Illinois Considers New Stormwater Regulations

Inlet FlowIf you live in Illinois, it’s important for you to be aware of a set of recommendations for changes to stormwater regulations in Illinois. Because if the Illinois EPA (IEPA) adopts the recommendations as submitted, everyone in Illinois has the potential to be financially impacted by their implementation. And even though these recommendations have the potential to significantly increase costs to the majority of people in Illinois, few people were even aware they were being developed. Unfortunately, these regulations are complicated and comprehensive so I’ve created a general summary in this post with a more detailed look at the recommendations in the next post (draft of that post). I encourage you to at least read through this post because, if implemented, this will impact everyone living or doing business in Illinois. It is very important to know and understand what is being considered.


Those of us who work with stormwater design and regulations first found out about the proposed recommendation about a month ago from one of the committee members. He was one of only two engineers who were on the committee with the rest primarily being members of environmental groups. This engineer sent out an email letting us know that it was important for us to attend a public meeting where the draft recommendations were to be released. He also encouraged us to submit comments because while he was able to prevent through his participation on the committee some unreasonable suggestions from making it into the document, there were still significant problems with the proposal. Initially the IEPA was only going to give the public until November 23, 2012, to comment. This date has been extended to November 30, 2012, although it really is still not enough time to adequately inform people about these recommendations and give them time to respond. The link to the IEPA fact sheet with the public meeting announcement, a link to the proposed recommendations, and a suggested comment email you can send are at the bottom of this post.

General summary of the recommendations

The workgroup recommended that sites to be developed in Illinois would be required to retain the first 1.35 inches of rain that falls on the area of impervious surfaces located on the property. The site would not be allowed to release this water off the property at all. An example of this is if you were to build an average size home on an average size lot, you would have to build a stormwater facility on your property to capture and hold approximately 3000 gallons of water (this amount of water fits into a space measuring about 10 feet by 10 feet by 4 feet deep). The design of this facility would have to be done by a licensed professional engineer and the drawings recorded with your building permit. While the recommendations also suggest requiring a licensed engineer to prepare as-builts and certify the facility was constructed as planned and record these drawings with the state and local agencies, the recommendations also indicate a possibility of waiving just the as-built drawing requirement for single family homes. Instead homeowners would be required to self-certify that the facility was built as designed.
However, the workgroup recognized that not all sites might allow the construction of such a facility – for example, in a downtown area. In these cases, property owners would have to provide an off-site mitigation facility.This mitigation site would have to be located somewhere in the same region as the building site.
The other component of the recommendations is the requirement of an operation and maintenance plan. This plan must show how the property owner will maintain and operate the facility for the life of the property and provide for methods to measure and prove the facility is performing as designed. The recommendation is that this plan become a recorded covenant attached to your deed with responsible parties identified in the document. And this plan will be required whether the facility is located on the property or on a mitigation site. The plan must also cover such items as weeding, irrigation, replacement at the end of the facility’s useful life, snow storage, and de-icing practices. A budget for the plan’s implementation must also be included. It is suggested the owner track these costs and submit them to the IEPA on a periodic basis.
The workgroup does not believe any legislation is needed to implement these regulations. Therefore it is suggested the IEPA enforce them through existing programs. This means that most likely local governments will be required by the IEPA to enforce the regulations locally. Because of the lack of staff at most local governments and the amount of inspections and oversight and enforcement required by these recommendations, many governments could be forced to create a stormwater utility or at a minimum raise taxes to their citizens to cover the cost of these regulations.
The other problem for local governments is that these regulations will apply to any project involving impervious surfaces like roads. So state and local governments will have to capture and hold water along roadways. Because there usually is not room to do this along a typical road corridor, the recommendations suggest the purchase of land along roads for these stormwater facilities. This could lead to governments having to secure land from adjacent property owners for this purpose. And in many cases it could lead to the installation and required maintenance of natural plantings and swales along roads in front of homes. The costs for the additional land, design and construction of these facilities, and the perpetual monitoring and maintenance of their performance will significantly increase government expenditures which most likely will be passed along to property owners through taxes or stormwater fees.

