Mapped: Where Most Chicagoans Don’t Own Cars

Jacobsen questions why a parking lane can't be removed to build a bike lane on Broadway south of Montrose when over 50% of the households don't have cars.
Shaun Jacobsen questions why a parking lane can’t be removed to build a bike lane on Broadway south of Montrose when over 50 percent of the households (shown in purple) don’t have cars.

A new interactive map shows what transportation mode people use to get to work in each neighborhood in Chicago, while also identifying the share of Chicagoans who don’t own cars. Shaun Jacobsen — who writes the Transitized blog and occasionally freelances for Streetsblog — created “How Chicago Commutes” to show that many residents will benefit more from walking, bicycling, and transit improvements than free curbside parking, which tends to dominate the discussion at public meetings.

Jacobsen created the map last week. The first iteration showed the primary commute mode for each census tract using data collected from 2008 to 2012. On Monday he published an update, and the map now also shows how many households don’t own cars. I recently caught up with him to learn more about the underlying data and how he expects people will use it. Here’s our interview.

Why did you create the Chicago commute map?

Last year, planning Participatory Budgeting projects for the 46th Ward, we looked at Broadway south of Montrose but determined that no bike lanes could be installed without removing parking spaces because it’s too narrow. We dismissed the idea because of the hot button issue parking is.

Now looking at the map, you see that half of the occupied housing units within a block of that stretch don’t have any cars at all. So why can’t even 25 percent of the street — one lane of parking — be removed to make room for a project like that? These are the kind of things I hope people think about now that the data is online and available at the tract level.

What myth are you trying to dispel?

The myth that most people own cars and we can’t take away the space for them. In the specific example of Broadway, if 50 percent (with a margin of error of ±5 percent) of homes have no cars at all, then that argument doesn’t hold up. I hope this will give people easy access to census data so these sorts of myths can be counter argued.

You recently updated the map. What did you change?

I added additional layers that can give people a better idea of how people are commuting in all modes across the city. The original map really only showed two things: where people who drive to work live, and where people who take transit to work live. Now you’ll be able to select each mode and see where those areas are.

For example, click on the “Bike” layer and you’ll see darker green along Milwaukee Avenue. There are more people living in that area that commute by bike. The original map showed this, but only if you hovered over each tract and looked at all of the numbers.

Photo of Shaun Jacobsen by Rodney LaBauex
Shaun Jacobsen. Photo: Rodney LaBauex

I also created a new map that shows where homes with zero vehicles are. [Access this data by clicking on the layers button in the top left corner of the map.] Everything that’s grey is below the city’s “car free” average of 25 percent. The lighter the grey, the more homes have cars. The colored tracts are where the number of car-free homes is higher than average. Purple means more than half the homes in the tract have no cars. I made this map because I think it’s very helpful in demonstrating that there are a lot of homes with no cars in the city.

How do you think people should use the map?

I really hope people use this not only just to waste a few minutes at work, but to print out or share online when it comes to planning decisions in their neighborhood. In my case, we’re going to have some meetings coming up in the 46th Ward about new bike infrastructure. If I can show that at least 40 percent of people living along the planned bike corridors are car-free, it might make a stronger case for removing space for parked cars in favor of an alternative like bike lanes, or to make the pedestrian space safer.

  • cjlane

    “The myth that most people own cars and we can’t take away the space for them. In the specific example of Broadway, if 50 percent (with a margin of error of ±5 percent) of homes have no cars at all, then that argument doesn’t hold up.”

    1. Isn’t a location like this stretch of Broadway more about the businesses claiming (right or wrong) that they need the parking or they’ll die?

    2. To respond to #1, isn’t part of the answer making some/all of the remaining spots metered? Then the businesses wouldn’t have to compete with the (likely rarely used) cars of residents parked all day.

    3. Just goes to a point I made in another thread–on-street parking is *ridiculously* underpriced in Chicago (and almost everywhere else).

