City Plans to Expand TOD Ordinance to Include High-Frequency Bus Corridors

A Jeffery Jump bus. Photo: Jeff Zoline
A Jeffery Jump bus. Photo: Jeff Zoline

In 2013 City Council passed Chicago’s first transit-oriented development ordinance, which halved the number of required on-site parking spots at new developments near transit stations – previously a 1:1 ration was mandated. In 2015 the Council beefed up the ordinance by essentially eliminating parking requirements near ‘L’ and metra stations, and doubled the size of the TOD zones.

Many have argued that the resulting TOD boom has been at best a mixed blessing. While the legislation has encouraged the construction of dense, parking-light housing near transit, most of the new buildings have been upscale apartment or condo buildings in affluent or gentrifying neighborhoods. Particularly in Logan Square, the new crop of high-end TODs along the Blue Line, generally with 10 percent on-site affordable units, have been blamed for accelerating gentrification and displacement of longtime residents.

For better or for worse, the city is ready to increase the amount of land that’s available for transit-oriented development. On Friday Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a proposal to expand the TOD ordinance again to include high-ridership, high-frequency CTA bus routes. The city says that this would make Chicago the first U.S. city to pursue such a policy.

“Chicago has been a national leader in transit-oriented development, and expanding the policy to bus lines will strengthen smart growth in the city,” Emanuel said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to work closely with communities to enhance the way we live, work and get around Chicago.”

Over the next six months, the city and the CTA will study possible strategies to encourage TOD along busy bus routes, focusing at first on Western, Ashland, Chicago Avenue and 79th Street. These four routes experience ridership that meets or exceeds areas of the Blue, Orange, Green and Pink lines, according to the CTA. Special attention will be paid to key bus-bus and bus-train transfer locations.

The study will include input from aldermen and community organizations, and the city claims it will have an eye on equity issues when developing the new TOD policy. The city’s announcement states that a goal is to create “right-sized TOD incentives for different segments of high ridership corridors to promote equitable development along all segments of the corridor.” The study will also look at creating “incentives to support affordability and allow all residents of communities with TOD to share in the benefits of new development.”

Emanuel plans to introduce a bus-line TOD ordinance next year based on the findings of the six-month study.

The city states that since the TOD ordinance was strengthened in 2015, there has been over $2 billion in development near transit stations, creating 11,000 construction jobs and 8,000 new housing units. Developers of projects with ten or more units have been required to either include affordable units onsite, or else take the cheaper route of paying into the city’s affordable housing fund. A recent Chicago Tribune investigation found that the housing fund is mostly being used to build affordable units in low-income neighborhoods, which exacerbates Chicago’s segregation problem.

Under the Emanuel administration, the city has made improvements to some bus lines. In 2012 the CTA dipped it’s toe in the water of bus rapid transit by creating the Jeffery Jump route, which connects the South Side to downtown, with a few BRT-style elements, such as a few miles of rush-hour bus-only lanes. The Loop Link BRT corridor launched downtown in late 2015 with additional features, including raised boarding platforms. In 2015, the CTA reintroduced express bus service along Ashland and Western, and last year the agency added service to six South Side bus routes.

47th Ward alderman Ameya Pawar, who has supported progressive transportation strategies in his ward, such as the Berteau Greenway and the Lawrence Avenue road diet, is endorsing Emanuel’s plan, and Center for Neighborhood Technology head Scott Bernstein is also giving it his blessing.

“We’re especially pleased at the City’s willingness to reward development of affordable housing near high-frequency bus service locations,” Bernstein said.

  • planetshwoop

    Well hold on. Before we go too far and congratulate the mayor here for forward thinking, is the answer to scrap the parking requirements altogether?

    Bus TOD is a step in the right direction but it is still weird. Eliminating parking requirements would really make housing more affordable and equitable.

  • Cameron Puetz

    Eliminating parking requirements has many advantages over TOD, but wouldn’t draw the same political support. Eliminating parking requirements would enable developers to build dense developments by right. The TOD ordinance requires an administrative development that aldermen to control the design.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Aldermanic prerogative is fraught with challenges, but it exists for a reason. History doesn’t support the notion that dense, unregulated development is always good.

