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Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Gia Biagi discusses road construction season during a 2022 news conference.

Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Gia Biagi discusses road construction season during a 2022 news conference.

Brian Rich

Another one of Lightfoot’s Cabinet stars leaving Johnson administration

Gia Biagi took the heat for Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s decision to reduce the ticketing threshold for Chicago speed cameras.

She ushered in the electric scooter era and pioneered the outdoor dining program that helped Chicago restaurants and bars survive the pandemic.

On Monday, Biagi announced her resignation from the $204,756-a-year transportation commissioner’s job, another one of the shining stars of Lightfoot’s Cabinet to leave Mayor Brandon Johnson’s administration before the 100-day benchmark.

Retired Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), former chair of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, said Biagi will be remembered most for the traffic-calming steps she took to make streets safer for pedestrians and bikers and for ushering in the electric scooter era. But there were “certain things that didn’t move fast enough” during her four-year tenure, he said.

“Mainly electric charging stations. I just think we could have done more. There were billions of dollars in the Biden plan with respect to electric vehicle charging stations and we didn’t have a plan for that. As a result, we missed out on a bunch of money,” Brookins said.

“How do you have an electric vehicle if you live in an apartment and you can’t charge it in your garage?”

Brookins added that “it could have been that the mayor wasn’t thinking that far in advance,” but Biagi, as transportation commissioner, should have pushed for a charging plan “with the car companies and everybody else moving in that direction.”

Brookins called the electric scooter program a “work in progress,” noting that street furniture giant JC Decaux had “offered to build corrals for electric forms of transportation,” but the city didn’t take them up on it.

“We could have expanded their footprint in these shelters, etc. and had them build garages. There would have been fewer people complaining that these scooters are all over if there were plenty of places to park them,” Brookins said.

As for implementing the “traffic calming” plan to eliminate pedestrian fatalities — a plan dubbed “Vision Zero” — Brookins said Biagi “did a good job with respect to that because it’s a no-win situation. People want other people to go slow. They don’t want to go slow themselves.”

Audrey Wennink, senior director for the Metropolitan Planning Council, said Biagi “made a lot of progress elevating biking and walking” in Chicago.

There is “a lot more room to go. … Things move slowly. It’s hard to turn a cruise ship,” Wennink added.

“Traffic statistics are still very problematic. … It’s been an average of 40 or 50 pedestrians a year dying and many more injured. The numbers of cyclists are lower than that. But, we’ve seen some terrible hit-and-run crashes just in the past few days,” Wennink said.

“We would like to see traffic safety work continue to be accelerated, such as reducing speed limits and continuing to accelerate traffic-calming implementation. … Quick projects that are often community-led where you could implement them in one season. Working with community artists and neighborhood groups to design traffic-calming solutions where they narrow roadways. Maybe painting crosswalks. Doing different types of things to help slow traffic down. … I don’t think the city of Chicago does enough of that. I think we should do more of that. That can lead to permanent infrastructure changes.”

Biagi could not be reached for comment.

The news release announcing her resignation cited a long list of accomplishments, including creating a strategic plan for transportation; developing a “mobility and economic hardship index” to prioritize infrastructure investments; expanding the Divvy bike-sharing program to every Chicago neighborhood, adding 100 miles of bike lanes and implementing pedestrian safety projects at more than 1,000 high-crash intersections.

Also on the list: : adding 30 miles of new streetscapes; upgrading and making permanent an outdoor dining program that saved restaurants during the pandemic; implementing mobility improvements to Jackson Park to support the Obama Presidential Center; and launching Lightfoot’s $3.7 billion capital improvement plan.

The release quoted Biagi as saying she was to proud to have led the department in a way that created “safer access to opportunities for all Chicagoans, whether they walk, bike, drive or take transit.”

Johnson spent Monday in Massachusetts meeting with Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, who grew up in Barrington. The release quoted him praising Biagi as “instrumental in implementing transportation systems and critical public infrastructure that improves neighborhoods, connects residents and promotes safe and sustainable mobility.”

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