General problems with the recommendations

Overall the problems these recommendations could cause are potentially numerous. Below are just a few problems/issues, in addition to those noted above, that might be faced by each of the following groups:
Homeowners: They will have additional costs during construction of anything that will create a hard, nonpermeable surface such as buildings, driveways, pools, patios, etc. They will have a liability attached to their deed naming them as a responsible party for the operation and maintenance of a stormwater facility either located on their property or on someone else’s property if mitigation was needed. They will need to follow their operation and maintenance plan, provide and track the budget for its implementation, and possibly submit this to a governmental agency. Should neighbors complain they are not adequately maintaining their own facility, they could be subject to inspection and possible enforcement and fines by a governmental agency. In addition, if living along a public road, homeowners might be required to sell property to governmental agencies for stormwater facilities. These might include swales with natural plantings located across the frontage of each home.
Business owners/property owners: They will face the same requirements as homeowners except for the additional requirement to submit final as-built drawings that are prepared and certified by a licensed engineer.
Well and septic owners: They could experience changes to groundwater tables and performance depending on facilities constructed for nearby development and roadways. Septic fields could experience greater amounts of water while well owners might find their recharge areas affected by the elimination of natural rainfall. Or wells could experience an increase in water flow and risk the possibility of direct contamination from sources not previously tied into the groundwater in that area.
All citizens and the governments they support: Because government is a property owner, all roads and any linear projects involving nonpermeable surfaces could be subject to these requirements. This means that costs for many projects could rise significantly as additional property must be secured and stormwater facilities constructed. Because all this adds time to the design phase, projects will no longer be implemented in a timely fashion. There is also a good chance that the IEPA will require local governments to enforce these regulation on private property. If so, most local governments do not currently have the resources to do so. This means that there will be a good chance local governments will either have to raise taxes or impose a stormwater fee to pay for the staff and resources needed to monitor, manage, and enforce these requirements.
County Recorders/Realtors/Lawyers/Bankers/Lenders: The recommendations include a requirement to record the operation and maintenance plan as a covenant on the property. This means an additional document to be recorded at the county recorder’s office along with a new document to be recorded each time the responsible party on the plan is changed. This could also become an additional document that must be checked for compliance and accuracy by title companies, banks, mortgage companies, realtors, and lawyers, etc any time a property is sold or refinanced. In addition, because of the problems and potential damages that could result from introducing stormwater into the ground in a manner and at a rate that is not natural for a specific area, there is a potential for increased litigation. 

What can I do?

It is important for people to comment on this topic. Otherwise, the recommendations will be submitted to the IEPA as they are currently proposed in the draft document. Below is an email form that can be used to send in your comments to the workgroup. I've included suggested language, but it can be changed by you just by clicking in the message area and editing the words. To submit, just click the send button at the bottom of the email box. At the bottom of this post there is also a share button – make sure to share the post with all your Illinois friends to encourage them to also send in comments:
Your name and address as entered below will be added. You do not need to add your name above.
13 people have taken part in this action. Please contact if you have any difficulties or queries.





Home Buying Tips and Cheat Sheet

Southern HomeBuying a home is probably one of the biggest purchases we will make in our lives. It's also something that many of us end up living with for an extensive period of time. In my lifetime, I have been involved in the purchase of five homes, but the tips I am going to share with you were not gained through my home-buying experience. Nope, I picked up these tidbits of caution and information while working at different cities trying to help others who bought a home and were dealing with problems they either did not know about or anticipate. And because of this, the tips I'm giving are specifically focused on buying homes in a city, but could possibly apply to other jurisdictions.

Check your zoning and the rules for that zoning

This is not as much fun as checking out the pool in the backyard, but it can end up playing a critical part in your future happiness. Contrary to popular belief, we might live in America, but that does not mean we are free to do whatever we want on our own property. Everything you do on your property is subject to a set of rules determined by the zoning set for your property. If you buy the parcel with grand plans for new garages or a home business or a place to park all your cars and boats, you might want to first make sure all that will be allowed on your property. The other reason to check zoning is to make sure you don't get any surprise neighbors. That vacant parcel next door might look pretty good today, but if it is zoned other than single-family residential, be prepared to someday wake up and maybe find yourself staring at or hearing (or smelling?) a doggy daycare.

