Monday, April 1st, 2013
One 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 »
Monday, February 11th, 2013
If there was ever a reason for more transit it is embodied in the recently published report from the Texas A&M Transportation Institution (TTI). Its 2012 Urban Mobility Report details the enormous costs associated with the ever increasing traffic congestion blighting America’s major metro areas. It calculates, for example, that in 2011 commuters spent 5.5 billion hours sitting in traffic (equivalent to the total amount of time that businesses and individuals spend filing their annual tax returns), wasted 2.9 billion gallons of fuel and pumped out 56 billion extra pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Photo Credit: Steven Vance/Flickr Creative Commons License
The Chicagoland area ranks 7th overall when it comes to hours wasted due to traffic congestion, 8th in terms of wasted fuel and 5th in terms of total dollar cost. The average Chicago commuter spends 51 hours a year in traffic, consuming 24 extra gallons of fuel. Traffic congestion cost each Chicagoan commuter an average of $1,153 in 2011. This is not efficient use of resources. Chicagoland commuters are also contributing to global warming by pumping out more than 2.3 billion pounds of carbon dioxide while sitting in traffic.
I agree with some of the potential solutions cited in the report. The authors point out that in the absence of public transit services in the 498 major metro areas studied, the situation would have been a lot worse. Commuters would have suffered through an additional 865 million hours of wasted time and consumed 450 million extra gallons of fuel. This wasted time and fuel would have cost, according to the report, an additional $20.8 billion, a 15% increase over current congestion costs.
Photo Credit: Zesmerelda/Flickr Creative Commons License
While the report mentions increased highway capacity and more efficient use of highway infrastructure as part of a potential remedy, it emphasizes the importance of greater investment in expanding and improving public transit services in cities and their surrounding areas. Transit services don’t just take cars off the road improving traffic flow. They offer a safe, affordable and environmentally friendly alternative. The huge costs, financial and environmental, caused by traffic congestion highlighted in this report lend even more weight to the argument for greater commitment to transit infrastructure laid out in CMAP’s GOTO 2040.
Read the full report here.>>
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)
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 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.
Tuesday, September 18th, 2012
Chicago’s transformational public transit system celebrated its 120th anniversary this past June, and the city’s system of trains and buses continues to grow in popularity. According to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), ridership on Chicago’s heavy rail systems (defined as subway and elevated train lines) has increased by 8.9 percent during the first quarter of 2012; if this trend continues, ridership could reach levels not seen since 1957, a sign that car-centric lifestyles are becoming a fad of the past.
While commuting via car had become commonplace by the end of the 20th century, rising fuel costs, a poor economy, and concerns about the environment have contributed to a 21st century resurgence of public transportation usage. Numbers taken from CTA records show a clear correlation between increased transit ridership and the recession.
Chart showing CTA ridership, created using data from the CTA ridership reports, http://www.transitchicago.com/news_initiatives/ridershipreports.aspx
Between 2008 and 2011, 11.3 percent more residents chose to ride a train or bus on an average weekday, while 33.2 percent more chose to ride on an average Saturday, and 39.6 on an average Sunday. High gas prices and the increasingly high costs of car ownership make car-centric lifestyles seem frivolous and untenable. Public transportation provides a viable solution to Chicago’s congestion, access, and mobility problems and the newest generation of urbanites is making it clear that they choose transit over cars.
This recent CTA data also reveals something deeper about the consciousness of people choosing sustainable transportation. The automobile age is in a slow decline and the way we view and invest in transportation networks needs to adapt. The heyday of the exurbs is over, and lifestyles are no longer arranged around a car. Our neighbor to the southwest, Kendall County, is proving this point: between 2000 and 2010, Kendall County was the fastest growing county in the entire nation, but in 2011 growth came to a standstill, and Kendall’s standing plummeted to 236.
Investments in car-centric, expansive residential neighborhoods like the ones in Kendall are becoming rare as we move out of the recession. Chicagoans are supporting walkable communities, transit-oriented developments, and reduced traffic and air pollution. As the CTA numbers reveal, our city is becoming a national model during this turning point for American attitudes toward public transit.