    And people *always* hate when you start charging them for something that used to be free (or close to it). Which is exemplified by the LAZ deal: (a) Most of the ‘average citizen’ complaints about the parking meter deal have been about the increased cost to park, but I think of that as the only *good* thing; and (b) much of the big picture complaint about it is focused on how the city could have made so much more money by just raising the rates itself, but that completely ignores the ‘a’ issue and the near impossibility, politically, of raising parking rates so much while the decision was still in the control of politicians.

  • There are some businesses there, but more housing. Some of the retail have their own lots, and there are streets to the side that also have on-street parking. If I recall, several storefronts are vacant too. Sounds like the kind of area that could use an injection of more activity. That’s just one example, though.

    Something we can’t really find out is how many people are arriving at businesses by car and how many are coming by other means. This can at least give us the information about where households aren’t driving.

  • jared.kachelmeyer

    A few years ago I volunteered with ActiveTrans to conduct a survey of how people arrived at various businesses in Wicker Park/Bucktown. I’ll try to look to see if the results are published anywhere.

  • cjlane

    “Something we can’t really find out is how many people are arriving at businesses by car and how many are coming by other means.”

    Need a team of stalkers in ‘radio’ communication–“where is the woman in the red coat going?”–which would be a huge undertaking.

    As I’m sure you know, basically *every* ‘traditional’ biz is going to squawk about it. They’d squawk about installing meters, too, but at least that can be explained as forcing turnover.

    No doubt the stretch could use an activity boost. And that Thorek and UHaul lot close to IPR are a real impediment.

  • I wonder if a neighborhood association couldn’t make little counters (lowtech: box and slips of business-card sized paper; hightech: tablets) to leave in each business in the area, with easy-to-tabulate How did you arrive today? questions. Maybe a checkbox for walking, driving, transit, and bikes, plus an ‘other’ line that’s open-answer, and maybe a second question like “Is this your only errand in the neighborhood today?”

    Short and sweet is more likely to get high response rates. I wonder if you could even hit up a local university to get their students to run it. Maybe a joint project between the Social Sciences and Statistics students at Truman?

  • Katja

    This is some seriously cool data. Thanks for crunching these numbers, Shawn!

  • Lizzyisi

    I live along Broadway. Often when I’m sitting in restaurants, or walking along it, I’m surprised by how many cyclists I see on Broadway because I personally find it extremely unpleasant to bike on and usually go over to Halsted or the lakefront. Last night at a late dinner, I counted five cyclists. I was impressed.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Many older building that don’t provide parking. You would have a very hard time convincing people to give up their parking (or pay for it). Remember it’s the alderman who would have to handle this and he runs for election. I can’t think of a single alderman that would be willing to wade in on this and take all the flack.

    Also, you don’t find payboxes ususally where residential is greater than commercial. Lot of businesses there with residential above.

  • Louis Silverman

    I live in the 46th ward and I can tell you, sure 50% of residents might not own a car, but most of the residents live in multi-unit housing which does not provide a parking space for residents. As a result, there are still far more cars than parking spaces on the small residential streets of Buena Park and Clarendon Park (area bounded by Montrose/Clarendon/Wilson/Broadway). Those cars still need a place to park and usually even Clarendon or Marine are full after 6pm.

  • Alex Oconnor

    Well done

  • CL

    First, I love this map — this is a very cool project, and Shaun did a great job with it. However, I take the opposite message from it. To me, what’s striking is the degree of car dependency. Especially, how few people take public transit once you get away from the El. It’s not surprising, since their options would be slow local busses, probably with a transfer.

    If you live along the red line, you can commute downtown with no problem. But we’re a long way from a comprehensive, efficient public transit system that would make it feasible to get around our big city without a car. Huge sections of Chicago are poorly connected to everything else, and even when you live near the train, you need a car if you’re traveling to those other areas.

