Metropolis report sees clogged future
Published March 3, 2003
It took more than 100 years of sweat and innovation for the Chicago area to
build one of the premier transportation networks in the world, yet only a few
decades for the system to edge toward dysfunction.
Somewhere along the way, the bold vision of Daniel Burnham's 1909 Plan of
Chicago became blurred, but it can be put back into sharp focus.
A new report that will be released Tuesday presents an alarming picture of the
region over the next 30 years if the current land use, transportation and
taxation policies continue.
The report, produced by the nonprofit civic group Chicago Metropolis 2020,
calls for sweeping changes including the consolidation of the CTA, Metra and
Pace, the Illinois Tollway and regional planning organizations into one
super-agency to foster coordination instead of competition.
The overall goal is to produce a coherent long-term strategy that prevents
regional gridlock, allows people to live closer to their jobs and uses open
lands more wisely.
The report also pushes for renewed investment in "regional cities," including
Elgin, Joliet, Aurora, Schaumburg, Naperville and Waukegan, to provide a
better mix of housing and employment and to create local hubs for enhanced
"We consider growth to be inevitable, but we must fix the current system that
is built on parochial interests," said one official who worked on the report.
Between the Chicago Transit Authority and Metra, there are almost 400 rail
stations in the six-county area, yet less than 20 percent of housing is located
within a half mile of the stations. It's no accident.
Zoning laws in many suburbs ban high-density residential development that
would produce enough riders to make delivering excellent transit services
cost-effective. Home buyers would surely flock to affordable townhouses built
around rail lines and a vibrant downtown. But under the existing urban-sprawl
scenario, most of the affordable new housing is being built on the fringes,
wiping out valuable farmland and locking workers into one option: long trips
by car on congested highways to get to their jobs.
And over the years, Chicago has largely written off some neighborhoods on
the South and West Sides where CTA "L" trains already run but do not stop
at frequent intervals. Those areas, along with the long-neglected south
suburbs, already possess much of the infrastructure and vacant land that
would be needed to jump-start economic development and promote a
healthier urban lifestyle.
Meanwhile, all Chicago-area drivers, who battle traffic in the
third-most-congested region in the U.S., on average spend almost an hour
behind the wheel each day. Instead of reducing commuting times, costly
projects--including the state's $140 million ill-fated attempt to unclog the
"Hillside Strangler" traffic bottleneck--only generate more vehicle traffic. One
million more cars on area roads are projected over the next 30 years.
The report, "The Metropolis Plan: Choices for the Chicago Region,"
recommends creating a regional commission to plan, fund and coordinate
growth and transportation in northeastern Illinois. The commission's
responsibilities would include setting priorities and establishing policies,
including implementing a universal mass-transit fare system, imposing
"congestion fees" on motorists who drive during peak travel periods and
improving the capacity and efficiency of the aging freight transportation
In addition, counties would be authorized to create intergovernmental
cooperation councils to implement plans related to land use, transportation,
housing and economic development. The councils would be allowed to
receive public and private funding, charge user fees and sell bonds to finance
Officials said the strategy is aimed at:
- Building 40 percent of new homes in the region on redeveloped land or infill,
and constructing 37 percent of the housing within a half-mile of a rail station.
- Developing a bus rapid-transit system that would serve northeastern Illinois,
plus building pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods and business districts.
- Protecting some 300 square miles of prairie, woods and wetlands--roughly
the size of DuPage County--from development over the next 30 years.
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