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The High Cost of Transportation

Our standards of housing affordability leave out a crucial component – transportation costs – according to new research from the Center for Neighborhood Technology.

Transportation is the second highest expense for the average household, and can add greatly to financial stresses on households already burdened by rising housing costs. Nearly two thirds of a moderate-income family’s budget now goes to housing and transportation.

But transportation costs vary widely across communities in the region, said Carrie Makarewicz of CNT. Most new market single family homes that are affordable to median-income families are being built on the far edges of the collar counties – where distance from jobs and shopping mean that transportation costs can add many thousands of dollars to a household’s annual expenses, she said. Meanwhile, new housing developed near transit tends to be high-priced.

On the city’s transit-poor far South Side, where the Red Line extension continues to be postponed, older, affordably-priced housing is far from job-rich areas, so higher transportation expenses undercut household savings on housing.

“It makes a difference whether a family needs one car, or two or three; whether each car is being driven 20,000 miles a year; and not just whether shopping is in walking distance, but whether it’s 1 mile or 10 miles away, and whether a job is 2 miles or 20 miles away,” Makarewicz said.

A range of factors go into CNT’s new housing and transportation affordability index, including density, walkability, distance to employment and services – and not just distance to the nearest transit station, but the extent of transportation connections to that station.

It helps explain why much of the Chicago area’s extensive rail transit system is underutilized, Makarewicz said. Of 402 transit stations in the region, close to half are in areas with less than six dwelling units per acre – too few to support frequent connecting bus service. In the city, CTA lines with irregular service and poor connections are also underutilized, she said.

The new research points to new strategies to promote affordability and relieve financially burdened working families, Makarewicz said.

The implications for planning policy will be the subject of a panel discussion this Thursday, with State Rep. Julie Hamos (D-18), urban affairs writer John McCarron, and Wanda White-Gills of Team Englewood. Cosponsored by CNT and the Chicago Rehab Network, the event is Thursday, June 29, 8 to 10:30 a.m., at Fannie Mae Foundation, One South Wacker Drive, 15th Floor.

Board Game Aids Regional Planning

Public involvement in regional planning is being stepped up significantly, with the new Regional Planning Board using a public involvement tool developed by the Center for Neighborhood Technology.

Participants at seven public meetings on updating the 2030 Regional Transportation Plan (starting Tuesday in Berwyn) will use Transopoly, a planning game developed by CNT’s Chicagoland Transportation and Air Quality Commission and first used in CTAQC’s Connecting Communities Summits.

Breaking into small groups, participants will work with maps of the region marked with existing land use and transportation features, a hypothetical budget to improve access and reduce congestion, and other tools.

The process helps community residents move beyond project “wish lists” to prioritize proposals within realistic fiscal constraints, said Jan Metzgar of CTAQC.

In the past, public involvement requirements have often been fulfilled with hearings held after plans are largely developed — a process that caused costly delays with the current Dan Ryan project, when community objections forced last minute changes. The current round of public meetings will focus on projects farther in the future, Metzgar said.

CTAQC has advocated creating a regional planning body that combined transportation and land-use planning since 1995. The Chicago Area Transportation Study has been the official metropolitan planning agency – designated to receive federal planning funds – since 1955. Too often municipalities have been forced to make land-use decisions in the wake of transportation plans, Metzgar said. “Land use has to lead,” she said.

Created by legislation passed in 2005, the Regional Planning Board merges CATS with the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission, with increased representation for suburban Cook County, along with Chicago and the collar counties.

In recent years CTAQC’s community summits have found that one top priority of most participants – including most automobile users – was greater transporation options, including more walkable communities, Metzgar said.

RPB’s public meetings take place at 7 p.m. following a 6:30 p.m. sign-in, and will be held:

Tuesday, May 16, at the Berwyn Police Department, 6420 W. 16th, Berwyn;

Thursday, May 18, Waukegan Police Department, 420 Robert V. Sabonjian Place, Waukegan;

Wednesday, May 31, Kane County Government Building, 719 S. Batavia, Geneva;

Thursday, June 1, Ann Sather’s Restaurant, 929 W. Belmont;

Tuesday, June 6, Joliet Public Library, 150 N. Ottawa, Joliet;

Thursday, June 8, Palatine Village Hall, 200 E. Wood, Palatine;

Thursday, June 15, Blue Island City Hall Annex, 2434 Vermont, Blue Island.

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