineers, you should be following the best accepted practice unless they can document valid reasons for not doing so,&rdquo; said Warren.</p><p>WBEZ requested multiple times to interview someone at Chicago&rsquo;s Department of Transportation. The department didn&rsquo;t respond. The department also failed to respond to a request under the Freedom of Information Act for its programming instructions for traffic control devices.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">After the yellow, comes the all-red</span></p><p>But before you worry that the city&rsquo;s putting drivers at risk by skimping on yellow light times, there&rsquo;s a twist. In addition to recommending a mathematically-derived yellow light interval, transportation engineers also recommend something called an <em>all-red interval</em>. That&rsquo;s a brief moment after the yellow light, where the lights are red in <em>all directions</em>. It gives a chance for cars still caught in the intersection to finish crossing before the opposing traffic gets a green.</p><p>The ITE recommendation for the all-red interval has changed over time. However,a 2012 <a href="http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/nchrp_rpt_731.pdf">study</a> by the National Cooperative Highway Research Board proposed the following guideline for the calculation:&nbsp;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="R=(W+L/1.47V)-1" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/yellow-light-fomula-2.png" style="height: 59px; width: 200px;" title="" /></div><p>Where:</p><p><em>R = all-red clearance interval (seconds)</em><br /><em>W = intersection width (ft)</em><br /><em>L = length of vehicle (ft)</em><br /><em>V = 85th percentile approach speed (mph)</em></p><p>It&rsquo;s worth noting that there&rsquo;s some debate over subtracting the number 1 on the right side of this equation. The &nbsp;ITE contemplates both possibilities. The NCHRP study found in field studies that it typically takes one second for drivers to perceive and react to a change to green after the all-red interval. So in its conclusions, it recommends subtracting that reaction time, to keep traffic flow more efficient.</p><p>Across transportation engineering literature, the standard length of a vehicle, <em>L</em>, is 20 feet, and again, the approach speed is approximated by adding 7mph to the speed limit.</p><p>At Gigov&rsquo;s intersection, where the streets were approximately 60 feet wide, the formula above yields an all-red clearance interval of 0.47 seconds. That means a vehicle that was caught in the intersection when the light turned red, would still have about half-a-second to finish its transition before opposing traffic gets a green light.</p><p>It turns out, the actual all-red clearance interval at the intersection of W Peterson Ave and N California Ave alternates between one and two seconds. Both of these are much longer than the formula recommends.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/yellow-lights-2.png" title="" /></div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>At a typical intersection in Chicago, where speed limits are 30mph, the city sets yellow lights at three seconds, followed by an all-red clearance interval of at least one second. By comparison, best engineering practices recommends a yellow light of 3.7 seconds, followed by an all-red clearance interval of .47 seconds. Experts say that while the total clearance times are close (4 seconds and 4.17 seconds, respectively), the misallocation of time between the yellow and all-red intervals may entrap drivers into more violations.</em></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>Data on actual yellow lights from CDOT&rsquo;s website and field measurements at intersection of W Peterson Ave. and N California Ave. Recommended calculations based on the<a href="http://www.ite.org/bookstore/IR-113.pdf"> kinematic equation</a> developed by the Institute of Transportation Engineers.</em></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><span style="font-size: 22px;">&lsquo;Entrapping drivers into running red lights&rsquo;</span></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Together, the yellow light and the all-red interval add up to what&rsquo;s called a &ldquo;change period.&rdquo; That &ldquo;change period&rdquo; at the intersection where Gigov got his ticket equals the three-second yellow light, plus one or two seconds for the all-red interval -- a total of four or five seconds. Engineering practices would yield a nearly similar result: a 3.7 second yellow light, followed by 0.47 second all-red interval, totaling 4.17 seconds.</div><p>The difference is, Chicago shortens the yellow portion of the change interval, and lengthens the all-red portion.</p><p>&ldquo;So from a safety standpoint, it&rsquo;s probably OK, but the thing is they&rsquo;re misallocating the times,&rdquo; said Warren, &ldquo;and so they&rsquo;re basically entrapping drivers into running red lights.&rdquo;</p><p>In other words, Chicago&rsquo;s yellow light intervals may not be unsafe, but they may be unfair.</p><p>Gigov said if the city wants to win back public trust when it comes to its use of red light cameras, it should use to the most up-to-date engineering guidelines when it programs its traffic control devices.</p><p>&ldquo;You&rsquo;re the city of Chicago, and your fiduciary duty is to serve residents of the city, and not to increase the revenue in such a borderline shady way,&rdquo; said Gigov.</p><p>Last year, anger over red light camera tickets in Florida prompted a reexamination of yellow lights. It turned out, yellow lights in that state were also timed contrary to engineering formulas. So Florida&rsquo;s Department of Transportation mandated the lights be lengthened.</p><p>Gigov said he hopes Chicago will do the same.</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her </em><a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef"><em>@oyousef</em></a><em> and </em><a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud"><em>@WBEZoutloud</em></a><em>.