City of Chicago Releases First-Ever Equitable Transit-Oriented Development Plan
Crusader Staff Report
The long-delayed Red Line Extension Project that aims to bring public transportation to low-income neighborhoods on the Far South Side, was not mentioned in the first ever Equitable Transit-Oriented Development Plan (eTOD) that was released on Monday, September 14.
The plan is part of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s anti-poverty and equitable economic growth agenda that aims to address market failures.
Lightfoot said these failures have led to (1) the lack of dense and walkable housing and retail development around CTA and Metra stations in Black communities on the South and West sides, and (2) displacement pressure being felt by long-time residents living near CTA stations in other parts of the city that have been experiencing exponential growth.
Lightfoot said the plan updates previous eTOD efforts and offers a roadmap for mixed-use neighborhood development around CTA and Metra stations and high-capacity bus routes that are walkable and pedestrian-oriented to mitigate the effects of residential housing segregation, build community wealth, improve climate resiliency and the overall health of residents.
“Every Chicagoan, no matter what side of the city they reside on, should have access to both our world-class transportation system and the recreational, housing, and environmental benefits that come with it,” said Lightfoot.
“The new eTOD Policy Plan will expand this access and give our most disinvested neighborhoods the long-overdue opportunity to enjoy these benefits while not being forced out of the community they call home. I look forward to working closely with our Departments of Transportation, Planning and Development, and other key stakeholders as we take this next step to bring the values of equity and inclusion into our urban development agenda.”
However, the CTA’s long-overdue Red Line Extension Project was not mentioned in the mayor’s press release.
The Red Line Extension Project involves extending the CTA’s busiest rail line from 95th to 130th Street. When completed, the project will bring public transportation to Far South Side neighborhoods, including Altgeld Gardens and Riverdale, where residents for decades were forced to take multiple CTA buses to get to downtown Chicago.
The project is estimated to cost $1 billion with most of the funding coming from the federal government. But with the struggling economy and tighter budgets and President Donald Trump in office, questions remain whether funding is still possible to the Red Line Extension Project.
CTA officials, mayors and politicians have blamed a lack of federal funds for stalling a project that has yet to get on track.
Last year, the CTA board committed $310 million in its 2020-2024 capital budget that will be used for the local match needed to secure future federal funding.
In December 2018, the board approved a $20.9 million award for a Program Manager for the Red Line Extension Project to support project planning and oversight.
Last summer Governor JB Pritzker passed his $41.5 billion capital spending plan, which would be spent on public roads, transit, schools and other public, state-wide projects. Transportation would get $28.6 billion and $3.4 billion would go to mass transit.
There was no mention of funds going towards the Red Line Extension Project and no one made a fuss about it, not even Black leaders.
Shortly after he was elected, Pritzker said funds for the Red Line Extension Project would come from the Illinois Transportation and infrastructure funding bill, which is part of his passed $41.5 billion capital spending plan. Since then, Pritzker has been largely silent on funding for the Red Line Extension Project.
On the North Side, it’s a different story.
Last year the CTA began work on the $2.1 billion Red-Purple Line project. It’s the CTA’s largest capital improvement project in its history that will dramatically improve the lives of North Side residents.
As part of the project CTA will build a huge bridge for a separate track for the Brown line after years of sharing the same track with the Red Line. The project also involves rebuilding old stations at Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn, and Bryn Mawr.
The Crusader sent an email to officials at CTA, asking about the Red Line Extension project. After Wednesday’s deadline for its print edition, CTA officials simply sent a link to its Red Line Extension project as its response. The website is https://www.transitchicago.com/redext/. The agency also said it recently launched a Facebook page as another channel to provide information to the community: https://www.facebook.com/CTARedExt.
City officials say over 200 developments in Chicago have been approved to access Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) benefits since late 2016.
However, nearly 90 percent of all new TOD projects approved between 2016 and 2019 are concentrated on the North and Near Northwest sides, in Downtown and around the West Loop, with little activity occurring near train stations on the South and West sides.
Lightfoot said those neighborhoods surrounding TODs are experiencing population increases and additional private investment and development, while in Black communities where TODs are not common, the population is decreasing as residents move to areas where access to transit and other amenities is better.
In some Latinx neighborhoods, such as Pilsen, TOD activity is occurring, however, the growth is so accelerated that many residents are being displaced.
The 2020 eTOD Policy Plan will address the lack of TOD in neighborhoods, will also protect existing residents from displacement, expand housing opportunities and ensure inclusive economic growth. As an early step, the city will identify pilot and demonstration opportunities for advancing components of the plan.
“We support the city’s effort to establish this plan, which complements the inherent nature of public transit as an equalizer — allowing anyone at any time to travel anywhere in the city for a low, flat fare,” said CTA President Dorval R. Carter, Jr. “Incentivizing development near rail lines with unused capacity will make our city less car-dependent and more resilient, as well as contributing to ridership and revenue growth for the City’s transit system.”
“Every neighborhood in Chicago has a crown jewel of public investment and a network that connects us together—rail stations and high-capacity bus routes. Chicago must offer its residents a walkable and transit-friendly environment that provides good access to jobs, education and recreational opportunities,” said CDOT Commissioner Gia Biagi.
“This new eTOD policy creates a framework for us to move forward in partnership with community leaders as we work to overcome the historic inequities that this mayor is so committed to correcting.”