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Chicago’s first protected bike lane on Kinzie St. increased ridership by 55 percent without increasing traffic congestion for cars.

Transit task force report: Chicagoland worst among peers due to years of underfunding and transit-unfriendly development

Juicy political scandals make for good reading, which is why media coverage of the Northeastern Illinois Public Transit Task Force Report has obsessed about its recommendations to cleanup and consolidate the four transit agencies. /

But as bad as the governance scandals and inefficiencies are – and they are! – the task force report demonstrates that our problems are much more about a lack of funding, lack of transit expansion and transit-unfriendly growth patterns.

Like the bird that has always lived at the end of the runway, many Chicagoland residents don’t realize how bad our transit system is. But the task force report, and a recent analysis by the Metropolitan Planning Council, lays it out.

Among the six largest metro areas with “legacy” (older) transit systems – Boston, Chicago, New York, Philly, DC, and San Francisco, plus Los Angeles – the Chicago region is:

♦ Last in ridership growth
♦ Last in system expansion
♦ Last in transit-friendly development
♦ Next-to-last to LA for per capita transit spending (this will change as LA recently began to expand its system)

In addition:
♦ The region allocates 25 percent less money on transit capital than 20 years ago, even though the population has increased 20 percent.
♦ Only 23 percent of the region’s residents (12 percent in the suburbs) can use transit to reach a typical job in under 90 minutes.
♦ Less than 7 percent of all trips in the Chicago region are on transit. Walking and biking account for more trips at 11 percent, while cars dominate at 80 percent.
♦ While transit use has increased in recent years, ridership is down about 60 percent compared to 50 years ago. 

Despite very real transit governance problems, the task force report found that the region’s transit system is actually the MOST efficient among the 6 peer regions at costs per revenue hour, per mile and in some cases per trip. This further drives home the point that we shouldn’t count on transit governance reform to fix our problems.

Moreover, we should not wait for Springfield to pass reform legislation (something they did in 2008, mind you) to start the long process of fixing a badly damaged regional transit system – starting with new funding to shore up the existing system and expand it to serve today’s development patterns.