</em></p></p> Fri, 17 Oct 2014 08:11:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/are-chicagos-shorter-yellow-lights-unsafe-or-just-unfair-110955 Rauner, Quinn battle for African-American votes http://www.wbez.org/news/rauner-quinn-battle-african-american-votes-110940 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/AP911111007939.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-6f97a6f2-1582-0782-483a-897455cafe20">As the clock ticks down to election night, Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican challenger Bruce Rauner continue to battle over what&rsquo;s best for Illinois&rsquo; future. The top candidates have now faced off in two televised debates.</p><p>The focus of Tuesday&rsquo;s debate, three weeks ahead of the election, was mostly African-American voters, and issues they&rsquo;ll be thinking about in the polling booth. The panel of journalists posing questions to the candidates focused on jobs, the economy, the minimum wage, public safety and the state&rsquo;s finances.</p><p>And it was obvious by their responses that both candidates on stage at the DuSable Museum of African American History realized the importance of getting those votes.</p><p>&ldquo;My investments and my donations to the African-American community have totaled tens of millions of dollars,&rdquo; Rauner said, when asked about his recent <a href="http://abc7chicago.com/politics/rauner-promises-$1m-to-south-side-credit-union-/231631/">million dollar donation</a> to a South Side credit union.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve opened up the doors to many more contracts&mdash;I think it&rsquo;s up to a thousand contracts&mdash;for African-American owned businesses,&rdquo; Quinn said, to a question about government hiring.</p><p>The two also wasted no time trying to cut their opponent down to size&mdash;a recurring theme in both televised debates and on the campaign trail. Quinn accused Rauner of not hiring any African Americans in his company.</p><p>&ldquo;My opponent had 51 executives in his company, no African Americans, not one,&rdquo; Quinn said.</p><p>Rauner shot back that Quinn was &ldquo;taking the African-American vote for granted. He&rsquo;s talking but not delivering results.&rdquo;</p><p>Rauner also accused Quinn of kicking Stephanie Neely, Chicago&rsquo;s city treasurer who is black, off the list of running mates. Neely was rumored to be on the short list of Quinn&rsquo;s choices for lieutenant governor. Quinn later countered that his choice of Paul Vallas was due to Vallas&rsquo; experience with schools and budgeting.</p><p>&ldquo;African-American families are suffering in Illinois: brutally high unemployment, deteriorating schools, lack of proper social services and rampant cronyism and corruption that&rsquo;s taking away job opportunities from African Americans,&rdquo; Rauner said.</p><p>The candidates spent a lot of time in this debate talking about public safety and gun control. Rauner wouldn&rsquo;t say if he supported a ban on assault weapons. He said he believed the conversation about gun control should instead be on getting guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill, and creating jobs. Rauner said it was the lack of opportunity that has lead to the state&rsquo;s issue with crime.</p><p>Quinn came out in support of banning assault weapons and called for a limit on high capacity ammunition magazines.</p><p>The ongoing conversation about the minimum wage also surfaced in this debate. Rauner was pressed by the panel to explain his position, as there has been much back and forth about whether he wants to <a href="http://politics.suntimes.com/article/springfield/rauner-admits-he-once-favored-eliminating-minimum-wage/thu-09042014-113am" target="_blank">ditch</a> the minimum wage all together, or raise it.</p><p>Rauner reiterated he wanted to see a national hike to the minimum wage, so Illinois could remain competitive, but he would support raising Illinois&rsquo; minimum wage (currently at $8.25) if it came with &ldquo;tort reform, tax reduction [and] workers comp reform.&rdquo;</p><p>Quinn said he&rsquo;d work to raise the minimum wage to $10 by the end of this year, though he faced questions from both Rauner and the debate panel about why he hadn&rsquo;t boosted it in his six years in office. Quinn responded that &ldquo;you have to build a majority for anything in life&rdquo; and brought up President Barack Obama&rsquo;s tactics with passing the Affordable Care Act as an example.</p><p>The end of the debate featured a special opportunity for the candidates: Rauner and Quinn were able to ask one question of their opponent. You can listen to that exchange here:</p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="20" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/172278238&amp;color=ff5500&amp;inverse=false&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_user=true" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>The candidates are scheduled to face off in at least one more debate before the election on November 4.</p><p><em>Lauren Chooljian is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/laurenchooljian" target="_blank">@laurenchooljian.</a></em></p></p> Wed, 15 Oct 2014 15:28:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/rauner-quinn-battle-african-american-votes-110940 Tension in the South China Sea http://www.wbez.org/programs/worldview/2014-10-14/tension-south-china-sea-110935 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/AP23336063099.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Tensions are increasing in the South China Sea. China is building islands there and the U.S. is establishing a larger military presence in the Philippines. Journalist Howard French&#39;s joins us to discuss what&#39;s happening.</p><div class="storify"><iframe allowtransparency="true" frameborder="no" height="750" src="//storify.com/WBEZ/worldview-tension-in-the-south-china-sea/embed?header=false&amp;border=false" width="100%"></iframe><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/worldview-tension-in-the-south-china-sea.js?header=false&border=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/worldview-tension-in-the-south-china-sea" target="_blank">View the story "Worldview: Tension in the South China Sea" on Storify</a>]</noscript></div></p> Tue, 14 Oct 2014 11:22:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/worldview/2014-10-14/tension-south-china-sea-110935 Dallas Ebola patient dies http://www.wbez.org/programs/worldview/2014-10-08/dallas-ebola-patient-dies-110913 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/duncan cropped.