TagTransit-oriented development (TOD)

Chicago’s TOD rule is the only reason multi-family is being built in neighborhoods

This is the ordinance that says residential developments have to provide 0.5 car parking spaces per home, and that the minimum home size can be smaller.

How many units? At least 1,500. Here’re the 19 buildings I know about that are being built within 600 and 1,200 feet* of a Chicago Transit Authority ‘L’ station – the only areas, essentially, where multi-family housing can be developed.

Why can’t dense housing be built elsewhere? Because the most desirable living areas in Chicago – along retail streets in Logan Square, North Center, Lincoln Park, Lakeview, and West Town – are zoned for single-family use. (And ad-hoc zoning districts taking the place of community land use planning.)

How do I know popular neighborhoods are zoned for single-family use? Because Daniel Hertz’s new Simplified Chicago Zoning Map makes it easy to see. Yep, even along those dense business districts and even outside the train stations.

Do the single-family home zones contain single-family homes now? Absolutely not! Much of the buildings in areas zoned for single-family homes have everything but! The particular view of the map that Hertz uses in his blog post shows that even adjacent to CTA stations, and within 1 block, there are only single-family zones (in red). There are many multi-family buildings in these red zones.

Red areas are zoned for single-family homes only.

Red areas are zoned for single-family homes only. View the map.

What ends up happening there? Teardowns. And the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce finds believes that non-matching zoning – it matches neither the existing uses nor the needs for the neighborhood – and teardowns are going to cut into consumer spending on its lively retail streets. Lakeview is seeing a population change to families which tend to have less disposable income.

More housing in a popular neighborhood means more shoppers, more property taxes, more “boots on the ground”, more “pedestrian congestion” in front of our local businesses.

Doesn’t the ordinance make station-adjacent parcels friendly to multi-family housing because of the TOD ordinance? Yes, and no. As Hertz points out, “virtually every sizable development involves a zoning variance or planned development process that goes beyond the zoning you’ll see on the map”.

The TOD ordinance is 19 months old and working exactly as intended, building more housing next to train stations, and giving more people the opportunity to have access to affordable transportation. So it needs an upgrade to be able to do more. Since, in Chicago, zoning is our land use plan, we need the best kind of zoning rules and this is one of the best.

Imagine what the TOD ordinance could do if it were expanded. Think, making the parking requirement relief and allowing different unit sizes by-right instead of going through an arduous and expensive zoning change process. Then, expanding the rule to include more than just 600 feet (which is less than a block) from a train station – people walk several blocks to get to CTA stations, and bike even more. And, beefing up the affordable housing requirements.

Let’s do this, Commissioner Andrew Mooney. Let’s do this, housing advocates. Let’s do this, transit advocates. I’m looking at you, Latin United Community Housing Association (LUCHA), Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA), We Are/Somos Logan Square, Pilsen Alliance, Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC), Active Transportation Alliance, and the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT).

* The distance depends on existing Pedestrian Street zoning. If the property is on a designated Pedestrian Street then the station can be up to 1,200 for the ordinance to apply, double the normal 600 feet.

Jefferson Park station renovation highlights train station planning deficiencies

Jefferson Park train station rendering

Jefferson Park train station rendering from the City of Chicago. The only difference you see is canopies. What you don’t see is a walkable connection ut thisetween shops southeast of here and the train station – they’re separated by a strip of parking.

Plans for the renovation of the Jefferson Park CTA station are illustrative of the City’s failure to think deeply about how to design the projects that is funding in a way that maximizes potential for residential and commercial development around train stations.

The changes proposed for one of Chicagoland’s most important transit centers are weak. There’s no development plan, or any kind of neighborhood plan or “Corridor Development Initiative” for the Jefferson Park transit center.

Current city policy identifies train stations as optimal places to build new housing and commercial uses.

Without challenging the design to respond to this policy the transit center will continue to use neighborhood space inefficiently and doesn’t respond to demands from residents to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety and increase economic development.

Judging by the renderings, nothing is changing at the Jefferson Park Blue Line station (4917 N Milwaukee Ave). All of the improvements save for the canopy are invisible in this rendering. The CTA’s list of improvements reads like the superficial makeover that many stations got in the Station Renewal program almost three years ago, a stopgap measure until Your New Blue could begin.

There will be LED lighting, new paint, new escalators and stairs, new paving, and a new canopy. Only a few of those things make the station easier to access and use.

