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


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.

This concept of the "last-mile" discusses the distance between transit stops and the rider's desired location, whether that is work or home.  A transit authority and city should have the goal of making sure riders can get to and from transit stops without a car.  Thus, the "last-mile" needs to be "walkable" and/or "bikable."  For a more in depth discussion of the term "last-mile" on a general level, see Human Transit.

In Chicago, we do a decent job in regards to the "last-mile."  Commuters who take the bus or train into the city, especially into the Loop, do not have to walk very far to get to the office. The Loop might even have too many stops, if we allow for the assumption that people should be able to walk up to a half-mile (10 minutes) to work, from their transit stop.  Downtown Chicago is also very walkable, and therefore alleviates the problem some commuters might have in other areas.  Not that there is never a "last-mile" problem downtown, but the area where Chicago needs the most improvement is in the surrounding neighborhoods.

Any Chicagoan who has driven along 90/94 and 290 have seen the Blue Line stops in the highway medians on the North Side and West Side, and the Red Line stops in the highway medians on the South Side.  Check out the view from the Irving Park Blue Line stop:


I understand why the CTA built their stops this way (zoning issues for one), but these highway stops are making the "last-mile" a problem for many riders.  It is far from easy to walk or bike to these stops.  In general you'd need to cross a major intersection, bypass all the impatient drivers attempting to merge onto the on-ramps, not to mention the fact that these stops are more often than not further than a half-mile from most residences.  The people who call these highway-stops their home stop, have a tough "last-mile."

The solution is for the CTA to ask for some help from the City.  Primarily, the CTA needs the areas closest to these stops re-zoned, which will then allow private industry to take over and build.  It is true that the City doesn't own all the land immediately next to the transit stops, in most cases it's the CTA's land, so that land is up to the CTA to fix on their own.  A second and more complex solution is to impose a set of tax breaks; but that is a little messy, and needs its own post to discuss.

The CTA's objective must be to build these areas up, both residentially and commercially. As of now, businesses are not keen to open up shop by these troubled stops because there is limited walk-by traffic.  However, increasing population density in these areas would solve that problem.  Overall, Chicago does not have a major "last-mile" problem, but we are far from perfect and need many improvements.



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schwerve said:

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while I don't disagree with rezoning and building up the area near these median stops. In my mind the solution is turning these into multi-modal centers rather than transit stops. Most of these stops are directly on major north-south & east west streets. If the CTA integrates for example, BRT on 79th (one of the proposed pilot routes)heavily into the station there, the red line station becomes a transfer stop rather than a terminus for a transit user and essentially solves the last-mile issue for many of these locations.

Ted Rosenbaum said:


Schwerve, even if some of these stations become multi-modal centers similar to Jefferson Park, there will still be people who live in the immediate area. They'll want to walk (or bike) to and from their "home" station without feeling like the only person in an asphalt & car world. While a multi-modal station that incorporates some retail or residential would help, just allowing people to transfer at a station won't solve things.

schwerve said:

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I don't disagree with the principle, and do think this is the the best solution for most stations, but this isn't realistic for dan ryan red line or forest park blue line. which is my point, for these types of highway median stations emphasizing the station as a transfer rather than a terminus changes what the "last mile" is and solves that issue.

JW said:

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"In general you'd need to cross a major intersection, bypass all the impatient drivers attempting to merge onto the on-ramps..."

I don't see how re-zoning private property does anything to solve this problem. It sounds like you want changes to the public infrastructure. That has nothing to do with zoning.

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