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital announced today that patient Eric Duncan has died of Ebola. He is the first Ebola victim to die in the U.S. Duncan contracted the disease in Liberia. We&#39;ll find out what the Liberian community in Illinois is doing to help combat the spread of the virus in Liberia.</p><div class="storify"><iframe allowtransparency="true" frameborder="no" height="750" src="//storify.com/WBEZ/worldview-dallas-ebola-patient-dies/embed?header=false&amp;border=false" width="100%"></iframe><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/worldview-dallas-ebola-patient-dies.js?header=false&border=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/worldview-dallas-ebola-patient-dies" target="_blank">View the story "Worldview: Dallas Ebola patient dies" on Storify</a>]</noscript></div></p> Wed, 08 Oct 2014 11:14:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/worldview/2014-10-08/dallas-ebola-patient-dies-110913 Feds: Illinois teen wanted to join Islamic State http://www.wbez.org/news/feds-illinois-teen-wanted-join-islamic-state-110898 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/fbi.PNG" alt="" /><p><p>A 19-year-old American left a letter expressing disgust with Western society before trying to board an international flight in Chicago, the first step in his plan to sneak into Syria to join the Islamic State group, according to a federal criminal complaint released Monday.</p><p>Mohammed Hamzah Khan, who lived with his parents in the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook, was arrested Saturday at O&#39;Hare International Airport trying to board a plane on the first leg of connecting flights to Turkey, which borders Syria. He is charged with attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist group, which carries a maximum 15-year prison sentence.</p><p>Investigators said Khan left a three-page, handwritten letter in his bedroom for his parents that expressed anger over his U.S. taxes being used to kill his &quot;Muslim brothers and sisters,&quot; an apparent reference to a bombing campaign against Islamic State militants.</p><p>&quot;We are all witness that the western societies are getting more immoral day by day,&quot; he wrote, then signed letter, &quot;Your loving son,&quot; according to court documents.</p><p>Khan appeared in a federal court Monday in orange jail clothes, calmly telling a federal magistrate he understood the allegations. As marshals led him away in handcuffs, the slight, bearded young man turned to smile at his parents &mdash; his father putting his arm around Khan&#39;s weeping mother.</p><p>About a dozen Americans are believed to be fighting in Syria, while more than 100 have either been arrested on their way to Syria or went and came back, FBI Director James Comey said recently without offering details.</p><p>Khan sought to fly Austrian Airlines to Istanbul by way of Vienna when customs officers stopped him going through security at O&#39;Hare&#39;s international terminal. While FBI agents interviewed him there, investigators searched his home.</p><p>It&#39;s unclear why authorities stopped Khan. Prosecutors, Khan&#39;s federal defender attorney and his parents didn&#39;t comment after Monday&#39;s hearing.</p><p>In the letter found by FBI agents, Khan also pleaded that his parents not contact authorities. Other documents found during the search of his home included a notebook drawing of what appeared to be an armed fighter with an Islamic State flag and the words &quot;Come to Jihad&quot; written in Arabic, according to the complaint.</p><p>Also found were drawings with arrows indicating where Khan might cross the border into Syria from Turkey.</p><p>Khan allegedly told FBI agents that an online source gave him the number of a person to contact when he got to Istanbul who would lead him to Islamic State members. When asked what he would do once in territory controlled by the Islamic State, Khan allegedly said he would &quot;be involved in some type of public service, a police force, humanitarian work or a combat role,&quot; according to the complaint.</p><p>Khan was ordered to remain jailed until at least a detention hearing Thursday. Prosecutors indicated they would ask he stay behind bars pending trial.</p><p>At a two-story house believed to be his family&#39;s home, no one would address reporters outside. But neighbor Steve Moore, 31, described Khan as a soft spoken and polite, saying the young man his family were always friendly and quick to say hello.</p><p>Another young man from the Chicago area also is accused of trying to join militants in Syria. Abdella Tounisi, of Aurora, was arrested last year at O&#39;Hare when he was 18. He has pleaded not guilty to seeking to provide material support to al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria.</p></p> Mon, 06 Oct 2014 13:22:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/feds-illinois-teen-wanted-join-islamic-state-110898 Push for solar power comes to Chicago's Southeast Side http://www.wbez.org/news/push-solar-power-comes-chicagos-southeast-side-110897 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Solar Chicago 2.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Not long ago in a small storefront on Baltimore Avenue near the Indiana border a handful of folks got schooled on solar energy.</p><p>It was part education, part sales pitch put on by Seth Johnson, policy advocate with the Environmental Law and Policy Center in Chicago.</p><p>&ldquo;Right now, we see a lot of fluctuation with energy prices. They seem every day to go up and down, up and down,&rdquo; Johnson said at the office of the Southeast Environmental Task Force in Chicago&rsquo;s Hegewisch neighborhood in late September. &ldquo;What you do with solar energy is you lock in that price. You make that upfront investment but then you levelize your cost in the long run.