Transit Expansion News
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 »
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.
Friday, June 1st, 2012
For sixty years the 1.5-mile stretch on Lake St. between Ashland and Clinton has been a public transit dead zone. Buses ran only on surrounding streets and the original station at Morgan was demolished in 1948. This transit isolation was frustrating to local residents who could not efficiently access this portion of the West Loop, and development suffered as a result. Affordable real estate eventually attracted new businesses, restaurants, and residential developers, but lack of easy transit access still prevented this district from reaching its full economic potential.
In 2002, the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) investigated the feasibility of constructing a new infill station to boost train ridership and encourage economic growth along the Lake and South Side branches of the Green Line. Morgan Station, with its recent influx of residential and commercial development, was chosen as the optimal station location. The 2006 construction of the Pink Line, which will also be serviced by the new station, was also a consideration in the final decision.
Morgan Station. Photo by Nicole Gotthelf
The opening of Morgan Station is evidence of Chicago’s ongoing commitment to using transit-oriented development (TOD) to boost the local economy. Just last month, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) cut the ribbon at the much-needed Yellow Line Oakton Street Station in Skokie. In CNT’s report, Prospering in Place (PIP), Skokie is identified as one the 15 largest employment centers in metropolitan Chicago; prior the opening of the Oakton stop, however, many of Skokie’s 11,423 workers could not access their jobs via public transportation. Employees at the Illinois Science and Technology Park, which opened as a science and research facility in 2005, had to take a shuttle from the Dempster Street CTA station to the Park as part of their daily public transit commute. Now, these same employees exit at the Oakton Station, conveniently located almost across the street from the Park. Reducing travel time to this major employment center will attract more employees to this northern suburb, encourage development, and increase land values, all of which will contribute to the region’s prosperity.
The Oakton-Skokie Station; photo by Flickr user Zol87
The Cermak Road Green Line Station, planned to open in July 2014, promises to be equally beneficial. The new station will close a two-mile gap between Roosevelt Road and 35th/Bronzeville Stations on the Green Line, and will bring Chicagoans directly to the underutilized neighborhoods of the Near South and Motor Row and within easy walking distance of McCormick Place. Motor Row was designated as an entertainment district in 2011, and a commercial center that will include theaters, restaurants and hotels is already in the drafting stages. By coordinating development with transit infrastructure, the city will provide the area with a solid foundation for increased growth.
From "Transit Friendly Development Guide: Guide to Four Station Areas" a publication based on a study by City of Chicago Department of Zoning and Land Use Planning and Department of Transportation, CTA, RTA.
These stations – Morgan, Oakton, and Cermak – are important steps in the creation of a regional TOD network, with increased employment, public transit, and community connection. I hope to see more such projects implemented in Chicago and its surrounding suburbs, as officials prepare for the region’s sustainable future.
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.
Wednesday, April 11th, 2012
Did you catch Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on NPR’s Marketplace last week? Jeremy Hobson had questions about the mayor’s proposed Infrastructure Trust, how it would work and what kind of projects it would fund. It’s a quick read or listen here. (The audio begins at the 10:15 mark.) You can also catch tonight’s segment on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight, where some aldermen will weigh in on the mayor’s infrastructure trust.
About halfway through the interview, Hobson asked kind of an offbeat question about where Mayor Emanuel gets his inspiration. The mayor cited Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles but didn’t say exactly why.
Chicago or L.A.? Photo credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times
I think what Mayor Emanuel was referring to was Villaraigosa’s very innovative plan to build out his city’s public transportation system much faster than what’s typical for infrastructure projects of that scale. The plan is certainly inspiring and something we here in Chicago should be discussing as a model for funding our own transit needs. Here’s the back story:
It all started with Move LA, a project of community partners that set a goal and vision for expanding transit options for Angelenos. After a year of building support, Move LA got a measure on the ballot in 2008 to create a dedicated funding stream for new transit projects. With 68 percent of the vote, Angelenos approved Measure R, a half cent sales tax increase that went into effect in 2009 to raise $40 billion over 30 years to revamp the transit system and double the amount of existing rail in the city.
