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Leverage the transportation network to promote inclusive growth

Leverage the transportation network to promote inclusive growth

In metropolitan Chicago, black and Hispanic residents experience persistent disparities in employment, health, educational attainment, and income. These negative outcomes are worst for black residents, who also endure longer commutes than residents of other races or ethnicities. These residents are more often transit dependent, yet many must commute to jobs located far from frequent transit service. At the same time, these same residents tend to have limited employment opportunities within their own communities. Challenges are compounded for residents with disabilities, who have an unemployment rate that is twice that of those without disabilities. A significant number of people with disabilities cite lack of transportation as a barrier to employment.[1]


Analysis shows that high levels of economic inequality are limiting our region’s ability to grow. Long-term regional economic prosperity requires that we address these issues and take action to increase opportunity and improve quality of life for all residents. Transportation can play a role in creating pathways to opportunity for low income communities and people of color. Working with stakeholders, CMAP has identified EDAs to focus planning efforts and policy recommendations. Many residents of EDAs have limited options for transportation that would efficiently connect them to economic and other opportunities. This is particularly true for residents living in EDAs in the city of Chicago, where access to transit options does not always ensure access to jobs within a reasonable travel time. CMAP research shows that just 9 percent of residents in South and West side Chicago EDAs are employed nearby, compared to the economically connected areas of the city where 72 percent of residents live near their jobs.[2]


Low income residents in the Chicago region use all modes of transportation to get around and are more likely to use active modes of transportation to get around than higher income residents. It is especially important to ensure equitable access to safe pedestrian and bicycle pedestrian facilities for low income residents.

Meaningful progress toward achieving increased access to opportunity can only happen with intentional coordination among public and private actors to leverage technology, improve outreach and engagement, and direct transportation investments where they can have needed impacts.

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

Increase authentic, responsive engagement of underrepresented communities in planning and development

The state of the practice for outreach and engagement in transportation planning and programming processes has advanced significantly beyond 30-day public comment periods, one-time public hearings held in government offices, and public notices posted only in newspapers and on public bulletin boards. Technology has enabled new pathways for residents to connect with the people responsible for the transportation system, but many people continue to experience barriers to productively engaging with the public planning processes.


The demographics of those engaged in planning processes may not necessarily reflect the demographics of the affected community; often low income residents have work schedules that make participation in traditional planning processes difficult. Also, low income communities, people of color, and immigrants have valid and historic reasons to limit their exposure to government. And while the digital divide has narrowed in recent years, some populations continue to have inadequate Internet access. Therefore, it is increasingly important that CMAP and other transportation agencies redouble their public engagement. Practices to emphasize include exploring and deploying new culturally relevant outreach methods to assess the transportation-related needs, values, and attitudes among low income communities, people of color, and immigrants; allowing for more localized ownership of the planning process; and establishing performance measures that track progress toward reflecting community demographics. CMAP can leverage its role as a convener to collaboratively develop and disseminate improved practices in the region.

Build capacity for disinvested communities to develop, fund, and maintain transportation infrastructure

Some parts of the region were left behind by growth over many decades, often having lost substantial population, jobs, businesses, and resources. Promoting growth in these areas will require collaborative and comprehensive investment at all levels of government and civic organizations. Disinvested areas fully encompass the EDAs defined within ON TO 2050, while also including adjacent commercial and industrial areas that have experienced a loss of economic activity over sustained periods of time.

The local governments that serve disinvested areas tend to have lower staff and technical resources, due to lower tax bases and fewer financial resources available. This impairs their ability to maintain existing infrastructure and to access regional and federal transportation resources for reconstruction and improvement projects. Accessing these public resources requires not only matching local funds, but also significant and costly predevelopment investments such as feasibility studies and engineering, which may make projects infeasible for some low capacity municipalities. These communities also tend to have higher concentrations of low income households and people of color, further increasing disparities in transportation infrastructure.

Transportation funders should develop creative approaches to removing the financial barriers that prevent disinvested areas from accessing some transportation funding programs.

CMAP and partners should develop materials and trainings to help municipalities understand how their land use and transportation investment choices affect local revenues, user costs, and long-term maintenance expenses.