&rdquo;</p><p>Johnson&rsquo;s been making these types of sales pitches throughout the Chicago area since July.</p><p>He&rsquo;s trying to get people to take advantage of incentives offered by the State of Illinois and the City of Chicago before the October 10 deadline.&nbsp;</p><p>Peggy Salazar is with the Southeast Side Environmental Task Force, which hosted the informational meeting. Her group is on the front lines of banning companies from storing potentially harmful pet coke nearby.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re the ones that deal with the air emissions from the pet coke being stored. We have the BP refinery that is just across the border,&rdquo; Salazar said. &ldquo;But the emissions from the actual refinery don&rsquo;t stop at the Indiana border, they blow toward us.&rdquo;</p><p>Salazar says eventually they want to attract cleaner energy companies to the Southeast side.</p><p>&ldquo;That&rsquo;s what we would love to see in this area. So, it&rsquo;s very important that we work hard to at least help direct people to new, cleaner renewable energy,&rdquo; Salazar said.&nbsp;</p><p>Local resident Maria Gallegos said she was on the fence, but wants to do something to help curb fossil fuels -- especially in her own backyard.</p><p>&ldquo;This is an industrial area. Pollution has been a big problem,&rdquo; Gallegos said.</p><p>Gallegos said the main issue with a solar panel system is the cost factor.</p><p>&ldquo;Even though there&rsquo;s some incentives, right out of the bat it&rsquo;s pretty expensive,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>Depending on the solar panel system, a customer can expect to shell out $8,000 to $18,000.</p><p>And that return of investment in lower ComEd bills may not be realized for at least seven years.</p><p>That may be one reason why only about 100 people have signed up to purchase a solar panel system in Greater Chicago since July, according to Johnson.</p><p>But Luis Rojas is giving solar energy a try. Rojas is a construction manager with Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago. The 59-year-old lives on Chicago&rsquo;s Southeast Side on Avenue H.</p><p>Rojas said his investment in solar makes sense in the long run.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m really excited about it,&rdquo; Rojas said. &ldquo;Lately, I&rsquo;ve been putting a lot of attention to the efficiency of my house and the footprint that we all leave just by living.&rdquo;</p><p>He&rsquo;s already installed barrels next to his two-flat to capture rainwater that he uses to water the grass.</p><p>Now, after years of considering solar energy, Rojas says it finally makes financial sense.</p><p>&ldquo;Solar PV panels, they were always really expensive to install and the second things was the efficiency rating of them,&rdquo; Rojas said. &ldquo;The efficiency looks like it has quadrupled in the last five or six years so I&rsquo;m in for it.&rdquo;</p><p>A dozen solar panels, each about the size of a flat-screen TV, will be installed on Rojas&rsquo; roof in the next few weeks.</p><p>The system would normally cost $12,000 but with the state and city incentives, Rojas expects to only pay half that much.</p><p>And eventually, it will cut his electricity bill by more than half.</p><p>&ldquo;If you can save money and then at the same time do some good to the environment, well, here&rsquo;s my two pennies,&rdquo; Rojas said.</p></p> Mon, 06 Oct 2014 13:14:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/push-solar-power-comes-chicagos-southeast-side-110897 Chicago moves on taxi reforms to leave more money in cabbies' pockets http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-moves-taxi-reforms-leave-more-money-cabbies-pockets-110877 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Cabs.png" alt="" /><p><p>The city of Chicago is moving on a set of reforms to help cabbies take home more money, a partial salve after a months-long fight over legalizing competing rideshare services left many taxi drivers feeling bruised. While many hail the step as a sign that city officials are finally working to redress cab drivers&rsquo; complaints, some say the changes don&rsquo;t go far enough.</p><p>&ldquo;What we wanted to do is improve overall their experience here in the city, and make it more lucrative for them as cab drivers,&rdquo; said Maria Guerra Lapacek, Commissioner of Chicago&rsquo;s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.</p><p>Guerra Lapacek said her department crafted the proposals after working with representatives from Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Local 31 and other driver advocacy groups. Some of them will be included in an ordinance to be introduced at City Council&rsquo;s meeting next week. Others will be implemented through rule changes by the BACP.</p><p>The most significant change would reduce how much taxi owners may charge to lease their fuel-efficient cabs after the vehicles&rsquo; first year on the road.</p><p>&ldquo;The garages are able to recoup their investment after a year of having these vehicles in circulation,&rdquo; explained Guerra Lapacek, &ldquo;so the idea was to reduce the lease rate cap for the second year, and that way give relief back to the cab driver.&rdquo;</p><p>Guerra Lapacek said this idea resulted from the surprising finding in a recent <a href="http://www.wbez.org/study-chicago-cabbies-earn-average-12hour-110726">city-commissioned study</a>, which found that cab drivers spend about 40 percent of their gross income on their vehicle leases. Ultimately, the reform could affect leases for an estimated 3,700 of the city&rsquo;s nearly 7,000 cabs.</p><p>Leases would also be reduced for drivers whose vehicles generate a separate revenue stream from advertising displays. The reforms would require cab companies to credit leases in these cases.</p><p>&ldquo;There are over 2000 owner-operators in the City of Chicago. They don&rsquo;t pay a lease,&rdquo; said Peter Enger, a cab driver and Secretary of the United Taxidrivers Community Council. &ldquo;This will not help them in the slightest.