Emerging Commuting and Urban Development Trends in the New Millennium: Six-County Chicago Area, 1970 – 2008

Previous UIC studies have shown that by 2000 the average household size stopped declining in the Chicago area. For the first time in over 150 years the number of persons per household in this region is now beginning to show a reversal in this trend. When household size declines as it had for 150 years, a constant population resulted in more households and frequently also in more workers and more traffic. The proportion of the population that commutes is also reversing a long-time trend, (increasing for the first time in at least forty years), with implications for traffic congestion. While these are important demographic trends, they tend to have opposite effects on traffic congestion. For a constant population, large households suggests fewer commuters while, an increasing proportion of the population that is working seem to overcome this factor. In the end, travel times to work have increased but not as fast as in previous years. In the short run, with the economic weakness in the job market since 2008, this may be a moot point.

The major conclusion is that the region continues to change. Long-term trends are being reversed. What has continued is that an increasing portion of the workers commute to sites outside their home county and therefore commute times are increasing. This has two interpretations. First, work sites are decentralizing and workers need to commute greater distances on roadways that are more congested. Second and quite different is the employer perspective. Our economy is becoming more specialized and since workers are increasingly mobile, nearly the entire region is the labor shed for an employer. This means that a specific job might be filled by anyone in the metropolitan area. This should provide the employer with a good match between the job requirements and the skills of the worker, making it an employers‘ market. The rise in intercounty commuting suggests this is happening. The growing demand for inexpensive housing on the fringe of the metropolitan area is also contributing to longer work trips but more importantly suburban job growth is ameliorating the rise in travel times as growth in jobs and workers is in relatively good balance.

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Author / Presenter:

Ed Christopher, Siim Sööt and Joseph DiJohn

Presentation Date / Publication Date: