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Assessing a Transportation Secretary Rahm

Rahm Emanuel actually wants a job, if solely to get him off our tv screens.

Final week, TV’s worst Democratic pundit added to his litany of obtuseness by suggesting that J.C. Penney’s floorwalkers, who misplaced their jobs on account of the COVID recession, may be re-trained as pc coders.

Happily for Emanuel — and for the American Broadcasting Firm — a Democrat simply gained the presidential election, and Emanuel is supposedly on the brief listing for the cupboard publish of Transportation Secretary.

That might be good for Rahm — and it will not be horrible for American transportation, both. For all his faults as mayor, Emanuel had a progressive file on transit — in all probability probably the most progressive side of his administration — and he’s no less than adequately credentialed to usher the nation into the approaching car-free future. 

Emanuel’s first high-profile rent as mayor was Gabe Klein as director of the town’s Division of Transportation. Klein had efficiently launched a motorcycle sharing system in Washington, D.C. Emanuel wished him to do the identical right here, as a part of his imaginative and prescient of creating Chicago the “bike-friendliest metropolis within the nation.” Thirty days after Emanuel took workplace in 2011, the town put in its first protected bike lane, on Kinzie Road. (Chicago now has greater than 200 miles of protected lanes.) The primary Divvy bike-share stations had been put in in June 2013.

Certain, it was all a part of Emanuel’s gentry liberalism technique — turning the Loop right into a playground for younger tech professionals. In December 2012, when Emanuel devoted the Dearborn Road bike lane, he gloated that his bike-friendly metropolis would steal IT expertise from Seattle and Portland.

“I anticipate not solely to take all their bikers, however I additionally need all the roles that include this, all of the financial progress that comes with this, all of the alternatives of the longer term that include this,” Emanuel mentioned.

And, after all, there have been criticisms that Divvy initially serviced solely the Loop and the rich lakefront. “If you launch [bike sharing in] a metropolis, you’re going to the densest a part of the town, the place it’s probably the most painful to park, and the place you could have the utmost variety of individuals which can be on the lookout for various transportation choices,” Klein defined on the time. Divvy at the moment has a wider citywide footprint, though sure far-flung neighborhoods are nonetheless ignored.

In 2016, Bicycling journal put Chicago on the high of its listing of America’s Best Bike Cities for “its embrace of motorcycle share and its beginnings of a protected community.” After I spoke to the previous director of the Lively Transportation Alliance for a story on Emanuel’s legacy, he had nothing however reward for the mayor’s biking insurance policies.

Emanuel can also be a robust proponent of high-speed rail, says Richard Harnish, govt director of the Chicago-based Excessive Pace Rail Alliance. As White Home chief of employees, he lobbied for $eight billion in high-speed rail funding as a part of the 2009 stimulus package deal, which Illinois used to rebuild the road between Chicago and St. Louis. In the meantime, California is engaged on the primary stretch of a high-speed line that it hopes will run at 220 miles per hour between San Francisco and Los Angeles in lower than three hours.

As transportation secretary, “I feel that Rahm can be a proponent of high-speed rail,” Harnish mentioned. It helps that it is a precedence for Biden, whose transition web site promises “each American metropolis with 100,000 or extra residents high-quality, zero-emissions public transportation choices … starting from mild rail networks to enhancing current transit and bus traces to putting in infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists.”

Emanuel was ridiculed for giving Tesla founder Elon Musk permission to dig a tunnel for a 150-mile-an-hour prepare from O’Hare Airport to the Loop. Musk promised to pay for the $1 billion challenge himself, hoping to recoup his funding with $25 fares — ten occasions the price of the Blue Line. The challenge died with the Emanuel Administration. Mayor Lori Lightfoot doesn’t need an airport categorical.

“I actually recognize that Rahm was an important transportation want for the town,” Harnish mentioned, though he added, “Musk represented that the town wouldn’t need to pay for it. I’m undecided that must be believed.” And naturally, many argued tat a second prepare to O’Hare was not an important transportation want.

The prospect of Emanuel within the Biden Cupboard has lit a fireplace underneath the left, sparked by his dealing with of the Laquan McDonald killing. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., tweeted, “We should govern with accountability. Laquan McDonald’s life mattered,” following a New York Instances story that portrayed herself and Emanuel as two poles of a Democratic Occasion that Biden should now unite. 47th Ward Ald. Matt Martin joined in: “Rahm’s Alderman right here. Additionally the man who helped write the consent decree after the homicide of Laquan McDonald. Chicagoans already retired Rahm. Let’s hold it that means.”

As transportation secretary, although, Emanuel would occupy a ministerial publish to date faraway from ideological policymaking that Barack Obama crammed it with a Republican: former congressman Ray LaHood of Peoria.

Chicago is the nation’s transportation hub. O’Hare is its busiest airport. Twenty-five p.c of all freight prepare visitors passes by means of this metropolis. And but, we haven’t had a Chicagoan operating DOT since Samuel Skinner, George H.W. Bush’s transportation secretary from 1989 to 1991. Plus: Chicago has been attempting for many years to acquire federal funding for a $2.three billion Crimson Line extension to 130th Road. Placing a Chicagoan answerable for that funding might solely enhance our possibilities.

The job would additionally get Emanuel’s mug off the TV, besides when he’s chopping the ribbon for a brand new freeway spur or an intermodal middle on some native information report. Emanuel won’t recognize the obscurity of the job, however I feel plenty of different individuals would.

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