Riding the Nature Express: Presentation to Cook County Commission on Social Innovation

Research on ways to improve mobility options for transportation-challenged residents of Cook County was the subject of a presentation made by UTC Director Dr. P.S. Sriraj May 18 before a committee of local non-profit thought leaders, elected and appointed officials and private sector executives.

UTC Director Dr. P.S. Sriraj shared insight on research dubbed “The Nature Express.”

UTC research dubbed “The Nature Express” centers on ways to identify strategies to develop public transit options for people who don’t own cars or live far from bus and train lines to reach Cook County Forest Preserves. Dr. Sriraj spoke on research findings during the regular meeting of the Cook County Commission on Social Innovation, which was established in 2016 to inspire “job creation, workforce development, entrepreneurship, community revitalization, and industrial development.”

The meeting was chaired by Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and vice chair Marc J. Lane.  Approximately 25 commissioners and visitors were in attendance.

Key findings from the research, which is still underway, revealed that:

  • Of the six Forest Preserves with Nature Centers, three do not have any remote accessibility for people who live in Environmental Justice census tracts, even if those residents traveled 90 minutes or more on public transit.
  • The Hal Tyrell Nature Center is accessible to around 24% of people living in the Environmental Justice tracts within 90 minutes.
  • And, the Sand Ridge Nature Center can be reached by 18% of residents in the 90-minute time frame.

The meeting was led by Vice Chair Marc J. Lane, (left) and Chairman and Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (center.)

In summary, feasible transportation to Nature Centers and forest preserves do not exist for clusters of disadvantaged residents of Cook County. Providing transportation can result in benefits that include improved mobility, quality of life and pubic health; it also can have a positive impact on reducing crime. UTC researches will continue to refine work done to date, explore implementation options, build awareness for the need for new transportation programs, and coordinate meetings between transit providers and the Forest Preserve district.

Following the presentation, Commissioners raised questions and inspired discussion on the findings and related issues, including:

  • The prospect of having the metro area’s transportation management associations participate in helping to improve access to Nature Centers.
  • Exploring the ecological or environmental benefits of greater transit options.
  • Concerns over the potential demand and interest by disadvantaged residents to use public transit to reach forest preservers.
  • The potential for public/private partnerships to develop job training opportunities.

To obtain a copy of “The Nature Express” presentation, please send an email to: ebury@uic.edu. Please visit the UTC Research Page to learn more about completed research and access final reports.