    I also don’t think you will persuade people that parking isn’t needed when “only” 50-60% of households have cars. Parking is still scarce in those neighborhoods — and as long as it’s difficult to find parking, people won’t be convinced that we don’t need the spaces we do have.

  • The question we must ask ourselves, must our city government be responsible to provide storage for privately-owned goods?

  • I do agree with you. Large parts of Chicago are very car dependent. However, you go to community meetings and you try to get more non-car infrastructure built, and it seems that there’s still as much opposition even in neighborhoods where there’s a better mix of people who do and don’t own cars. So are these people just more organized, are they louder, are the people who would welcome change to the streets just not loud enough, etc. Even though aldermen are seemingly responsive to the will of the majority (since they have to be elected), we shouldn’t be designing public streets just for the majority. They need to be designed for everyone

  • Guest

    Those cars might need a place to park, but are you arguing that it is the government’s job to ensure that they have one? That’s essentially what current parking policy does. I don’t have a problem with someone owning a car, but our parking policy shouldn’t focus on giving away valuable street space to people who can’t be bothered to provision their own storage space for their cars.

  • Jared Kachelmeyer

    Where should people provision their own storage? Knock down buildings for parking lots?

  • Zoe Cappa

    Then with that logic the city should not have to provide bike racks anywhere either, correct? And when you lock your bike up to the city’s light pole, or on some private property building railing because there are no bike racks anywhere it will be okay for the city to cut your bike lock and impound your bike for not having a magic place to store your privately owned bike, correct? This kind of thinking is not productive and is frankly ridiculous. City planning has to accommodate pedestrians, bikers and autos.

  • The logic for providing bike parking is to encourage more bicycling – an oft-stated goal of multiple city administrations.

    However, encouraging more bicycling remains difficult if the city equally encourages driving by maintaining cheap, abundant parking alongside new or extended bike lanes.

  • SP_Disqus

    Cheap, abundant parking doesn’t necessarily have to stifle efforts that encourage biking, but it breeds a sense of entitlement that leads to impediments such as a neighborhood’s unwillingness to remove parking from a single side of one street in order to install better bike facilities, despite half the surrounding households not owning a car.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    As someone who has previously run community meetings (I am a former block club president) I feel the need to weigh in here. I had one entire meeting go amok by having an outside group decend upon said meeting with an agenda of their own. Rather than having the neighbors hear both sides of an issue and make a decision that then is given to the alderman for his/her final decision, an outside group can pack a meeting because they want their way.

    By the way, the issue was not transportation oriented, but concerned affordable housing and I had speakers on both sides of the issue give presentations. Members of ONE (Organization of the Northeast from Uptown ) showed up and turned the meeting into madness.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    The government certainly does not “guarantee” anyone a parkling place. People who “cant be bothered” to provision their own storage space is rather too much (and sounds rather elitist).

    Is the plan eventually that if you do not have parking at your building site or can’t afford to purchase parking offstreet mean its the government’s job to make it difficult for you to earn a living if you use that car to get to your job? In densely populated areas are you saying the government will make you use public transportation and give up your private car if you can’t afford to purchase off street parking?

    So this basically means that you want the government to be able to outright ban parking even if this may disadvantage both businesses and individuals alike. I think after the parking meter fiasco, this would really rile people up. Maybe on Rahm’s quite residential street in Ravenswood, that should be the first street to lose half of their parking, and will see how the neighbors feel about it.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    A lot of the north lakefront neighborhoods like Uptown,Edgewater and Rogers Park have a significant amount of low income housing and elderly. There’s a lot of roommate situations where one may own a car and the other does not. It’s nice you’ve got this data, but it may not tell the whole story.

    Broadway is not necessarily a residential street. If there is low car ownership on Broadway, it may also be that just the nature of the development, ie first floor commercial and above mixed use business/residential.