Chart showing reduced Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT), from IDOT's 2011 report on travel statistics, http://www.dot.state.il.us/travelstats/2011_ITS.pdf
Additional supporting evidence for this shift away from cars can be seen in data from the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) for vehicle miles traveled (VMT) within Cook County between 2007 and 2011.The IDOT data shows that VMT declined by over one billion in Cook County between 2007 and 2011, a clear indication that when transit ridership goes up, car ridership goes down. I think these trends are a positive sign for Chicago’s transportation goals.
As the newest generation of urban residents chooses public transit over private cars, Chicago will lead the way in transitioning American cities toward more sustainable systems of transportation. I am confident that Chicago will continue to provide a good example for other metropolitan areas and, as always, I am excited to see how growing demand for efficiency and sustainability will cause transit systems to evolve.
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.
Friday, July 20th, 2012
On June 22, the US Department of Transportation (US DOT) approved a $10.4 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program grant to the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) project. The grant will complete a $370 million rail improvement funding package that was established through CREATE’s groundbreaking public-private partnership between the US DOT, State of Illinois, the City of Chicago, Metra, Amtrak, and the Association of American Railroads (AAR).
These TIGER funds will contribute to the completion of fifteen planned infrastructure improvement projects, eight of which are concentrated along CREATE’s Western Avenue corridor. Five railroads–Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Canadian National, CSX, Indiana Harbor Belt, and Union Pacific–as well as a Metra line to Joliet and an Amtrak line to St. Louis are concentrated along the busy corridor. TIGER-funded system updates will benefit all of these rail lines by replacing hand-thrown switches with automatic ones, installing a computerized Traffic Control System, and constructing connection tracks between the different lines. These improvement projects will reduce congestion for both passenger and freight lines, resulting in increased rail capacity–good for businesses–and more efficient transit trips–good for commuters. Chicago has been a national leader in rail transit for more than 150 years. Reduced delays and increased rail efficiency in this critical transit corridor will help ensure Chicago rail’s continued vitality.
Map of CREATE projects
CREATE projects have already made significant progress in congestion mitigation: freight delay has decreased by 28 percent and passenger delay by 33 percent as a result of past improvements. The upcoming projects will be equally effective (when compared to a system with no additional improvements), with delay reductions projected at 50 percent for freight and over 60 percent for passenger rail.
CREATE's role in national rail
I believe that this example of strategic investment through the federal TIGER grant—enabling improvements in movement through the city, creating connections between housing and job opportunities, and providing for economic prosperity within the Chicago region. If Chicago takes this opportunity to make more strategic investments in transportation infrastructure it will become a national model for urban transit success.
Governor Quinn underscored the importance of CREATE to the economy of the region with his recent announcement of the next phase of Illinois Jobs Now! capital funds, which will encourage employment and economic growth by improving the state’s transportation and basic infrastructure systems. CREATE will receive $211 million of the $1.6 billion package, to augment the TIGER funding and complete the key 15 projects for increasing the transit efficiency and safety that are currently planned. Highway improvements will receive $817.3 million, and mass transit and general rail upgrades will receive $799.5 million.
One of 78 CREATE projects in progress
Quinn’s commitment to improving transit mobility is heartening. I hope that more decision makers and stakeholders take notice, and continue to implement transit-friendly legislation. Chicago has the opportunity to lead the nation in transportation sustainability –let’s make it happen!
Tuesday, July 10th, 2012
The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) has proposed a variety of solutions to help alleviate congestion on I-290—all of which include adding more lanes to the highway. While highway expansion may help to fulfill the goal of reducing travel times across the Eisenhower (it didn’t in the case of the “Hillside Strangler”), it presents environmental, community, and fiscal concerns that must be considered in the planning process.
Oak Park is one of the neighborhoods that would be significantly impacted by this highway expansion, as it could result in a loss of park acreage as well as the destruction of several residential neighborhoods, including a historic district. Oak Park is recognized as a leader in environmental initiatives around the region and many Oak Park residents have shown interest in exploring sustainable options during this planning process.
With 200,000 cars driving on I-290 everyday, this highway is a key gateway connecting the western suburbs to Chicago. The Eisenhower was not originally designed to carry this volume of drivers at once, however, and it is currently one of the most congested highways in the Chicagoland area.
An image from CTA demonstrating the heavy traffic along I-290.
