Illinois’s Cook County, home to Chicago, has released a report that outlines its vision for transportation over the next 25 years. Connecting Cook County addresses the changing nature of transportation in the Chicago area. The last countywide strategic transportation plan was written 70 years ago. The new plan takes into account the latest in transportation technology, including bike shares, automated driving systems, and adaptive speed limits and tolls.
The plan was compiled with input from multiple public and private stake holders, as well as community members. Though Cook County is the second most populous county in the country, its entire transportation system is in need of repair and rethinking. An estimated 39% of the roads and highways in the county are either in “Poor” (7%) or “Fair” (32%) condition. Only 24% are considered in “Excellent” condition. The bridges of the county are not in much better condition; 45% are not in satisfactory condition. Estimates for bringing the entire system up to satisfactory condition are around $20 billion. None of the many organizations involved in transportation have those resources.
Connecting Cook County lays out the many complex aspects of the area’s current transportation situation. Every day residents take 19 million trips on the county’s 12,500 miles of streets and highways. The county’s five public transit systems serve 650 million passenger trips a year. Yet the nature of transportation in the county is changing, and the plan is taking account for modes of transportation that have not been accounted for in the past. Bike use has doubled in the past 15 years, and car sharing, ride sharing, and bike sharing didn’t even exist until recently. The plan also takes into account pedestrians, a far cry from many transportation plans that are strictly car-centric.
The plan, as a whole, prioritizes building a more diverse transportation system. “To successfully compete, the County must complement its extensive road network with improved transit and fully embrace other modes such as walking, biking, car sharing, and ride sharing,” reads the report. “Of these modes, public transit is the single-most important.” One of the main goals of the plan is to address “transit deserts” throughout the county. Most of these are in areas where everyone drives, or in under-served impoverished urban areas. The plan is careful to point out that transportation is not an end in itself: it’s a means to improve the economic strength of the region.
Connecting Cook County outlines the aspirations for the county over the next 25 years, but its success will be heavily dependent on the federal and state governments that control many of the roads in the county. The cities in the county also play an important role in the plan. Connecting Cook County is a much overdue step in rethinking transportation in the country’s third largest metro area, even if its efficacy may take as long to realize. The full report is available here.