Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 24, 2011

Three Dead in Small Plane Crash in Rantoul

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

The names of three people who died in a fiery plane crash Sunday in central Illinois have been released.

Rantoul police have not released the names of the people on the plane, but multiple news reports cite a family member who identified the victims as Champaign residents Jon Buerkett, 56; his wife, Dana Buerkett, 47; and their daughter, Morgan Buerkett, 19.

According to an official with the Federal Aviation Administration, the single-engine Piper PA 46 airplane went down shortly after takeoff at the Rantoul Airport about 125 miles southwest of Chicago. Agency spokesman Roland Herwig said federal authorities were notified of the crash before 10 a.m. Sunday, and that the plane was destroyed by fire.

Rantoul Police Chief Paul Farber said severe weather was rolling into the area at the time of the crash.

The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash.

Autopsies are scheduled Monday, according to Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup.

Categories: Transportation

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 22, 2011

Some Champaign Neighborhoods Leave Pedestrians Out in the Street

(Reported by Dan Petrella of CU-CitizenAccess)

The city of Champaign came up with a plan 25 years ago to repair deteriorating sidewalks.

Since then, the city has fixed some old ones and developers have built new sidewalks in new subdivisions.

But in some of the older areas in town - many of which are home to low-income residents - the city never had a plan to install sidewalks and has never done so.

In fact, despite the city's goal of being a "walking community," about one-fourth of its streets lack sidewalks, according to planning documents.

Champaign's 2011 comprehensive plan states that development should be "designed to promote street life and encourage walking with interconnected sidewalks, trails and streets." Sidewalks also provide a safe way for children to walk to school, for those who use public transit to get to their bus stops and even for residents to walk their dogs, city officials say.

"Sidewalks are an important element in promoting walkability and recreation," Lacey Rains Lowe, a Champaign city planner, said in an email interview.

Leslie Kimble lives in Dobbins Downs, one of the older neighborhoods in town without a complete sidewalk system. The subdivision, located just north of Interstate 74, was originally developed outside Champaign's limits, but a portion of the neighborhood has since been annexed into the city.

It is one of the lower-income areas in town, a factor Kimble thinks adds to the neighborhood's need for sidewalks.

"Because our neighborhood is low-income, there are many people without cars," Kimble said. "Sidewalks in our neighborhood, especially leading along Anthony Drive to all the stores and restaurants, would be very helpful, not to mention much more safe."

City documents show that planners are aware of the problem.

"Some streets (in Dobbins Downs) have sidewalks while others do not, resulting in a disjointed system," according to the city's comprehensive plan. This limits residents' access to nearby employers and the restaurants and stores on North Prospect Avenue.

Sidewalks not required until 1970s

The condition of a neighborhood's sidewalk system is directly related to planning regulations at the time the neighborhood was developed, according to city documents and planning officials

Lynn Dearborn, a University of Illinois professor of urban and regional planning, said the fact that many of the neighborhoods without sidewalks are lower income is most likely a coincidence.

"Whether a neighborhood in the city has a sidewalk system is largely based upon when it was developed and what state policy was," Dearborn said. "I've noticed parts of the city that are more well-to-do but still are lacking sidewalks in some areas."

Prior to the early 1970s, Champaign, like Urbana and many other cities, did not require sidewalks in residential areas. That meant neighborhoods developed during the 1950s and 1960s never had any installed. Since then, it has been mandatory for all new developments - residential, commercial and industrial - to have sidewalks installed along their streets.

But constructing sidewalks in older neighborhoods is complicated and expensive due to existing infrastructure and the need to negotiate right-of-way agreements with property owners, according to planning documents.

"When a neighborhood is designed without key urban design elements ... it is much, much harder and more costly to locate and build those things after the fact," Rains Lowe, the city planner, said.

Champaign's ongoing financial woes make it unlikely that this situation will change in the foreseeable future. Adopted in 2008, Champaign's transportation master plan says that "adding sidewalks on the miles and miles of arterials, collectors and local streets is not financially possible in existing neighborhoods."

