The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning recently released results from its Travel Tracker Survey, through which 10,552 households in northeastern Illinois provided a detailed travel inventory for each member of their household on one or two assigned travel days between January 2007 and February 2008. The data is available on CMAP’s web site, including an executive summary that analyzes trends and draws comparisons with 1990 data.
Though many of the findings come as no surprise, the data shows we have more work to do to provide people with a wider variety of travel choices, to reduce congestion on our roads and make our communities and region a more attractive place to live and work.
Here are some of the key findings:
As the region grows, both in population and geographic scope, people are traveling more often and longer distances.
The average household travels 45 miles per average weekday. Another way to slice the data is that each person in the average household travels 16 miles, the distance from downtown Chicago to Hillside in the western suburbs, every weekday.
From 1990 to 2008, individuals over age 13 traveled 5 percent more miles on weekdays in metro Chicago. This added up to the average household traveling 26 percent more miles on weekdays.
In the central Chicago zone, only one in three trips are completed by a driver and only about one-half of the trips in this zone are completed by using an automobile. On the other end of the spectrum, in some of the outer zones, more than 90 percent of all trips are completed by using an automobile.
In outlying areas of the region, both personal and household travel is twice the average of Chicago.
The mismatch between where jobs are located in metropolitan Chicago and where people can afford to live continues to compel people to drive to work.
The central Chicago zone is the destination of a quarter of the region’s work trips. Northern Cook County has the second most jobs with 15.6 percent of the region’s employment, and DuPage County comes in third with 12.2 percent of all jobs. These three areas account for more than 53 percent of the region's employment, but only about 36 percent of its population, compelling people to drive from their homes to work.
This also means lots of people – 56 percent of all commute trips – are commuting suburb-to-suburb.
Most people are driving to work alone.
For all trips, passenger vehicles account for 86 percent of all personal miles of travel in the region and 79.5 percent of household trips. The most frequent mode for traveling to work in 2008 was driving alone.
Since 1990, this share has increased while carpooling has decreased.
With the exception of Cook County, at least 73 percent of all work commutes in the other counties are completed by individuals driving alone. In some outlying areas, more than 90 percent of work commutes are solo drivers.
For work trips to suburban Cook County, around three of four people drive alone. For workers with a Chicago destination, between two and three out of every five drive alone to work.
Driving isn’t the only mode of travel in the region.
Car trips account for most travel in the region, but in Chicago, auto use rates are the lowest. Chicago also posts higher rates of bicycling, walking, and transit use. For instance, walking represents about 10 percent of regional trips, but in the central Chicago zone walking represents nearly 25 percent of the trips.
The survey highlighted the need for planners and policymakers to invest in more sustainable communities by connecting where we live to where we work through safe, reliable, attractive transportation options.
People are being forced to travel longer distances because jobs, goods and services aren’t always available closer to where they can afford to live. While people across the region have pretty decent access to jobs in downtown Chicago because of the existing transit network, more than half of people aren't going to downtown Chicago. Their transportation options are more limited, to the point that most people feel their only option is to drive alone.
We know that when people have an attractive transportation option, they use it – whether that’s driving alone down a 12-lane highway, riding an express bus, using a well-designed bike lane, or a strolling down the sidewalk to the grocery store or a favorite local restaurant. As we look for new ways to reduce increasing congestion on our roads, we must also find new revenue sources and make smarter investments in our transportation network – and in our communities. Whether considering an express lane on a heavily congested corridor, more efficient transit service, sidewalks and pedestrian lighting, or bike lanes and racks, we should evaluate how well a given transportation investment meets the region's growing demand for reliable, attractive transportation options.