In the late 1800s and early 1900s, communities across the region were established because of their proximity to Chicagoland’s earliest rail lines. That legacy is alive today: Northeastern Illinois has the nation’s second largest transit network, connecting dozens of great neighborhoods by train and bus and giving people alternatives to gas-guzzling car trips. Many south suburban communities are capitalizing on their transit connections and taking strides to make their downtowns more walkable.
Blue Island is one of those communities. Three commuter rail lines carry Metra trains that make 80 stops each day within walking distance of the city’s center. Blue Island is building on its transportation assets through a downtown revitalization plan to attract new jobs, shops and homes. The city also is playing up another strength: Because it is just 4.5 square miles, Blue Island is very walk able. In fact, six out of 10 kids in Blue Island walk to school each day, compared with less than 20 percent nationally. Focusing on pedestrian-friendly development near transit stops not only can boost a town’s retail businesses, but also benefits residents. The average household spends more on driving than on food, education or health – and some 45 percent of our car trips are for everyday errands, such as going to the grocery store or dry cleaner, according to the National Household Travel Survey.
Communities that make it easy to walk, bike or take transit are giving Chicago-area families more affordable choices.In places like downtown Park Forest, some families are finding they not only can walk to nearby shops, restaurants, and summer festivals, but also to work – in just five minutes or less. That’s because the community converted a failed shopping mall into a town center with retail shops, municipal and private office buildings, and affordable homes. Some lucky Park Forest residents can walk not only to the city’s summer festivals, but also to their jobs, in just five minutes or less.
Communities without transit access still can help homeowners reduce their need to drive through creative downtown planning and programming. For instance, Lansing hosts many of its summer events, including Cruise Nights and the Good Neighbor Day Parade, in the downtown business district along Ridge Road. Bringing life to the streets supports local businesses, makes the whole area more welcoming and vibrant, and even increases interactions between neighbors, which helps strengthen the sense of community and place.
For more information about ways communities can promote transportation alternatives, visit Metropolitan Planning Council’s Web site, http://www.metroplanning.org/.