Meanwhile, the budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 reduced some funding for repairing aging sidewalks.

Sidewalks increase by 32 percent

The mileage of sidewalks throughout the city has increased by 32 percent in five years, from about 267 miles of sidewalks in 2005 to 352 miles in 2010, according to city documents. This is a result of new development, annexation and a handful of projects that built new sidewalks in existing areas of the city.

Before retiring in May, Gup Kramer, former concrete supervisor for the Champaign Public Works Department, said that creating new sidewalks is not the city's main priority. For the past 25 years, the plan has been to fix up sidewalks that have deteriorated over time but not install more in most existing neighborhoods.

As part of the city's sidewalk rehabilitation program, enacted in 1985, Public Works budgets about $400,000 for sidewalk repairs each year. The department's Engineering Division also provides about $200,000 annually for repairs through its neighborhood infrastructure repair program.

But cuts to the Public Works budget this year will slow the pace of sidewalk repairs.

Sidewalks lacking in higher income areas too

Gabe Lewis, a transportation planner with the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission, has studied pedestrian issues extensively through his work on the Champaign-Urbana Safe Routes to School Project.

The project's goals include educating the public about the safest ways for pedestrians and bikers to get to school and identifying problems, such as a lack of sidewalks, that keep kids from walking and biking.

While some lower-income schools lack sidewalks in the surrounding area, the problem is not exclusive to these neighborhoods, Lewis said.

For example, the lack of sidewalks in the neighborhood south of Kirby Avenue and east of Prospect Avenue is a major barrier that prevents students from walking to Bottenfield Elementary School, according to the Safe Routes to School report. Bottenfield, 1801 S. Prospect Ave., is located in a higher-income neighborhood and has a smaller percentage of low-income students than the Champaign school district as a whole.

The Safe Routes to School Project has worked with the city of Champaign to try to obtain funding to fill in gaps in sidewalk systems near schools.

Late last year, the city and the Regional Planning Commission applied for a grant through the Illinois Department of Transportation that would pay for improvements near Stratton Elementary School, 902 N. Randolph St., where about 70 percent of students come from low-income families. Among the proposed upgrades is a new section of sidewalk on Neil Street between Edgebrook Drive and Kenyon Road.

Since 2001, Champaign has financed projects to fill gaps in the existing sidewalk system, focusing its attention on areas near schools and places where safety problems exist or where gaps are less than one block long. The city spent about $155,000 on such projects last year and has budgeted about $95,000 every other year for the next 10 years for additional projects.

The city also has a goal of constructing sidewalks along major roadways that currently do not have them, but there is a $2 million backlog for such projects, according city documents.

Residents who want sidewalks in their neighborhood have the option of requesting that they be built and splitting the cost with the city. But, according city documents, this program has never been used.

Urbana, which also has several older neighborhoods without sidewalks, offers a similar cost-sharing program. But Bill Gray, Urbana's Public Works director, said he hasn't seen it used in his 20 years with the city.

"People are usually resigned to the lack of sidewalks in these residential areas, or they're not willing to share in the cost (of building them)," he said.

Jeff Marino, a Champaign city planner, said some residents don't want sidewalks built in their neighborhoods because they don't want to give up a portion of their yard for a public right-of-way.

Garden Hills gets new sidewalks

But in some neighborhoods, residents welcome new sidewalks.

The Garden Hills subdivision just south of I-74 is another neighborhood that never had sidewalks. Built during the 1950s and 1960s, the neighborhood is home to some of the city's poorest residents.

Amy Revilla, president of the United Garden Hills Neighborhood Association, said that the city has taken steps toward installing more walkways in her neighborhood.

"Sidewalks have always been a concern of ours, mostly on Paula Drive, where there is a lot of foot traffic," Revilla said. "The city of Champaign has done a great job in doing what they can, but funding is always an issue."