Check to see if the home is part of a homeowners' association

This can have positive and negative consequences. Some properties not only have to follow zoning rules, but also subdivision rules typically referred to as covenants. If a subdivision is built-out, covenants are regulated not by the city, but by the homeowners' association. (If it is not built out, the developer typically adminsters the covenants.) So prior to purchase read the covenants to make sure you are allowed to use the property as you would like to. Another issue to research is whether or not you will pay a homeowner association fee. Each subdivision can have a wide range of assets for which properties in that development are responsible. Some only pay for a sidewalk while others might pay for swimming pools or in the case of townhomes the repair of the structures. And if your developer didn't want to follow city subdivision rules and the infrastructure in your subdivision was never accepted by the city, you will most likely also be responsible for helping to pay for the maintenance and repair of roads, sewer, water, etc. The positive side of this is that a homeowners' association can provide benefits by ensuring uses in the development remain as intended, offering added amenities not available to others in the city, or providing maintenance for common areas.

Make sure there is good drainage on and away from the property

Not thinking about drainage prior to purchase can definitely lead to problems later. Whether it's a home that sits in a bowl because the ground does not drain away from the foundation or a home in an area with high groundwater, or a home lying close to quiet, serene waterways or drainage paths that turn to raging rivers during a storm, you'll want to make sure you know what you're getting into before you buy. To get an idea of how much of a problem water can be when it rains, take some time to check out these things:

  • Walk around the house and note the downspouts – are they hooked up, do they extend far enough away from the home, is it easy for the end to become blocked (you can't imagine how much water drains off a roof during a rain)?
  • Walk around the house and note if the ground drains away from the house or towards the home – particularly towards any windows, walkouts, or window wells in the foundation.
  • Walk around the property – does it look like the land around the property drains away or towards this home's property? Are there drainage basins near the property lines, and if so, does it look like they could easily become covered? If good drainage of this home's lot depends on that opening staying clear, will you have control over that or would you have to depend on a neighbor to keep it open because it is on their property or behind their fence?
  • Look at how the height of the home's foundation, the garage door, and other openings such as window wells compare to the road – is the road above these openings? If the road is above these openings, there is a very good chance water will drain from the road towards these openings.
  • Look in the basement for a sump pump – if the sump pump stops for any reason such as pump failure or electric outage, will your lower level flood? Will this be a problem because of a finished lower level or a need to store items there, or because of heating or other equipment or appliances? Check to see if the pump has a battery backup. If there is one, will that be sufficient to protect the lower level? If there are pumps in other areas of the home such as depressed patios, will failure of the pump cause damage in these areas? Is there something that can be done to protect or eliminate that problem?

Geneva Storm Sun May 29 2011It is also important to look at the subdivision plat and drainage plans for the property. These plats and plans can usually be found at the public works/engineering departments of the city. The plans will typically show drainage paths. Some subdivisions are designed to create overland flood routes where water is channeled during a major storm event. If the property lies next to one of these routes, are the openings into the home above the expected flood elevations in these routes? Typically homes next to these routes have restrictions on how low openings can be into the home, but if previous owners were not aware of these restrictions and made changes to the home, openings could have been created too low.

And while you are talking to the public works/engineering department, you can ask if they have any records showing drainage or flooding problems for that particular property. Another good place to check for potential flooding issues is the FEMA website. This site allows you to type in an address and pull up a map to see if a property lies in an area designated as a floodplain. Even if you discover the home and other structures are outside a floodplain, note if any other part of the property lies within one because this might prevent you from making improvements to the lot in the future in the portion of the property lying within the floodplain.

Adjacent improvements

As you walk around the property, note any infrastructure such as waterways or bike paths or sidewalks. Ask who maintains these. Some creeks and other improvements might naturally degrade causing a loss of soil or other changes to the property. If this occurs, is the homeowner responsible for the repair or will a homeowners' association or other entity make the repair?

