Community sidewalk coverage varies by community age, density, and transportation network but investment opportunities exist throughout the region
During the development of ON TO 2050 it became clear that a critical component of measuring a community’s walkability was missing — there was no regional data on sidewalks. To promote the strategies that support the development of walkable communities, CMAP released the region’s first comprehensive inventory of sidewalks across the seven-county region.
Using the publicly available Illinois Roadway Information System highway data and Nearmap aerial imagery, CMAP analyzed approximately 30,000 miles of roads in Cook, DuPage, Will, Lake, Kane, and McHenry Counties to determine the existence of sidewalks on one or both sides of the street. Road types included in the sidewalk inventory range from local roads to collectors and arterials. Local roads primarily provide access to private property while collectors and arterials have faster moving traffic, serve commercial centers in urban areas, and act as corridor connectors in more rural areas. Interstates, freeways, and expressways were not included in the dataset.
CMAP’s new inventory provides insight for the first time into sidewalk coverage across the region. As expected, the urban core has the most continuous area with nearly full sidewalk coverage, with less coverage further out into the region. However, clusters of high sidewalk coverage are seen near denser, older suburban municipalities that were developed before the widespread use of automobiles. The data show that the median sidewalk coverage in the region for municipalities is 59 percent. More rural counties, like Kendall and McHenry, have both the lowest proportion of local roads and streets with sidewalks on one or both sides. Due to low density and high traffic speeds on many of these roads, this brief focuses on where improvements will be most effective, specifically where sidewalks can best connect pedestrians with transit and other amenities.
Within the City of Chicago, 46 out of the 77 community areas have sidewalks on one or both of 95 percent of streets. The community areas with less coverage tend to be clustered and may have less coverage for a variety of reasons. For example, sidewalk coverage is low in many areas with high industrial land use. On the far South Side, the lowest coverage in the city is found in the Hegewisch, South Deering, Pullman, Riverdale, and East Side community areas. These neighborhoods have a large proportion of arterial roads in the industrial zone by the Illinois International Port District that lack sidewalks. There are also a number of local roads without pedestrian infrastructure. Conversely, other areas in Chicago have less sidewalk coverage due to the presence of recreational open space. On the far northwest side, the Jefferson Park, Forest Glen, Norwood Park, Edison Park, and North Park community areas have lower sidewalk coverage compared to the rest of the city. This is due to a number of local roads running alongside Caldwell and LaBagh Woods that lack sidewalks since the adjacent forest preserves have extensive trail networks.
New data reveal opportunities to connect sidewalks in walkable areas
As part of the development for ON TO 2050, CMAP created a local strategy map of walkability in the region. While many measures of walkability exist, CMAP relied on the theory that walkability exists when four conditions are met simultaneously: 1) the walk is useful (access to a destination or attraction), 2) the walk is safe and feels safe, 3) the walk is comfortable, and 4) the walk is interesting. CMAP incorporated data like the location of amenities such as supermarkets, schools, libraries, and transit availability alongside data on safety, population and job density, and the built environment.
Safety, accessibility, and design of pedestrian facilities are key factors that determine residents’ desire and ability to walk. ON TO 2050 puts forth that a combination of moderate- to high-density housing, amenities, public transit and transportation options, as well as ample employment opportunities are key components of walkable places. The addition of CMAP’s new sidewalk inventory allows a closer look at the assumptions from this previous body of work and identify strategies for communities based on regional data.
Highly and very highly walkable areas are typically found in urban neighborhoods and suburban downtowns. The region’s moderately walkable neighborhoods are found scattered across the South Side of Chicago, within the inner ring suburbs of Cook County, and adjacent to suburban downtowns and Metra stations. Pedestrian improvements in these somewhat walkable areas can be effective when they provide needed connections to transit, jobs, as well as mixed-use amenities.
Areas of low walkability are found in other suburban and rural residential areas that may lack a true grid system and rely heavily on collector and arterial streets to gather and funnel vehicle traffic from residential areas. Where possible, pedestrian networks in these areas can provide connections within neighborhoods and between neighborhoods and any adjacent commercial areas, schools, or parks.
Sidewalk gaps in highly walkable communities
CMAP’s newly released sidewalk inventory can be combined with the existing walkability analysis to highlight areas where the addition of sidewalk infrastructure can be most effective. Combining the two datasets shows that areas that are highly and very highly walkable have an average of at least 95 percent coverage on one or both sides of the street, indicating that the sidewalk network is likely sufficient for pedestrians to reach desired destinations and transit. Sidewalk improvements in these areas may not be necessary given current coverage.
However, there are some outliers. About five percent of highly and very highly walkable areas are missing sidewalks on 20 percent or more of their streets. The map below shows that these areas are concentrated in inner suburban Cook County, particularly along the northern border with Chicago, as well as central areas of Elgin, Joliet and the border between Elmhurst and Villa Park in DuPage County. Such areas can pose threats to safety, as they are in locations with numerous destinations and have relatively high population and/or job density, yet the sidewalk network may not connect critical pedestrian routes. These are areas, identified in the map below, where investment in sidewalks and pedestrian infrastructure can go a long way to completing an existing but inadequate sidewalk network.
Sidewalk gaps in moderately walkable communities
Eleven percent of the region is considered moderately walkable based on the ON TO 2050 walkability strategy map. Of the moderately walkable areas, seven percent are missing sidewalks on 80 percent or more of all streets, exclusive of freeways, expressways, and interstates. This finding indicates that despite the presence of the types of attributes that may make an area attractive for walking, there is likely no basic established sidewalk network in these areas.
Adding to pedestrian infrastructure in areas that have inadequate coverage can help close accessibility gaps between residential and commercial areas, enabling walking connections to transit and other destinations. Moderately walkable areas that pose the most opportunity for sidewalk investment, as shown in the map below, are spread across the region but cluster near municipal boundaries, with a high concentration in south suburban Cook County. Constructing even a basic sidewalk network in these areas could incent walking given the moderate density, numerous local destinations, and access to transit as identified in the previous walkability map.
There are a number of barriers local jurisdictions may face to build and connect adequate sidewalk networks in areas with modest density. The right-of-way of some facilities may not lay with a municipality, complicating the planning and construction of sidewalks within a given community where there is a desire for more pedestrian infrastructure. Additionally, along corridors that span municipal borders, it may be difficult to coordinate a continuous sidewalk network that effectively connects pedestrians with key amenities. Challenges like these may stymie efforts to establish basic sidewalk networks in communities with appropriate land uses and density, such as those identified as moderately walkable in the ON TO 2050 strategy map.