    Is it the government’s business to provide a parking space for me? No. But for a lot of people who live in vast stretches of single family homes east of Broadway the government to some extent provides people with alleys so they can access their garage. Hey does the government have to provide us with sidewalks?

    In commericial areas parking meters may (in the past) made money for the city, but businesses like parking meters too because it assures that there will be turn over in parking so many more customers can use the space.

    It can be argued in commericial areas that the government by providing space helps business develop, people earn income, sales taxes and property taxes generate income for the city.

    Lastly, I help a senior out that no longer drives or owns a car. It sure helps that I can get nearby parking in Edgewater when I help him out with errands, food shopping and taking him out for a nice bite to eat. If he had to take transit to his doctor’s office, it would take at least half a day to get there and back.

    It’s nice that bikers can bike. But remember not everyone can or wants to. And is it the governments job to give every biker a bike lane where that biker wants to go?

  • BlueFairlane

    So, then, your answer to your own question posed above is “yes.”

  • Fred

    That’s a fine and dandy point of view, but then you can’t also be against when private entities want to provide parking. Eg Walgreens in Albany Park, or the condo building in Uptown.

  • Guest

    I wouldn’t argue to remove all street parking everywhere, but I certainly don’t feel sympathy for people having difficulty finding a parking spot and tend to advocate for parking removal where it can give us an opportunity to improve the street for all users.

    My point isn’t that all street parking is bad, but that if you need regular access to your own private vehicle, perhaps you should make different decisions about where you choose to live. If you want to live in an apartment building that doesn’t provide off-street parking you should be prepared to deal with parking hassles without expecting the city to perpetually maintain (and even expand) the on-street parking supply..

    And yes, the government ought to be able to outright ban street parking. In fact, it already has that authority (with the exception of the LAZ deal). As I said above, I wouldn’t advocate for its use in all circumstances, but street space is public space.

  • Guest

    Firstly, I wouldn’t advocate for removing all street parking, so I don’t think there would be enough of a market shift to cause widescale conversion of buildings to parking garages. I’m making a broader point about the expectations of the general public that valuable street space should be perpetually dedicated to storing private vehicles.

    In any case, I am generally in support of private entities building off-street parking facilities if they feel it is warranted. It’s not my preference, but I recognize they have a right to use their property as they see fit.

  • CL

    Do you think people choose to live in apartment buildings with no parking because it’s fun to spend every evening searching for a spot, and then walking a few blocks to get home? In many of these neighborhoods, not having your own parking space is horrible. People live in these buildings because they can’t afford housing that includes a private garage.

    Even if people could afford it, there isn’t anywhere near enough private storage space to accommodate the cars currently on the street. So we can’t just force everyone to use private garages that don’t exist.

    I see the point about public storage space, but Chicago needs to provide parking as long as our public transit system is inadequate. Otherwise, what are you supposed to do if you live in the huge sections of Chicago where you need a car? If we try to make parking so costly that people can’t own a car, they’re just going to be stranded, or stuck spending hours of their day on local busses because they’re not rich. Chicago made choices that forced most people to own a car — we can’t just say “Oops, that was a bad idea, so now it costs thousands of dollars to park.” You’d just be making peoples lives a lot worse when they don’t have alternatives.

  • Guest

    In theory, the government doesn’t have to provide us with sidewalks – have you been to Indianapolis? The decision was made here long ago that sidewalks are a benefit to everyone and our institutions responded to ensure they are installed. But that’s not a very good comparison. I can’t set my laundry machine out on the sidewalk for days at a time and expect everyone else to just deal with the fact that my stuff is in the way.

    I’ll turn your last question on its head: is it the government’s job to give every driver free and fast street access to every place a driver wants to go? We’re probably arguing the same point here, but the difference is that public policy has operated for decades as if drivers have an unassailable right to street space everywhere; name one place where bikers have been afforded that same privilege.