Another item to note is the type of roadway. Some streets are constructed with curb and gutters while others have only ditches with no curbs or gutters. The cost of these improvements are reflected in the cost of the property so if you purchase a lot on a road with no curb/gutters or even sidewalks, it did not include a cost for these types of improvements. If after you purchase, you decide that you do not like that the edge of the road or the ditch is difficult to maintain, and you would like to change it, be aware that this change might not happen so easily. The city will not typically construct these improvements at no cost to the property owners along that street. The reasoning behind this is why should all the taxpayers in a city pay to improve specific properties other than their own, particularly if city revenues are so low that the city can barely keep up with just maintaining pavement? However, there could be some cities that have made the decision to make these types of improvements at no cost to the property owner. So it might be helpful to check with the city to find out their policy for upgrading roadways and streets if that would make a difference in your purchase.

Also keep in mind some roads are private and not maintained by the city. If the property is located on a private roadway, the homeowner could end up responsible for all costs related to maintenance of that roadway.


While you are checking out the subdivision plat for drainage issues, also look to see what easements are located on the property. It is very typical to have at least a five-foot easement or reservation along all side and rear property lines for utility placement. There can also be wider easements for water or sewer lines or for drainage ways. If a pipe or other utility has been placed in these easements, be aware that at some point, the utility company might need to get in there to make repairs. Improvements or landscaping are not supposed to be placed in these easement areas; however, many times property owners either ignore or are not aware of these easements so swimming pools, fences, and gardens end up in these locations. If the utility company damages these improvements while making necessary repairs, the property owner might not be reimbursed for any damages. So it is helpful to find out the policy from the specific utility companies on how they handle entry and damage to improvements made in their easements. Also if there is a drainage easement, it is important for these to remain completely clear or flooding can occur. Note any potential blockages that have been placed in these areas. And be aware of their locations and how they might affect any planned improvements to the site.


I know no one wants to think of sewers when they are shopping for a new home, but I think it is pretty safe to say no one likes sewage flowing into their home. So a little bit of research up front can go a long way to minimizing problems later on. One of the most important things to remember is that if a home has a sewer, and most in a city do, there is always a chance that something can happen to cause sewage to back up into a home. The key is to understand why and what can be done to minimize the chances of a backup. Most of the time, backups are due to something that is wrong with the private sewer from the home to the main. These problems can be caused by blockages from roots, dirt or other debris from failed pipes, or just faulty pipe construction. Cities usually keep track of backups so you can find out if a home has had regular backups by contacting the city keeping in mind that one backup is not an indication there is a problem. What you are looking for is a record of constant and regular backups. You can also televise a private sewer to make sure there are no problems.

ACE 2010 - AWWA Water ExpoThe other reason a home might experience sewer back ups is due to overloading of the city sewers during a rain event. Some cities still have what is known as combined sewers. These are pipes that normally carry only sewage, but during a rainfall, might also carry stormwater. Unfortunately, these combined sewers were not sized to carry a very large storm so when they fill up, the water can back up into homes. The EPA is working with cities to eliminate this problem, but it is very costly and might not have been addressed yet in some communities. And most insurance companies for cities will not pay property owners for sewer backups so you might need your own insurance to cover backups if they occur. You can find out if a property is hooked up to a combined sewer by calling the city's public works/engineering department. That department can also tell you if that particular line experiences backups during a storm. Also keep in mind, there are things that can be done to help prevent backups in a home from a combined system, and a home might already have these in place, or they could be installed after purchase.

Neighboring properties

As you are walking around the property to check out the drainage, also note any landscaping in adjacent properties. Look for trees or shrubs that might already encroach over the line or might be close enough to encroach in the future. This encroachment might not be a problem for everyone, but sometimes it is so be aware of how you might have to handle cutting trees or bushes back to the line.


Another item to notice as you walk around outside are any potential nuisances. These can be just about anything depending on what types of property uses might deter you from enjoying your property. They seem to be different for everyone, so I am going to list a few I've had people complain about, but keep in mind these do not bother everyone so my intention is not to present them as actual nuisances because some people view these as benefits to the property.

