Rumor Mill: New Ordinance Seeks to Legalize Transit-Oriented Development

CTA station
A new ordinance that's rumored to be in the works could open up land around train stations for more productive uses than parking lots, like this one at the Garfield Green Line station.

Last week I interviewed Jacky Grimshaw about the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s recent report on Chicago’s lack of transit-oriented development compared to our peer cities. Afterward, I was thinking about the reconstruction of the entire Red Line south of Roosevelt, which will replace tracks and renovate many stations. This project is going to significantly speed up transit, but are there policies in place to incentivize development near these nine stations where riders will be able to get downtown faster?

“Rail transit does increase access and property values,” Grimshaw said. Higher densities should be allowed near transit so that more people can make use of the improved access. But as the CNT report pointed out, denser, mixed-use developments are not allowed near some train stations. In these cases, CNT recommended that transit-oriented development should be made explicitly legal, and Grimshaw hinted that the Department of Housing and Economic Development, where the city’s urban planners and zoning administrators work, is working on a transit-oriented development “overlay” ordinance to accomplish that.

A source in city government confirmed that an ordinance is in the works. In areas within 600 feet of transit stations, it would lower parking requirements and allow taller buildings, more housing, and even swap car parking for additional bike parking. Developers would have to build up to the sidewalk (similar to Pedestrian Street zoning rules) and drive-throughs would be banned. This ordinance would address many of the barriers that are currently holding back transit-oriented development in Chicago.

However, not all of the obstacles to TOD are legal in nature. Our source made sure to point out that there’s a physical barrier to TOD near several stations on the Blue and Red Lines: expressways.

It’s unknown when the ordinance would be introduced.

Updated to add bike/car parking swap. 

  • Anonymous

    You’re right…the expressways are the 900000000 lb elephant in the room for transit. BRT seems to be one of the only possible ways to allow for movement across expressways to more easily get to/from expressway-locked stations.

    I’d love to see some studies done in other places about how to repair the damage caused to communities/transit by expressway scars like we have. The cost to reconfigure an overpass entrance at the street level must be phenomenal, not to mention how many bureaucratic organizations would have to cooperate.

  • Anne A

    Yep, expressways are a huge obstacle to TOD on the south side red line and west side blue line.

    This ordinance, if passed, could make a big difference.

  • Elliott Mason

    600 feet is far too short a distance, IMHO; maybe half a mile?

  • Roland Solinski

    It’s worth noting that there is already a TOD ordinance on the books, although it has a 250′ radius and a lot of caveats. It was added by Joe Moreno in response to the Ashland/Division project.

    4. In B or C districts with a dash 5 density designation or in the RM6 or RM6.5 districts, the required parking may be reduced as approved in a Planned Development or by the Zoning Administrator pursuant to a Type I Rezoning Ordinance for developments which meet all of the following criteria:

    a. qualify for and are approved pursuant to the Planned Development provisions of Chapter 17-8 or for Type I rezoning under the provisions of Section 17-13-0302;

    b. are located within 250 feet of an entrance to a CTA or Metra rail station, as measured from the nearest boundary of the lot to be developed;

    c. include in the building or buildings to be constructed or rehabilitated at least one bicycle parking space for each automobile parking space that would otherwise be required under Section 17-10-0200; and

    d. provide additional alternatives to automobile ownership, such as car-sharing vehicles or other shared modes of transportation.

  • Roland Solinski

    I’m all for car-free lifestyles but I think a quarter mile is the sensible figure. A Chicagoan who lives 1/2 mile from an L station might make that walk for their daily commute but find it inconvenient for shopping or social trips.

  • Roland Solinski

    The CTA’s new Forest Park Branch study is looking at this very problem. Oak Park’s been looking at the problem for even longer. I think with the upcoming Eisenhower reconstruction, we may see the pedestrian access dramatically improved at some stations. On this site, Steven’s posted a really great plan for the Peoria Street entrance of the UIC-Halsted Station.

  • Elliott Mason

    Are we in agreement that 600 feet (about a tenth of a mile) is definitely too short?

  • Roland Solinski

    Sure, but 600′ is still an upgrade over the current 250′.

  • Anonymous

    The best catalyst for zero-parking, mixed-use, transit-oriented development may be the high-capacity modern streetcar running in a dedicated lane. Where ridership or the potential/need for development is very high, it may be a better choice than BRT. It moves rapid transit from the median of the highway to the main street at heart of the neighborhood. It runs in a corridor lined with shopping and services and thousands of apartments upstairs, and you board right from the sidewalk. You get TOD along the whole corridor, not just at stations. The growth of services and jobs in the corridor makes it easier to live well without a car.

  • Alex Oconnor

    Perhaps in the ordinance they could explicitly put in an exception / qualification that the “entrance” of the L station if it is in the median of express – way that the point of measurement begins at the furthest corners of intersection of the roads of the point of egress and ingress. I am struggling with the language here but I think my point comes through. It is not an insurmountable problem it is only an obstacle if one wants it to be an obstacle.

