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Support development of compact, walkable communities

Support development of compact, walkable communities

ON TO 2050 carries forward the GO TO 2040 recommendation to build walkable communities with a variety of services, amenities, and transportation options. These places also often serve as vibrant nodes, offering community gathering spaces and a strong local identity. Continuing to support compact, walkable communities will help meet increasing demand for these places, support transit and existing communities, improve the health of residents, and broadly promote a high quality of life. Such places exist throughout the region, from suburban downtowns and small town main streets to urban neighborhoods.


In the future, more people might want to live in dense, walkable communities due to two key societal shifts. CMAP's Draft ON TO 2050 Socioeconomic Forecast Appendix estimates that the number of residents age 60 and older will nearly double between now and 2050.[1] As baby boomers downsize and our senior population continues to grow through 2050, many seniors might prefer places with accessible and walkable amenities.[2] At the same time, consumer preference surveys and recent home buying trends indicate a growing desire for mixed-use communities with walkable amenities in both urban and suburban areas.[3],[4] Density and pedestrian accessibility are also critical for an area's ability to support high quality transit service. The chart below illustrates a sea change in the types of housing being built in the region, moving from predominance of single-family detached units to an equal balance of the multi-unit developments more typically found in compact, walkable places.

CMAP anticipates continued technological innovations that will increase transportation options and improve connectivity between transportation modes. Increased data and communication technology will allow residents to use a bus for one leg of a trip, a shared bike for another, and a vehicle for yet another (see the recommendation to Harness technology to improve travel and anticipate future impacts in Mobility for more information). This increases transportation options, limits the need for a personal vehicle, and aids creation of walkable places. Recognizing the potential for such change, CMAP included Walkable Communities as one of the five Alternative Futures during ON TO 2050 plan development. Walkability varies widely across the region and different approaches will be needed to best improve the environment for pedestrians.


[GRAPHIC TO COME: Local Strategy Map interactive feature illustrating walkability levels in the region and best practices to improve walkability.]


Adaptation will be needed to ensure that compact places work for a range of modes and uses. Rapidly changing technology is resulting in multiple demands on the street and street edge. The popularity of online shopping has brought more trucks into all types of neighborhoods, at all times of day. Increased use of shared mobility -- from bikeshare to companies like Uber and Lyft -- has created competition for limited street frontage. While best practices exist for creating complete streets, minimizing parking demand, promoting compact development, and safely accommodating all users, the types of transportation uses and the types of places that people want are changing swiftly. Yet long-term policies and guidelines often still prioritize movement of automobiles over pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit without consideration of development context, contributing to a poor balance among competing users that can render a place less safe and inviting. By considering the full range of users and uses from the beginning of infrastructure projects, transportation implementers will be able to avoid unintentional conflicts, such as street furniture that makes it harder for a pedestrian or physically impaired resident to get to the bus. The City of Evanston took this “full range” approach when planning for Sheridan Road.[5] Improvements along the corridor included not only roadway resurfacing/reconstruction and the installation of new water main and storm sewer, but also numerous bicycle and pedestrian safety improvements.


[GRAPHIC TO COME: Rendering illustrating a streetscape adapted to new mobility options while preserving walkability and character.]


In addition to its negative impact on walkability, parking remains an important determinant of development outcomes. Too much parking reduces the space available for denser homes or businesses and may increase the overall cost of a development, while too little parking can limit access and potentially deter some types of investment. Pricing of parking is also a major part of the equation. Communities can price parking to increase local revenues and manage parking demand. Carefully planned and appropriately priced parking facilities can increase transit ridership, as shown in the graphic below based on the recent CMAP Transit Ridership Growth Study.[6] Overall, community plans must balance meeting parking needs and supporting all transportation modes in walkable places. Local governments, transit providers, counties, IDOT, CMAP, and others hold important powers that can be used to create the compact, walkable communities that many residents increasingly want.