To overcome a lack of data and technical capacity to implement asset management, CMAP and partners should assist with transportation data collection and asset management pilot projects, eventually expanding to a region-wide program.

CMAP should research best practices and leverage its growing resources on age and condition of the region’s infrastructure to develop methods for municipalities to assess mid- and long-term impacts of major or cumulative development processes.

Improve commute options between disinvested areas and employment, education and training, and service opportunities

While investing in frequent service on high ridership corridors, transportation agencies must also find ways to improve mobility for low income residents and communities in areas with limited transit service or travel needs that are not well served by traditional transit options. Shared mobility and automated vehicle technologies have the potential to provide more frequent and direct service in low income neighborhoods, improving connections to jobs that may currently require long transit trips or connecting multiple modes. In some cases, the most effective mode of travel may be a personal automobile, and transportation implementers should consider ways to ensure equitable access to tolled facilities. For example, The Tollway developed I-PASS Assist to help income-eligible drivers to easily and affordably obtain an I-PASS. I-PASS Assist works like a standard I-PASS account, but allows eligible drivers to purchase at a discount of $20. CMAP can play a role in identifying gaps in the transportation system for economically disconnected communities, and work with public transit agencies and private sector partners to identify solutions.

Transit agencies should continue to work with local communities and the private sector to develop pilot projects that explore new methods of providing targeted, flexible and/or on-demand services that connect EDAs to suburban job centers and other destinations.

CMAP should take a leadership role to identify gaps in the transportation system for economically disconnected communities, articulating the individual, local, and regional growth benefits of better transportation connections and targeted infrastructure investments.

IDOT and the Tollway should implement policies that ensure equitable access to tolled facilities, such as "lifeline credits" that make a certain amount of toll credits available each month for lower income drivers.

Improve access to public rights of way for pedestrians, cyclists, and people with disabilities

People who rely on walking, bicycling, or wheelchairs need accessible pathways. Especially in suburban areas, low income residents are more likely to rely on low-cost modes than higher income residents to reach employment, services, and other destinations. When bicycling facilities and sidewalks are in need of repair, are missing, or are not designed for people with disabilities, they limit employment and other options for engagement in the community. Facilities must safely connect these communities to jobs, amenities, and the region’s growing bicycle network.


Making sure that public rights of way provide safe pathways for people using active transportation and people with disabilities is an important strategy for inclusive economic growth. While the U.S. Access Board continues to finalize federal Accessibility Guidelines for Pedestrian Facilities in the Public Right-of-Way (PROWAG) as proposed in 2011, U.S. DOT recognizes PROWAG as current best practice that some states have already begun incorporating into their own design manuals and other regulatory documents.

CMAP and IDOT should develop expertise in self-evaluations and transition plans for public right of way accessibility, and provide technical assistance to local communities.

IDOT and local agencies should ensure that sidewalks, pedestrian crossings, and bicycling facilities are as available and maintained as adequately in low income areas as in more affluent areas.

Transportation agencies should work in consultation with people with disabilities and the public agencies and NGOs representing their interests to ensure appropriate, inclusive accommodations are provided in all projects.

As part of project evaluation for bike and pedestrian investments, CMAP and other funding agencies should measure benefits to low income communities, people of color, and people with disabilities.

Transit agencies should continue to make progress toward universal accessibility of stations and work with local municipalities, counties, and the state to ensure accessible pathways to transit.

Assess the health impacts of substantial transportation and development projects

Health Impact Assessments (HIAs) are powerful tools for making informed decisions that improve public health through community design that can positively affect health equity. While Environmental Impact Statements have become standard procedure for making sound development decisions and protect environmental interests, HIAs are still underutilized in project selection and development. Effective use of HIAs highlights how specific developments affect health in certain populations, helping to address health inequities by prioritizing key transportation and infrastructure projects in disinvested communities. CMAP and partners should develop materials and trainings for local governments looking to conduct HIAs that use health equity concepts and goals in the planning and development processes of major transportation and infrastructure projects.


[1] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Persons with a Disability: Labor Force Characteristics Summary,” 2017,

[2] Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, “Travel Patterns in Economically Disconnected Area Clusters.”

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