Jefferson Park is a major asset to the neighborhood and the city. The station serves CTA trains, Metra trains, CTA buses, and Pace buses to Chicago’s suburbs. The CTA’s September 2014 ridership report [PDF] said there are an average of 7,420 people boarding the Blue Line here each weekday, a 0.1% increase over September 2013. It’s the busiest Blue Line station outside of the Loop and O’Hare airport.*

On Twitter I said that the station should be surrounded by buildings, not bus bays. I’m not familiar with how many routes and buses use the station daily, and I’m not suggesting that space for buses go away. I’m challenging the Chicago Transit Authority and Mayor Rahm Emanuel to come up with a better plan for vehicle and pedestrian movements, and to start welcoming new development.

I pointed out the new Wiehle-Reston Silver Line station in Virginia where a residential building was constructed atop a bus bay (where I transferred from the Washington Flyer bus from Dulles). A plaza connects the bus bay to and apartment lobby and the Metrorail station.

Bus bays under an apartment building in Reston

The bus bay at the Wiehle-Reston Silver Line station in Reston, Virginia, is under an apartment building and plaza linking it to the Metrorail station.

The Metropolitan Planning Council conducted a consultation for the Logan Square Blue Line station – Your New Blue will make upgrades here, too – and the next door city-owned parking lot. Their consultation involved 700 people to decide what development at this station should look like. Their desires were pretty specific: there should be affordable housing, but not any higher than six stories.

The current policy, enacted as an ordinance and expressed in other city documents, allows developers to build more units in the same plot and save them and their tenants money by building less parking. But this policy is insufficient in that has no design review or public consultation attached. It also provides no zoning recommendations to expand the number of places to which it can apply.

A development plan, for which the CDI serves as a good, starting model, would bring residents – and people who want to live in the neighborhood – to discussions about if and how the neighborhood should change. It would hook into another city proposal, from the Chicago Department of Transportation, to build protected bike lanes on Milwaukee, but which ultimately failed. The process would probably uncover latent demand to build new housing in the neighborhood that’s stymied by incompatible zoning.**

The city’s recent choices for development and (lack of) urban design at this station as well as across from the Halsted Green Line station in Englewood where the city is selling vacant land to build a Whole Foods-anchored strip mall demonstrates how little deliberation there is in maximizing transit-oriented development, or TOD.

Their suburban forms are the antithesis of how we should be designing the stations and their environs – they should have higher densities and walkable places.

* Metra has published its 2014 station-level counts! This station had 599 daily boardings, yet not every train stops here. The Union Pacific Northwest (UP-NW) line that stops at Jefferson Park saw a 3.8% increase in ridership [PDF] from January to September 2014 versus the same period in 2013.

** There are no parcels near the Jefferson Park transit center that allow the transit-adjacent development ordinance to take effect; developers have to go through an arduous and sometimes costly process to persuade the alderman to change the zoning. The ordinance only affects Bx-3 districts (where x is 1-3 and -3 is the allowable density identifier).

The effects of TOD bonuses versus what a transit overlay district could do

I responded to Carter O’Brien’s comment on an EveryBlock discussion about a gentrification series on WBEZ, Chicago’s National Public Radio affiliate. I reposted the comment here because I want to talk about the problems of piecemeal zoning and how the city’s TOD ordinance can be improved to generate more and diverse housing types (by types I’m talking about quantity of units and stories, not rent vs. own).

@Carter: I think we might be on the same page about something. You wrote:

The question becomes to what degree should zoning be used to encourage one form of land use over another. That’s the tool in the City’s toolbox, so to speak.

Substantial zoning bonuses which will create brand new high rise towers in a neighborhood of lower-density historic architecture will encourage the settling of one economic class of people and the removal of another. [snip] The evidence is that we see shrinking populations of lower-middle class people raising families by the L stops in Wicker Park, Bucktown, Old Town, Lincoln Park and Lake View.

[Actually, pause now and go read Carter’s full comment – he mentions teardowns as an issue that should be part of a gentrifying neighborhood discussion.]

I like that the TOD ordinance seems to be fueling proposals to build many units near transit stations, but it may be building more many units than the community prefers.

I’d like to see transit-oriented zoning also used as a tool to also spur smaller, multi-unit buildings (two flats, three flats, four flats, courtyard buildings) by perhaps preventing low-density buildings so close to transit.

Across from Goethe Elementary School a huge parcel of land is being turned into 7 single-family homes on Medill Ave. That’s great land near a good school and 3 blocks from the California Blue Line station.

Zoning could have been used to require 2-4 unit buildings so that more families have a chance of benefiting from that location but instead the zoning district here makes building 2-4 unit residences on those parcels illegal.

A “transit overlay district” would be something new to Chicago and could do away with the piecemeal zoning of differing densities, one right next to or mixed in with the other. You might see Bx-1 next to Cx-2 and then a Rx-4. Create concentric zoning circles that keep the density uniformly high nearest the train station and then drop off the further away you get.

zoning districts around the California Blue Line station

This map includes the California Blue Line station and the Goethe school houses (empty area northwest of the RM-5 zone on Medill Avenue). The school is outlined inside PD 349.