Using about $200,000 in federal stimulus funds, the city built two blocks of new sidewalks along Paula Drive last year and made improvements to sidewalk ramps near Garden Hills Elementary School. The city plans to build another block of sidewalks along Paula later this year, Chris Sokolowski, a Champaign civil engineer, said in an email.

Need for those with disabilities

One purpose of sidewalks that may be overlooked by many is accessibility for people with disabilities.

Kramer, the former concrete supervisor, said the city was ahead of its time when it came to accessible infrastructure for the disabled. In 1987, Champaign passed a policy that required the installation of sidewalk access ramps whenever curbs or sidewalks were replaced.

Five years later, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act, which required ramps to be installed throughout the country. Since the act was put in place, ramps have not been installed in neighborhoods that never had sidewalks to begin with.

Sokolowski said that the recent struggles of the economy and reductions in revenue have caused the city to cut back on its spending on capital-improvement projects and focus primarily on maintaining existing infrastructure.

The current financial climate makes it a challenge to keep up with needed repairs. Before his retirement in May, Kramer's sidewalk-repair crew was cut from eight workers to seven.

"Champaign is a leader in all infrastructure," Kramer said. "We've been very aggressive. But a city is like a homeowner: if you have money, then you can make the repairs. I expect there to be less money in the future, and less repairs.

(Photo by Dan Petrella of CU-CitizenAccess)

Categories: Economics, Transportation

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 21, 2011

University of Illinois Votes to End Aviation Program

University of Illinois Votes to End Aviation Program

The University of Illinois will end its Institute of Aviation.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 21, 2011

Impact of American Airlines’ Purchase on Boeing

AMR Corp.'s American Airlines is claiming to have made the largest purchase on Wednesday of airplanes in aviation history, but it is raising some questions over how the purchase will affect American's relationship with the Chicago-based Boeing company.

American has had an almost exclusive relationship buying planes from Boeing, or companies Boeing bought out, for years. But that all changed when American announced today that it's buying 200 new planes from Boeing and 260 planes from Boeing's rival, Airbus.

"I think it's hurtful to Boeing," said Aaron Gellman, who follows the airline industry at Northwestern University.

He said the higher ups at Boeing should be raising questions about how Airbus struck such a lucrative deal with American Airlines.

But Florida-based aviation consultant Stuart Klaskin said the order does not mean there is a broken relationship between American and Boeing.

"There's no way they can say they're disappointed," Klaskin said. "They just sold 200 airplanes to American Airlines. I mean, God. It's a massive - by any other standard it's a massive order."

Klaskin said if anything, American caught up with other airline companies by diversifying its fleet of planes so as to not have all its eggs in the Boeing basket.

Meanwhile, Joe Schwieterman, who follows the aviation industry at Chicago's DePaul University, said, "This is really making a statement that they're going to have an equal mix of Airbus and Boeing and I think it's a bit of a wake up call for Boeing, as well, that they shouldn't count on the majority of orders from the big guys here in the U.S."

Schwieterman said there is no need for Boeing to panic. Buying 200 planes is still a huge order and it should give Boeing confidence to make further improvements to its aircraft.

Categories: Business, Transportation

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 20, 2011

UI Flight Program Could Land at Parkland College

The University of Illinois' Board of Trustees is poised to vote Thursday on ending its long-running flight training program, but there is a chance the Institute of Aviation may have a new home.

The Urbana campus has provided flight training since the mid-1940's. Parkland College President Tom Ramage said he has been in talks with U of I officials about incorporating the aviation program into his school's curriculum. He said he is interested in keeping the institute alive, even if it is on a smaller scale.

"A private pilot licensure as well as commercial pilot licensure can happen without a degree or it can happen with a degree," he said. "We could go as far as the associate's degree, and partner as we do with many other programs with another university to do that degree competition."

Ramage said the prospect of Parkland adopting the flight program is largely dependent on what happens in the days ahead. He noted that discussions with the U of I about the institute have just started.

