Getting Chicago’s Transit-Oriented Development on Track

Report Reviews Regional Transit Zone Performance, Recommends Five Fundamental Fixes

RTA TOD CoverCHICAGO (May 7, 2013)—While Chicago has made significant investments in transit-oriented development (TOD) over the past decade, the region has not seen the same levels of success as other major US metropolitan areas in the successful development of transit zones—the land areas within one half-mile of passenger rail stations. Whereas peer cities like New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and San Francisco saw positive growth between 2000 and 2010, Chicago actually saw a decline in development. A report released by the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) recommends a series of policy actions Chicago leaders can take to get transit-oriented development on track, and to improve the region’s economic, environmental, and social sustainability.

In the report, Transit-Oriented Development in the Chicago Region: Efficient and Resilient Communities for the 21st Century, CNT researchers evaluated the dynamics of the Chicago Region’s 367 fixed Metra and CTA rail stations and station areas between 2000 and 2010.[1] Using the National TOD Database, a first-of-its-kind web tool developed by CNT that provides access to comprehensive information about more than 4,000 transit zones across the United States, researchers identified the transit zones that performed well: those that anchored vital, walkable communities that possess an affordable, high quality of life with minimal impact on the environment.

“Understanding how transit zones perform, especially those that have performed well, helps chart a smart course for future investment and development,” said CNT President Scott Bernstein. “Local leaders can use this information to make data-driven policy and investment decisions, to make choices that prioritize connecting people to jobs and strengthening communities through more efficient use of land and resources.”

To maximize the return on public investment in transit and create a ripple of benefits for the communities that it serves, the report recommends Chicago-area leaders make five fundamental commitments to transit and transit-oriented development (TOD):

  1. Create TOD zones. Many of the barriers to TOD are embedded in the land use policies of local governments, and are further complicated by regional, state, and federal policies. Creating TOD zones helps eliminate barriers to development.
  2. Preserve affordable housing. To realize the full regional benefits of quality transit and TOD, mixed-income housing must be preserved and expanded in TOD zones. This may be accomplished through a combination of policies that prioritize housing assistance to TOD communities and enforce existing state requirements for affordable housing in all communities.
  3. Match jobs and transit. Many limitations of metropolitan Chicago’s transit system—as well as high transportation costs, traffic congestion, and air pollution—stem from job centers moving away from mixed-income neighborhoods. A more efficient and healthier pattern may be established through systematic efforts to expand transit services to job centers, site new employers in existing transit-served communities, and promote incentives to commute through transit, biking, or walking.
  4. Provide alternatives to car ownership. Even dedicated transit users often are forced to buy cars to meet transportation needs that transit cannot efficiently fill. To provide alternatives to car ownership, the Region should support the growth of car-sharing services, build more extensive bicycle infrastructure, and establish more pedestrian-friendly streetscapes.
  5. Prioritize TOD across agencies. While public agencies can set favorable conditions for TOD, public investments of more than $1 billion are needed through 2040 to remove impediments to redevelopment and attract the much larger private investments that will build the mixed-income housing, mixed-use buildings, and functioning businesses that constitute TODs. Coordinated priorities and investments among a range of public agencies are needed to generate these effective public investments.

Joe Costello, Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) Executive Director, said in response to the report’s release, “The RTA has been an active supporter of transit-oriented development over the past decade, providing funding and technical assistance support to local communities throughout our service area. We will continue to support all strategies to maximize ridership and build our region’s transit infrastructure. That’s why we invest in TOD implementation efforts to further enhance the region and encourage others to do the same.”

The report also found that between 2000 and 2010, household transportation costs in the Chicago Region rose at a faster rate than median household incomes. Chicago-area residents, therefore, paid the price twice: in higher transportation costs, and in lost opportunity for enhanced transit access to jobs and job centers.

“We have some fantastic transit assets in Chicago, we just need to utilize them more wisely and incorporate transit-oriented development principles into our economic development strategy,” said CNT’s CEO, Kathryn Tholin. “This report and its recommendations point us in the right direction, and give us a better chance to enhance quality of life and improve the local economy.”

This new report is a continuation of CNT’s research and recommendations on transit-oriented development, including the 2012 publication Prospering in Place, which honored the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) GO TO 2040 plan for its vision to increase the number of TOD areas of the Region and make them communities of choice—and hence prioritized for public and private resource investment.


Transit-Oriented Development in the Chicago Region: Efficient and Resilient Communities for the 21st Century


Ryan Kilpatrick, Center for Neighborhood Technology, 773-269-4041


Founded in 1978, CNT is a Chicago-based think-and-do tank that works nationally to advance urban sustainability by researching, inventing and testing strategies that use resources more efficiently and equitably. Its programs focus on transportation, energy, water, community development, and climate. Visit for more information.

[1] 367 is the number of Metra and CTA stations that were operating in the year 2000. In order to most accurately capture change over the 10-year study period, none of the stations opened after the year 2000 were analyzed in this study.