&rdquo;</p><p>Enger said he&rsquo;s delighted that city officials appear to be considering the difficulties cab drivers have faced since a previous set of reforms took effect in 2012. Those reforms raised the lease rates for cabs, without a commensurate increase in taxi fare rates. Many cab drivers say that has resulted in longer working hours to earn the same income.</p><p>Cab drivers who own and drive their own taxis affirm Enger&rsquo;s fear that a new round of reform will still leave them in the dust.</p><p>&ldquo;The only way is to get a fare increase that we did not get for almost ten years, to offset the cost of living and all of that stuff,&rdquo; said Ahmed Ammar, who owns and drives his own taxi. &ldquo;Everything went up.&rdquo;</p><p>While some cab drivers, particularly those aligned with UTCC&rsquo;s union, push for a taxi fare increase, others worry it could adversely affect demand. Representatives from another union, Cab Drivers United, say raising fares is lower on their priority list.</p><p>&ldquo;Our focus first and foremost has been moving forward on these changes that will both put money in drivers&rsquo; pockets, and keep the cab companies competitive with the (rideshare) companies,&rdquo; said Tracy Abman, an organizer with AFSCME Local 31.</p><p>Guerra Lapacek said her department will not consider a fare increase at this juncture because she worries it could turn customers away from the taxi industry. Rideshare companies&rsquo; prices routinely undercut taxi fares.</p><p>The proposals also include city-backed smartphone applications to allow passengers to electronically hail taxis, as they do with popular services such as Uber and Hailo.</p><p>&ldquo;We think this is an excellent reform that&rsquo;s going to bring the cab industry into more innovation and really help them access those customers,&rdquo; said Guerra Lapacek. She said the city will put out a request for proposals, and will require all taxis to be on at least one of the city-backed apps.</p><p>Additionally, the reforms would reduce the fee that taxi drivers pay on credit card transactions, from 5 percent to 3 percent; lower the maximum penalties for taxi offenses from $1,000 to $400; and <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/bacp/publicvehicleinfo/publicchauffer/chauffeurtrainingtaskforcefinalrecommendations.pdf">streamline</a>&nbsp;the required driver training process.</p><p>The city will also create a task force to review <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/how-often-are-cabs-pulled-over-and-what-109734">the enforcement process of taxi rules</a> at the Administrative Hearings Court, which many taxi drivers disparagingly refer to as a &ldquo;kangaroo court.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s significant that the City is listening to drivers that are organized, listen to them, hearing their concerns, addressing some of their concerns and agreeing to continue to work together with drivers to make their lives better and make sure the industry remains viable,&rdquo; said Abman.</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her </em><a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef"><em>@oyousef</em></a><em> and </em><a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud"><em>@WBEZoutloud</em></a><em>.</em></p></p> Tue, 30 Sep 2014 18:03:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-moves-taxi-reforms-leave-more-money-cabbies-pockets-110877 After the accident: Metra and pedestrian fatalities http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/after-accident-metra-and-pedestrian-fatalities-110875 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/170234239%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-Jvys6&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>Frequent commuters are all too familiar with the pangs of delays: the groans induced by announcements made over a train intercom, or the confusion created when train or bus operators suggest alternative routes, thanks (or no thanks) to weather, mechanical failures, or backups.</p><p>Chicago-area Metra riders are no strangers to these feelings, but often these delays are brought on by another, more heart-dropping reason: pedestrian accidents and fatalities. It&rsquo;s not uncommon for up to 1,300 Metra riders to be held on a train for more than an hour while investigators gather at the scene to determine what happened.</p><p dir="ltr">And while many wonder why so many of these accidents happen, or how they can be stopped, a Curious Citizen (who chose to remain anonymous) had us consider this question:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>How can a thorough investigation of Metra fatalities be performed when trains are up and running 90 minutes after a fatality?</em></p><p>It&rsquo;s a bit of a loaded question, of course, as our questioner is basically asking whether a 90-minute timeframe is sufficient to gather evidence.</p><p>From the first moment we spoke with the questioner, we knew this would be sensitive topic, for sure, but experts did make themselves available to explain how pedestrian death investigations work, and they were also willing to address the &ldquo;90 minutes&rdquo; figure directly. And the question&rsquo;s important, too. The issue of pedestrian fatalities by train is regularly <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-metra-suicides-met-20140825-story.html" target="_blank">in the Chicago-area news</a>. Also, anyone involved &mdash; a victim&#39;s family,&nbsp;commuters on the train, taxpayers in Illinois &mdash; deserves to know exactly what&rsquo;s going on outside that train once tragedy strikes.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">The extent of the problem</span></p><p>Pedestrian fatalities by Metra trains, or any type of train, for that matter, are not new phenomena. Train deaths, both intentional and accidental, have been an issue for rail officials across the world. <a href="http://gazebonews.