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How Chicago can go from first to last in TTI's urban mobility ranking

Bus rapid transit in Bogota, Columbia

The Texas Transportation Institute study made it official: Metropolitan Chicago has the worst traffic in the nation. 

(Well, okay, we’re tied with D.C. I wonder if there’s a connection there? President Obama?) 

No matter if Chicago’s traffic congestion ranks second next year, or third, or even tenth, we all feel the effects of a transportation system that’s not up to par. Indeed, as depressing as it is to admit, the congestion story is old news to us: MPC did our own research on traffic congestion in our region two years ago and concluded the cost of excess congestion to metropolitan Chicago is $7.3 billion – a year! 

Even folks who don’t have all the facts and figures at their fingertips know what we all experience. Our roadways are not operating at full capacity, and our transit system – despite providing more service last year than ever before – is still straining to meet demand. Chicago Transit Authority alone is $6.8 billion short on capital funding over the next five years; PACE and Metra also are struggling. Far too many people have no choice but to drive miles to work, alone. Many others say they would bike or walk, if only …

Other cities are showing us what works. They’ve tapped private funding to build bus rapid transit systems, which zip through traffic like trains, but take far less capital to build. They’re trying congestion pricing, a way to reduce traffic on our highways by giving people options: to pay a fee to drive on a free-flowing road, to travel on an alternative route, or to take transit. They’ve introduced true bike-sharing programs and enforced crosswalk laws to make it safe and inviting for people to bike and walk, rather than drive. 

We can do these things, too. That’s why MPC is working together with advocates across the region, the business community, transportation agencies, and elected officials to move ahead on these and other proven, low-cost, creative solutions that can give people across our region more transportation options and curb congestion. We’ve laid out our goals for the year in our 2011 Plan for Prosperity

  • We’re partnering with CMAP and the Illinois Tollway to identify next steps for congestion pricing in northeastern Illinois.
  • We’re partnering with the CTA to explore the potential for bus rapid transit to improve transportation connections and economic development in Chicago.
  • We’re also advocating for legislation that would allow Illinois to tap innovative, public-private financing for transportation projects, including the Elgin-O’Hare Expressway, western access, rail freight modernization, express trains to the airport, and other transit enhancements. In the face of shrinking public resources, public-private partnerships can provide new and reliable revenue sources.
  • Most importantly, we fully support GO TO 2040, northeastern Illinois’ first-ever comprehensive plan, adopted in October 2010. The plan endorses many innovative transportation solutions and identifies specific investments that would make strides to reduce congestion and air pollution by giving people more options for getting where they need to go. At our Feb. 1 roundtable, we’ll talk about what our region needs to do, collectively, to make GO TO 2040 a reality.
  • And, MPC along with a coalition of nonprofits, is meeting with all of Chicago’s mayoral candidates to make sure they are well aware of the work that needs to be done to reduce the burden congestion places on our residents and economy. 

Recently, a bus rapid transit study was announced to examine the potential for a route along a western corridor in Chicago, and the CTA began offering Train Tracker on all train lines to give riders a better idea of when their train will arrive at the station. We’re seeing glimmers of how it could be. But to swap a top ranking in traffic congestion with top rankings in regional mobility and sustainability, we need to move more quickly and stridently to truly transform our transportation network.   

What else do you think needs to be done?

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For 80 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has made the Chicago region a better place to live and work by partnering with businesses, communities and governments to address the area’s toughest planning and development challenges. MPC works to solve today's urgent problems while consistently thinking ahead to prepare the region for the needs of tomorrow. Read more about our work »

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