  • Guest

    I think you’ve misunderstood my argument. No one is going to wave a wand and magically make all street parking disappear overnight. These changes are (and probably should be) incremental in the same way that a century of auto-oriented policy has been incremental. However, even incremental changes (removal of parking on a bike boulevard will inevitably cause some people some pain. If you can think of a pain-free way to push society towards a more balanced transportation system, I’m all ears.

  • CL

    I know you’re not in favor of banning all street parking tomorrow, but I do think it’s reasonable for people to fight for their existing street parking as long as they don’t have feasible alternatives.

    I’m in favor of incremental changes that give people alternatives, though. Removing parking for a bike boulevard is fine with me because it’s making space for an alternative — giving people an option. I don’t support measures that simply punish driving, in an effort to force people to start taking the crappy bus. “Sticks” against driving are just punishing relatively low-income people, given the current design of most of the city. But carrots like bike boulevards are fine, and I do support removing parking to make way for them.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    “perhaps you should make different decisions about where you choose to live”. That’s a nice sentiment if you have the financial wherewithal to choose anyplace to live. I never like the argument of telling people “if you don’t like it, go live somewhere else.” It basically says you’re in my way, so get out.

    Here’s the other thing you need to consider. If the city creates “bike boulevards” certainly there will be a greater expectation that the bike riders will not ride recklessly and will also contribute something towards that benefit. Maybe it’s not a financial contribution, but one that helps keep order on the streets including not flying thru stop signs.

    Hardly a week passes when I don’t have an adverse experience with a reckless biker. Last one was the biker last night all dressed in black (with a black bike) and no head light. Since I could not see him until almost the last minute, I almost pulled out in front of him. The more bikers you have in the city means there will eventually need to be better enforcement of some kind of standards. Otherwise you will have chaos.

  • Guest

    It sounds like we’re broadly in agreement and I don’t think the “punish drivers” mentality is helpful either. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that even the carrots are going to run up against vehement (and often irrational) opposition because allocation of street space is a zero sum game; drivers are going to have to give something up in order to make room for other road users. I wish it weren’t that way, but it is.

  • HJ

    The building in Uptown is being forced to build parking up to the parking minimum requirement. The developer stated (and I believe Steven quoted) that the parking in their recent developments is half~ full. Remove the minimum and they would provide the amount the market demands, which according to them, is less.

  • HJ

    “Do you think people choose to live in apartment buildings with no parking because it’s fun to spend every evening searching for a spot, and then walking a few blocks to get home?”

    Its because they either want to live in the neighborhood, like the building, don’t have a car, or are perfectly contempt paying for a parking space/using street parking. You can’t always have your cake and eat it too. If you need a car, but dont want to pay for a reserved space, or deal with street parking, want to live in a certain neighborhoods, AND can’t afford a apartment with a dedicated space then you need to look elsewhere.

    “People live in these buildings because they can’t afford housing that includes a private garage.”

    I lived at Roscoe and LSD for 5 years, with a car, without a dedicated parking space. I chose to spend my money on an apartment in a nicer building, in a better location, rather than choosing to spend the same amount for a lesser apartment, in a worse location, but with dedicated parking. It is all about sacrifices… if you don’t understand that is how life works, then I cannot begin to fathom how you exist on a day to day basis.

    “Otherwise, what are you supposed to do if you live in the huge sections of Chicago where you need a car?”

    Parking is not an issue in those HUGE sections of Chicago where you supposedly need a car. There is ample street parking and alley parking in neighborhoods like Belmont Cragin, Gresham, Pullman, West Ridge, West Lawn, etc etc… more than enough to service the population densities of those areas.

    Uninformed, narrowminded bullshit, all of it.

  • meghan

    There’s a difference between parking lots and parking on public streets. Bike owners need to store their bicycles, for the most part, in their homes or storage areas. There is no bike parking on public streets.

