In the Loop: November 5, 2015 - Metropolitan Planning Council

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In the Loop: November 5, 2015

Flickr user SounderBruce (cc).

Tacoma's light rail line will be extended thanks to TIGER grant funding.

In the Loop is your round-up of what’s going on in the transportation world, posted in conjunction with Talking Transit.

@metroplanners news

No one in Uptown wanted to close Stewart School in 2013, but faced with declining resources and enrollment, Chicago Public Schools chose to clear out of the building—leaving a huge vacant parcel in the center of the community. The Metropolitan Planning Council led an interactive community process that engaged hundreds of residents in 2014 on the question of what to do with the building, which is a prime location for transit-oriented development thanks to its location across from the Wilson El station.

A year and a half later, Chicago Public Schools announced a sale to Morningside Group, which plans to redevelop the building to include residences, community space and retail—recommendations directly derived from the community process. Similarly, Morningside proposes building the density of the site through the addition of new buildings on land adjacent to the school building. It’s an important step forward for growing Chicago’s population around transit.

Chicago still needs significant funding to improve the transit system, though. Compared to the New York region, Chicago plans to invest significantly less in capital upgrades for its rail and bus services over the next five years, according to a recent Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) analysis, a trend that continues decades of New York spending more than Chicago. No wonder the average Chicagoan rides transit 17 percent less than they did in 1980, while the average New Yorker rides 30 percent more than they did then.

transit in the Chicago region

Chicago has been getting some good national press about our work on transit-oriented development, including most recently in an article in Politico that featured MPC’s work as a national model.

The Yellow Line, which connects Skokie to the Chicago ’L’ system, was shut down for more than five months thanks to a dramatic embankment collapse. The line has now reopened, finally bringing back rail service for customers who had been asked to ride replacement buses during the line’s reconstruction. The replacement buses, which took three times as long to make the journey covered by the Yellow Line, resulted in a 50 percent decline in ridership. It’s good to have the trains back.

Metra will also be improving service in the coming years thanks in part to a $14 million “TIGER” award from the U.S. Dept. of Transportation awarded last week. The funds will support a $34 million project—the replacement of a railroad bridge over the Fox River in the western suburbs. The 134-year-old single-tracked bridge is used by Metra’s West Line and services 49 commuter and 8 freight trains a day. Its replacement will have a pair of tracks and improve service for everyone on the line.


Metra was hardly the only transportation provider receiving a TIGER grant—agencies from all over the country received funds, which have been distributed on a competitive basis for the past five years.

Some of the most interesting projects included new bus rapid transit lines in Birmingham, Alabama and Louisville, Kentucky. Those will be the first modern public transportation corridors with dedicated alignments in either of those cities.

In Bridgeport, Conn., locals will be able to fund a new commuter rail station that officials hope will provide the basis for significant new transit-oriented development. New Orleans, La. is using TIGER dollars to support the replacement of its ferry terminal.

TIGER funds will also support two urban rail projects: The extension of the existing Tacoma, Wash. light rail system and the construction of the new Milwaukee, Wis. streetcar. They’ll join many other municipalities on the light rail bandwagon. Cincinnati and Kansas City received their first new streetcars from manufacturer CAF this week.


skokie, TIGER, transit, Uptown


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