 Note: the design of this graphic will be updated in the final plan


The following describes strategies and associated actions to implement this recommendation.

Adapt the street and sidewalk to emerging developments in transportation

Urban neighborhoods, suburban downtowns, and commercial corridors must serve many types of travel and uses, from pedestrians to trucks and from mom-and-pop stores to mixed-use developments. These interactions are becoming more complex due to online shopping and associated deliveries, increased biking and walking, and mobility innovations like ride hailing companies and dockless bikeshare. Transit vehicles, loading zones, bicycles, and parking all compete for dedicated right of way on the street network. Without careful planning, unintentional conflicts can arise on the street network and on the sidewalk, such as when street furniture or bike parking makes it harder for someone with disabilities to navigate, or for people to access bus stops.


Accommodating such varied needs in limited urban space is complex, but many solutions exist. Given the fast pace of change in mobility today, CMAP and partners can play a role in monitoring changes and establishing best practices for design, pricing, and shared uses. CMAP should work with communities to pilot new approaches and establish strategies to support public transit and preserve vibrant, equitable, accessible, and walkable communities. This strategy also appears in the Mobility chapter under the recommendation to Harness technology to improve travel and anticipate future impacts.

Improve safety for all users in downtowns and main streets

Walkable downtowns and community nodes require infrastructure that prioritizes safety and movement of pedestrians, bicyclists, and other vulnerable users. Providing a protected, friendly environment for all also promotes the success and vitality of placemaking and community building efforts. The region has implemented many best practices to promote safety. Pedestrian countdown signals, better road markings, protected left turn phases, designs that lower left turn speeds, and traffic-calming treatments all improve the safety of pedestrians at intersections, but more needs to be done. Roadway redesigns that lower speeds and allocate space to pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit -- often referred to as Complete Streets -- can maintain vehicular throughput while making roads safer for all users. Effective lighting, distinct pavement markings, improved signs, less complicated intersections, pedestrian refuge islands, and all-red clearance intervals can improve safety for all ages and users. The most effective pedestrian improvements require connectivity with surrounding developments to ensure functionality. Please see the Improve travel safety recommendation in the Mobility chapter for more information on safety across all modes.

Actively manage parking

The amount and location of parking influences the character, form, function, and flow of our communities. Too much or poorly designed parking can make walking and bicycling unpleasant and unsafe, add to flooding and pollution problems, make housing more expensive, and reduce transit use. At the same time, in some places, parking is necessary to support local businesses. Planning for parking needs and pricing parking to manage demand can support businesses, raise local revenues, and help create compact, walkable communities. Configuring parking appropriately can promote walkability and access. All day parking for employees, commuters, or residents can compete with the short turnaround spaces needed for many retail, restaurants, and services. Communities may choose to reconfigure existing parking to meet these varying needs.


Recognizing the importance of parking management, CMAP developed a Parking Strategies to Support Livable Communities Toolkit that encourages communities to consider a wider array of solutions than just adding more parking.[7] Valuable interventions include pricing on-street parking to manage demand in dense areas, reducing or eliminating minimum parking requirements, and setting maximum parking limitations in some locations. Through the LTA program, CMAP has also helped Berwyn, Hinsdale, and Wicker Park-Bucktown develop plans to identify and implement the right parking management practices for their neighborhoods. This strategy also appears in the Mobility chapter under the recommendation to Make transit more competitive.


Local governments should reduce or eliminate minimum parking requirements, or set maximum parking limitations in some locations, such as near transit.


Local governments should price on-street parking to manage demand in dense areas.


CMAP should monitor the implementation of active parking management approaches around the region to understand trends, approaches, and outcomes.


Local governments, CMAP, and Metra should analyze current and future parking supply and demand at rail transit stations to evaluate the potential for alternative land uses and parking allotments to enable transit oriented development (TOD).

