The Impact of Freight Congestion on the Chicago Area Commute

Chicago has been the railroad hub of the nation since the middle of the 19th Century. It continues to maintain that distinction today as almost one-third of the nation’s rail freight originates, terminates or travels through Chicago. It is the fourth largest container handler in the world after Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai. It is also the crossroads of the nation’s Interstate Highway system.
With O’Hare International and Midway Airports, itis the nation’s air hub as well. Chicago also is one of the leading metropolitan areas in congestion. The Texas Transportation Institute ranks it second in the nation in congestion when measuring the travel time index. The U. S. Department of Transportation estimates the annual cost of congestion in the Chicago area to be in the order of magnitude of $11 billion. This represents time delays, excess fuel costs, productivity, environmental, safety and unreliability losses, cargo delays and airline and railroad  congestion costs. Freight congestion is a significant cause of much of the delay that Chicago area commuters face. Some of the freight impacts on the Chicago commute are as follows:
  • Freight train interference impacts Metra’s ability to provide quality commuter rail service. It is a major cause of commuter train delays and resulting poorer on-time performance. In 2007, almost 18 percent of all Metra delays were caused  by freight interference, an increase of 8 percent over the prior year. Additionally, freight train operations impede the ability of Metra to add service, particularly for the reverse commute, a growing need in the region, and for off-peak service.
  • Congestion in rail yards causes back-ups of trains resulting in blocked highway-grade crossings. This delays auto commuters as well as transit and school buses. Blocked crossings also provide barriers to emergency responders in many communities.
  • Rail yard congestion has also resulted in a large number of rubber-tire transfers via truck cartage from one rail yard to another. Container traffic is growing at a rate almost twice that of general freight. An estimated 15,000 such movements occur daily in Chicago area adding significantly to an already crowded roadway system.ƒ
  • One of the largest components of increased VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled) is increased truck traffic. Changing distribution patterns, smaller shipments, just-in-time distribution, has added vehicles to the highways contributing to congestion.  Our research has shown that the largest increase in VMT, almost 42 percent, has resulted from non-household travel, trucks and external travel.ƒ
  • Decentralization of manufacturing and distribution facilities to the outer suburban area increases cartage mileage and costs.  For example, intermodal facilities have located in Rochelle and Joliet, 81 and 47 miles respectively from Chicago. Solid waste is being transported to Pontiac, Illinois, 98 miles from Chicago.

Please click on the link below to download the complete “The Impact of Freight Congestion on the Chicago Area Commute” report.

The Impact of Freight Congestion on the Chicago Area Commute


Commuting in the Chicago Area: Emerging Trends

As part of the decennial census, the Census Bureau collects information on where people live and work.  This report will show that from 1970 to 2000 the Chicago area experienced an evolutionary change in economic activity and traffic.  Several existing trends were extended, some new ones emerged while others demonstrated a marked shift.

This report provides a brief overview of the most noteworthy changes in commuting patterns since 1970. It highlights a substantial decline in bedroom communities. All of the collar counties experienced major increases in commutes to the county. DuPage County experienced a growth of more than 100,000 commuters to the county (23%) while Lake County registered a lower growth in numbers (81,000) but a higher percentage change (33%). Now, they both import more commuters than they export. They are no longer places with stereotypical bedroom communities.

More importantly, the growth in population now outpaced the growth in commuters for the first time in at least 40 years. Specifically the alarms raised in the 1970s and 1980s about major increases in congestion due to expected increases in population have not materialized. Still congestion has increased with longer commutes, perhaps reflecting the increasing specialization in our labor force resulting in an expanded geographic pool from which workers are drawn.

Please click on the link below to download the complete “Commuting in the Chicago Area: Emerging Trends” report.

Commuting in the Chicago Area Emerging Trends


Development of Intercity Bus Strategic Plan and Program

Federal funding for intercity bus programs is available to states under Section 5311(f) of the Federal Transit Act. The act requires 15 percent of all federal funding for public transportation in non-urbanized areas be earmarked for intercity bus transportation, unless the state’s governor certifies that the intercity bus service needs are adequately met. The Illinois Department of Transportation has commissioned this study to assess whether intercity bus needs are being met in the State of Illinois, and if not, to develop a strategy for utilization of federal funds to enhance Illinois rural population’s intercity bus service.

