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Rapid Transit Expansion Program

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  • The Rapid Transit Expansion Program entails a completely repurposed and repatterned transportation system, using the existing system of els and subways as a framework.  Several new heavy rail rapid transit lines crisscross the “Core Region”, creating a regular “grid” of frequent service in close proximity to the majority of residents and businesses. Surface LRT lines serve areas where that density of service is appropriate. Another key aspect of the system is its purposeful linkage to the existing commuter rail system. Ultimately these linkages create the basis for a truly interregional system of separate modes, allowing greatly expanded travel options throughout the Chicago metropolitan area.
  • The Rapid Transit Expansion Program is as much about placemaking as about moving people.  It represents an evolutionary step in the growth of inner Chicago by changing the way people perceive movement.  It serves to break people away from reliance on the private automobile by creating a whole new level of transport, separated from city streets, with its own distinct identity and subculture.  It also redefines the way individual neighborhoods are connected to each other.  It relies on a much higher transit mode share than currently exists, as well as increased densification around key transit stations.
  • The RTEP combines attributes of the great European systems (interconnected networks linking most major destinations), the New York City subway system (i.e. frequency/density of service), and the Toronto subway/light rail system (dense clusters of “new” commercial and residential growth around subway stations, and retention of lighter density in between).  By rezoning as necessary to encourage increased “densification” adjacent to the major “nodes” around subway stations, these areas thrive but allow the interstation areas to maintain their existing density and quality of life.
  • The RTEP provides a majority of residents in the “Core Region” (bounded by the lake, Howard Avenue, 79th Street and Cicero Avenue) access to a rapid transit station within ½ mile of their home.  In areas where this is not achievable, the existing bus system is upgraded and reconfigured to “rapid bus” or “bus rapid transit” service similar to recent successful programs in Los Angeles, Alameda County (CA) and elsewhere. In all cases, intermodal transfers between different hierarchies of the system are relatively effortless, aka the underground bus/streetcar loops in Toronto adjacent to subway stations.

Statement of Purpose

  • The basic premise of the RTEP is a deliberate and phased evolution of the current system from the historical “radial” system to a “point-to-point” system, connecting dispersed yet dense origins and destinations, similar to large and medium-size European cities.
  • The RTEP should reinforce the current system by supporting and strengthening existing landmark developments, i.e. lakefront destinations and landmarks, the Water Tower, Lincoln Square/New Greek Town and Navy Pier.
  • The RTEP should support connectivity to other modes, particularly thu bus system, but should provide “new reasons” (tangible or intangible) to use the system for existing riders as well as those new to transit.
  • The system should offer redundancy of service, with many route options available to a system user, which in turn provides operational redundancy (via excess capacity) for the operator (CTA), and reliability during emergency shutdowns over a portion of the system.
  • The system should catalyze service improvement of existing Metra Commuter Rail service, by providing seamless transfer nodes. The premise is that Metra service would also be significantly upgraded through addition of more trains (say 10 minute peak/20 minute off-peak service) to support this new connectivity and expand it to the greater region.  Eventually, other METRA service standards could be upgraded, i.e. introduction of diesel-multiple units, electrification, “circumradial” routes.
  • The system needs to provide opportunities for redevelopment and/or adaptive reuse in underutilized areas (i.e. Belt Railway Corridor, low-intensity industrial areas).  This would include adaptation of these low-intensity areas for Transit-Oriented Development in station areas, to provide commercial stimulus as well as to open up new sources and forms of housing, and relieve chronic housing shortages. Some specific goals are as follows:
    • Maintain existing “pretty high” densities in developed neighborhoods (i.e. Bridgeport);
    • Create a new echelon of residential mixed-use densities in non-core areas where industrial or brownfield reuse is appropriate (i.e. Stockyards).
    • Use Brownfield opportunities to implement new elevated guideways (versus more costly subways) and capitalize on Chicago’s love of its iconic “els”.
    • “Densification Zones” in areas of historically high density but significant neglect. Choose historic gems such as Garfield Blvd. Corridor for high-density infill development.
  • System capital construction does not necessarily need to be cost-justifiable up front (or in the future). Current densities may not support transit investment per FTA New Starts Criteria. Investment from the private development community (i.e. financing of stations) would be encouraged and sought through “triple P’s”.
  • The system operator should maintain a philosophical and ongoing commitment to capacity enhancement and improved service standards, with main trunk corridors upgraded to express and skip-stop service as overlapping services are introduced in the same alignment. Priority express corridors include:
    • North-South (express overlay Howard to 119th Street)
    • Lawrence/Lakefront/South Shore/Blue Island (express overlay O’Hare to Blue Island)
    • Mid-City (express overlay Dempster to East Side)

Service Standards

  • 2 mile grid of rapid transit or light rail transit serving 80% of population of City of Chicago, with target of 50% mode split between autos/transit.
  • Overlapping grid of rapid transit express service, focused most specifically on “long-haul” north-south corridors, i.e. North/South “through” Purple Line service.
  • Expanded/high capacity bus service in 1-mile and ½-mile corridors not served by rapid transit. “Real-time” electronic arrival/departure information at all bus shelters.
  • Station spacing calibrated to balance

Implementation Standards

  • Corridors and corridor segments should be screened and prioritized for implementation accordingly:
    • “High-utility” corridors first, prioritized by:
      • Ridership potential
      • Independent utility
      • Connectivity with other CTA lines
        • Existing
        • Planned
      • Connectivity with Regional Rail (Metra)
        • Existing
        • Planned
      • Economic development potential
      • Contribution to ubiquitous (all-purpose) commuting patterns.
      • Support of “Urban Greenbelt” (active/passive use) Corridor.
    • Note that “initial cost effectiveness” is not a primary ranking criteria, reflecting the long-term vision of the built-out RTEP to be a catalyst for enhancing economic and social development where it is currently lacking.

Development Policy in Corridor Areas

  • Dense clusters of mixed-use development should be encouraged in certain station areas, in areas that are both currently developed (i.e. Six Corners) and non-developed (i.e. Pershing/Western). Intensity of new development in these “nodes” would be quite high by current Chicago standards, with substantial mid- and high-rise development tightly centered within a ¼-mile radius of the new station areas (Outside the loop/lakefront corridor, Chicago neighborhoods have not traditional seen this type of development.) The intent would be to preserve medium and low-density residential neighborhoods and commercial corridors between the stations, while greatly enhancing the vitality and independent utility of these neighborhood “nodes”.
  • Special incentives should be made available to the development community in corridor and station areas, particularly those areas that have long been overlooked for transit-oriented development. The idea is to “knit” these underserved areas into the vibrant fabric of the overall city, turning them into destinations unto themselves and creating foci outside the central area. Of course, the network effect will also be to reinforce the utility and attractiveness of the “traditional” centers (downtown, Near North, etc.).
  • The use of public-private partnerships (“triple P’s”) should be encouraged, with strong channels for local community planning and development input and ultimate benefit from resultant development.
  • To a large degree station area development will be a natural result of the massive investment and scale required for the new system, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Corridor Overviews

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