MPC Study Highlights Importance of Transit for Attracting Businesses

Image: MPC
Image: MPC

It’s common sense that good public transportation makes cities more prosperous and more attractive to businesses and employees. But the new report from the Metropolitan Planning Council “Transit Means Business” quantifies that phenomenon, and includes case studies from 15 Illinois-based enterprises and institution.

“The purpose of this study is to show that transit is a really important stabilizing force for the Chicago region’s economy, and to highlight the need for the local business community to get behind it,” explained MPC transportation director Audrey Wennink. “Their voices are needed to help increase transportation funding and make sure transit is well represented in any future legislation.”

The report provides statistical evidence that an adequately funded, well functioning public transportation network leads to more job opportunities, better employee productivity, a robust real-estate market, and better health outcomes.

Here are some of the findings from the study:

  • Between 2005 and 2015, 50 percent of new Chicagoland jobs were located within a half-mile of a CTA or Metra station. During that period, the region added 334,000 new jobs, a growth rate of almost 9 percent. Areas close to stations more than doubled the regional average, growing jobs by 19 percent.
  • In 2017, 85 percent of all commercial construction in the seven-county region occurred within a half-mile or less of a CTA or Metra stop.
  • During the financial crisis, areas within a quarter-mile of a CTA or Metra station were economically resilient, posting 1.36 percent job growth. Despite the region losing nearly 150,000 jobs during the peak of the financial crisis (2008-2009), areas within this quarter-mile grew by nearly 11,000 jobs.
  • Transit commuting is growing rapidly for the region’s largest age cohorts: Between From 2011 to 2016, transit ridership to work for those ages 25 to 44 grew by 8 percent, while riders age 55 and over saw a spike of 23 percent.
  • 13 percent of people in the region’s labor pool live in a household with no car which means for 588,875 people, transit is a main way they access jobs.

According to Wennink, many of the stats used for the study came from the CoStar real estate database. “You can search their data by proximity to a rail station,” she said. “But you can’t search by proximity to a bus line, so we used [the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s] Transit Availability Index for that.”

During the recent economic crisis, areas located within a quarter mile of a Chicago train station still saw job growth despite the lousy economy. Chart: MPC
During the recent economic crisis, areas located within a quarter mile of a Chicago train station still saw job growth despite the lousy economy.

For the 15 case studies, MPC looked at a wide range of businesses and organizations, ranging from McDonald’s, to the Illinois Medical District, to Testa Produce, to the University of Illinois, to (Streetsblog Chicago fave) Revolution Brewing.

Almost all of these companies said that transit is key for recruiting, especially when it comes to younger workers who are interesting in living in a city and not having to rely on driving to get around. As such, it’s an increasing trend for companies to relocate downtown (see McDonald’s move from Oakbrook, a relative transit desert, to the transit-rich West Loop) or work to make their locations more transit-accessible.

An example of the latter strategy is Bosch, a Mount Prospect-based global supplier of technology and services, which chips in on Pace bus service to make sure that employees can easily get from the nearest Metra station to its campus.

But the importance of transit to the financial health of the Chicago area and, by extension, all of Illinois, isn’t reflected in current state budget priorities. State funding for the CTA, Metra, and Pace was slashed during the 2017 Illinois budget deal. Moreover, the Regional Transit Authority has estimated that nearly one third of transit infrastructure in northeastern Illinois is not currently in a state of good repair. According to the RTA 2018-2023 Strategic Plan, the maintenance backlog for the three transit agencies is $19.4 billion.

Meanwhile, Illinois’ gas tax has been stuck at 19 cents a gallon since 1991 and, due to inflation, its buying power has dropped by 46 percent since then. Raising the gas tax will likely be necessary if we’re going to fix the Chicagoland’s transit system network, as well as other neglected state transportation infrastructure, but lawmakers are going to need strong political backup to do that. Support from the Illinois business community would make a huge difference.

“Basically, we know that transit is increasingly important to businesses,” Wennink said. “But if they’re betting on transit, we need to make sure we maintain that system, or there’s going to be a wakeup call.”

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  • Carter O’Brien

    Speaking of Revolution Brewery, is CDOT ever going to fix the sidewalk on the west side of Kedzie that ostensibly one walks on to get to their tap room from the Belmont Blue Line stop? It’s atrocious.

  • kastigar

    Maybe Revolution Brewery should participate in the “Shared Sidewalk Repair” program.