    This should be mandatory reading in these parts: https://books.google.com/books/about/The_Politics_of_Place.html?id=TOjJhIomlNEC

  • Obesa Adipose

    There shouldn’t be a bus TOD without a true BRT and by true I mean with dedicated lanes and stations/platforms. Or a trolley. You’re never going to get people out of their cars unless they see an advantage, specifically a time and convenience advantage. The amount of money being saved by taking the bus is not a big incentive esp for people who can afford a car. If you’re going to sit in traffic – and I’m talking to you Chicago Ave – you may as well do it in private with your own climate control and Dolby stereo instead of in a noisy, standing-room only bus that crawls along slower then cars.

    In fact, a way to cover some of the costs of a true BRT would be to dedicate the property taxes generated by the TOD properties along the route. Dare I say it? A TIF. The bus TOD ordinance should be in concert with a BRT.

  • Jeremy

    Foot in the Door Technique.

    The first step was train TOD. When people see the sky didn’t fall, add bus TOD. When people see bus TOD doesn’t cause problems, remove the parking minimums.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Ask some of the people struggling to get on Blue Line trains in the morning and they may disagree. Is overcrowding better than the CTA going broke? Sure, but it’s a little early to judge what TOD’s impact is going to be, considering how many units are still under development:
    https://chicago.curbed.com/2017/7/10/15945694/cta-crowding-capacity-map-blue-line.

    Ironically, I’d say the bus route strategy could be a better application of TOD, it has to be far easier to re-route buses than it is to retrofit train lines.

  • Obesa Adipose

    There’s currently a limited number of trains because of the older signaling and limited power capacity. Once the current track improvements are complete the CTA should be able to add more trains. When that will be, who knows.

  • Carter O’Brien

    CTA runs Blue Line trains very frequently during rush hour, I’m talking every 3 minutes. I don’t think you can run many more trains, if any.

    That’s only part of the challenge. The platforms can’t handle the longer trains w/ more cars, and to address that would require making all of those stops ADA accessible. I think it is fair to say that the kind of Federal assistance this would require isn’t going to be coming from the current administration, unless it’s joined at the hip with Trump sending Federal troops to “save” Chicago. It’s much simpler to add buses for known peak travel times, just look at how many 156 Addison buses CTA can have on hand for Cubs games.

  • planetshwoop

    There are clearly excesses from having no zoning (Hello Houston!) but it should be weighed against the system that consistently drives towards a) criminality bc of pay for play around zoning and b) unequal outcomes because of NIMBYs.

    CMAP was recommending some level of overrides for some aldermanic excesses that was quite sensible. It seems like a reasonable compromise from “no zoning” to “whaddyagunnadofurme”

  • Carter O’Brien

    I am with you in spirit. But the pay-to-play problem is unfortunately a much bigger issue, and pertains to corporate personhood and Citizens United. The saddest part of Chicago’s corruption wrt to zoning is that it’s 100% legal.

    I do *highly* recommend that book, btw. I am biased as a neighbor is one of the co-authors, but it’s a quick read and utterly fascinating and educational. Heck, I’ll loan you/anyone my copy out if interested (same offer for Beyond Burnham, another Schweiterman gem).

  • Cameron Puetz

    I’m not saying we should have no zoning, but we shouldn’t give individual alderman veto power over projects to allow them to run their wards like little fiefdoms.

  • Carter O’Brien

    I also agree with you in spirit, but technically, they do not have any such power. Aldermanic prerogative is a tradition, that’s it. The problem at root is one with the electorate and larger system, I’m afraid. Aldermen are accountable to their constituents in a way the Mayor and City department heads are not. I’m not sure how that gets fixed, but I’d argue that stopping the practice of mayors appointing replacements for aldermen who “retire” during a term would be the place to start. This practice is how mayors have always turned the tables on the strong council-weak mayor political system, we theoretically have in Chicago. Why? Because incumbents always have an advantage, and these incumbents owe their allegiance first and foremost to the mayor who appoints them.

  • Courtney

    “You’re never going to get people out of their cars unless they see an advantage, specifically a time and convenience advantage.”
    My thoughts exactly. We need to make riding the bus comparable to driving a car OR (wait for it), make it QUICKER!
    Even freakin’ Los Angeles is beating us when it comes to bus-only lanes. They have the same issues: cars parking or driving in them and such but at least they’re making the effort. Chicago’s bus riders have seriously been left in the dust given the city’s prioritizing of building new train stations. The loop link was poor investment of funds given that we don’t have gold-standard BRT and buses are still slow.
    Buses need to come more often and they need to zip through the streets just like cars. Michigan Ave downtown needs to be devoid of cars unless they’re carrying 3 or more people in them and there should be bus-only lanes with strict police (and camera) enforcement.

