Transit-Oriented Development News

New EPA Report Highlights Benefits of Transit-Oriented Development

Monday, June 24th, 2013

A new EPA report details why transit-oriented development (TOD)—areas designed to maximize accessibility and use of public transit—is beneficial to residents and the greater environment. Faced with an estimated 42-percent rise in population in the United States between 2010 and 2050, metropolitan centers around the country will soon see their population dynamics change. Already, almost every city in the country has had significant expansion in land area since 1950. Chicago is no exception: by 2040, the region will see an estimated 25-percent increase to approximately eleven million residents. With such population growth comes a need for more and better transportation options for residents and commuters.

The environmental price of urban sprawl and highway construction is often the destruction of key ecosystems like wetlands and streams, which provide homes to important species and benefits like clean water and recreational activities to people living nearby. Encouraging development in areas that are already urbanized, known as infill development, spares ecosystems and the services they provide. This is a major advantage of TOD—by designing attractive and easily navigable urban areas, people will be more willing to live in the city center instead of the surrounding suburban communities. The savings they experience in shorter, easier commutes and more convenient neighborhoods translate to savings for fragile and significant ecosystems.

In Chicago, an estimated 67 percent of the population growth expected by 2040 will be infill development. As a result, Chicago has a prime opportunity to undertake significant TOD projects to serve these new households, which would create construction jobs and reinvigorate disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Transit-oriented development translates to long-term economic and environmental benefits as well. In general, residents of areas with high population density tend to drive less. Doubling an area’s population density could reduce its residents’ vehicle use by five to twelve percent. Designing communities specifically to encourage public transit use, as with TOD, can create an even bigger impact: residents of areas with TOD are two to five times more likely to use transit for their commutes and general travels than residents of areas without TOD.

Residents and the environment both benefit from improved transit.

  • Drivers will face less congestion as fewer cars will be on the road.
  • All residents, especially those with respiratory health concerns, will benefit from improved air quality.
  • Fewer greenhouse gases from vehicle fuel combustion will enter the atmosphere, aiding in the fight against climate change.
  • Residents without cars will be able to travel to previously inaccessible job markets and recreational activities.
  • An extended transit network will create quick and reliable ways for those already living in suburban communities to commute to work or experience the city without depending on a car, saving them money on gas and time in traffic.

Investing in transit-oriented development now will create cities that are equipped to handle the coming population rise without severely harming important natural resources


More Transit Means Less Traffic

Monday, April 1st, 2013

traffic_jamOne of the strongest arguments in favor of investment in public transit is the role it plays in mitigating traffic congestion. The logic is simple: more train and bus commuters mean fewer car commuters and fewer cars on the road. A recently released working paper from University of California scholar Michael Anderson provides some real data to back this up. In 2003, employees of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority went on strike, shutting down the cities bus and train services.

The strike, lasting 35 days, provided an ideal natural experiment demonstrating what one of the countries busiest metro areas would look like without transit services. Anderson found that during peak periods, delays caused by traffic on L.A’s major freeways increased by 47 percent or 0.19 minutes per mile. The delays were more pronounced on freeways that parallel major transit lines reinforcing the idea that transit provides a real alternative to car travel for millions of commuters. The working paper estimates that the benefit of transit in terms of traffic reduction for Los Angeles ranges from $1.2 billion to $4.1 billion per year. Read more »


“Prairie Parkway” Killed in Far West Chicago Suburbs

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Back in August, the Federal Government withdrew its approval for Prairie Parkway, a highway that would have connected I-88 and I-80 at the cost of valuable farmland, clean rivers, and community welfare in Kane, Kendall and Grundy Counties.  Despite community opposition, the project remained a part of Illinois’ long term transportation plans due to a $207 million earmark that former Congressman Dennis Hastert secured shortly before leaving office.

 The proposed Prairie Parkway would have cut through mostly farmland in Chicago's far west suburban region. (photo credit: Scott Strazzante/Chicago Tribune)

The proposed Prairie Parkway would have cut through mostly farmland in Chicago’s far west suburban region. (photo credit: Scott Strazzante/Chicago Tribune)

In 2002, the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) created a 36-mile long and 400 feet wide protected corridor for the parkway that sliced through family farms and in some cases left homes within feet of the road. This created a great deal of opposition from members of the community. An advisory referendum, in which residents could vote for or against the construction of the parkway, was placed on the ballot in six townships. Five out of the six townships voted against it. The Environmental Law and Policy Council, on behalf of “Citizens Against the Sprawlway” and Friends of the Fox River, used this information to build their defense against the Prairie Parkway.

A lawsuit was filed against the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration claiming that these agencies and IDOT did not adequately consider other transportation options and therefore violated the National Environmental Policy Act. On August 23, 2012 a settlement was reached in a Federal District Court.

Groups like"Citizens Against the Sprawlway" and "Friends of the Fox River" opposed the Prairie Parkway

Groups like “Citizens Against the Sprawlway” and “Friends of the Fox River” opposed the Prairie Parkway because it sliced through family farms and in some cases left homes within feet of the road, among other environmental concerns. (Image from www.sprawlway.org)

The settlement rescinded the September 2008 record of decision and removed the Prairie Parkway from Illinois’ long-range transportation plans. Residents can now rest assured that neither the vulnerable farmland nor the Fox River will be harmed for the construction of a road with little community benefit. The $207 million originally earmarked for the parkway will now help rather than harm the communities by being used for local road improvements.