According to the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s (CMAP) figures, east-bound lanes are jammed for more than nine hours a day; and west-bound lanes for more than seven hours a day. During peak hours, expected travel time between any two locations tends to be more than twice that of free-flow hours. And while the highway drivers are suffering from painstakingly long commutes, residents of Oak Park living along the highway are dealing with elevated noise and air pollution.
According to past studies by the American Lung Association, 33 percent of Oak Park villagers live in diesel hot spots, meaning they are exposed to higher levels of diesel emissions than are generally considered to be safe. Oak Park residents are worried that noise levels and air quality will worsen with highway expansion and that the expansion will further isolate the Village’s north and south-side residents from one another.
Finances present an additional concern. This project is estimated to cost between $600 and $800 million over the next decade. These costs include not only expenses directly associated with building more highway lanes, but also the cost of bridges, retaining walls, overpasses, and El tracks that will have to be renovated to fit the wider expressway.
Despite the issues of pollution, community reconfiguration, and financing, there is a support group for the expansion. For example, CMAP’s GO TO 2040 plan asserts that the potential benefits of the expansion —reducing traffic congestion, eliminating multiple left-hand exit and entrance ramps, and creating a car-pool friendly HOV lane—outweigh any associated detriments. These benefits are still theoretical and, when completed, the project may do little to improve highway commuting.
One of the favored alternative plans among Oak Park residents and CNT staff is to expand the Blue Line, which already runs near many of the neighborhoods affected by the proposed Ike expansion; more research is needed to determine if that solution would benefit the community. Oak Park already has ample train services, with access to CTA buses and trains as well as the Metra. But for commuters who live west of the Forest Part terminus, driving is the only option.
Current transportation options in Oak Park. Map originated from a draft of I-DOT’s Environmental Impact Statement.
In 2011, 220,762 commutes were taken on the Blue Line entering from the Oak Park Station, 13,000 more rides than 2010’s figures. As it is, the Blue Line currently diverts an approximated 24,550 transit commuters from highways. According to IDOT’s own studies, expansion of the Blue Line and improvement of bus service could reduce between 7,000 and 11,600 auto trips annually. These figures show that transit ridership is becoming a more favorable option for commuters and that transit expansion could reduce road congestion.
The Regional Transit Authority (RTA) Cook-DuPage Corridor Study, conducted between 2005 and 2009, evaluated mobility problems along I-290 as well as their potential solutions, many of which include transit. Those of us engaged in transportation issues at CNT would like to see these alternative options, and their ability to connect commuters with job centers, more fully evaluated in IDOT’s final plans.
The absence of both an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and an alternative option in IDOT’s initial proposal is concerning. The alternative option is required by law to be submitted in draft form to the EPA during the initial stages of planning—not towards the end or the middle. While IDOT is planning on submitting its first draft of an EIS in the fall of 2012, with public hearing of it in the spring of 2013, we think they should get their homework done sooner.
“Cap the Ike”—an alternative vision for Oak Park proposed in 2003 to deal with congestion, noise, and air pollution associated with I-290. This plan that would build green space and roadways over the Eisenhower has not been mentioned in recent debates about this issue.
With the recent passing of the MAP-21 national transportation bill, which is increasing the availability of federal dollars funneled to states to support non-automotive transportation development, now is the optimal time for exploring alternative solutions for congestion reduction. Extending train lines, improving bus services, and creating more bike paths are all viable ways to maximize transportation availability while reducing automobile reliance. Oak Park residents and environmentally-conscious commuters along the I-290 corridor should maintain their persistence and not let Chicago’s landscape become increasingly cluttered by highways.
Thursday, May 24th, 2012
After a steady increase during the 1980s and 1990s, VMT, or vehicle miles traveled, have leveled out in the United States and are actually decreasing in the wake of the Great Recession. Even during the slow recovery period we’re now in, Americans are keeping their foot off the gas pedal.
Americans are holding on to their cars. There are more than 240 million passenger vehicles in operation nationwide. Only in 2008 were there more cars on the road in the United States. The average age of these vehicles in circulation has steadily increased from an 8.4 year average in 1995 to 10.8 in 2011.
