Elevating Chicago

Commuting Archives

Lies, Damn Lies, and Chicago's Congestion "Problem"

user-pic
Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

The Texas Transportation Institute's Urban Mobility Report is always good for a few screaming headlines, and this year's release doesn't disappoint. Chicago and Washington, DC tied for the longest commuter delays,* totaling 70 hours per commuter per year in 2009 (the most recent year for data). That's pretty awful, especialy when you compare that to the 64 hours per commuter per year we wasted in 2008.  And since 2009 was a worse year economically, this number certainly won't improve as more people (hopefully) get back to work, many of whom will commute by driving themselves.

Except that TTI's rankings are a crock. When a rough draft of this report came out last year, Chicago's own CEOs for Cities responded: their "Driven Apart" report is the most thorough debunking of TTI's methods I've ever seen.  Briefly, TTI has 2 main ranking systems, and both of them have fundamental flaws.

  1. "Delay Time." Chicago ranks #1 in the nation in total delay hours, but what is a delay? Well, anytime you travel on a highway below 60 mph or on an arterial below 30, you're adding to the delay.  Nevermind that most expressways around here have 55 mph speed limits and arterials are often 25 mph!
  2. "Travel Time Index" This is the one that really rankles, because it produces a score which state DOTs can use like a cudgel to convince politicians to waste taxpayer money on highway capacity increases that never solve congestion problems. I'll let David Alpert of Greater Greater Washington (our brethren at #1) take it away:

Consider two hypothetical cities. In Denseopolis, people live within 2 miles of work on average, but the roads are fairly clogged and drivers can only go about 20 miles per hour. However, it only takes an average of 6 minutes to get to work, which isn't bad.

On the other hand, in Sprawlville, people live about 30 miles from work on average, but there are lots and lots of fast-moving freeways, so people can drive 60 mph. That means it takes 30 minutes to get to work.

Which city is more congested? By TTI's methods, it's Denseopolis. But it's the people of Sprawlville who spend more time commuting, and thus have less time to be with their families and for recreation.

Of course, who needs a hypothetical when there's a perfectly good real-world example of this: according to the report, Chicago and Houston have the same Travel Time Index of 1.25 (which ranks us 5th among very large cities, for the record). However, Chicago drivers only need an average of 13.5 miles to reach work, while Houston's average commute distance is 22.1 miles. We are desneopolis, and that's a good thing.

*Really, Jon Hilkevitch? You're gonna fall for TTI's trap too? I know you saw the CEOs for Cities report back in September--you wrote about it very cogently. So why the regurgitation of TTI's press release now? I'll give you credit for not stooping to repeat TTI's claim that "in the end, there's a need for more capacity" and instead pointing out how much worse it would be if Chicago didn't have good public transportation. But why not mention Driven Apart and say that although TTI is (unfortuantely) the standard, there are serious problems with it? Help make us an informed citizenry and all that, right?

The New C-Pass's Impending Failure, or: Why Federal Policy Matters [UPDATED]

user-pic
Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

c-pass icon.jpg
The Chicago Transit Board approved a pilot program for a Convention Pass, or C-Pass, at last week's Board Meeting.  It's a simple $3/day pass that will be sold in bulk to convention organizers, who will then pass out the passes to attendees before they arrive.  I have no qualms with the program, and like that the CTA is using a targeted pilot program to get a handle on a revenue source which, judging by the low price, is currently untapped.  Implementing the program in such a way so that convention-goers will have the pass in hand before they arrive at O'Hare or Midway is exactly what has to happen to keep rental cars from clogging McCormick Place's already overused parking lots.

But here's the rub (there's always one in this city): the only way to use the C-Pass to actually get to or from McCormick Place is the 129 bus which only runs during weekday rush hours, and never ventures north of Washington in the loop.  This bus does run by many of the hotels used by convention-goers, but its limited hours gives them little flexibility--the hallmark of useful transitUPDATE: the 3 and 21 buses also run to McCormick Place, my mistake.  I don't believe this undermines my point, but it certainly shows that as the C-Pass gets distributed, the CTA and convention organizers should be sure to point out which bus lines connect attendees' hotels with the convention.

Continue reading...

Completing Our Streets

user-pic
shymen

I've lived all over the country and world, my background is in International Affairs, Political Science, and Economics, and I'm a Chicago boy born and bred.

Today I'd like to add to the post I wrote last Thursday regarding safe routes to school.  My previous post was more or less about how the threat of gang violence has made Chicago students' commute to and from school far too dangerous.  In this post I will talk about how making the route to school safer, as well as more walkable and bikable, will help end an equally as dangerous problem as the gang violence threatening our youth: childhood obesity.

obesity.jpeg

Continue reading...

While You're at it, Gov. Quinn...

user-pic
Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

CNT H+T Map.jpg

CNT's Housing vs. H+T Indices on the South Side. Click to Enlarge.


The Pedestrian Safety Act isn't the only bill languishing on Governor Quinn's desk right now that could fundamentally change Chicago's livability for the better.  The Housing + Transportation Affordability Index Act will help citizens and civic leaders make more informed decisions housing decisions.

Back in March, Chicago's own Center for Neighborhood Technology came out with the Housing + Transportation Affordability Index, which quantified a basic truth: we spend a lot of money on transportation, and both how we get around and how far we have to go is a direct result of where we've chosen to live.   So if we're going to talk about a city or neighborhood being "affordable" the current method of only looking at the going rental rates or the latest house sale price is truly folly.

Continue reading...

The Walk to School

user-pic
shymen

I've lived all over the country and world, my background is in International Affairs, Political Science, and Economics, and I'm a Chicago boy born and bred.

As I've gotten older it's become more evident how interconnected all facets of life truly are.  Besides the fact that we live in a very "small world," we live in a society much like Newton's Law: "every action has an equal and opposite reaction."  While this law is primarily in terms of physics, it's also the case with day-to-day life in Chicago.  One wrong turn by a car, one poorly implemented law, one misrepresented neighborhood, or even one inadequately lit street, can be the difference of a livable (literally) city and an unlivable city.  A livable city is not one where children cannot walk to school without the fear of gang violence.  Giving kids a safe route to school won't necessarily stop Chicago's gang related violence of this past year, but it's a crucial start.

0510-ASAFESTREETS-CHICAGO-CRIME-SOCIETY_full_380.jpg

Continue reading...

How will we make it the "Last-Mile?"

user-pic
shymen

I've lived all over the country and world, my background is in International Affairs, Political Science, and Economics, and I'm a Chicago boy born and bred.

In the past I've done a lot of CTA bashing, and even some Chicago bashing.  I don't intend to seem one sided.  I love my city, and think that as a whole it does many things well.  Today I want to talk about something that Chicago transit does better than some, but if they try hard enough, can do better than most; that is the concept of the "last-mile," in terms of transportation.


Continue reading...

Bikes, Trains, and not Automobiles

user-pic
shymen

I've lived all over the country and world, my background is in International Affairs, Political Science, and Economics, and I'm a Chicago boy born and bred.

I've talked in the past about encouraging more bikers to commute to work, but I've failed to integrate one type of bike commuter; the type that only bikes for part of their commute.  Many people live too far from work to bike the entire distance and instead need to incorporate both their bike and the train as a means of getting to the office.  The Metra and the CTA say they are bike-friendly, but let's fact it, they really aren't.  In this post I will discuss a few ways that both the CTA and Metra can improve the commute for their distance commuters.


Continue reading...

Most Active Pages Right Now

ChicagoNow.com on Facebook