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/ian_savage_438_manuscript.pdf" target="_blank">But as Northwestern University researcher Ian Savage found out</a>, these incidents are happening in Illinois more than any other place in the United States.</p><p>According to Savage, one of the main reasons is Chicago&rsquo;s position as a national rail hub.</p><p>&ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s a combination of the number of trains and the geography,&rdquo; Savage said. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re fairly flat around here, and if you go out east, you&rsquo;ll find many more hills. Because trains [there] can&rsquo;t get up steep grades, you have to level this out by digging cuts, you make embankments, so you end up with a lot more natural grade separation. And here in Chicago, we have little natural grade separation.&rdquo;</p><p>Savage looked at data from the Illinois Commerce Commission from 2004 to 2012, and accounted for 338 pedestrian deaths by train within the six-county Chicago area. (Notably, Savage&rsquo;s research did not include the Chicago Transit Authority&rsquo;s elevated trains). Put another way, the area saw one pedestrian death by train every 10 days. Approximately 47 percent of the incidents were suicides.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/metra%20graphic%20mockup%203%20final_2.png" title="" /></div><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/metra%20graphic%20new%20stats2.png" title="*Data from Chicago metropolitan region, 2004-2012. Note: Does not include CTA data. Non-motorized persons include pedestrians and bike-riders. Source: Ian Savage, Northwestern University " /></div></div><p>According to Savage, these fatalities happen for a variety of reasons. When it comes to accidents, many times people don&rsquo;t understand how dangerous trains really are.</p><p>&ldquo;In some cases, crossings are designed in a way that good people are lead into making bad decisions. And I think that perceptions of speed are very difficult,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;d never think about jaywalking across an interstate because there are cars every few seconds. But there are five, 10 [minutes], half an hour where there&rsquo;s no activity on train tracks. So you can always get led into this cognitive assumption that nothing&rsquo;s coming, when something is.&rdquo;</p><p>And while the complexity of suicide makes it difficult to understand the reasoning behind individual deaths, Savage said the frequency and high number of occurrences is likely connected to the availability of trains around Chicago. Through his research, Savage stumbled on a study from Children&rsquo;s Memorial Hospital that looked at methods of suicide. They found that the use of trains in the Chicago area was more than four times the national average.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Metra-related investigations</span></p><p>Beyond the magnitude of these fatalities, Metra faces another predicament, one that&rsquo;s different from those of state or city agencies: <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZrzuzWv2wY" target="_blank">Metra prides itself on its timeliness</a> and its ability to get commuters home on time. Its slogan is &ldquo;The way to really fly,&rdquo; and their signs read phrases such as &ldquo;We&rsquo;re on time, are you?&rdquo;</p><p>So when tragedy strikes, not only do Metra officials have to worry about the victim of the incident, but the thousands of passengers sitting on the train. In our question-asker&rsquo;s case, she read that trains were up and running 90 minutes after her friend was struck. (Metra officials say delays that day &mdash; including residual delays for other trains on that line &mdash; ranged anywhere between 30 and 110 minutes.)</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/metra%20photo%201%20LC.jpg" title="Metra signs advertise the agency's ability to arrive places on time, without delay. (WBEZ/Lauren Chooljian)" /></div></div><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s a process in place, a lot of times there&rsquo;s a lot of different factors that are involved in that incident which may extend that investigation, or there may be a train strike where we hit a pedestrian, and that person ends up being fine,&rdquo; said Hilary Konczal, director of Safety at Metra. &ldquo;I mean, we&rsquo;ve hit people and we&rsquo;ve broken a leg or an arm, and we were up and moving in 20 minutes, so it depends on the situation.&rdquo;</p><p>Konczal said every investigation begins the same way: A dispatcher is immediately notified of anything that happens on Metra railroads or that involves a Metra train. That dispatcher then notifies a control center, which reaches out to the municipality where the incident occurred.</p><p>&ldquo;Normally we get the call first,&rdquo; said Des Plaines Police Chief William Kushner. &ldquo;And we&rsquo;ll get it either from people waiting for the train, or someone driving past. And they&rsquo;ll call that someone was struck by a train or someone just jumped in front of a train.&rdquo;</p><p>The local municipality usually arrives on the scene first because of their close proximity. They&rsquo;ll secure the scene, meet with the train crew, and begin to gather witness testimony. Metra also has its own police force. Its officers do their best to get to the scene ASAP, but it could take some time, as the six-county service area is about the size of Connecticut. Once both departments are on scene, one will take the lead.</p><p><iframe align="middle" frameborder="0" height="420" scrolling="no" src="http://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-assets/curiouscity/metramap.html" width="620"></iframe></p><p><span style="font-size:11px;"><em>Metra rail lines cover six counties and more than 110 municipalities. The service area is about the size of the state of Connecticut, which means travel times for investigators and other responders can be sizable.</em></span></p><p>&ldquo;Usually, if Metra police investigate the incident, we can do it a little quicker. We have evidence technicians on scene 24 hours [per day], and a lot of times local municipality doesn&#39;t have that. They have to call them in, so that may add time to investigation,&rdquo; Konczal said.