Category: Transportation

Illinois might join the country’s league of states adopting land use reforms

Illinois House Representative Kam Buckner (26th district) has introduced three bills that would adopt land use reforms across all or a lot of the state. This is a trend happening across the United States to address twin crises of low housing construction and limited affordable housing caused in large part by individual municipalities restricting new housing.

I’ve summarized the three proposed bills below. If you would like to help get these adopted, join the Urban Environmentalists of Illinois.

Allowing accessory dwelling units

Accessory dwelling units (ADUs) are apartments and small backyard houses that are built to provide on-site housing for family members, or generate additional income. They are usually allowed by amending zoning codes to add design parameters that treat them differently than apartments, detached, or attached houses and exempt them from typical density limitations inherent in nearly all zoning codes.

Buckner filed HB4213 in November 2023, which would disallow any unit of local government in Illinois from prohibiting ADUs, which most governments in Illinois do through various zoning rules (the main one being that a residentially-zoned parcel is only allowed to have a single building).

A bill like this has already been adopted in California, Oregon, Washington, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire (at a minimum).

Coach houses are one type of small backyard house, common in Chicago. This one in Lakeview was built in 2023.

Lifting parking mandates

Buckner submitted HB4638 in January 2024 to get local governments out of the business of forcing a minimum number of car parking spaces at developments near transit, which are currently established without any rationale. You might say the amount of space cities require businesses and apartment buildings to provide is based on vibes.

My letter to the editor describing the benefits of not requiring so much parking everywhere was published in The Daily Line this month.

There are so many better things we can do for a community than dedicating land for car parking.

Allowing more than one home per lot

Most municipal zoning codes in Illinois have a zoning district called something like “R1” that allows one detached house on a lot, often setting a very large minimum lot size that must be assembled before construction can begin. Municipal leaders then apply R1 broadly within their municipalities’ boundaries, effectively banning condos, townhouses, row houses, and apartments – the most affordable kinds of homes to buy and rent.

Buckner introduced HB4795 in February 2024; it would apply to the state’s eight largest cities and require them to allow at least a “duplex” (two-unit house) on every parcel that allows a detached single-family house.

Naperville would be one of the covered municipalities; the city allows two-family dwellings in R2 zoning districts and slightly more homes per lot in the higher-number R zoning districts. Their B1 neighborhood shopping district also allows multi-family housing.

My letter to the editor in support of this bill was published in the Chicago Sun-Times on February 26, 2024.

But the Naperville zoning map shows how prevalent R1 and its friends the “E” estate districts are: the vast majority of the city is zoned to allow only single detached houses.

Letter to the editor: Illinois cities shouldn’t have the ability to impose parking mandates

My letter to the editor was published as guest commentary in The Daily Line

State Rep. Kam Buckner’s bill to stop cities from mandating specific numbers of off-street car parking at homes and businesses in transit-served areas should be celebrated. These mandates increase the cost of housing, take up land that could be used for just about anything else (like, more housing), and, because of how they facilitate more driving and require building more curb cuts than is truly necessary, make it harder to walk, bike, or ride the bus to run errands.

A massive parking garage at the new Malcolm X College on the Near West Side of Chicago.

I rent my home and I like the idea that there are only enough car parking spaces in the building for people who really need to have a car close by and are willing to pay for it. This means that the cost of providing parking for everyone in the building is not added onto my rent. 

Currently, every municipality in Illinois with a zoning code has a different idea of how many car parking spaces are required at bars, restaurants, townhouses, bowling alleys, and cemeteries. City planners don’t have the training or expertise to project the demand for parking. In other words, they don’t know more than home builders and businesses do about how many parking spaces each project needs.

In the place of mandates, cities should let home builders and businesses choose how much parking they believe they need to serve their tenants, employees, and customers.

By prioritizing car ownership and usage, parking mandates perpetuate reliance on fossil fuels and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. In contrast, removing such requirements can incentivize the use of public transportation, cycling, and walking, consequently reducing traffic congestion and air pollution in our cities.

Without parking mandates near transit service, cities will be freer to allocate land in ways that support sustainable transportation, including making room for more housing to be located near transit and in walking distance to essential shops and services.

I look forward to debating the specifics of Buckner’s bill and getting it passed this year. 

-Steven Vance, Chicago, urban planner

[P.S. Buckner has another bill, HB4795, to prevent Illinois’s eight largest cities from having residential zoning districts that disallow multiple units.]

Show expansion of transit networks over the decades using Transit Explorer

Yonah Freemark just launched the biggest expansion of transit network mapping on Transit Explorer and I built a new feature for TE that allows users to visualize the size of a network by decade from 1970 to today.

When looking at a region of the world, change the era of transit network that you’re seeing by selecting a decade from the dropdown menu under the “Change the era” heading. In a moment, the map will automatically refresh.

I’ll show you three cities:

  • Salt Lake City
  • Hong Kong
  • São Paulo

Salt Lake City

The Utah Transit Authority opened its first modern light rail line in 1999 from Salt Lake City to the southern suburb of Sandy. It opened the second line, from downtown Salt Lake City to the University of Utah, in 2001, in time for the 2002 Winter Olympics. Some games and ceremonies were held at the university. FrontRunner commuter rail opened in 2008, and the third light rail line, to the airport, opened in 2011 and various line extensions opened in 2013. A BRT route that opened in 2018 in Provo is also mapped but not shown while a BRT route in Salt Lake City is shown under construction in 2024.

View Salt Lake City on Transit Explorer

Hong Kong

In 1970, the only rail transit that Hong Kong had were a tramway on Hong Kong Island and the East Rail Line, which opened in 1910 and was electrified in 1983. Every decade since there was a new line or two on the Hong Kong MTR network, culminating in the ten lines you see in 2024.