  • Alex Oconnor

    On this point, back when they were considering the CTA Blue line express, I thought to myself use the median Blue line to run an express train and continue the subway under Milwaukee at least out to Jeff Park or even out to Park Ridge via Northwest highway.

    The redline i turn would be so far superior if it went subway or even above ground down Halsted as opposed to the median.

    I do not know the history of the funding but I am reasonably certain it was tied to highway funds and out nations preferential treatment of highway construction versus public transit.

  • Guest

    No. A 600 foot radius is plenty for the city currently. Think about it, thats almost 26 acres per location!

  • Eric Mathiasen

    600 feet? That’s less than 1 standard Chicago block, which is 660 feet. I guess it’s better than nothing, but still – only allowing TOD within a less-than-1-block radius is hardly progressive.

  • Eric Mathiasen

    Nobody thinks of city land in acre units. A 600 foot radius is only .04 square miles. That’s the number to think about.

  • Alex Oconnor

    Well we can argue over absolute distance. In my experience, I live about 1/3 of a mile to a metra stop which I think is very close under 10 minutes. I also live about 8/10 of a mile to an L stop which is still fairly close but I do not use it as much as the meta because it is about 12-15 minutes walk. Wish metra ran more frequently and more frequently on weekends as well.

    But somewhere in the 1/4 – 1/2 mile range seems pretty reasonable. Maybe we could use a gradient Within 1/4 mile high density allow, 1/2 mile increased density; outside that status quo or some such.

  • Elliott Mason

    Yeah, but it won’t even really get you out of the highway median on the Dan Ryan or the Ike …

  • Elliott Mason

    As a consumer of transit and walkable neighborhoods, I think a 2-3 block chunk of denser development near each station would be very nice. But there may well be nearby NIMBY neighbors who hate the thought of a 5-story building visible from their backyard …

    I grew up at 1647 N Clybourn, and the development plan for the parcel on the northwest corner of North and Halsted that was first pitched to RANCH Triangle’s neighborhood meeting included the developer PAYING FOR a new Brown Line station, connected to the Clybourn Red by a tunnel, and a building with offices and small retail wrapped around the whole corner. In the early 80s.

    Think what a game-changer it would’ve been for the entire neighborhood if we’d had that level of awesome TOD and infrastructure at North/Clybourn/Halsted in the early 80s? Instead, a bunch of rich white people who lived nearly a mile away (my mom was the only person from our end of the neighborhood who could get time off work for the 2PM meeting, and they ignored her) vetoed it because ZOMG IT WAS GOING TO BE FOUR STORIES HIGH. Far too dense for the ‘neighborhood character’!!!. Clearly.

  • Guest

    Good luck having any private equity flow into those neighborhoods to begin with. Just because you draw a big radius doesn’t mean developers will come kicking down the door. This ordinance will likely only effect the mega loop, the north side, northwest side up to Belmont, and areas along the Pink and Green lines.

  • Give the developer more room and let them decide.

  • The Ashland/Division tower wouldn’t be scooped into this new ordinance because it has a drive through.

  • I wonder if (d) could be satisfied with a certain number of residents who are drivers for SideCar, Relay Rides, Lyft, or any one of those P2P car sharing or ride sharing services. Just wondering…

  • The new ordinance may allow a parking reduction by right, and not because of a Planned Development of approval by the Zoning Administrator. We’ll see, whenever it gets introduced.

  • The current TOD ordinance, as Roland points out in another comment, is measured from an entrance of a train station to the property’s nearest lot line.

  • It can hardly reach vacant properties around expressway stations. See this screenshot of 605 feet between the Sox-35th Red Line station and some undeveloped land nearby. This is probably not the best example as the proximity to Metra increases the reach a little bit.

  • Roland Solinski

    The language is deliberately vague. Hell, they could probably put a Bus Tracker screen in the lobby and meet the requirement.

  • Richard

    Thats because no one has any hope for the areas adjacent to the Dan Ryan and Eisenhower to generate the demand for higher density, pedestrian oriented development. And frankly, they are right to feel that way. Outside of the Chinatown-Red, 35th-Red, UIC-Blue, Racine-Blue, and Jefferson Park-Blue there is essentially no demand for such development.

    Think instead of the impact this could have through the North Broadway corridor in Edgewater/Rogers Park, The Near North Side, Downtown, River West, the Lake Street elevated, Motor Row, hell… the ENTIRE Orange and Pink lines. There are way too many opportunities available in better positioned locations to spend our time complaining about how the distance barely gets out of the expressway trenches and therefore somehow limits what developers don’t even want to build there.

  • Ah, yes, the Orange Line. Definitely needs some denser development.

  • Elliott Mason

    My sister goes to a little college that rents space on the IIT campus, and the kids who live down there have this weird little balkanized situation to deal with, because of the swaths of nondeveloped land (especially near the El). They would patronize walkable businesses … if there were any. Bikes are common as a method of getting around on-campus, but nobody bikes much of anywhere off campus because it ‘feels unsafe’. I bet a cluster of retail just east of Sox Park would draw IITers, at minimum — some of whom have significant disposable income, and some of whom would love ot have close off-campus housing.


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