“Transit Oriented Development:” so not going to fix Chicago’s car problem

This DNAinfo article on “Transit Oriented Development” (and its comments) made me have so many feelings.

I appreciate the comments that say we should focus on making Chicago more pedestrian-friendly, and their frustration that it seems like their opposites are simply pro-driving; some of them are. But some of those comments are also pointing out a fine line – just because we want less driving doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. As much as we want to drop reliance on cars, Chicago is a driving city.

Does Gotham have better public transit than Chicago? Picture of Lawrence red line station transformed to Green River station for Batman vs. Superman filming.

Does Gotham have better public transit than Chicago? (El station transformed for Batman vs. Superman filming)

Having access to a car in Chicago is so helpful. Much of Chicago has crappy public transit and is based on the assumption that you only want to go downtown. My neighborhood has great public transit, but trying to go west instead of north/south? Such a pain in the butt. A car means not having to wait forever for a bus in the cold, not having to juggle groceries on a packed train or buying them at expensive neighborhood stores, or worrying that the bus you depend on will be cut. It means that you can live in those places with crappy public transit, places that often have cheaper living costs.

But more importantly, employers expect to have you to have a car.

I know this because while I live in a household with a car, I don’t drive. I was born without depth perception, which makes city driving a poor idea at best. (I can and do drive in rural areas. Give me a wide-open, curvy New Hampshire road and I’m happy, but anything involving merging or tight parking is just asking for problems.)

I also job searched for a long time before I was lucky enough to be able to freelance fulltime. And not driving? Really screwed my job search.   While there are certainly many jobs downtown, many many jobs are in the suburbs. Even companies downtown often have offices in the suburbs, offices they expect their workers to go to on a regular basis. A lot of companies are even closing up downtown locations or moving most of their workers to suburban offices.

And the assumption is that type of travel isn’t going to be an issue. When I was talking to recruiters or looking at jobs, they’d always look at me funny when I said I couldn’t drive. At best, I’d get the expectation that I didn’t currently have a car but could always get one if I got hired. Explaining that no, really I can’t drive didn’t ever seem to sink in. There wasn’t any awareness that the only way to get to their office was to take a Metra to a Pace bus via walking half a mile along the highway, or that it might be a problem (and again, remember I live someplace with good public transit).

Transit oriented development assumes that people will always have the luxury to work in their neighborhoods or downtown, and that simply making it harder to own a car will make cars less necessary. That is so unrealistic.

Believe me, I am exceptionally pro making Chicago more pedestrian friendly; after all, I am an often-time pedestrian. But building a bunch of apartment buildings without parking near public transit is just building a bunch of apartment buildings near public transit. It won’t solve any of Chicago’s actual public transit issues like access for those who can’t afford to live near good public transit or who have to take whatever job they can get;  it’s a bit dumb and offensive to focus on that instead of actually improving public transit access.

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One response to ““Transit Oriented Development:” so not going to fix Chicago’s car problem

  1. I hate to drive (which is great because it’s gone from “can’t drive” to “terrified to drive” to “absolutely hate it” to “would really rather take two buses and then walk than drive”) and it’s often strange to me how people just take for granted that all professional adults drive and own a car. I mean, I have a license and access to a car, but I often plan my day around not having to drive, and definitely NOT driving one minute more than necessary.

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