"I would imagine if the (University of Illinois) decides not to come and have a discussion with Parkland that they have good reason for it," Ramage said. "I don't know that I would beat down the door trying to figure out why."

On his end, Ramage said he would have to review the cost of maintaining the flight program, and the prospect of post-graduate jobs for aviation students.

A panel of U of I administrators and faculty made the recommendation in February to get rid of the Institute of Aviation as part of a series of cost-cutting measures. If that recommendation goes through with the vote by the Board of Trustees, then the flight program would end by 2014.

Staff and alumni from the Institute of Aviation plan to rally Thursday morning before the Board of Trustees meeting in Chicago.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 14, 2011

U of Trustees Will Vote to Close Aviation Next Week

University of Illinois Interim Chancellor Robert Easter confirms the university's Board of Trustees will vote next week during a meeting in Chicago to close its Institute of Aviation.

A panel of administrators and faculty made the recommendation in February as part of a series of cost-cutting measures known as "Stewarding Excellence." But members of the Institute's Alumni Advisory Board say the trustees are ignoring a vote by the U of I's Faculty Senate to keep the facility open. Even though the proposal to close the Institute failed by three votes, Easter calls that tally 'essentially a tie".

"We have other bodies, the Stewarding Excellence process, the Faculty Committee on courses and curriculum, they have supported the decision," he said. "We had to arrive at some decision, so we decided to move it forward."

Easter notes that the Institute's degree program was only established in the late 90's, while the U of I has been teaching people to fly since the 1940's. Easter said the U of I still wants to find a way to offer pilot training, and it is working with a local community college to provide those courses. He would not say whether that school is Parkland College. Easter also said the closure date for Aviation would be 'several years' away.

"We have a very real obligation and commitment to continue to operate the educational program until the students have had a reasonable opportunity to complete their degrees." he said.

Karen Koenig with the Institute's alumni panel said there has been an effort to merge the Institute with another unnamed college. But Easter said any progress at a meeting between the two parties scheduled for Wednesday will likely be too late to change the outcome of the Board of Trustees vote next week.

Koenig said the powers that be are ignoring the actions of others, and not giving Aviation enough time to respond, since the Institute's alumni panel only learned of administrators' plans on Tuesday.

"The original proposal made by (Easter) to close the institute is the one being sent to the trustees, and that totally circumnavigates the votes that were made by the University Senate, the Student Senate, the Faculty-Student Senate, and the Educational Policy Committee," Koenig said. "Those are not being considered."

Dana Dann-Messier is President of Koening's advisory group. He says the university's efforts to shut down aviation started in 2005, when instructor and director positions started becoming vacant and weren't refilled. Dann-Messier says those actions are hurting the business.

"It's apocolyptic," he said. "Those are the words the industry is using for the pilot shortage on the horizon. And for the administration to be engaging in these kinds of games when the future of air transportation is at stake, and we can be a leader in that future, it's mind boggling. That's all I can say."

Staff and alumni from the Institute of Aviation plan to rally Thursday morning before the Board of Trustees meeting.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 13, 2011

Study Shows Race a Factor in Illinois Traffic Stops

A new study shows race could play a role in traffic stops across Illinois.

An Illinois Department of Transportation and University of Illinois at Chicago study of traffic stops in 2010 found that minorities are more likely to be cited or to be asked for a consent search than white drivers. The research is part of a state rule that requires police to record the details of traffic stops and report them to the DOT. For the last few years, the research has revealed similar results.

Adam Schwartz, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said the ACLU wants state police to get rid of consent searches entirely. A consent search is when an officer asks the driver if he or she can search the vehicle. Unlike other searches done by police, a vehicle search can be done without a warrant. All the officer needs is consent from the driver.

"Given the danger of conscious or unconscious bias being in play, we think that consent searches always will yield a disparate impact against minority motorists. It simply is too subjective a technique to apply," Schwartz said.