To fulfill this study’s objectives, researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC):

  1. Reviewed FTA requirements and existing IDOT Intercity Bus policies.
  2. Surveyed the experiences of other states; identified and surveyed common carriers that provide scheduled service in the state.
  3. Analyzed the current supply, demand, and needs of intercity passenger service.
  4. Identified possible intercity bus service options and enhancements.

Upon reviewing federal and Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) intercity bus policies and regulations, the research team obtained experiences from other states regarding their strategies to meet federal and state-level requirements. Feedback from the states showed a variety of approaches to the funding requirements, even in Illinois’ neighboring states. Some states focused exclusively on intercity bus; others considered the bus system’s role in the statewide transportation network. Most states that subsidize service provide operating support; sometimes as a pilot project, sometimes not. Other states take a more capital focused approach. None of the surveyed states exactly matches Illinois’ combination of a relatively evenly distributed rural population, several medium-sized cities and one primate metro area. However, in consideration of the ways other states approach the funding requirement, certain observations may be relevant for Illinois. These observations are offered as recommendations later in this executive summary.

The research team compiled an inventory of community transportation providers in Illinois, including commercial bus companies, rail, local feeder services, and air carriers. A telephone survey identified the current 5311 recipients that provide countywide transit open to the general population and connect to other modes of transportation. The survey indicated that the contacted organizations were meeting the basic transportation needs of Illinois’ rural population. However, public transportation in rural areas is not normally available on holidays, weekends and evenings.

Most survey respondents indicated that existing service was underutilized, with the most prevalent reason being lack of funds.
The supply, demand and needs analyses identified a considerable level of intercity transportation service in Illinois. However, the survey confirmed that as in much of the rest of the country, rural areas are either under-served or un-served by intercity transportation. All of Illinois’ metropolitan areas have intercity common carrier service, either through intercity bus, Amtrak, or both. Air service, available in most metro areas, wasn’t considered as a possible substitute for rural rail or bus service, due to high prices and the inability to make stopovers in rural areas. No air service was identified to non-urbanized areas. Without intercity bus funding, it is doubtful that these places will have access to such service in the foreseeable future.

A final component of the study, the survey of current and potential intercity bus providers investigated the ability of transit providers in Illinois to provide additional service, their interest in providing such service, and reasons that they might not want to provide additional service. Of particular interest to the research team were the providers’ general interest in IDOT intercity bus programs and their willingness to participate in such programs. The survey identified several critical considerations to be made before implementing the intercity program.

Please click on the link below to download the complete “Development of Intercity Bus Strategic Plan and Program” report.

Development of IntercityBus_Strategic Plan FinalReport


Travel Behavior and Employment Decentralization

This report addresses sprawl and is the continuation of an earlier study to assess the importance of expressways in the urban and economic development of the Chicago area. It also examines aspects of the quality of life such as home ownership rates and how much time Chicago-area residents spend traveling.

The report concludes that:

  1. The disproportionate increases in urban-land consumption relative to population growth is a trend that will decrease because of changing demographics and home ownership rates with recent data showing that the growth in land consumption will soon be equal to population growth.
  2. Sprawl is closely associated with increasing home ownership rates and the Chicago area has high and increasing home ownership rates relative to other metropolitan areas in its size class, especially New York and Los Angeles.
  3. Residents of low- and moderate-density suburbs do not spend more time on daily travel than residents of the city of Chicago.
  4. Employment has decentralized in several phases with manufacturing moving first seeking large parcels of land followed by retailing responding to population redistribution and most recently by the service sector.
  5. Firms in the Chicago area have moved closer to expressway interchanges and consider automobile access and particularly parking to be very important in selecting a site.

Please click on the link below to download the complete “Travel Behavior and Employment Decentralization” report.

Travel Behavior and Employment Decentralization

Highways and Urban Decentralization

This report documents a retrospective study of the relationship between highways and urban decentralization. We see decentralization as caused largely by the increased consumption of land by residents and businesses which occurs mainly because of higher incomes making land more a ordable. While highways might have contributed to this e ect by increasing accessibility, an empirical analysis conducted in this study did not reveal a relationship between the regionwide rate of decentralization and the time of completion of the expressways (freeways and tollways) in the Chicago area.

We also and that some of the negative consequences of decentralization might have been over-stated. For example, in the Chicago area average work-trip lengths have increased only slightly from 1970 to 1990. In addition, about three-quarters of the increases in vehicle miles traveled (VMT, a measure of congestion) is attributable to increases in the number of jobs and increases in truck travel.