It seems likely that people are holding on to their cars not necessarily because they want to, but because there’s no other way to get around. A 2010 poll found that the majority of adults in the United States say they have no choice but to drive as much as they do and most would like to spend less time in their cars. Transit may exist for many of these people, but the hassle of accessibility doesn’t translate into more ridership for many cities around the country.
A 2010 poll found that the majority of adults in the United States say they have no choice but to drive as much as they do and most would like to spend less time in their cars. Photo by Flickr User: freefotouk
Whether it’s the recession or a response to high gas prices or something else, people are driving less but holding on to their cars. People who care about cities, affordability, and the environment need to capitalize on this change in behavior by making it easier and obvious for people to keep their VMT low even when the economy gets stronger, gas prices drop, etc.
That means policies and funding for transit, biking, and car-sharing that reflects a fundamental shift in how we view and invest in transportation networks. We need policies that support infrastructure for multiple mobility options instead of policies that prioritize driving over everything else. If we want to offer a way for people to drive less long-term, dependable and convenient transportation options are a must.
This argument I’m making isn’t particularly novel to anyone outside of the Capitol. Cities and regions are getting it and moving forward with innovative ways to fund transit on their own. In at least 33 metropolitan regions around the country, large investments are being made in streetcars, light rail, metro rail, or commuter rail projects in 2012. I wrote about Los Angeles’ efforts not too long ago. In 2009, Oklahoma City voters approved MAPS3 program, which included $130 million worth of mass transit improvements in addition to other public works and redevelopment projects. The Research Triangle area has three counties and two metropolitan planning organizations working together on funding a dedicated transit system, with Durham County already approving a sales tax increase for its part. Here in Chicago, we expect our new Infrastructure Trust to be used to invest in transit upgrades and expansion.
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and her Senate colleagues have developed a bipartisan bill - Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) - which would reauthorize the nation's surface transportation programs for the next two years. Photo credit: U.S. Senate Photo Studio
Congress desperately needs to get on board. Public transit is not partisan. Saving people money on getting to work and the grocery store is not partisan. But both Republicans and Democrats have failed for more than three years now to reach common ground on a multiyear transportation bill to replace the 2005-09 legislation. We are on the ninth short term extension, which will expire on June 30. Forty seven Members of Congress are meeting now to decide the fate of public transportation in our country. Such a critical issue deserves a thoughtful approach that articulates a transportation vision for the country for the next 50 years and beyond.
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
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.
Wednesday, May 9th, 2012
Getting the public’s input on transportation issues is something that has defined my role in the transportation field for more than 30 years. Whether you’re selling sneakers or sushi, a vendor has to know what the customer wants to ensure people buy the product. Transit service isn’t much different. The customer—the transit rider—needs to weigh in and shape the product. What I have learned over the years is that residents who use our transportation systems are usually the best resources.
One resource is the Transportation for Communities site. Full disclosure: I sit on a federal committee that directs research on transportation issues and funded development of this site as a way to disseminate information to stakeholders, from the long-range transportation planner to the woman worried about service expansions for the commute route that gets her to work each day.
Transportation for Communities - Advancing Projects through Partnerships (TCAPP) is a decision support tool, built from the experiences of transportation partners and stakeholders, which provides how-to information when it is most needed.
A little overwhelming at first for the transportation neophyte, spend some time with the site and you’ll find guidance on how to insert yourself in a planning process. You’ll also get information about what the different types of transportation planning entail. Transportation for Communities is especially useful for people who work in transportation, since it shares best practices and case studies from across the country that may be of use in other communities.
Here in Chicago, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning has done a great job involving the public in GO TO 2040, which is the region’s long-term transportation plan. Now in the implementation phase, CMAP staff engage local businesses, officials, and citizens in every step of their projects. Involving stakeholders builds the political will to fund the programs which will enhance millions of lives.
Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning has done a great job involving the public in GO TO 2040, the region’s long-term transportation plan.
As a CTA board member and a member of many federal committees, I deal with large transportation projects on a daily basis, so I know first-hand of the extensive operation, building, maintenance, and extension costs that go into these developments. Big projects require a lot of time and a lot of coordination among agencies and officials. It’s easy to leave out the customers in the interest of time and efficiency.
It’s a partnership: transportation professionals can’t make an end run around the public, and the public can’t shirk their responsibility to pay attention and get involved.