  • Carter O’Brien

    That would be great, but to be fair the really bad parts are south of not only their business but also the larger building they’re leasing altogether. I think it’s been largely ignored as that part of the PMD (Addison-Kedzie) contains a lumberyard, The lumberyard is certainly a truck-focused enterprise, so this is why there’s a disconnect. But still, how does CDOT not know of this? It’s not a little bit bad, it’s “hasn’t been repaired since the 80s” bad.

  • FlamingoFresh

    I previously made this comment on the MPC website:

    In reference tot he “Transit Means Business” report. It should be noted that just because you’re located by transit doesn’t mean you will benefit the same as other businesses by transit. Businesses out in the suburbs by a Metra station may still have difficulty recruiting talent because the transit commute isn’t ideal considering most people don’t live downtown and will have to make a CTA to Metra connection downtown to get out to the suburbs.

    The same can go for any business that makes it workers have to commute out of their way from a close CTA line to another one that drops them off to their place of work. For me, I live right by the brown/purple line and have traveled out to Rosemont before for special occasions. The only way for me to complete that commute is via bus and then blue line totaling more than an hour commute (far to long for me to do on a daily basis). Me living near the brown line in that situation does not benefit me at all when it comes to commuting to work. Being by transit does benefit the business still, just not as much as a business downtown.

    Of course I could move where I’m closer to the blue line but what if I don’t want to, that’s how companies miss out on more talent. The example above is the reason why it is ideal to work in a business downtown in since all CTA trains come into or through the downtown area. This gives the employee much more freedom where to live within the city since they just need to be by one of those CTA train lines.

    Also interesting is the report you referenced from Cambridge Systematics from 1995. I only question it because it was such a long time ago and Chicago has changed. The cost of living and affordability is not what it once was and may alter the dollar return from investment shown in the report.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    “Businesses out in the suburbs by a Metra station may still have difficulty recruiting talent because the transit commute isn’t ideal considering most people don’t live downtown and will have to make a CTA to Metra connection downtown to get out to the suburbs.”

    Another option would be to try to find a home near a neighborhood stop on the Metra line to your workplace.

  • planetshwoop

    A way to promote more regional growth would be encourage the CTA to build lines that inter-connect more. (This is not a new idea, obvi.) This would dramatically broaden the value of the system with less investment than a whole new line would cost.

    For example, a huge amount of value would come from connecting the Blue line to Red/Brown via a cross-town connector. Or to help get more people safely to the airport, something that feeds into the Blue line across the West Side. (Irving Park Rd and Western would be my preferred routing, since they are so huge.)

  • Austin Busch

    Often business clusters where multiple branches converge, like the North Branch/Lincoln Yards and downtown Evanston, but that’s clearly not the only factor. East Garfield is close to two branches, and Howard is a three-way junction, but neither have a dense business community.

    If new jobs want to attract workers from outside the region, workers can move to anywhere along that line to be close to transit. If new jobs want to attract current residents via transit, then the companies will have to locate downtown. This is reinforced by the Metra trains stopping in the CBD, rather than running through lines as the CTA does.

    I think Chicago could be a polycentric city, with its 78 neighborhoods and geographically distributed business districts, but we would have to encourage it some perpendicular or ring line routes. Unfortunately, the circle line as proposed a while back only reached in the inner neighborhoods, rather than connect the separate economic centers.

  • david vartanoff

    Or, for starters, rebuild the Paulina connector to link the Blue at Damen to the Pink, then new trackage south to a junction with the Orange. Now you have a north to south crosstown skipping the CBD and linking the airports. Add an ex tension off the Orange to McCormick Place and you have both airports to convention center skipping CBD gridlock. Next extend the Ashland Green line out 63 to Midway, and restore the Jackson Park Branch to Stony Island in time for the opening of Obamaland.
    Forgot to mention extend the Brown to at least give direct transfers to the Blue.
    What Burnham said. “make no small plans”

  • Jared Kachelmeyer

    Of course most suburban employment isn’t actually near the Metra stations but rather near the interstates, so some employers do have shuttles or there are PACE bus connections.

  • Back in college, I once saw someone get drunk and complain, with a completely straight face, that a recent repavement/streetscaping project had completely ruined the character of a neighborhood.

  • Carter O’Brien

    I am willing to drink any similarly inclined college student under the table!

  • Carter O’Brien

    Still one of the best visionary pieces ever:

  • planetshwoop

    Agree that more connections make a difference. It’s too much fun to think about the possibilities, but they need to be solidified and put into the GOTO 2050 plans etc. so work can start.


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