We believe that attempts to reverse decentralization in order to bring about a compact growth pattern need to be considered carefully because such a reversal may come at a cost to residents and businesses in a region. Speci cally, average housing costs in the region may increase and its economic vitality may su er. However, we remain supportive of incentives and other similar strategies to promote more ecient use of land and, in particular, to promote productive use of
vacant land [in ll] in the central city and inner suburbs. We have used a mixture of research methods to achieve these objectives. These include the development of a theoretical framework to explain the decentralization process, a review of the literature on various dimensions of the decentralization-transportation-economic development nexus and an empirical analysis of the nature and e ects of the decentralization process in the Chicago area. Further, a survey of suburban businesses in the Chicago area revealed that if they needed to relocate from their current addresses, they would prefer to remain in a low-density area. The report is structured into three major parts:

1) The executive summary.

2) A summary of the entire study including our major findings.

3) A set of appendices that provide the details of each part of the study.

Please click on the link below to download the complete “Highways and Urban Decentralization” report.

Highways and Urban Decentralization

Implications of the Welfare Reform Law On Suburban Chicago Transit Demand

In this report we present our recommendations regarding ways in which Pace the Suburban Bus Division of the Regional Transportation Authority in Northeastern Illinois can alleviate many of the access-to-jobs problems imposed on Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) clients. The scope of the planning process is region-wide and includes the six-county Northeastern Illinois region the service area of Pace. This regional approach is entirely in keeping with the spirit of the Access to Jobs and Reverse Commute grant program established by the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA 21) which establishes a regional Access to Jobs and Reverse Commute Transportation Plan. Nationally this study is unique with the rigor with which it matches TANF clients and jobs over such a large region.

The study looks at the two components of the transportation problem for welfare-to-work:

1)      The supply side the characteristics of jobs and the nature of the transportation

2)      The demand side the characteristics of public assistance clients and their transportation-related behavior. The ultimate design characteristics of transit services provided  for welfare-to-work  must address concerns raised by both supply-side and demand-side concerns.

The project has used planning models and tools extensively including travel-demand models to
locate potential corridors of TANF clients and the travel costs that would be incurred by these
individuals. The entire travel-demand analysis was conducted at a very fine geographic resolution of roughly half- mile by half-mile zones called quarter sections.

All travel-time estimates reflect network congestion and are the results of transportation demand models implemented over the six-county area. Statistical analysis was conducted to arrive at many conclusions that further aided our understanding of transportation needs for the TANF clients. In addition outputs from Geographic Information Systems (GIS) was invaluable  in obtaining a graphical view of issues relating to accessibility of jobs by TANF clients.

Please click on the links below to download the complete “Implications of the Welfare Reform Law on Suburban Chicago Transit Demand” report.


Pedestrian Safety in Illinois 1990 – 2000

Concerns over declining personal fitness have led to calls for more walking and other forms of exercise.  Walking is a low impact form of exercise and is preferred by many health-care professionals and practitioners.  Walking certainly is an activity that should be promoted, but in a setting where interaction with vehicular traffic is minimized.

Pedestrian fatalities are the ancillary negative aspect of walking in mixed traffic and the subject of this report, which is part of a series that examines the relationship between urban sprawl and public health.

The advocacy literature is replete with examples of the association between wide arterials in suburban areas and pedestrian safety.  Since we cannot deal directly with this issue, we have chosen to focus on data by county, the most comprehensive nationwide data on pedestrian fatalities available.  By examining county-level data we have an opportunity to assess where pedestrian fatalities occur and how they have changed over time.

While researchers recognized the benefits of walking, the report brought attention to the safety aspect of walking. According to Illinois pedestrian-fatality data by county from 1990 to 2000:

  • Illinois pedestrian fatalities have declined, down 31% from 1990 to 2000.
  • Cook County has also experienced substantial declines in pedestrian fatalities, but still has a disproportionately high share of the state’s fatalities, 59.4% of fatalities versus 43.2% of the population.
  • Among the largest counties, the lowest rates are in suburban Chicago particularly McHenry and DuPage Counties.
  • DuPage County has the second lowest pedestrian fatality rate in the nation for counties with more than 500,000 people and the lowest among counties with at least 600,000 inhabitants.
  • Counties with the highest rates tend to be small counties and include Alexander (Cairo), Brown (just east of Quincy), Effingham and Clark (east of Effingham on I-70).
  • Among the largest counties the highest rates are in Kankakee, Williamson (Marion), Cook and St. Clair (East St. Louis) respectively.
  • Fifteen counties registered zero fatalities, Kendall County in suburban Chicago has the highest population.

