CNT in the News

Uber and Lyft said ride-sharing would cut traffic congestion and supplement public transit. But has it worked?

Chicago Tribune | June 7, 2019

Ride-share companies like Uber and Lyft promised they would supplement public transit and help ease traffic congestion.

But data collected by the city and now made public shows almost half of Chicago’s millions of monthly ride-share trips are taking place in just a few wealthy, crowded and already transit-rich areas.

A Tribune analysis of ride-share trips that occurred in March shows that more than four of every 10 passenger pickups happened in five of the city’s community areas — the Loop, the Near North Side, the Near West Side, Lakeview and West Town. Many of the drop-offs were concentrated in those areas, too.

A more granular look at ride pickups and drop-offs by Census tract, which can be areas of just a few blocks in a dense city like Chicago, shows that aside from airport trips, the most popular ride was a short one between the Loop and the Near North Side.

Nearly 1 in 5 trips in March occurred during rush hour, when trains and buses are most readily available.

Ride-sharing services have ushered in new convenience for residents trying to get around the city and represent another transportation option in lower-income communities. But the city’s data also reflects ride-sharing’s impact on city streets and balance sheets — Uber and Lyft drivers competing with taxi cabs in already congested neighborhoods and millions in dollars of lost revenue at the Chicago Transit Authority as people shun public transportation for a solo ride in the back seat of a stranger’s car.

The release of the data comes as new Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot considers new fees for ride-share trips. Chicago already imposes a 72-cent-per-trip fee, which helps fund the CTA.

Lightfoot has not specified what new fee the city could impose, though her transition document suggested exploring additional funding for transportation, including congestion pricing and a new Loop ride-share surcharge.

“We will continue to look at creative ways to address our challenges and to improve transportation access in Chicago, including as it relates to ridesharing,” a spokeswoman for Lightfoot said in an email.

Transportation experts who have reviewed the data say that it appears some people are choosing ride share over transit.

“We’re definitely seeing trips that could have been served by transit — people are taking Uber and Lyft instead,” said Elizabeth Irvin, transportation director for the Center for Neighborhood Technology, a sustainable development nonprofit.

Evanston Wins $250,000 Partners for Places Grant to Support Affordable, Climate Resilient Housing

City of Evanston | May 15, 2019

Partners for Places, a project of the Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities, today announced $250,000 in grant funding to support a City-led project to remove barriers to climate-resilient affordable housing in Evanston.

The City of Evanston will partner with the Center for Neighborhood Technology and Elevate Energy on the two-year project supported by the grant, which includes $125,000 in funding from Partners for Places with matching support from The Chicago Community Trust and the Evanston Community Foundation. Reba Place Development Corporation will also support the City's project in an advisory role.

Working with its community partners, the City aims to develop a program to remove barriers, such as financing and restrictive building and zoning codes, to help transition existing affordable housing to climate-resilient, energy-efficient standards. The program will focus on housing available to those with a median household income at or below 120 percent of area median income (AMI), particularly households below 80 percent of AMI.

Flooding in the Chicago area has been so bad in the past decade that only places ravaged by hurricanes sustain more damage

Chicago Tribune | May 10, 2019

A week before the maggots hatched, raw sewage gushed into Lori Burns’ basement for the sixth time in a decade.

Her brick bungalow in the Chatham neighborhood was among thousands of Chicago homes swamped by another rainstorm that overwhelmed the city’s aging sewer system. This particular downpour ended up as one of the worst on record. Two months’ worth of rain fell in two days during April 2013 — a storm marked by geysers of human waste bursting out of manholes, and a torrent of sewage and runoff surging through the Chicago River into Lake Michigan. [...]

Some community leaders are embracing smaller-scale, neighborhood-focused projects designed to provide relief by keeping stormwater out of sewers.

The Center for Neighborhood Technology is nudging government officials to change their focus with a program it calls RainReady, which combats flooding with building, plumbing and landscaping improvements that in some cases are coordinated with sewer upgrades.

Residents in south suburban Midlothian pressured their elected officials to sign up for the program. The group also has worked with residents and public officials in Blue Island, Calumet City, Calumet Park, Dolton, Riverdale and Robbins.

CNT Part of Coalition for a Modern Metra Electric, Advocating for Lower Metra Electric Fares

Chicago Tribune | May 7, 2019

A Chicago lawmaker has proposed cutting Metra Electric District fares to CTA levels in order to increase affordable rail service on the city’s South Side.

