Chicago ranks 10th for metro areas its size with poor access to transit for seniors - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Chicago ranks 10th for metro areas its size with poor access to transit for seniors

Chicago – By 2015, more than 15.5 million Americans ages 65 and older will live in communities where public transportation service is poor or non-existent, a new study shows. That number is expected to continue to grow rapidly as the baby boom generation “ages in place” in suburbs and exurbs with few mobility options for those who do not drive.

The report, Aging in Place, Stuck without Options, ranks metro areas by the percentage of seniors with poor access to public transportation, now and in the coming years, and presents other data on aging and transportation. The analysis by the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) evaluates metro areas within five size categories.

By 2015, 66 percent of seniors living in suburban Chicago will have poor transit access, while only 6 percent of seniors living in the City of Chicago will face poor transit options. The total number of seniors with poor access is projected to increase by 153,550 by 2015.

Metro Chicago ranks among the best for metro populations of 3 million and more. Atlanta ranks worst, followed by Riverside-San Bernardino, CA, Houston, Detroit and Dallas. In smaller areas such as Hamilton, OH will have 100 percent of seniors without access to public transportation. These conditions present a daunting challenge to local communities as a larger share of their population ages, increasing the demand for mobility options.

“The baby boom generation grew up and reared their children in communities that, for the first time in human history, were built on the assumption that everyone would always be able to drive an automobile,” said John Robert Smith, president and CEO of Reconnecting America and co-chair of Transportation for America. “What happens when people in this largest generation ever, with the longest predicted lifespan ever, outlive their ability to drive? That’s one of the questions we set out to answer in this report.”

“Transportation is typically the second highest expense for people, especially for those living in areas where driving is the only way to get around,” said Jacky Grimshaw, vice president of policy at CNT. “Poor transit access not only reduces independence for seniors, it also forces them to spend a large portion of their fixed incomes on transportation costs that could instead be paying for food and medicine.”

“For older individuals, access to safe, affordable and reliable public transportation is critical, said Bob Gallo, AARP Illinois Senior State Director. “But in Chicago, a growing number of older adults lack access to the transportation options they need. AARP commends Illinois PIRG and the rest of the Transportation for America coalition for raising awareness of this issue, and starting a conversation with Congress and other stakeholders aimed at generating solutions for the transportations needs of older Americans.”

Such a small percentage of older Americans relocate that researchers already are seeing the emergence of so-called “naturally occurring retirement communities.” That phenomenon is growing as baby boomers begin to turn 65. Today, 79 percent of seniors age 65 and older live in suburban or rural communities that are largely car-dependent.

“Baby Boomers are a vital part of our economy, and we need to make sure that our local communities and entire region provide options that meet their changing transportation needs,” said Peter Skosey, vice president, Metropolitan Planning Council. “Seniors work, shop, volunteer and recreate, and our transportation system, in particular our public transportation network, must enable them to continue to do all of those things to keep our economy strong.”

Research shows that without access to affordable travel options, seniors age 65 and older who can no longer drive make 15 percent fewer trips to the doctor, 59 percent fewer trips to shop or eat out, and 65 percent fewer trips to visit friends and family, than drivers of the same age. As the cost of owning and fuelling a vehicle rises, many older Americans who can still drive nonetheless are looking for lower-cost options.

“The transportation issues of an aging America are national in scope, and cash-strapped state and local governments will be looking for federal support in meeting their needs,” Smith added. “As Congress prepares this summer to adopt a new, long-term transportation authorization, Aging in Place, Stuck without Options outlines policies to help ensure that older Americans can remain mobile, active and independent.”

Policy recommendations include:

  • Increase funding support for communities looking to improve service such as buses, trains, vanpools, paratransit and ridesharing;
  • Provide funding and incentives for transit operators, nonprofit organizations, and local communities to engage in innovative practices;
  • Encourage state departments of transportation, metropolitan planning organizations, and transit operators to involve seniors and the community stakeholders in developing plans for meeting the mobility needs of older adults;
  • Ensure that state departments of transportation retain their authority to “flex” a portion of highway funds for transit projects and programs;
  • Include a “complete streets” policy to ensure that streets and intersections around transit stops are safe and inviting for seniors.

View Aging in Place, Stuck without Options and see the extended rankings on Transportation for America's web site. 


TRANSPORTATION FOR AMERICA (T4) is the largest, most diverse coalition working on transportation reform today.  Our nation’s transportation network is based on a policy that has not been significantly updated since the 1950’s. We believe it is time for a bold new vision — transportation that guarantees our freedom to move however we choose and leads to a stronger economy, greater energy security, cleaner environment, and healthier America for all of us. We’re calling for more responsible investment of our federal tax dollars to create a safer, cleaner, smarter transportation system that works for everyone.

Founded in 1978, the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) is a Chicago-based think-and-do tank that works nationally to advance urban sustainability by researching, inventing and testing strategies that use resources more efficiently and equitably. Its programs focus on climate, energy, natural resources, transportation, and community development. Visit for more information.

Since 1934, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has been dedicated to shaping a more sustainable and prosperous greater Chicago region. As an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, MPC serves communities and residents by developing, promoting and implementing solutions for sound regional growth.


Kathleen Woodruff, 773-251-0065

Emily Robinson, 773-269-4043

Mandy Burrell Booth, 312-863-6018


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