    Think of the absurdity if the owner of an ATV or snowblower demanded the ability to park his “vehicle” on Foster Ave. Or if cyclists started locking their bikes up in parking spots on Broadway. What if I don’t have a car, but I need storage for my kid’s strollers? Do I have the right to take up 6 feet of a public street? Am I entitled to that? Of course not. So why do motorists feel entitled? It’s simply because we’re used to it; because that’s the way it has been.

    There are thousands of parking spaces on the public way in Chicago, and the discussion here is will it benefit more people to make some of those parking spaces into bike lanes? We need to make the streets better for everyone as a whole, and sometimes that makes making them less convenient for one group of people.

  • You’re right, the answer would be “yes”. A better question would be, “Should we prioritize public funding to support expensive provision of car storage, or encourage bicycling?” The two aren’t mutually exclusive, but the two situations are at odds with each other on a nearly daily basis and the bike encouragement is too-often tabled or watered down.

    Read Active Transportation Alliance’s critique of the parking meter deal for more details on how this occurs.

  • meghan

    The idea that people can afford cars, but not parking spaces, is inane. Cars are incredibly expensive, and if you do live in “the huge sections of Chicago where you need a car”, there is plenty of free parking. It might not be right on your block; it might take 15 minutes to find something, but it is there.

    If you can’t afford a parking space, but you absolutely must have a car to get to work, etc. then you need to make an intelligent decision about where to live. The “cheaper” neighborhoods– the ones not served well by public transit– almost universally have plenty of parking.

    I, for one, cannot afford a car OR parking space. Which is why I live in an inexpensive neighborhood near public transit. And I bike. Chicago’s public transit system is incredibly comprehensive compared to almost any other American city. It’s sure not perfect, but it is more reliable and covers more area than almost every other city in the U.S.

  • meghan

    bingo! we have a winner.

  • cjlane

    “the discussion here is will it benefit more people to make some of those parking spaces into bike lanes?”

    I think the discussion *should be* will it benefit *society*. If you make it primarily about counting heads, then lots of great ideas lose.

  • cjlane

    They are not *yet* being ‘forced’ to do anything.

    They put together the initial proposal, showing the ‘zoning minimum’ parking, and have made every noise that they will seek a variance to reduce the parking. If the applicable city departments say “you can build this but *only* if you include all that parking”, then they will have been ‘forced’. At this point, their proposal with 550 (or whatever) parking spots is a negotiating strategy, not a rock solid fact.

  • cjlane

    “Eg Walgreens in Albany Park”

    Think the primary objection there is the location of the parking and the driveways. Walgreens could relocate the building to the street-corner corner of the lot and that would get rid of *most* of the complaints.

    The rest, I agree with 100%.

  • meghan

    You’re right- we can’t make decisions based on the “majority”– society is a better term.

  • cjlane

    “In theory, the government doesn’t have to provide us with sidewalks”

    Most places charge the property owner, directly, for the installation and/or replacement of sidewalks. And you are (theoretically, at least) subject to a fine if you don’t clear the snow from your sidewalk. So there’s a bit of a difference.

    But I’m be all for charging more (it’s not currently *truly* free, bc if you don’t get a city sticker, and park on the street, you’ll eventually get a ticket), in some fashion, for street-parked cars.

  • Sara

    FYI Ihave lived in Chicago all my life. I have never owned or driven a car or a bike. Neither did my Mom. Who’s bright idea was it to have bikes and buses share one lane!!!

  • Jim Mitchell

    I agree to a point, but would add that it is only a zero-sum game to the extent that you interpret it to mean that car users are unwilling or unable to shift to other modes, or to use them alternatively with their cars. And I think (or at least would hope) that is not a realistic interpretation. Only if drivers get – or accept – nothing in return are they “giving something up in order to make room for other road users,” because if those drivers make use of the new options, which are available to them as much as any other user, then those drivers literally do NOT have to give up something for the benefit of other users, but rather exchange one thing for another that they then will use, along with the others.

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