Plan for transit-supportive land uses

The region cannot meet its transit ridership goals without supportive development near bus and rail. Linking transit, housing, and land use was a focus of GO TO 2040 and continues to be an important part of ON TO 2050. Planning for the complex, interrelated nature of these issues can bring many quality of life and economic benefits to the region. Yet, as highlighted in the ON TO 2050 Infill and TOD snapshot report, such linkages are only being created sporadically, which limit the potential positive benefits to bus and rail transit ridership.[8] As CMAP identified in the Transit Ridership Growth Study, the region is not on track to meet the transit use goals set in GO TO 2040. Placing housing near transit is critical, but emerging research shows that placing employment near transit may have an even stronger impact on the success of transit. Planning for bus and rail transit-supportive land uses must also involve enhancing pedestrian and bike connections to transit, thereby making it easier and safer for employees and residents near transit corridors to walk or bike to rail or bus stations. Pace has established transit supportive guidelines focused on non-rail transit in suburban communities. This strategy also appears in the Mobility chapter under the recommendation to Make transit more competitive.


Municipalities and counties should update plans, zoning codes, and development regulations to require greater densities and mixed uses near rail stations and along high-priority bus corridors with a preference toward employment rich land uses.


Roadway agencies and municipalities should require developers to consult with transit agencies to verify that proposed developments do not negatively affect existing or planned transit service.


Municipalities and counties should prioritize capital projects that enhance pedestrian and bicycle access to rail and bus service.


Transit agencies should strategically consider new transit investments, including bus and rail stops, which further the planning and development work of municipalities and counties.


CMAP and partners should offer additional consideration when allocating federal funding sources such as CMAQ, TAP, and STP for jurisdictions that actively plan for densities to support transit service.

Implement best practices in placemaking

Placemaking is a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design, programming, and management of community spaces that seeks to capitalize on local assets in an effort to improve quality of life. This includes spaces both public and private and devotes attention to elements that contribute to a sense of place including architecture, historic preservation, public art, street life, and others. Placemaking creates a welcoming environment and helps support meaningful social interaction. It improves feelings of comfort and safety, increases the visibility of vibrant community spaces, and enhances marketing, branding, and communication. When done well, placemaking efforts draw in both locals and tourists, thereby attracting additional investment and generating a sense of pride, helping to increase community engagement and participation. Though difficult to quantify, this sense of connection between people and the spaces they inhabit creates a region of vibrant communities.


Placemaking can come in many different shapes and sizes and is vital in small towns, suburban communities, and urban neighborhoods. Numerous placemaking best practices already exist in our region. Placemaking helps develop a stronger sense of community and build a better basis for future community outreach. This outreach benefit is multiplied when placemaking is inclusive, creating a space or event in which all can participate. The region’s best examples of placemaking are innovative, providing something unique that helps set apart a place and create a destination. The best examples are also continuous, places that open year round and have a strong long-term plan for programming and funding. For example, Three Oaks Recreation Area, near Crystal Lake, is a large-scale outdoor recreation facility created through the reuse of a former gravel quarry. While attendance is strongest in warm weather for watersports, beaches, and hiking, many of the quarry’s gravel mounds now serve as sledding hills, helping to attract visitors year-round. Communities in the region should use these best practices when undertaking their own placemaking efforts. To find more information, please see the ON TO 2050 Placemaking report.[9]


[1] Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, “Draft ON TO 2050 socioeconomic forecast,” 2016,

[2] Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, ”Aging in place white paper,” 2016,

[3] Urban Land Institute, “Housing in the evolving American suburb,” 2016,

[4] Braff, Danielle, “Chicagoland renters and buyers are itching for walkable suburbs. Enter 'surban.,” Chicago Tribune, May 17, 2018,

[5] City of Evanston, “Final phase of Chicago/Sheridan improvement project begins April 9,” March 27, 2018,

[6] Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, “Transit Ridership Growth Study, 2017,

[7] Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, “Parking strategies to support livable communities,” 2012,

[8] Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, “Transit Ridership Growth Study” 2017,

[9] Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, “Placemaking,” 2018,

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