Chicago has an incredible train system with 144 stations providing access to many great walkable neighborhoods, and that’s not even counting Metra stations. The combination of walking to transit is what allows city residents to be less dependent on their cars. But there are also stations in not-so-walkable areas, surrounded by freeways, vacant lots or suburban-style development.
I took a look at the Carfree Chicago Train Stop Guide to find the CTA’s ten least walkable stations. The Train Stop Guide lists Walk Scores for each train station, which gives a sense of whether the station has lots of people and activity within convenient walking distance. Below are the least walkable stations listed with Walk Scores. Eleven are actually listed because three tied, and I excluded O’Hare and Midway, since these are special destinations:
- 47th Street Station (Red): 46
- Cicero Station (Blue): 48
- Garfield Station (Red): 49
- 69th Street Station (Red): 52
- 51st Station (Green): 55
- 43rd Station (Green): 57
- 95th Street Terminal (Red): 57
- Pulaski Station (Pink): 58
- California Station (Green): 60
- Kostner Station (Pink): 60
- 79th Street Station (Red): 60
All of these stations were in the City of Chicago, which may surprise some folks who think of suburbs as always being less walkable than the city. Six of these stations are located on freeways.
Often conversations about improving transit revolve only around how to expand train and bus lines to serve more riders. But Chicago also needs to be looking at how to bring more riders and economic activity closer to our existing transit service by encouraging development near under-utilized stations. In order for public transit to be an enticing mobility solution, potential transit riders need to be able to conveniently get to the nearest station by foot. And they need to be able to conveniently get to their final destination by foot from the stop they get off at. Also, there needs to be a lot of potential riders near the stations, and there needs to be a lot of destinations near the stations, or the transit system wouldn’t be particularly useful to very many people. So the key to having a transit system with a meaningful impact on a city’s mobility is having transit stations surrounded by walkable areas with lots of people and lots of activity (jobs, shopping, parks, entertainment, etc.) Now, you can bring the transit to the centers of activity, or you can bring the centers of activity to the transit, but the two need to be coordinated. This is call transit-oriented development. Focusing new development around existing train stations is a smart way to make better use of expensive infrastructure.
I’m encouraged that the City already seems to be pursuing this strategy. Take a look at thisTransit-Friendly Development Guide adopted by the City. There are also draft plans on that site for four stations, including 43rd St., which is on my list above.
I’m also encouraged that at least one candidate for mayor, Rahm Emanuel, understands this concept as well. Posted on his transportation page you’ll find this:
Establish a clear transit-friendly development policy to streamline approvals and prioritize investments
Every transit station attracts riders and development potential, but the City has not fully integrated the goal of improving rail lines and stations into its capital and economic development strategies. Rahm will issue an executive order that establishes clear and consistent principles for transit oriented development – expedited permitting, set-aside of city-owned property to expand car sharing and bike parking, assistance with land assembly, expanded use of tax credits and loan guarantees, and identification of instances where the City will jointly invest with CTA to improve the transit system. The order will recognize the clear link between housing and transportation costs in keeping neighborhoods affordable, and will evaluate improvements on their ability to reduce the combined cost of housing and transportation for Chicago residents. This policy will help to focus all investment – including in Chicago’s TIF districts – around developments that integrate station upgrades with mixed-use developments.
Why do you think the stations on my list score so low? What do you think the city can do to make the areas around our train stations more walkable and more useful?
“CTA’s Least Walkable Train Stations” by Lee Crandell is licensed under CC BY