  • Railroads
  • Bike Paths
  • Parks (particularly loudspeakers from pools and ball diamonds in the summer)
  • Schools (high schools might be particularly an issue with parking)
  • Factories/Industries
  • Restaurants or other commercial uses
  • Highways/busy roads

traffic at the Nathan Hale School 1Unfortunately when shoppping for a home you only spend a short amount of time at the property so you might not even notice these until after you have moved in. And only then do you realize that this use is a problem. The key to remember is that as a property owner, you have little to no control over a use that is already in place when you purchase. For example, if I buy a home across from a school during the summer and then in the fall realize I can't stand all the traffic in the school year from dropping off and picking up kids, it is not reasonable for me to expect everyone to somehow get rid of all the cars or to relocate the school. But it is understandable that I might not have been aware of just how significant the traffic is because of when I purchased the home. So spend some time just hanging out in the yard looking around at what is nearby. Listen to the sounds, try to identify any smells, and if you see neighbors ask them if there are any traffic, odor, or noise issues they experience at any time in the year.

Another thing to keep in mind with this issue is that someone might have tried to minimize the nuisance with fencing, walls, or landscaping. If these are not on your property and under your control, be aware that they might go away at some point, and you might not have any control on replacing them.

Seasonal Issues

This might not be a problem everywhere, but I bring this one up mainly because I live where it snows. And if you buy a home anytime it is not winter, it's easy to forget how awful it can get when it snows. Unfortunately when it does snow, we need to put that stuff somewhere. So as you are hanging around on the property listening, smelling, and hoping a neighbor stops by, think about the winter (if you are in "snow country") and visualize where you will put the snow from your driveway. Also think about where the city might put the snow from your road. Most of the time, the snow from the road will end up a pile at the curb or end of the driveway which happens to everyone and cannot be avoided. But if there is an open field across from the house or the home is in a cul-de-sac, snow might end up somewhere and in a large enough quantity that it causes problems you won't want. This is another good thing to ask the neighbors about so you aren't surprised after that first, big snowfall.

Nighttime issues

Another good idea is to check out the property at night. If you only look during the day, you might not get a good feel for the level of activity in the neighborhood when people are off school and work. Also, notice the level of lighting near the property. The lighting is determined by the city so if you believe there is not enough or too little, you might not be able to get it changed unless you add lights on your own property at your own cost.

Home Interior

I could write a whole other post on this, but I won't go into it all because there are so many items to check and many require a professional background to properly inspect. So my advice on this is, if you don't have that professional background yourself, have a home or building inspector inspect the house for any problems or deficiencies.

Below is a checklist you can print out and take with you on your home buying adventures. This cheat sheet summarizes the items described in more detail above. And if you have any other tips you think should be added, please comment below or email us your experiences. 


Public Works Group Home Buying Tips and Cheat Sheet




Are Second Life and Other Virtual Worlds the Coffee Houses of the Future?

Last year when I attended the APWA Expo in Denver, one of the speakers shared his view of how the rise of coffee houses played a major part in the advancement of mankind. It seems that prior to the introduction of coffee as a beverage, most people just drank alcohol. 

Medieval Tavern

And if you're familiar with history, this probably doesn't surprise you because as you know, back then, the other alternative, water, was usually contaminated and unsafe to drink. Unfortunately while alcohol at moderate doses did not kill as water might have, it definitely was (and still is) a depressant. So people really were not too motivated or even had the presence of mind to innovate and discover new ways of doing things. Then along came coffee and the establishments in which people congregated to drink this new beverage. I suppose in a way it could be looked at as a wakening of the population. People discovered others with similar interests, and they learned about or developed new ideas. To me this seems similar to what I see occurring with people today – but this time it's not driven by a change in consumption of a beverage, but instead is being advanced by a change in consumption of media. And it seems to be particularly accelerated in the virtual world community.

Just about everything new that I have learned or been exposed to over the last 5 1/2 years has been because of my involvement in Second Life and other virtual environments. But when I try to explain this to people who are not involved in this technology, I don't think they really understand why this is possible or the incredible rate at which learning happens in that environment. Probably because I do not explain it well enough. But I was thinking about this today and realized perhaps I should be comparing it to the coffee house story to get my point across. But in my example, television would take the place of alcohol. This is because, like alcohol in the past, television has kept our population complacent and accepting of the status quo. The hours spent sitting in front of that box kept us from reaching out to each other and discovering and sharing new ideas or inspiring each other to reach beyond what we know today.