  • Jeremy

    All the more reason to add housing units along bus routes. More people living near bus routes will lead to more commuting via bus. That will relieve crowding on trains.

  • Cameron Puetz

    One important change to fight aldermanic prerogative in TOD, is to change the default to yes for projects that meet the ordinance’s requirements. Currently, all TOD projects require an administrative adjustment. This requires a developer to actively seek the supplement alderman’s support and invites aldermanic interference. If projects that followed the ordinance were approved by default, then alderman would have to justify when they chose to intervene.

  • rwy

    I don’t understand why Michigan Ave doesn’t have bus lanes yet.

  • rwy

    Why start out along routes that are already crowded? Why not start out along routes with somewhat less ridership?

  • rwy

    I’d be interested in borrowing a book.

  • Cameron Puetz

    High frequency is the qualifier that should actually matter. Extended service hours and service frequency are major factors in whether transit connectivity supports car free living. For most of Chicago, high ridership buses are a proxy for frequent buses. However it would be smarter to actually target the service metrics that matter instead of proxies.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Hit me up at cobrien-at-fieldmuseum dot org~

  • Obesa Adipose

    The Red line runs trains every 2 minutes during rush so yes you can run more trains.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Except that there are hiccups, people exit and board at different speeds and sometimes 3 becomes 4 or 5, etc. Point being, if you’re betting that with no physical capacity increase you can run even remotely close to 50% more trains, I’ll take that bet every day of the week.

  • LazyReader

    Transit oriented development, that’s translated as “Gentrification and getting rid of black people” Which was the politicians goal all along.

  • planetshwoop

    Blue line overcrowding predates the apartment craze, doesn’t it?

  • Carter O’Brien

    If they add bus routes & keep up with ridership. If not, more people driving. I hope it’s the former/they are actually *prepared* for the increase in ridership.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Exactly. You didn’t need to be a soothsayer to look at how Milwaukee Ave and the Blue Line were heating up, so to basically just pour straight jet fuel on the fire was completely reckless. Logan Square exploded in the public’s consciousness – and not in a good way – almost overnight once those big stupid towers went up. Which is exactly what they were designed to do, plant a flag to show the high end developers they were welcome. Gentrification works much, much better when it happens slowly, when greedy politicians try to accelerate it that’s when you see entire communities torn up and displaced.

  • FlamingoFresh

    Commuting time is relative and if can make bus commuting times shorter than a cars along the same stretch of roadway then road users will actually be given an actual reason to switch modes. Like mentioned above dedicated bus lanes would be great because not only will the bus only have a lane for itself making the commute quicker but it also takes a lane away from vehicle traffic forcing other vehicles to commute on the same stretch of roadway with one less lane thus increasing their travel time. This may sound like not the best idea to slow down other traffic for the sake of buses but making a bus priority in a car first world is the city’s right and they must protect their investment in the bus system and network. Also eventually an equilibrium point will be reached and the additional bus users will remove a certain number of personal vehicles off the road resulting in a perhaps almost the same traffic flow before the dedicated bus lane but hopefully a larger throughput of users in general due to increased mass transit throughput. However, these dedicated lanes must be heavily enforced in order to ensure it’s effectiveness. Fully committing to a BRT is the best way for it’s improvements to be highlighted immediately. Raised platforms, pre-paid boarding, and all door boarding will help make the bus system that much more efficient.

    In addition to BRT, I also would like to see congestion pricing on bus corridors throughout the city during the AM and PM rush hours to dissuade personal vehicle use on roads where buses operate. That would be much trickier to implement and use but it can be automated and would have a great positive effect on bus routes and travel times, in addition to an additional source of revenue and funding for the CTA.

    On that same note if the city is going to try to adopt prepaid boarding and all door boarding, then they should look into ordering buses with more than just two doors when they make future orders for a bus fleet. I know seating my be lost with each additional door but it’s a trade off and I’m sure for some routes it will be more beneficial.

  • Courtney

    I am all for prioritizing folks on buses and cyclists as opposed to people in cars. We agree on a lot of the same things. I’d be in favor of congestion pricing, especially on the streets where we have bus lanes.

  • Carter O’Brien

    We could basically have rush hour BRTs on every arterial with the rush hour parking controls, *if* the City would get serious and lay down the law regarding the IMO nonsensical “rush hour lanes” they’ve allowed to exist due to apathetic traffic law enforcement.

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