</p><p>Konczal said his staff constantly network with the over 110 municipalities that Metra travels through, so when an incident happens &ldquo;we have a rapport with them, so we can get traffic moving as soon as possible.&rdquo;</p><p>But depending on the type of accident, and how long it takes to gather all the correct people together, investigations can still take a while. Konczal said if Metra strikes a vehicle, federal regulations require that signals be tested, for example.</p><p>In a fatality situation, officials have to report information to the ICC and the Federal Railroad Administration. Almost all Metra trains have cameras on them now, as do some grade crossings, so film has to be reviewed to determine what happened, and to assess whether it was an intentional death or not. They also have to wait for a coroner to arrive, as he or she has to respectfully remove the remains.</p><p>The Metra Police Department was recently assessed by <a href="http://www.hillardheintze.com/books/metrapolicedept_01_23_14/" target="_blank">Hillard Heintze</a>, an independent council of retired police chiefs. While the group <a href="http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20140122/news/701229709/" target="_blank">found many issues with the department overall</a> (e.g., unclear mission, ineffective or nonexistent policies and procedures, staffing issues, etc.) the report did not address how Metra conducts fatality investigations.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/metra%20investigation%20full.jpg" style="float: left;" title="Metra officials investigate a commuter train accident in 2004 in Chicago. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)" /></p><p>Metra officials say there&rsquo;s no minimum or maximum amount of time that they try and meet for each investigation. Other police departments operate this way as well.</p><p>&ldquo;If there&rsquo;s a fatality, there are no minimums,&rdquo; said Monique Bond, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Police Department. &ldquo;The main thing is to get the victims, whether they&rsquo;re dead or hurt. That&rsquo;s the priority.&rdquo;</p><p>Bond said each investigation varies tremendously, depending on the incident: It could be hours, or it could be one hour.</p><p>But what doesn&rsquo;t change per incident, according to Metra officials and police, is the difficulty of dealing with these fatalities, both for him and his staff.</p><p>Naperville Police Chief Bob Marshall said his department, like many others around the state, provides mental health services for any officer that responds to traumatic events. Naperville recently dealt with two suicides by train.</p><p>Konczal added that Metra staff take the issue of pedestrian deaths personally. &ldquo;They&rsquo;re people. They may be your brother, my sister, your friend, it&rsquo;s just a shame,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;We have employees that go out there. We have the engineer that&rsquo;s traumatized, and the family of the deceased. ... I mean, it&rsquo;s real, and it gets very personal, and at times it gets frustrating.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re constantly looking at ways to educate the public. We&rsquo;re looking at our numbers, the day of the week incidents occur - and it gets frustrating trying to identify how to reduce these risks, without trying to put up some sort of virtual fence. It&rsquo;s just very hard.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Waiting in the wings</span></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/steven%20vance%20bartlett%20station.jpg" title="Signage at Metra's Bartlett station on the Milwaukee District/West Line route indicates safety precautions for pedestrians crossing the tracks. (Flickr/Steven Vance)" /></p><p>Metra, as well as local law enforcement agencies, suggest that some investigations can take far less than the 90-minute figure that started our look into train-related pedestrian deaths. According to Joe Schwieterman, transportation professor at DePaul University (and Metra rider for 23 years), delays of any kind can be difficult to bear.</p><p>&ldquo;You feel the tension on board right away, people start making phone calls, and after five or ten minutes, you know, you start to wonder, &lsquo;Is this gonna be a nightmare?&rsquo; So that speculation starts,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>According to Schweiterman, everyone in the region has been startled by how a fairly small commuter rail system (in the national sense) has such a regular pattern of hitting people. And a lot of it, he said, isn&rsquo;t on Metra.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s a whole series of issues, like willful deaths, and of course just a preponderance of freight trains which makes these crossings very difficult, and even just people dying on the tracks who, you know - drug use along railway tracks - there&rsquo;s a long history of a place where deviants often go.&rdquo;</p><p>But when it comes to whether these investigations are long enough or comprehensive enough, Schwieterman said anything longer than the current delays wouldn&rsquo;t be practical.</p><p>&ldquo;My view is that there&rsquo;s rarely a complex investigation needed,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;When somebody gets hit, the reason that person got hit is important from a data standpoint &mdash; and I mean, of course, for the family it&rsquo;s an absolute travesty &mdash; but from an investigation standpoint we need to know why people are getting hit and how we can fix the problems.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;But it&rsquo;s not like a crime scene, where there&rsquo;s an assailant out there who we have to find, and he may have left a clue behind.