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West Cook County COD+TOD Report

Leveraging Transportation Assets to Foster Livable Communities

In the Chicago region, as in most US metropolitan areas, the dispersal of businesses and residents from settled communi­ties to greenfield developments has created a number of socioeconomic and environmental challenges. The growth of employment centers in exurban areas inaccessible by mass transit creates strains on municipal infrastructure, depletes farmland and natural resources, increases regional conges­tion and pollution from cars and trucks, and exacerbates a jobs-housing mismatch as workers must drive farther and pay more at the fuel pump. These trends can be countered by creating more jobs, housing, and amenities near well-established passenger and freight transportation infrastruc­ture in the west Cook County suburbs. 

The Sierra Club reported that between 1970 and 1990, the Chicago region’s population increased by 1 percent while its urbanized area rose by 24 percent. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) found that these lopsided increases in population growth and land consumption moder­ated during the 1990s as countervailing trends set in, but the region’s density levels have continued to fall. This aggressive consumption of land has occurred for industrial and logistics uses as well as residential and commercial expansion. 

Clustering of industrial and logistics businesses near multiple freight assets and skilled workers, allowing for more efficient cargo movements and worker commutes
A mix of residential, commercial, civic and/or recreational spaces within a convenient walk or bicycle ride of public transit
Location-efficient areas provide residents, workers, and visitors without cars greater access to amenities, employment, education, recreation, and other opportunities. Mixed land uses, a pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly street network, and convenient mass transit allow households to save money that would otherwise be spent on gas and other car-related expenses. Similarly, manufacturers and logistics firms can practice location efficiency by locating near rail lines, expressways, suppliers, customers, trained workers, and intermodal facilities where trucks and trains exchange cargo, thus reducing trucks’ trips and employees’ commutes.

A trade publication of the commercial real estate industry, “Chicago Industrial Properties,” reported that the amount of land developed for industrial and logistics use in the Chicago region doubled between 1987 and 2007, years when industrial production was declining as a percentage of regional gross product. If these jobs continue to be created in greenfields lacking convenient transit access, lower-income workers will be at a particular disadvantage as they must make longer and more-costly car trips to access employment. 

CMAP projects that by 2040 the population of the Chicago region will grow by 24 percent—approximately two million residents—with the regional economy expanding even faster. If these increases are to occur without absorbing the remain­der of the region’s natural land, growth must be channeled to vacant or underutilized properties in previously developed communities, through a process generally known as infill development. This analysis explores opportunities to capi­talize on infill opportunities in thirty-six towns in west Cook County, and finds strong potential for both Cargo-Oriented Development (COD) and Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) projects.

TODs integrate dense housing with commercial, recre­ational, and institutional uses, all within walking distance (less than a half mile) of a transit station, allowing residents and workers to make many daily trips without a car. CODs are clusters of industrial and logistics businesses located near multiple freight assets and resources, including railroads, intermodal terminals, truck routes, suppliers, customers, and skilled workers. COD allows companies to move freight as far as possible via the most energy-efficient mode and minimize the number and length of truck trips and worker commutes. 

Developing in more “location efficient” areas can reduce transportation costs for companies and households, while placing jobs in communities where they are needed, restoring prosperity to older neighborhoods, and creating a sustainable pattern of resettlement and reuse. COD and TOD can substantially reduce traffic congestion, which costs the region $7.3 billion a year in wasted time, fuel, and ecological damages; reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global climate change; and mitigate other sources of air and water pollution, such as soil erosion and stormwater runoff that are generated by typical truck- and car-oriented development patterns.

The west suburbs of Cook County possess abundant TOD and COD assets, including passenger and cargo rail lines, extensive bus routes, pockets of dense housing, intermodal freight terminals, a strong base of industrial and logistics businesses, and community colleges that can train unemployed or underemployed industrial workers. These strengths can be leveraged to generate new sources of public and private funding, retain and attract industrial firms and retailers, increase job access near transit, reduce car and truck traffic, and stimulate greater collaboration between neighboring communities to create a more sustainable, prosperous region.