In June of this year, the ACLU of Illinois filed a complaint to the United States Department of Justice. According to Schwartz, the ACLU wants there to be a federal investigation into Illinois State Police practices, and for the US DOJ to issue a ban on the use of consent searches.

Schwartz said the new study confirms the need for such action.

"We think that it's a technique that can't be cured or reformed," he said.

Monique Bond, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Police Department, said they are in the process of reviewing the raw data and expect an internal review to be completed within the coming weeks. She said that no decision had been made to cease consent searches.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 30, 2011

Getting Rural Residents Where They Need to Be

The Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District gives passengers about 10 million rides each year. But as Dan Petrella of CU-CitizenAccess reports, for Champaign County's rural residents, getting where they need to go isn't as easy as walking to the nearest bus stop.

(Photo by Dan Petrella)

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AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 27, 2011

Quinn Signs Seat-Belt Measure Into Law

Illinois drivers and passengers need to buckle up because Gov. Pat Quinn on Monday signed a new Illinois law requiring everyone riding in a vehicle to wear their seat belts.

"We want to save lives and this legislation is important to doing that," Quinn said at a bill-signing ceremony in Chicago.

The new law requiring everyone to wear their seatbelts goes into effect Jan. 1. Currently, people riding in the front seat of a vehicle have to wear their seat belts, but people in the back seat are only required to be belted in if they are under 18.

Officials said it was the latest measure to improve safety on Illinois roads. Others actions by the state have included a ban on texting while driving and increased training for student drivers.

Secretary of State Jesse White said making rear passengers wear seat belts will protect not only them but those people in the front seat as well.

"If by chance they are not buckled up they could become a human missile for those in the front of the vehicle," White said.

Buses, taxicabs and emergency vehicles are exempt from the new law.

Senate President John Cullerton, a Democrat from Chicago, was one of the sponsors of the measure along with the late GOP Rep. Mark Beaubien, the seven-term state lawmaker who died earlier this month.

Beaubien, of Barrington Hills, collapsed while at a House GOP event with family, friends and colleagues. Beaubien's family attended the bill signing.

His widow, Dee Beaubien, said the measure was "extremely important" to him and all the people who helped get it passed.

"He considered them legacy," she said.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 20, 2011

Ill. Sens. Introduce Competing Transportation Privatization Bills

Illinois' two U.S. senators are behind clashing proposals about privatizing transportation assets.

Republican Sen. Mark Kirk said a plan he unveiled Monday would open up another $100 billion in private money for airports, railroads and highways. Illinois' junior senator also said the measure would ease federal restrictions, making it easier for local governments to sell transportation assets, such as Illinois' 54 rest-stops and airports, to private bidders.

"You'll see London, Paris, Rome, Berlin [are] all partnership airports now," he said. "They have found that this is a way to tremendously enhance their ... services and infrastructure."

Kirk's plan comes just a few days after Sen. Dick Durbin, his chamber's No. 2 Democrat, put forth a bill that would likely make privatization a lot harder. Durbin's proposal would make municipalities pay back any federal grants they received for big transportation projects if they're planning to privatize. It would also give the federal government a "seat at the table" when municipalities are considering privatization, Durbin said.

But Kirk said Durbin's proposal likely won't fly in the Capitol, especially given the GOP majority in the House. In a statement, Durbin spokeswoman Christina Mulka said Democrat has found a "good amount of support" for his plan. While Durbin's bill deals exclusively with existing public transportation infrastructure, Kirk's would deal with new projects, Mulka said, adding that Durbin sees "a lot of common ground between the two bills."

The debate over privatization is especially poignant for Chicagoans, who have seen their fair share of controversial privatization deals. The city sold its parking meter system to a private company in 2008 for $1.15 billion, only to have a scathing report by the city's inspector general declare that Richard M. Daley's administration could have gotten more money out of the deal.

A plan to privatize Midway Airport fell through in 2009 due to the economic downturn. That plan has been in a holding pattern since, with with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration in no rush to revive it.


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