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>If you or someone you know exhibits any of the <a href="http://reportingonsuicide.org/warning-signs-of-suicide/" target="_blank">warning signs of suicide</a>, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)</strong></p><p><em>Lauren Chooljian is a WBEZ Reporter. Follow her<a href="http://twitter.com/triciabobeda"> </a><a href="https://twitter.com/laurenchooljian" target="_blank">@laurenchooljian</a></em></p></p> Tue, 30 Sep 2014 17:31:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/after-accident-metra-and-pedestrian-fatalities-110875 Chicago SRO owners say proposed city ordinance is 'hostile' http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-sro-owners-say-proposed-city-ordinance-hostile-110775 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/SRO ordinance.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-6a96fd4e-5c8e-a95a-a0fa-12b9a087e263">A new City Hall plan to preserve <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/slow-disappearing-act-chicago-sro-105836">fast-vanishing</a> affordable housing units in single-room occupancy (SRO) and residential hotels has some Chicago SRO owners upset.</p><p>The Single-Room Occupancy and Residential Hotel Preservation Ordinance, to be introduced at Wednesday&rsquo;s City Council meeting, includes incentives to induce building owners to maintain a certain threshold of affordable units in their buildings. There are few specifics about those incentives, but much of the measure focuses on financial penalties that owners would face if the number of affordable units in their buildings falls below a mandated percentage.</p><p>&ldquo;Essentially what has happened is the city wants to change the rules in the middle of the game,&rdquo; said Eric Rubenstein, Executive Director of the Single Room Housing Assistance Corporation, which works with building owners, operators and tenants to preserve SRO housing in Chicago. &ldquo;The properties are going to be dropping substantially in value because of the proposed ordinance, as now written,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Under the proposal, owners who wish to demolish or convert their properties to market-rate rentals would be required to maintain at least 20 percent of the building&rsquo;s units as affordable, or else pay a $200,000 &ldquo;preservation fee&rdquo; for every unit that falls short of that threshold. Additionally, if an owner wishes to sell a building, it would allow non-profits first crack at purchasing it and would require the owner to engage in good-faith negotiations with those organizations. If no sale occurs within six months of notifying non-profits, then the owner may attempt to sell the property to private developers.</p><p>&ldquo;The private market often moves too quickly for these non-profits to pull together the financing,&rdquo; explained Michael Negron, Chief of Policy to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, &ldquo;and so we wanted to make sure that there was enough period of time for these organizations to actually&hellip; know a sale is coming, and then work with potential lenders, work with the city, work with the state. There are different parties that could potentially help put together a deal like that, but they just need the time to do it.&rdquo;</p><p>The proposal would allow building owners to bypass this process altogether, and to approach the private market first, if they pay a fee of $200,000 on each unit for 30 percent of the units in the building. But many current owners fear that these fines will drastically undercut the selling price of their buildings.</p><p>&ldquo;The property values will have plunged based on the market being so restricted, that the only option essentially for a current owner when he or she is ready to sell is to turn to a non-profit,&rdquo; worried Rubenstein, &ldquo;and the non-profit could offer nickels or dimes on the dollar.&rdquo;</p><p>All fees collected through the proposed ordinance would go to a preservation fund, which the city would use to assist SRO owners with defraying the cost of maintaining, developing or improving their properties. Negron said, additionally, that the city already may have existing resources to preserve at least 700 SRO units through the end of 2018. He said owners may call the city&rsquo;s Department of Planning and Development to discuss rental subsidies from the Low Income Housing Trust Fund, and financing from TIF districts and low-interest loans, to maintain affordability.</p><p>Rubenstein said he and other building owners had hoped the city would employ more incentives than penalties to encourage affordability. He said SRHAC submitted a list of 15 suggested incentives for the city to consider in its ordinance, including exemptions from sales taxes, water fees, and the proposed minimum wage ordinance. Negron said many of the suggestions were impractical.</p><p>A broad coalition of advocates for the homeless, and low-income tenants around Chicago, praised the proposal.</p><p>&ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s a great ordinance,&rdquo; said Adelaide Meyers, a former tenant of the Norman Hotel and affordable housing advocate. &ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s exactly what Chicago needs to maintain SROs throughout the city, because if we lose all our SROs we&rsquo;re going to have a lot of homeless people.&rdquo;</p><p>Meyers was herself displaced from the Norman Hotel when Cedar Street Co. bought the North Side property and converted it to upscale rentals within its <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/flats-chicago-developer-weighs-housing-affordability-debate-110475">FLATS portfolio</a>. Meyers now shares an apartment in the Rogers Park neighborhood with a friend, and with some rental assistance from her father.</p><p>&ldquo;I never thought that I would end up living in an SRO to start off with, but I lived in a few different ones for several years,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;So I could definitely end up back in an SRO.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef">@oyousef</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>.</em></p></p> Tue, 09 Sep 2014 17:33:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-sro-owners-say-proposed-city-ordinance-hostile-110775