Tag Archives: Metra

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

The Third Rail of Planning Politics

Nothing fires up a local Village Board like eminent domain.

Eminent Domain Gate And Wall

Eminent Domain Gate And Wall (Photo credit: Steve Soblick)

One of my duties as a transportation planner for Metra is to participate in transit-oriented development studies in communities that apply for the grants to fund these studies through the RTA. Tonight we presented a TOD plan in front of the Village Board of a wealthy suburb for discussion. We hoped this discussion would lead to a recommendation for the Board to adopt the study. Alas, we were wrong.

It seems that the third rail of local politics was mentioned, not in the plan, but in discussions of possible tools that the Village could use to implement their plan, should it be adopted. It was noted and explored in the steering committee driving the plan that one possible tool was the use of eminent domain. Eminent domain refers to the action of the state in expropriating property or the rights thereof from a private citizen with monetary compensation but without consent of the owner. This property is taken for public use and in some cases, economic development, as granted by right in Kelo v. City of New London (2005). Because of the Kelo decision and general anti-government sentiment there has been a backlash against government taking private property in general and specifically for use in economic development across the country. This is no different in the Chicago region.

The problem with eminent domain in the planning context is that it politicizes the planning process with issues that have little to do with the actual plan. I have never seen a plan that has actually recommended using eminent domain as an implementation tool in a plan because the political, legal and procedural hurdles are usually so great that it is not worth pursuing. The vast, vast majority of plans are not trying to develop 3,1oo jobs and $1.2m in annual revenues like the New London, CT was. Because of this politicization (“take your government hands off my property!”), the Village Board was unable to weigh the merits of what was actually in the plan.

A good plan is a set of guidelines for decision makers to use in implementing a vision for their community. It is a tool.  It says, if we build a parking structure, how much would it cost the government? It identifies how a Village could update their zoning code to fit with today’s market realities. It identifies short range and long range opportunities for implementation. A good plan does NOT tell developers what to build. A good plan does NOT advocate eminent domain. A good plan does NOT ignore property owners which are impacted by the plan.

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Time to Fight

Yonah Freemark over at The Transport Politic says it’s Time to Fight. House Republicans want to turn transportation into an all out ideological battle.

Looking south above Interstate 80, the Eastsho...

Without a balanced federal transportation policy, more of the same traffic congestion is in our future.

This, of course, is bad news for cities and metropolitan areas. As gas prices rise higher due to peak oil, supply and demand and geopolitical issues, it is even more urgent that the U.S. plan for a multi-modal approach to federal transportation policy. The automobile as the dominant form of mobility option is not sustainable or feasible. In the Chicago region, the Regional Transportation Authority estimates that the CTA, Metra and Pace could lose up to $450 million in capital each year. In a region with a system with a $10 billion backlog of capital projects, we simply cannot afford to lose this kind of money.

As Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said once, “Elections have consequences.”

One of the most important lessons in all of this is that elections have consequences. Many people now are beginning to catch on to that. It is no secret that our right-wing Republican colleagues did very well in November 2010. They captured the House of Representatives.

If you care about transportation and urban affairs, please remember this. And most importantly, fight now and call your Representative.

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Filed under Politics, Transportation Policy