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Go To 2040... Better (Part I)

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Ted Rosenbaum

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

As one of the United States' major metropolitan areas, Chicago is required by law to have a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO).  In the past, the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission (NIPC) along with the Chicago Area Transportation Study (CATS) were responsible for this planning.  They merged in 2006 to form the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), which is responsible for the next 30-year plan, known as Go To 2040.  CMAP came out with their draft plan last week, and it will be formally accepted by the city CMAP Board of Directors and Policy Committee in October.  In the meantime there will be ten open houses where you can share your comments, starting this past Tuesday in DuPage County, and finishing in Chicago on August 3 at the CMAP office at 233 S. Wacker Drive, Suite 800.  If you can't make any of the meetings, you can also submit written comments to them via email.

There's a lot to go over, so I'm going to break down my thoughts into a few installments over the next week or so.  They've split it up into 5 sections: Livable communities, Regional Mobility, Human Capital, Efficient Governance, and Context and Best Practices.  Although vital to the ongoing success of the entire Chicagoland area, the last 3 are less germane to what we're doing here, and so I'll address them together later on.  First up though: Livable Communities.

Although this is a regional plan, you can see right off the bat Chicago's imprint on it in the definition CMAP uses for livability: a "healthy, safe, and walkable" community that has "a sense of place."  (Page 5) I'll drink to that.

CMAP Regional Development.jpg

And don't let it be said that CMAP doesn't understand the land use problems facing the region.  There's the chart above, showing how much we've spread out as a region, especially over the last 50 years.  And though they don't call it out in very strong language, CMAP tells us we can't continue that way: "'Greenfield' development is, in the long run, more costly by many measures."  (Page 49) That's a pretty sharp--and true!--statement, but this draft then spends most of its time softening that blow.

I suppose it's all in the name of getting buy-in from the far out exurbs, and no one likes being dictated to.  I understand the politics of an MPO, but hope is not a strategy, and yet CMAP relies on the kindness of strangers rather than giving comprehensive solutions.  The plan goes to great pains to say that all land use decisions should be made locally, and that CMAP will simply count on local governments to understand "the responsibility to carefully assess broader impacts on neighboring communities and the region as a whole." (Page 47) Does anyone really think Algonquin's decision makers will think about the Kennedy's core capacity the next time they debate a car-centric development?

CMAP Brownfield opportunities.jpg

The funny thing about all of this is that the draft includes the map you see above, highlighting in living color the oodles of space that already exists in the six county area that could be redeveloped.  Would a moratorium on building on unincorporated land in the region be a drain in any way on the economy?  Certainly no less so than widening roads, expanding the reach of already-taxed emergency services, and lengthening commuter rail lines to areas that don't really have the density to support them.  CMAP is already pledging to help establish development best practices; this moratorium would save them effort, as they could focus exclusively on brownfield development and drafting more inclusionary zoning ordinances instead.

A lot of the financial data the backs up this plan is pretty wonky, and I won't attempt to dispute it.  I will say how glad I am to see CMAP touting the Center for Neighborhood Technology's Housing + Transit Index.  With funding for development grants extremely limited (though one would expect and demand some growth over the 30 years covered by this plan) comparing proposals with the H+T Index will likely favor Chicago to a great extent, especially if transit fares can remain at all stable relative to gas prices in the future.

I'll make one final note on this section of the plan before I open it up to you in the comments.  One of the firm actions CMAP suggests is to "require supportive land use planning before new transit investment is made." (Page 67) I don't disagree--certain land use patterns are simply incapable of adequately supporting transit investment.  But why aren't we holding roads to the same requirement?  Why aren't we requiring supportive land use planning before any new transportation investment is made--of any mode?  Especially if CMAP can get cities thinking regionally, they'll come to see that supporting car-centric land use--and the accompanying (publicly financed!) road construction and maintenance that accompanies it--is not sustainable financially or environmentally.

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1 Comment

RJRICH17 said:

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I agree - we should hold transit and road planning on an equal level. But to put the onus on municipalities to do this is a bit of a stretch. IDOT, which provides the vast sources of funding (state and federal) controls most of the major roads in the suburbs. Counties control other arterials but the suburban municipalities are generally responsible for local and small collector roads. Reforming the transportation laws to dictate state DOT's should ensure local appropriate land use planning frameworks are in place would be the best way to attack this issue. However, doing so will be a political nightmare!

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