Cafe in Second Life

In my example, the technology making virtual worlds possible would be the new "beverage on the block." And the immersive 3D environments where all this takes place have become the new "coffee house" where any of us from anywhere in the world with an Internet connection can meet, share ideas, learn, motivate, and inspire each other to expand our horizons. I would compare the community congregating in these new meeting houses to those who first started hanging out in coffee houses in the late 1700s/early 1800s. Just like the traditional coffee house, some days you might just find everyone sitting around enjoying the company; other days there's an excitement or buzz in the air because a new topic has been introduced, and people are excited about its potential to change our lives. All of us who spend time there usually leave with much more than what we brought to the table. And the people who have not yet realized what's in the coffee house or what it offers, avoid it and follow their traditional habits not really knowing or understanding what is really going on in there.

In a way, I suppose other online communities and environments could also be considered to represent virtual coffee houses. Just like not only Starbucks serves up a great cup of coffee, so too online tools other than virtual worlds offer technology and a platform where people can meet and share. Over time, I like to think that as coffee houses eventually evolved to become ubiquitous and frequented by a large number of our population, virtual worlds will one day become a common hang out spot for public discourse, discussion, and expression. I wonder if people will look back at this time in history and be able to attribute our future advances to the rise in technology and 3D immersive environments.




A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Days 68 & 69

Days 68 & 69

After spending most of the day yesterday in meetings, getting home late, then having to run out to attend a band concert, I decided just to wait until today and post both yesterday and today in one article. So here it is!


IDOT audit of ARRA project

IDOT was scheduled to be in this morning to audit my paperwork for the last ARRA project the city completed in 2010. They, along with the FHWA, have already looked everything over several times and have always been very helpful. They were scheduled to be here at 9 so I had made plans to be out of the office the rest of the day after 11 thinking two hours would be enough time, but they ended up not being able to get here until after 10:30. So I couldn't be here while they were going through everything. And because I am still waiting for the last authorization to be approved, I couldn't really finish all the paperwork, so they will have to come back anyway one more time. I guess at least this way, I can be here next time so in case they can't find the information they need in my records, I can find it for them.

APWA – Detention Pond Design

The rest of the day was spent attending a talk by the APWA about detention areas. Someone from a suburb in the Chicago area shared their experiences with building natural ponds. They said in the early 1990s a lot of mistakes were made in building these facilities, and now there's a lot of maintenance and performance issues. Many have just turned into a huge pile of weeds needing a lot of work. Their community has been systematically renovating the ponds to improve their functions. And she said they are working now to avoid any problems with new ponds that are proposed by developers.

She brought up a lot of interesting and helpful tips about pond design. One included making sure an ecologist checks the seed list. She said they have seed lists submitted that contain weeds and seeds for plants that do not grow well by seed.

APWA – Communications

The other meeting I had was with our chapter communication committee. We were set up at the last executive committee meeting to look into the communications of our chapter. This was our kick-off meeting where we looked at the big picture of what we were trying to accomplish and who we were targeting as an audience. Then we decided what methods and tools we were going to research. I have been creating a workbook for us to use in this effort. So when we are done, I will post a copy of the workbook on the site so anyone else can use it for similar efforts.


Lighting of our Parking Lot

We are still having issues with finding lights that meet the photometric requirements for our parking lot. The last vendor I was working with could not find a light, and like our consultant, did not want to alter our parking lot configuration to make it work. So I contacted one last vendor and asked if he could find a lighting scheme that worked even if it meant changing our parking layout. Hopefully he will be able to come up with something. If not, I don't think we'll be able to meet the lighting requirements for spill over.

Staff meeting

We also had our staff meeting today. Like we do at most, we discussed all our projects. And at the end we tried something new where we held a pre-design project meeting. At this meeting we discussed next year's road project and how we wanted to approach the plan development. We also set some tentative milestones and dates.