The bill, introduced by Illinois State Rep. Marcus Evans, Jr., a Democrat, would set fares for Metra Electric trips within the city as equal to CTA rail fares, which are $2.50 at the regular rate. Metra Electric fares within the city currently range from $4 to $5.50 for a single ride.

South Side community activists have long discussed converting the Metra Electric line, which runs from downtown into the south suburbs, into a rapid-transit line with more frequent stops to make up for a lack of rapid transit options on the far South Side.

“It’s a quality-of-life issue,” said Linda Thisted, co-chair of the Coalition for a Modern Metra Electric, which supports the bill. “A lot of people can’t afford Metra Electric fares so they take really slow buses. This could transform the South Side and the South Shore.”

The coalition is made up of business, neighborhood and transit advocacy groups, including the Center for Neighborhood Technology, the Active Transportation Alliance and the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce.

Discussing Transportation Challenges Chicago Will Face in the Next 30 Years

Streetsblog Chicago | May 7, 2019

How will Chicago’s transportation network have to change in the coming decades to meet the needs of future generations? At the panel discussion “Our City 2049,” local heavy-hitters in the field tackled that intriguing question. The talk, moderated by Bettina Oberhauser, a culture and science reporter with H.R. Fernsehen, was part of Germany Week, a celebration of arts and culture at Daley Plaza. Panelists included Chris Hall, from Skidmore Owings Merrell architects; Dr. P.S. Sriraj director of UIC’s Urban Transportation Center; Jacky Grimshaw, vice president of government affairs for the Center for Neighborhood Technology; Jerry Quandt, director of the Illinois Autonomous Vehicle Association; and Chris Kopp of the civil engineering firm HNTB.

The discussion focused on the two main topics of land use and traffic safety. “A lot of the problems of transportation emanate from city sprawl,” Sriraj said. “Once you have the land use set up at a certain aspect, there’s nothing transportation can do to fix it. People choose to live where they live. People choose to work where they work. It’s the transportation guy’s problem to fix the gap between the origin and the destination.”

Sriraj argued that most traffic congestion issues stem from that divide, called “spatial mismatch” by urban planners. “That is a fundamental issue that no one wants to touch, because it cannot be fixed,” he said, adding that you can’t force people to live in locations that are conducive to a sustainable transportation system. “The land use has a significant impact on how transportation evolves. Connected to that is density of population.”

Grimshaw agreed, with one small caveat. “If we look at Chicago, we do have available land for development,” she said. “What’s getting in the way are really equity issues. The way the city has developed in the past, it doesn’t have to be the way the city goes in the future, but unless we are intentional about using the available land, making it available for people to live as well as work, as well as play, as well as to be educated, then we will have a problem that we can’t fix.” On the other hand, Grimshaw added, we can create a brighter future from a transportation and equity standpoint by being very intentional about how we reinvest in communities and redevelop land.

You Can't Judge Housing Affordability Without Knowing Transportation Costs

Strong Towns | May 7, 2019

At City Observatory, we’ve long been dissatisfied with commonly used measures of describing housing affordability. There are lots of reasons to believe that a single, fixed percentage of income standard [like the 30% of income that is most often used as a benchmark for “affordable” housing costs] does a poor job of reflecting whether housing is priced appropriately, and whether households are being asked to spend too much. We’ve explored some of these issues before, but today we want to focus on one key issue: the tradeoff between cheap rents and costly transportation.

What this means as a practical matter that you can’t judge whether an individual household’s living situation is affordable just by looking at whether they spend less than 30 percent of their income directly on housing. Consider this example: two otherwise identical households. One lives in a suburb, owns two cars, and drives most places. They spend 30 percent of their income on housing and 20 percent of their income on transportation. The second household lives in a city and owns one car.  Their house is more expensive than the suburban one, so they spend 40 percent of their income on housing, and just 10 percent on transportation. Is it really accurate to describe the second (city) household as any more “cost-burdened” than its suburban peer?

This is the essential insight behind the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s “H+T” Housing and Transportation Index, which quantifies the approximate costs associated with housing and transportation in different neighborhoods. They’ve used census data on income and housing costs, and estimates of commuting patterns, transit available and car ownership to estimate what fraction of a household’s income gets spent on housing and transportation in different locations. They show that some neighborhoods with high housing costs are actually more affordable than lower rent areas, once you add in the savings in transportation costs.