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What Maps Tell Us About Chicagoland’s Mode Split

Chicagoland is the only metro region in the Midwest with over 10 percent of commuters taking transit to work. Detail of a map by David H. Montgomery

A recent CityLab piece by urban studies theorist Richard Florida and Karen King, a researcher at the University of Toronto School of Cities, looks at 2017 commuting data from the American Community Survey covering over 270 metropolitan areas. Let's take a look at what the data and the maps from the article have to say about different modes in the Chicago region. (The U.S. Census defines our metro area as including parts of northwest Indiana and southeast Wisconsin, more-or-less the areas served by the Metra and South Shore Line commuter railroads.)

Driving alone

While 76.4 percent of Americans drive to work alone, Chicagoland is one of a handful of metro regions in in the U.S., and the only one in the Midwest, where 70 percent or fewer commuters do so -- 70 percent on the nose in our case. That's behind several other metro areas with decent transit, including New York, San Francisco, Boston, Washington, D.C., and Seattle. 48.6 percent of city of Chicago residents drive alone to work.


Unsurprisingly, these are the same regions where public transportation is a relatively popular mode. While a mere 5 percent of U.S. citizens take transit to work, 12.3 percent of folks in our region do so. Again, that's fewer than in metro New York, SF, Boston, and D.C., although it's more than in Seattle. We're the only Midwestern region where more than 10 percent of residents commute by public transportation. Within the city of Chicago, 28.2 percent of commuters primarily take transit.

The Chicago region is not exactly a walking Mecca. Map: David H. Montgomery
The Chicago region is not exactly a walking Mecca. Map: David H. Montgomery
The Chicago region is not exactly a walking Mecca. Map: David H. Montgomery


When it comes to commuting on foot, the spread-out Chicago region doesn't rank particularly high. Less than three percent of Americans walk to work, and Chicagoland is in the 2-4 percent range, behind metropolitan New York, Boston, Seattle, and San Francisco. (Per the Active Transportation Alliance the rate is 3.2 percent for Chicagoland, using 2016 ACS data for the seven-county region, although they didn't have the three-state region handy.) However, the city of Chicago has a 6.6 percent walking mode share.


The city of Chicago is something of a hotspot for biking, with a 1.7 percent mode share, compared to only half a percent nationally. However, Chicagoland not so much, with less than one percent of regional residents cycling to work, although that figure has risen 16.8 percent since 2013. On the other hand, few big-city regions fared much better -- most of the dominant areas were near college towns, with Madison, Wisconsin; Ann Arbor, Michigan; and Bloomington, Indiana leading the Midwest.

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