Mayor Villaraigosa took the plan to another level. Instead of accepting the anticipated 30 years it would take to fix LA’s transit system, he pushed to shorten construction time to 10 years by using the future Measure R sales tax revenue as collateral to get more money through a low-interest federal loan and long-term bonds.
Currently the Crenshaw Line, which would connect the Metro Green Line and Expo Line, has been authorized by the Federal Transportation Administration to proceed with project implementation. When all is said and done, Los Angeles will have a Westside subway extension, a regional connector to link downtown rail lines, a light rail extension to LAX airport, and bus-only lanes along some corridors. These projects will add 78 miles to the current transit system. On top of that, it is estimated that 160,000 jobs will be created, annual vehicle miles traveled will drop by at least 191 million miles, annual gasoline usage will decrease for 10.3 million people, and annual mobile source pollution emissions will decrease by 521,000 pounds.
Guess how much it’ll cost each LA resident? $25 a year. Would Chicagoans be willing to invest $25 per year for similar benefits? It’s something to think about as you wait for the next bus to show up or fill up your car with gas.
Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012
As a candidate for mayor, Rahm Emanuel vowed to make CTA’s Red Line Extension his top priority in improving transportation in Chicago. Just a few weeks ago, as Mayor Emanuel, he announced the creation of a $1.7 billion “Infrastructure Trust” that would support “transformational” projects, including the Red Line extension. Then just a few days ago, Emanuel re-announced his plan with a slight twist—it now includes $7 billion worth of infrastructure projects.
What is the extension? Why is it a priority for Mayor Emanuel?
The Red Line is the workhorse of the CTA system, accounting for 245,402 riders per weekday, which is nearly a third of total train ridership. It is 22 miles long, running from Howard Street on the North Side to 95th Street to the south. In recent years there have been a number of proposed improvements. CMAP has identified the most feasible extension and included it in the GO TO 2040 plan.
The South Extension project would add 5.5 miles to the Red Line, taking it from its current terminus along I-57 and following the Union Pacific corridor down to 130th St. It would operate on an elevated structure for its entire length. Stations are planned at 103rd, 111th, and 115th. Estimates for completion of the project range from 2016 into the unknown, as the project has been on the table since the late 1960s, when the Red Line was expanded to 95th Street.
Map showing how the Red Line would extend to 130th street. Map by John Paul Jones/Developing Communities Project
The Red Line expansion represents a ticket out of poverty for many people on the far South Side. The lack of rail connections in this part of Chicago means people have no rapid, inexpensive way to get into the city for work. A map from one of our recent publications, Prospering in Place, shows that the end of the Red Line to the south has “low” or “very low” access to jobs.
This map from CNT's recent report, "Prospering in Place" shows that the end of the Red Line to the south has “low” or “very low” access to jobs (in light blue). Copyright 2012 Center for Neighborhood Technology
Many of the un-served neighborhoods are disadvantaged already, and the lack of access to jobs keeps unemployment and poverty rates high. The map below, also from “Prospering in Place”, shows high poverty concentrations on the South Side of Chicago.
This map, also from "Prospering in Place", shows high poverty concentrations on the South Side of Chicago (in dark orange). Copyright 2012 Center for Neighborhood Technology
The same lack of access to jobs also hinders residents from having easy and safe routes to essential services, including hospitals and schools. New rail stations provide a chance to revitalize blighted neighborhoods through creation of transit-oriented developments that would include affordable housing, shops, and other mixed-use retail outlets within walking distance of the new stations.
At the CTA, where I sit on the Board of Directors, we are in the midst of completing the required Environmental Impact Statement for the expansion, which is expected to be finished in 2014. The CTA is moving forward with the process on our end to ensure the project can proceed as soon as funding is secured. We’re encouraged the extension remains a priority for Mayor Emanuel.