Subdivision meeting

Later in the afternoon we met with representatives of a subdivision that is going through a possible change in ownership. The subdivision was never completed, and we are trying to work to get the public improvements done.


There were a few other miscellaneous projects I worked on such as helping a resident complete documents to vacate a portion of the city alley. And I am still waiting to get that bid tab from PACE. It has been such a busy week, and tomorrow is also looking like its another full day!


A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 62

Day 62

Bus Rapid Transit

Today a few of our staff attended a meeting at Sherman Hospital in Elgin. The county arranged for the meeting to discuss bus rapid transit (BRT) along the Randall road corridor. It was a well attended discussion that lasted for most of the morning. A representative began the presentations by highlighting information about the new hospital. They have a 15-acre geothermal lake for heating/cooling that has saved them $1 million in operating costs annually. (You can read more cool facts about the lake here

Next Kane county board chairman Karen McConnaughay summarized the county's work and vision for Randall road. Then Josh Ellis from the Metropolitan Planning Council  shared with us his organization's work with studying bus rapid transit in Chicago. Earlier this year they released the report:  Bus Rapid Transit: Chicago's New Route to Opportunity . His explanation of how they identified potential corridors was interesting and made sense. 

Next up was the consultant who has been studying the implementation of bus rapid transit along Randall road – a long transportation corridor that links many of the larger communities in Kane County. It's interesting to me as someone who just moved back into the area a few years ago to listen to these studies and recommendations, remember what the corridor used to look like 30 years ago, then hear the background story of how Randall road developed. Many, many years ago when I lived and worked for the city of Aurora, I used to occasionally drive along Randall road to visit parks and the fairground. So I remember the rural character of the road that existed before development broke loose out here. Having left the area about 1985, I never saw how the road expanded to a four-lane urban section with major big-box stores replicated along it from Aurora to Elgin. But I've been told there was great effort put into making sure the corridor was streamlined for the movement of cars to the point of designing out pedestrian access. These past efforts seemed to have worked – the road moves a tremendous number of cars on a daily basis. However, it most definitely is not conducive to moving peds/bikes. And unfortunately, all those stores and amenities are huge attractions for the large population living on the other side – particularly teens who can't drive (I know from personal experience with my own children). Over the last few years, attempts have been made to bring the pedestrian back into the mix by adding sidewalks and a bus route with stops. But the pedestrian infrastructure has a long way to go, and that doesn't help with navigating the long distances between shopping centers. So, to summarize, the current trend is to "undo" the "success" of initial, car-centric development efforts in the corridor.

After hearing from the county's consultant, we broke into groups to further discuss the feasibility of implementing BRT in the corridor. Everyone seemed to conclude that yes, it could work, but… I think the "but" shows the success of BRT will be dependent on the market, the understanding and acceptance by the city governments and the public, the funding, and the specific characteristics of each area along the corridor. One key change that will have to occur is for the corridor to change from a sprawling retail center to an area of high density, mixed-use developments. This is because BRTs are dependent on the presence of a large population in need of transit. So the question is, do people want this part of their community to transition to a densely populated area with a mix of other uses in order to improve movement of pedestrians along the corridor? It's hard to say.

Finally, the morning ended with planners from PACE demonstrating the current challenges of navigating the current bus system along Randall road. The problems include a lack of shelters, sidewalks, and navigation aids. Fortunately there are plans to install shelters and sidewalks next year so this will greatly improve the experience.

Overall, readers of my blog can probably figure out what was on my mind the whole time – PRTs! or personal rapid transit. With the cost of BRTs at $2.5 to $24 million per mile, it definitely should be cost effective to instead implement a PRT system, and it would be less intrusive to the corridor. There are other benefits over a BRT such as not having to wait for a bus or learn a schedule and not having to tolerate a packed bus with no where to sit or place bags, and I am not so sure a PRT would require the change to high density. But of course, this is what is so frustrating about being in the US – most people here want to hang onto old technology while other countries are already implementing newer and better solutions that we refuse to even acknowledge. What makes it even more frustrating in this situation is that we were not talking about putting in a BRT system today – this is our county's vision for 2040! By that time, every other country in the world will have a PRT system, and we'll just be cutting the ribbon on a new BRT system. Oh well, I embedded a video showing the new PRT system at Heathrow. Maybe by 2040, I'll be retired and can move to a place like England!