Please click on the link below to download the complete “Pedestrian Safety in Illinois 1990 – 2000” working paper report.



Trip Generation Revisited: Estimation of Trip Generation Rates from Small-size Household Travel Surveys

We revisit, in this paper, issues facing transportation planners estimating and validating household trip generation rates from small-scale household travel surveys. Three problems are addressed:

1) Unusual observations,

2) Small number of observations

3) No observations.

Unusual observations are identified using traditional methods. Classification and regression tree (CART) analysis is proposed for the second problem. Finally, the third problem is addressed using row-column decomposition analysis. The methods are demonstrated using a small-scale household travel survey and are simple enough to be implemented with the resources available to transportation analysts, especially in smaller Metropolitan Planning Organizations.

Within the context of the Federal transportation program states and local agencies must have technical planning processes in place to be able to program federal funds. As a result, Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) must develop and maintain transportation model sto support various transportation and land use policies. Such requirements raise concerns,particularly among smaller MPOs that lack the resources to undertake expensive primary data collection such as household travel surveys. Frequently, transportation professionals are called to conduct complicated modeling tasks based on small samples. In such cases the investigation of data quality issues during the model development stage becomes critical.
Please click on the link below to download the complete “Trip Generation Revisited: Estimation of Trip Generation Rates from Small-size Household Travel Surveys” report.

Trip Generation Revisited_Small Sized Household Travel-v2



Business and Site Specific Trip Generation Methodology for Truck Trips

The growth of E-commerce and increasingly sophisticated supply chain management strategies used by today’s businesses require truck travel demand forecasting tools that are capable of capturing the effects of those market and economic forces on trucks’ trip making behaviors. As the first step toward the development of such model, this study tackled the most fundamental but often neglected component of truck travel demand forecasting process, trip generation. Our effort focused on building prototype models for one specific type of facility, retail stores.

Truck trip generation (TTG) analysis is a study to estimate the number of trucks coming in and out of a study area (e.g., a store, a shopping mall, or an industrial park). Thus, the TTG analysis provides transportation planners and public agencies with fundamental information, namely the usage of infrastructure in the vicinity of various businesses by trucks. This information is useful, for making transportation asset management decisions. Our approach for developing the new generation of TTG modeling is founded upon the observation that in order to capture the effects of supply chain strategies, it is necessary to construct a model at the individual facility level as opposed to at zonal level. In addition, it is necessary to identify the variables (preferably observable) that can be used to capture the characteristics of supply chain strategies employed at each facility.

Please click on the link below to download the complete “Business and Site Specific Trip Generation Methodology for Truck Trips” report.

Business and Site Specific Trip Generation


Comparison of University Pass Programs on Commuter Rail Services

Even with a relatively small sample of 12 commuter rail services that provide a university student pass, there is considerable variation in how those university passes are conducted. The complexity and goals of the specific transit agencies appear to have played the largest role in determining what kind of policy the implementation of a university pass would follow. The complexity of university pass programs has made it hard for more transit agencies to offer these programs. North San Diego County Transit, for example, is currently looking for ways that it can implement a university pass program on its commuter rail services. It is also evident that the desires and willingness of the universities to participate and provide subsidies plays an important role in what kind of transportation contract can be pursued. The best-case scenario exists where transit agencies and local institutions were able to match their needs and wants to provide a service that is more useful to the targeted transit audience.

University Passes can be broken into two broad categories: reduced fare programs and unlimited ride passes. Most reduced fare programs are simply the sale of discounted tickets from the ticket window when the purchaser can produce appropriate documentation. In most cases that documentation is a university ID or paper application. In most cases, programs with ticket window discounts do not have additional arrangements with participating universities. It is
assumed that commuter rail operators with this kind of an arrangement are providing a community service, assume an elastic demand for their university services, or are hoping to develop transit-friendly habits in university students that will continue after their education is completed. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority is an exception that requires the university to pay for half the student discount.
Please click on the link below to download the complete “Comparison of University Pass Programs on Commuter Rail Services” report.