Quick zoning primer

  • Adapted from Second City Zoning’s plain-English zoning district descriptions.
  • B = retail and apartments above
  • C = commercial (more business types than B) and apartments above
  • RS = single-family homes only
  • RT = 2-4 flats, single-family allowed
  • RM = multi-unit, single-family allowed

The -x number of a district indicates the density allowed (this works for single-family homes, too, setting the minimum parcel area upon which the house is built).

Note: This post has slightly different text from my EveryBlock comment because I had to edit that one for length (the site accepts 2,000 characters maximum).

A new freeway depreciates itself and the city as fast as your new car

A Metra train bypasses congested automobile traffic on the free-to-use Kennedy Expressway. 

Elly Blue wrote about automobile depreciation last week. Depreciation is the value of the automobile that disappears because it’s not as valuable anymore, for reasons of mechanical decay and the “used” factor.

Depreciation is, for many individual consumers a hidden cost. But any responsible accounting of the costs of driving includes it as one of the largest associated with car ownership. The fact that such a large and unprofitable investment is necessary to living and working in most areas of this country is a major source of poverty and failure to get ahead for people and families, and is a hidden source of poverty on a national scale.

The same exact principle is at work in our road system.

It’s depreciation at the societal level. It’s irresponsible not to plan for it, but we do not. A freeway, once built, immediately begins to deteriorate and become congested, it loses its ability to provide the jobs that often were much of the argument for building it in the first place.

Think about the Circle Interchange project the Illinois Department of Transportation is bent on building. For 10 minutes I monitored the “public forum” room at the late June – and final – public meeting about the project to rebuild and increase capacity at the intersection of I-290, I-90/94, and Congress Parkway. I heard seven people speak and at least five of them focused their two minute speeches on the “good jobs” that this project would provide. These are the same “good jobs” that $470 million spent on any other transportation project would generate, like the underfunded but highly beneficial CREATE project that reduces congestion and travel times for freight, Metra, and Amtrak trains in the region.

The Circle Interchange will add an imposing flyover to Greektown and residents and workers on Van Buren Street. 

Building something for jobs is the worst reason to build something. At least with transit (or tollways, for this matter) there is a recurring funding stream, with every use. Oregon is slowly moving in the direction of taxing drivers by mile instead of by gallon, but starting only with electric vehicles. Illinois is issuing bonds for its freeways with the country’s worst credit rating.

Elly’s article had me thinking of other ways cities lose. One of the commenters mentioned there is a loss in property taxes, when properties are demolished to make way for the highway. As Rick Risemberg wrote, “Roads themselves do not pay property tax, of course.” The revenue from those razed properties is eliminated, permanently.

This train flyover represents what the Circle Interchange flyover, over Halsted, will look like. At least this flyover has a revenue stream.

Another way cities lose property tax because of highways is that it makes properties around highways less valuable. It also makes existing, now vacant properties less desirable to developers. So, we have less revenue and then a lowered desire to develop there. Seems like a Catch-22.

However, urban rail stations and bikeways are now known to raise property values and thus government incomes, though this money generated by them is usually not allocated to the infrastructure that created it. (Some places are beginning to use “value capture” mechanisms to do so.)

Risemberg makes sure to point out that gas taxes hardly cover the costs of building highways. I would add that, at least in this state, more and more is being spent on debt service.

And this is all slightly relevant to the article I posted Tuesday on Streetsblog Chicago about transit-oriented development. It’s the third of three articles on the topic based on a report by the Center for Neighborhood Technology that essentially says that Chicagoland, compared to San Francisco, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, are not experiencing the same benefits of them as adding housing to the transit shed (within 1/2 mile of a train station) and that driving is up in the transit shed of Chicagoland while transportation costs, as a portion of household income, are rising faster in the transit shed than outside. These were surprising to CNT, where the expectation was, in brief, that living near a train station provides more mobility, closer retail and services opportunities, and thus would reduce dependence on expensive automobile ownership.

TOD doesn’t have to be fancy

Developers and real estate workers like buzz words. They’re a great way to grab attention. But a development doesn’t need “TOD,” “near trains,” or “transit friendly” written on marketing materials, or subsidies and tax breaks from the municipality, to pass as Transit Oriented Development.

A photo of the Los Angeles Gold Line light rail passing the Mission Meridian “transit oriented development” (above, top) and marketing materials for the project (above, bottom).

Sometimes you just need a stairway and a sidewalk.

Townhomes on Carey Trail (view in map) in Wood Dale, Illinois, have easy access to the Wood Dale Metra station on the Milwaukee District West line. Look at the map to see how the neighboring developments fare in access to the station.

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