Achieving a safe and reliable system for tomorrow

Our region must take bold steps toward a well-integrated, multimodal transportation system that seamlessly moves people and goods within and through metropolitan Chicago.

Chicago transportation system from above.

Our region’s transportation network has reached a critical juncture. Travel patterns are being influenced -- and potentially transformed -- by rapidly evolving technologies that make for an uncertain and yet promising future. We cannot stand still, deferring important decisions that will shape the system for decades to come. In fact, while continuing to deal with past choices made or often deferred, our region must take bold steps both to address today’s problems and to anticipate opportunities for achieving a well-integrated, multimodal transportation system for seamless movement of people and goods within and through the seven counties of metropolitan Chicago.


Making this vision our regional reality will require collective action to overcome obstacles inherent to existing assets and organizations. While some strategies may require action from the state or federal governments, increasingly this region and its local governments must rely on each other for homegrown solutions, including the revenues necessary to support a system of mobility that is the engine of our economic prosperity and quality of life.


Transportation agencies and local governments will need to magnify coordination efforts and take swift action to adopt and regulate new technologies, make the transit system competitive and resilient against weather events, end fatal crashes, and advance inclusive economic growth. Crucially, they will need to create new revenue streams to improve conditions of the existing transportation system as well as to make limited and highly targeted expansions.


The three principles of ON TO 2050 are embedded throughout the Mobility chapter, which includes strategic recommendations to:

  1. Promote inclusive growth by improving mobility options that spur economic opportunity for low income communities, people of color, and people with disabilities.
  2. Improve resilience by ensuring that infrastructure can adapt to changes in climate and technology.
  3. Prioritize investment of limited resources to efficiently maintain existing infrastructure while securing new revenues for needed enhancements.

A modern multimodal system that adapts to changing travel demand


Each day brings new signs of profoundly shifting mobility patterns in the Chicago region and beyond. After decades in which automobile use increased consistently, the last decade has seen it remain relatively constant, while the other modes people use to get around have diversified. Transit ridership has also changed, with declining ridership in some areas and modes along with capacity-straining growth in others. Freight rail is also changing. Intermodal freight volumes that fell during the last recession have since rebounded significantly, with growth of some 30 percent between 2009-14. Biking, walking, and working from home are on the rise. In the years since GO TO 2040 was adopted, people have begun to take advantage of new, technology-enabled ways of getting around, including bike sharing, car sharing services like Zipcar, TNCs like Uber and Lyft, and microtransit services like Chariot and Via. Automated vehicles (AVs) are gradually emerging from the test tracks and onto streets and highways elsewhere in the U.S., with their advent here viewed as inevitable if not imminent. These still nascent technological trends will continue to intersect with economic and demographic shifts to transform how residents and businesses want to use the region’s transportation system in coming decades. Due to the many benefits of a vibrant multimodal transportation system, ON TO 2050 sets a target of increasing the share of commuters who travel to work by a mode other than driving alone, while doubling transit ridership. This requires changing the way that we build roads, transit, and our communities themselves. Our transportation agencies, local governments, developers, businesses, and residents must work together to make decisions and investments that help the system anticipate and adapt to changing travel demand.

Percent of trips to work via specific non-single occupancy vehicle modes
  •   Actual
  •   Target (dashed line)
  •   Work at home
  •   Walk
  •   Bicycle
  •   Public transportation
  •   Carpool
Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning analysis of seven county data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey.
Trips to work indicator.


A system that works better for everyone

Improving safety, resilience, and equitable access to the transportation system has long been a focus of transportation planning. Transportation implementers have made progress in collaborating across jurisdictions to ensure better results both locally and regionally, but only through concerted, coordinated effort can we holistically improve the transportation system for all users. This includes wide ranging and interconnected issues such as bicycle and pedestrian safety, access to economic opportunity for low income and minority residents, expanded travel options for seniors and people with disabilities, and the adaptations necessary to respond to a changing climate. CMAP and its partners should emphasize these factors in making decisions about the transportation infrastructure that is central to economic prosperity and quality of life across all seven counties and 284 municipalities of metropolitan Chicago.

Making transformative investments

Northeastern Illinois needs to invest in maintaining and enhancing the transportation system to keep up with demand and promote regional economic vitality. Today’s investments must make the current system work better for everyone, while also preparing for future mobility influenced by new data and communication technology, private mobility services, and increasingly multimodal trips. At the same time, transportation dollars are scarce. Performance-based funding promises a more accountable process for programming transportation projects that meet current needs and address priorities like reinvestment, inclusive growth, and climate resilience. The region’s transportation implementers, from local governments to state agencies, should continue to implement data-driven programming practices that emphasize selection of projects that meet clear regional objectives for transportation, land use, environment, and the economy.

Yet traditional transportation revenue sources can no longer keep up with increasing costs. Without additional, sustainable revenues, the region will be unable to maintain the system in its current state of repair, let alone implement needed enhancements or expansions. Forecasted revenues from existing sources and additional reasonably expected revenues together make up $517.7 billion in revenue available through the year 2050. Of this, 94 percent is needed to operate and maintain the system in its current condition. The remaining 6 percent will be available for improving the system's condition, building regionally significant projects, and making other systematic enhancements -- smaller projects like intersection improvement, bike trails, accessibility improvements, and safety counter-measures that are nonetheless critical to make progress toward a seamless, multimodal transportation system -- while meeting the federal requirement of fiscal constraint.