Because IDOT had already spent $70 million of the $207 million earmarked for the parkway, the remaining $137 million will be used on the 47 Plus alternative. This alternative project includes the widening of a 12-mile stretch of IL 47 and making improvements to US 34.

Preventing the Prairie Parkway from being constructed sets a great precedent for Illinois’ transportation future. It shows that projects offering very little benefit at a high environmental cost do not belong in Illinois; and money for those projects could be better used on road improvements or better yet, public transportation.  Just think, for that same $207 million, we could have the Metra Heritage Corridor improvements in southwest Cook and Will counties.


Prospering in Place: Making the Link Between Jobs, Development, and Transit a Reality

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

In July, I was a panelist for “Transportation: The Missing Link for your Clients” at the West Suburban Jobs Council in DuPage County.  I, along with representatives from three other organizations, presented ideas to address the problem of transportation, the most difficult barrier to overcome for low-income job seekers in the area. Solutions to this transportation deficiency can be found in the plans outlined in CNT’s report, Prospering in Place.

Prospering in Place links jobs, development, and transit to spur Chicago’s economy, and can be broken into three categories: transit oriented development (TOD), cargo oriented development (COD), and employment oriented transit. TOD uses mixed use development to help make areas more affordable to all income levels. COD, on the other hand, brings jobs to low-income areas by infilling unused or underused land areas. Employment oriented transit connects businesses to transit locations so that individuals without vehicles are not excluded from the job pool. In order to achieve the goals laid out in Prospering in Place, CNT has five recommendations that can be achieved with community support: prioritize development areas, create a regional sustainable communities initiative, align resources, find new resources, and create new funding mechanisms.

Establishing priority development areas for TOD, COD, and employment oriented transit can help reduce sprawl, keep people better connected to their jobs and homes, and create thriving local economies. Mirroring the federal partnership for sustainable communities is critical for economic growth, so CNT calls for directing $1 billion toward transportation to encourage development in these areas. With budgets tight at the local, state, and federal level it is important to ensure that investments support these development plans rather than derail them by building districts that only work for single-occupancy vehicles.

In order to help reach the funding requirements for these projects, Chicago and its surrounding areas should utilize new revenue streams. In Los Angeles, Denver, the Twin Cities, and most recently in three regions of Georgia, citizens elected to tax themselves in order to reach their transportation goals in a timely and efficient manner. These types of innovative revenue streams could be implemented here in Chicago to help make Prospering in Place a reality. Finally, enacting the Brownfield Redevelopment and Intermodal Promotion Act by the General Assembly and the Land Bank Legislation in Cook County, both necessary legislative components, is essential to making this type of development affordable.

With your help, we transform these recommendations from report to reality. Talk with your local government and your legislators and let them know that you support development that encourages transit use and redevelopment of vacant properties. Discuss with your co-workers the benefits of connecting the workplace to a transit stop. And support initiatives that will provide a revenue source for transit to allow Chicago’s transportation system to meet the needs of current and future generations.


Cook County Board President and Oak Park Village President Discuss Using Place-Based Investments to Unleash Regional Prosperity

Friday, May 11th, 2012

CNT partners and funders joined together at the breath-taking Loop offices of Sidley-Austin last week to engage in a lively discussion around Prospering in Place, CNT’s argument for metropolitan Chicago to reinvest in its passenger and freight transportation assets to unlock sustainable growth in the region.

María Choca Urban, transportation and community development director at CNT, set the stage with an overview of the Prospering in Place report. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Oak Park Village President David Pope followed her with their stories of policies and planning initiatives that bring CNT’s report to life. The three talks resulted in a layered perspective of the economic benefits that are possible when numerous municipalities come together to pull off significant investments in transportation infrastructure.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, along with Oak Park Village President John Pope, brought stories of policies and planning initiatives that bring CNT’s report to life

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, along with Oak Park Village President John Pope, brought stories of policies and planning initiatives that bring CNT’s report to life

In her remarks, Pres. Preckwinckle voiced support for the report recommendation that urges decision makers to prioritize transportation and real estate investments in places that are primed for growth. The president endorsed the creation of transit- and cargo-oriented developments (TODs and CODs, respectively), especially in southern suburbs like Harvey and western suburbs like Cicero, which have existing transit and freight infrastructure and a high potential for immediate COD success that would benefit the entire region.

Pres. Preckwinkle also said her staff has been investigating the feasibility of developing a land bank in Cook County, such as the Cook County Land Bank Proposal circulated by Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer, which would give the county authority to consolidate small plots of land into bigger parcels, eliminating costly assembly legwork for potential industrial developers. By maintaining a regional perspective on new transit and freight developments, Preckwinkle argued, Chicago has the opportunity to create an integrated system of sustainable transportation that can be used as a model worldwide.

Oak Park Village President David Pope echoed Preckwinkle’s call for regional integration of transportation development. The proliferation of sprawl and the reduction of public transportation options is a regional problem and its solutions, therefore, must be addressed regionally, he stated. He said trying to make Oak Park succeed without considering the health of nearby communities like Forest Park or Berwyn ignores the interconnected nature of neighborhood economies, to everyone’s detriment. Reliable public transportation increases employment opportunities for residents, and helps create vibrant places where people want to spend their time and money. Collaboration between municipalities to create a robust, people-oriented transportation network can only yield positive economic results.

With the support of Pres. Preckwinkle, Village President Pope, and others in the room, I left the event hopeful that the region’s decision-makers are thinking about ways to work together in implementing the ideas outlined in Prospering in Place to the benefit of the regional community. Stay tuned to Going Places for updates on more exciting transportation developments as they occur.