Downtown Plan

After lunch we had another meeting to finish reviewing our downtown plan. There are a lot of changes we've made to the draft so the consultant will have a lot of work to revise it. Of course, the focus of our department is more on the transportation sections, but it's still interesting to listen and learn about the zoning and economic development side of it all.

APWA Meeting

At the end of the day I met with a few members of our local chapter of APWA. We have all volunteered to help out at a workshop that APWA will host on November 10th to teach team building and problem solving skills. It was a good and fun discussion, and everyone came up with great ideas to integrate into the day. If you are in the Chicago area and are interested in attending, the link to the information is here: Team Building and Problem Solving Skills

One side discussion that came up at our meeting was the lack of engineers in the US compared to other countries. Although we didn’t get into a lot of theories of why this is, I have to wonder if it does have something to do with what I mentioned in the BRT paragraphs above – the US is behind other countries in investigating and implementing new technology. I realize this is not in every industry, and from what I can tell, our military is impressively cutting edge. But these pockets of innovation don’t get transferred to the lives of the general public.

One suggestion I had made at the BRT meeting was to take the discussion into the schools – after all if they are talking about something for the year 2040, it’s the people in school now who may well be weighing in on the fate of Randall road. Better to have them aware of it and thinking about it now. And maybe it might get some interested in pursuing a career in transportation. But few seem interested in doing this or in seeing the benefits of involving schools in what we do. So we end up with kids in school who see adults implementing the same old solutions, avoiding innovation, and leaving them out of the discussion. Why in the world would they be interested in engineering! However, I realize there’s also the chance that places like China have more engineers because they are making kids study engineering. My co-worker is from there, and she said she had no choice what to study or where to work – that was all decided for her by the government.

On a lighter note, I did discover one of the other volunteers also plays World of Warcraft which also started a whole other side conversation!


A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 53

Day 53

Checking Construction

We started out our Monday by visiting a couple jobsites to make sure everything was going as planned. First we stopped by a development where they had placed curb last week along the edges of a driveway. The problem was that the sidewalk was supposed to carry through the drive, and they neglected to break the curb for the sidewalk. So they had to cut out the area where the sidewalk would cross the curb and form and pour the sidewalk. We wanted to check the slopes before they poured today to make sure they met the ADA requirements. Fortunately everything was ok. Then we went to our alley project to correct a mistake the contractor had made last Friday. He had unfortunately marked quite a few driveways as going back in as asphalt. Well, you can imagine how worried the residents were over the weekend – they had been told they were getting concrete driveways and instead saw them marked for asphalt. So when the project engineer got in today he had many calls and emails asking about this. We went out right away to get rid of the asphalt mark and instead mark them as concrete.

Preconstruction Meeting for Culvert Project

Later in the morning we held a preconstruction meeting for our culvert lining project. There really wasn't anything too different about the meeting. We normally cover all the city's rules so the contractor understands he can only work between certain hours, his workers need to clean up after themselves, they need to wear shirts, etc. They expect to start as soon as the liner is delivered.

Signal Invoices

Although we have many traffic signals in the city, we don't maintain any of them ourselves. Instead we pay other agencies for the portion for which we are responsible. So when we get these invoices, we check them and then pay them. This quarter, I found some minor mistake on the invoice so the agency had sent us a new invoice. And today I turned them over to the superintendent who pays them out of his account.

Flower Bed in Geneva

GIS Maps

We finalized two maps today – one is a map showing all the planting areas and what volunteer group takes care of a certain area. We have almost 50 areas throughout the downtown. The other map is an aerial of the whole city. We are trying to print out a new one every year to hang in our conference rooms. We also place a strip along the bottom that lists city statistics such as miles of road, number of hydrants, population, etc.

Council Meeting

I did end up attending the council meeting tonight just to make sure there were no questions about the bids for our culvert project. Nothing was asked so the council ended up approving it. Now we can arrange to have the contracts signed, and the contractor can start when the liner is delivered.