With the recent news that Chicago will be expanding its transit-oriented development (TOD) policy to eight of the highest-ridership bus corridors in the city, it’s clear the city is doubling down on TOD as an environmentally sustainable and efficient way to incentivize private development.
First introduced in 2013, the policy today completely waives all parking requirements on new developments up to a 1/2 mile from city CTA or Metra rail stations.
The result has been a flurry of multifamily residential and mixed-use construction along select ‘L’ corridors. Now with even more parking-less territory available for developers, plus renewed efforts for more of the South and West sides to take full advantage, it appears TOD policy will continue to drive development in Chicago.
Residents of TODs often made the intentional choice to forgo gridlock and pricey parking spots in favor of not only transit, but a multimodal mobility experience.
However, even young professionals proud to live this urban lifestyle admit that it can come with its own headaches. How accessible are neighborhood amenities and entertainment options that are important to them? This could ultimately decide their satisfaction with this lifestyle, and whether they remain for years, recede into less dense residential, or even move to the suburbs.
Which locational factors often decide the satisfaction of residents in a transit-oriented development?
Transit frequency, reliability, and available routes
While it’s a given that there will be at least one rail or high-frequency bus line near the property, will it go where they need to go? Is it reliable? Are there frequent lines that will get them not only downtown, but across town quickly?
How pleasant is the walk to the transit stop? If the ‘L’ station is integrated within a walkable neighborhood, it’s likely a comfortable, pedestrian-friendly journey. If the station is in an expressway median, not so much. The roar of passing cars, weak protection from howling winter winds, and tedious long walks over bridges before they’ve even entered a neighborhood can get old fast.
How many trips for day-to-day necessities can be accomplished on foot? How close is the nearest pharmacy, and how late is it open? Is there a larger-format store (such as a city Target) or grocery store (such as a Jewel-Osco or Mariano’s) close enough to walk home carrying bags?
This goes beyond the bare essentials. Is there a coffee shop on the way to the ‘L’ in the morning? Some casual restaurants and a neighborhood bar or two for meeting friends? Again, residents might not move to a TOD for these amenities specifically, but they’ll quickly come to cherish having them, or lament the lack thereof.
It’s unrealistic to assume all trips in Chicago can or should be made via transit exclusively, no matter how frequent or reliable it is. Easy access to other modes of transport is crucial, especially if some of the above amenities can’t be found in walking distance. This could take the form of bike parking within the building, nearby Divvy bike stations, Zipcars nearby for a quick trip to Target, or easy access via Uber and Lyft (proximity to expressways or Lake Shore Drive helps with this).