Public Transit to Public Lands: The Nature Express

Access to leisure destinations by public transportation has not been studied in great detail, at least in the United States.  The Northeastern Illinois region with the City of Chicago (in Cook County) is home to the third largest public transportation system in the country.  The transit network is well connected and serves the traditional commute and other associated trips in an adequate manner.

However, the access by public transportation to leisure activities and destinations has not been studied extensively.

Researchers worked with the Forest Preserve District of Cook County to identify a hypothetical public transportation option that would allow Environmental Justice and Transit Dependent residents of Cook County to visit one of FPDCC’s six nature centers.

Environmental Justice stems from Executive Order 1294, signed in 1994, and states that any action in the transportation domain should not disadvantage: 1) racial minorities or blacks, 2) ethnic minorities, 3) low-income or economic minorities.  The demographic factors included for Transit Dependent consideration in this analysis are age (less than 18, and greater than 65), poverty level, auto ownership (zero car households), and mode to work (public transit).

Principal Investigator(s):

Dr. P.S. Sriraj


P.S. Sriraj
David Fullarton




This study focuses on creating a hypothetical pubic transportation option to reaching a leisure destination in a large metro area to highlight the adequacy of the existing transit network in catering the needs of disadvantaged population groups.


The two population groups (Environmental Justice and Transit Dependent residents), public transportation, and the six nature centers are spread throughout the County, which makes this research task both a challenge and an opportunity.

The approach for the study was divided into three parts:

1) Identification of the target population in Cook County.

2) Identification of the proximate bus stops and train stations to the Nature Centers.

3) Evaluation of the transit availability and accessibility from the origins (target population) to the destination (nature centers) using General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) data and other spatial analysis tools.

Expected Results or Products:

The UTC team developed an index to identify the target population that is likely to be disadvantaged due to the lack of access to forest preserves.

Researchers used a specialized tool provided by ESRI (publisher of ArcGIS) and the Network Analyst extension of ArcGIS to generate service areas for Nature Centers, as well as transit stop locations and roadway network data.

Location summaries were prepared for the six Nature Centers:

  • Crabtree Nature Center
  • River Trail Nature Center
  • Hal Tyrrell Trailside Museum
  • Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center
  • Sand Ridge Nature Center
  • Sagawau Environmental Learning Center

The results indicate that almost all of the forest preserves included in this study were not accessible by the target population group in Cook County.  The reasons include: Lack of last mile connections, lack of pedestrian access, no bicycle paths/trails, and also in many cases, not even a bus route/stop in proximate distance.

Based on findings, the team determined that the most promising FPDCC nature centers for pubic transit service are the Hal Tyrell and Sand Ridge nature centers.  The conclusions were drawn following a geospatial analysis of environmental justice tracts throughout the County and existing transit right-of-ways between these centroids and the nearest FPDCC nature center.

A follow-up study is recommended to explore feasible mechanisms that can be used to make leisure activities accessible by public transportation a reality.

To obtain a copy of Public Transit to Public Lands: The Nature Express, please send an email to Edward Bury at:





P.S. Sriraj
Urban Transportation Center
University of Illinois at Chicago
412 South Peoria Street, Suite 340
Chicago, IL 60607
Voice: (312) 413-7568
Fax: (312) 413-0006


Metropolitan Transportation Support Initiative (METSI)





National Center for Transit Research (NCTR), University of South Florida