Category Archives: Transit Planning

SimCity 5

I have been a huge fan of SimCity since I was a little kid. I’ve played the original SimCity, SimCity 2000, SimCity 3000 and SimCity 4. I’ve played it on the Super Nintendo game system and on my phone. And I’ve been waiting patiently for a new release. And that new release is coming next year! SimCity is a great game for urban planners like myself. But, for many of us in the profession, it still leaves a bit to be desired. Hence:

Regions should be more “regional.” In SimCity 4, the city was still treated as if it existed in a vacuum despite the regional map and transport connections. For example, you could still place power plants and other polluting land uses near the edge of your city to minimize the negative externalities and these externalities would not be present in the adjacent city. This has to change. Also, how about the ability to have multiple regions or a megalopolis?

Transportation needs to be realistic. SimCity had a built-in bias for roads when utilizing the transportation network. Subways were often under-utilized, even expressways! If this is the case, then buildings should be drawn to support these uses. That means more “suburban sprawl” because, after all, those cars have to go somewhere.  I’m not advocating this, of course. What I would like to see is a balanced transportation network of roads, transit and bike/pedestrian infrastructure that is accurately modeled. We need to know that the transit systems we build will be utilized, and that bike and pedestrian infrastructure can reduce auto demand in a similar fashion that transit can.

Finance is critical. Admittedly, this might make the game impossibly difficult, but I’d like to see more realistic infrastructure and development costs. Revenues and expenses should be more realistic as should economic impacts on the city. How does the economy effect a SimCity? I’d love to find out.

Scale. Why do some factories that employ 500 workers take up the same land area as a middle class house? Why does an airport or seaport seem so small? I’d love to see a better sense of scale. Airports are gigantic and can the size of a city itself. Seaports often have huge areas for container stacking, railroad terminals and truck storage. These should be shown at a realistic scale.

These are just a few things that this urban planner has been thinking about. I am excited to play the next version of the storied franchise next year.

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Commuter Rail Stop Distribution: Some thoughts…

I just wanted to add some additional thoughts on Alon Levy’s fantastic post about commuter rail stop distribution. The lack of urban stations in the mid-city sections of most cities with commuter rail is a real problem in most American cities with commuter rail services. I’d like to explore in-depth the possibility for in-city stations in Chicago and how this would work.

Alon examined two Metra lines, the UP North and Milwaukee North lines, both of which serve the north suburbs and traverse through dense residential neighborhoods of Chicago. These are precisely the areas that are ripe for a “transit revival” particularly as they have been stable (on the MD-N) and/or growing in population (UP-N). And yet, these areas are ignored, I think, because Metra (and commuter railroads generally) views as its bread and butter the traditional suburban peak service commute pattern. I think its safe to say that Metra views city riders as having alternative (i.e. competing) forms of transit (CTA) and, thus, does not need to serve these riders.

And yet, there are numerous places along the UP North and Milwaukee North lines which a new station could have a significant impact on the neighborhood in terms of access and connections. Let’s examine a couple of places.

Addison (UP North Line)

Located 1.5 miles south of the busiest station on the UP North Line, Ravenswood, this site is ideal for transit access. It is also adjacent to the Addison Station on the CTA Brown Line and has bus connections to the Addison 151 bus and Lincoln 11 bus. About a mile to the east is Wrigley Field which can act as a sort of seasonal anchor, similar to Ravinia Park. A station here could provide additional ridership from the bustling West Lakeview neighborhood to downtown (15 minutes away) or north to Highland Park and Waukegan with additional reverse-commute service. Furthermore, many current riders at Ravenswood live closer to Addison, thus increasing the likelihood that Metra could be capturing additional riders here who find Ravenswood inconvenient.

According to the Center for Neighborhood Technology TOD Database, in 2010, 17,001 people lived within 0.5 mile of the station or 36 residents per acre. 37% of this population took transit to work, the majority by L. Additionally, household income is high, over $90,000, rental housing units are 52% of the total market and 62% of the population has 1 car or less. These factors point to strong transit demand likely coming from choice riders. These customers are Metra’s bread and butter.

Irving Park (Milwaukee North Line)

This station has been studied before but I think it should be seriously examined again. A station at Irving Park Road on the Milwaukee North Line would be located midway between the existing stations of Grayland and Mayfair, which are 0.8 miles apart. It is also adjacent to the Six Corners shopping district, once one of the largest retail districts outside of the Loop and still a significant destination. “Six Corners” is a reference to the intersection of Cicero Avenue, running north-south; Irving Park Road, running east-west; and Milwaukee Avenue, which radiates diagonally from downtown to the northwest. The station would be located about two blocks east of this intersection in a commercial area that is auto-oriented to the west and a residential area to the east.

Transit service includes the two Metra stations, Grayland and Mayfair (both stations have around 250 riders), located 0.5 miles south and north of this area respectively, and CTA buses on Cicero Ave., Irving Park, and Milwaukee Ave. The CTA Blue Line station at Irving Park and the Irving Park Metra Station are  a mile to the east and adjacent to each other. CTA Blue Line service on the O’Hare branch parallels Milwaukee Ave. and supplements bus services in this area. Additionally, Irving Park Road was recently proposed to be a viable bus rapid transit (BRT) corridor in a study conducted by the Metropolitan Planning Council. In a BRT scenario, buses would operate in dedicated lanes with signal priority, off vehicle fare payment, and level boarding at stations. A station would be placed every half mile (one at the Six Corners intersection is proposed) and at transit connections.

Another look at CNT’s TOD Database shows that in 2010, approximately 10,000 people lived within 0.5 miles of this potential station. Owner-occupied and renter-occupied housing were even, and 21% took transit to work. Average household income was around $60,000. 55% of households had 1 car or less.

This neighborhood is more middle class than near Addison, although households here rely on cars to a greater extent. This is due in large part to the lower residential density (about half of Addison) and urban form which have auto-oriented retail, plentiful parking throughout the area, and proximity to the Edens and Kennedy expressways. And yet, because of the connectivity options between commuter rail and CTA bus, 20 minute trips downtown and reverse commute service to the job-rich areas along Lake-Cook Road in the north suburbs, and large infill development opportunities I think a station has serious potential to attract additional ridership and development nearby.

It has become clear in urban planning circles that the U.S. is undergoing some demographic  trends that will factor into greater use of transit services of all types. In Chicago, we see a continued population growth in the city’s north side neighborhoods, including the areas discussed above. We are seeing a preference for urban living, particularly among the Millennial generation which entails more one-person households, disinterest in owning a car and greater interest in alternative transport modes like bicycling and transit. Furthermore, businesses are taking note in following this “creative class” in locating businesses downtown (most recent example: Sara Lee).

These trends in general, and the creative class in particular, are locating to cities that have strong, established transit systems. It behooves cities like Chicago and agencies like Metra to tap into this transit demand in this era of austerity.

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Filed under Commuter Rail, Parking, Transit Planning