View Hong Kong on Transit Explorer

São Paulo

In 1970, São Paulo’s metropolitan network, Metrô, didn’t exist, but it had six regional train lines operated by three railroads – these kinds of trains are shown in brown on Transit Explorer. The metro, shown in blue, began in 1974, and now has six lines (including one monorail line) while the regional train network was modified to five lines. São Paulo saw its first bus rapid transit (BRT) line added in 1988, but added four more BRT lines since then – just five of the over 900 bus routes operated by EMTU.

View São Paulo on Transit Explorer

Biking around Texel Island

Saturday, May 13, 2023, in the Netherlands on day 3 (day 12 of my trip).

Day 12

I had discussed with my friend that I wanted to go somewhere new and do something significant, likely distant from Rotterdam. I had long wanted to visit one of the Dutch islands that curves the country’s border in the North Sea from the area north of Amsterdam to Germany. The largest and easiest to visit one is Texel Island.

We left the house at around 8 AM to cycle to Rotterdam Centraal and ride the Intercity Direct train, with our bicycles, to Amsterdam Centraal station, where we changed to an Intercity train to Den Helder, a city at the tip of the Dutch mainland north of Amsterdam. The train arrived in Den Helder at 11 AM, where we picked up some snacks and cold sandwiches at Albert Heijn (the largest supermarket chain in the country), and rode over to the TESO ferry’s terminal.

Like many other ferries in the world, tickets are purchased only in one direction because of the assumption that you’re going to use the ferry to return (and Texel Island has no road crossings so a boat is the main way on and off). Another neat thing about this ferry is that pedestrians and bicycles are able to disembark and board simultaneously because outgoing bicycles are parked only on the right side of the boat and there is a one-way on and one-way off system for pedestrians and bicycles.

On the ferry

I wasn’t prepared to board this ferry. After we parked our bicycles in the designated area and went upstairs to the cabin I was floored at the cruise ship-like appearance. There was a self-service café, enormous bathrooms, a children’s play area, artificial trees, and a variety of seating options – single seats, seats with tables, couches to look out the side and couches to look out the front.

After inspecting the map of cycle routes on the island my friend and I decided to ride around the whole island clockwise. (An advantage of riding clockwise that day was to have a tailwind in the second half of the journey, when we would be tired.)

On the island

…we saw everything.

  • sheep
  • dunes
  • polders
  • Scottish Highlander cattle
  • forests
  • farms
  • tons and tons of e-bikes – I think that acoustic bikes were in the minority!
  • a lighthouse
  • beach cabanas
  • tulips
  • sea protection walls
  • passed through the towns of De Koog and De Cocksdorp

According to the tracking I did on Strava we rode 37.6 miles.

Heading home

On the return ferry my friend consulted the NS Travel Planner app to figure out the best itinerary of trains back to Rotterdam, as well as to figure out the time between the ferry’s arrival and the next train’s departure. It would be close, he said. We would need to exceed the Google Maps estimate of cycling time between the terminal and the station. And, he said, it’s likely that other people with bikes on this ferry also want to take the train and Dutch trains have a very small amount of space for bikes.

We cycled fast, and we made it onto the train about two minutes before departure. At Zaandam we changed to a Sprinter to Hoofddorp via Amsterdam Schiphol airport and at the airport station we changed to an (older) Intercity Direct train to Rotterdam. (The Intercity Direct train we took from Rotterdam in the morning was the new ICNG – next generation – set, and these trains have space for more bikes.)

How to map where I traveled when I went to Gorinchem, NL

On Monday, December 4, 2023, I wanted to ride a line in the Netherlands that I hadn’t yet, which is called the “MerwedeLingelijn” and goes between Dordrecht and Geldermalsen. In the NS journey planner database it’s called “Stoptrein” which distinguishes it from “Sprinter” and “Intercity”. Those names distinguish the service types on the Dutch railway network. (This particular Stoptrein is also a diesel-electric trainset.)

From Rotterdam, where I was staying, it would require at least one transfer to get to Gorinchem. But I wanted to stop in Utrecht to say hi to a friend during his work break – this meant there would be two transfers.

Here’s the itinerary I traveled on Monday

  • Rotterdam Centraal to Utrecht Centraal via Gouda, Intercity (half-hourly service) – 55 km
  • Utrecht Centraal to Geldermalsen, Sprinter (10-20 minute service) – 26 km
  • Geldermalsen to Gorinchem, Stoptrein (half-hourly service) – 27 km
  • [lunch and walk in Gorinchem, distance not recorded]
  • Gorinchem to Dordrecht, Stoptrein (quarter-hourly service) – 24 km
  • Dordrecht to Rotterdam, Waterbus (hourly service) – 21 km

How I drew the map

I wasn’t about to draw the routes by hand (although I did record the Waterbus ride on Strava as a “sail”) so I grabbed the data from OpenStreetMap.

If you want data in bulk from OpenStreetMap a common way to get it is from the HotOSM export tool. But I wanted specific transit routes, for which I could find the “way” IDs and export only those. For that I used Overpass Turbo and wrote the following query:

[out:json][timeout:25];
// gather results
rel(id:324888,13060594,5301520,2785504);
way(r);
// print results
out geom;

Notes

Frequencies refer to the pattern in the hour I used the service. The itinerary doesn’t include a Rotterdam Metro ride or the roundtrip bike ride from the Schiebroek neighborhood to Rotterdam Centraal).

Starting on December 10, the NS (Dutch national railway operator) is adding over 1,800 train services each week.