Report Shows Chicago Driving Less, Using Transit and Alternatives More

Media Contacts
Dev Gowda

Driving Declines, and Biking, Public Transit Gain Among Largest in the Nation

Illinois PIRG Education Fund

Chicago – A first-of-its-kind report by Illinois PIRG Education Fund shows reduced rates of car commuting in Illinois’ urbanized areas — including Chicago — and greater use of public transit and biking.

“There is a shift away from driving in our cities here in Illinois and across the country,” said Dev Gowda, Advocate for the Illinois PIRG Education Fund. “We need to stop wasting money on new and expanded highways and invest instead in improving public transit and biking, which are growing around the country.”

“It’s encouraging that more people are able to enjoy the savings and health benefits of biking, walking and transit, but as one of the largest urban areas in the U.S., we should be far less dependent on cars,” said Ron Burke, Executive Director of Active Transportation Alliance, an advocacy group that works for cleaner, healthier transportation options in Chicagoland. “Our region is still mainly built around driving, and we’re saddled with a badly underfunded transit system that isn’t convenient for most residents.”

The report, “Transportation in Transition: A Look at Changing Travel Patterns in America’s Biggest Cities,”is based on the most current available government data. It is the first ever national study to compare transportation trends for America’s largest cities. Among its findings:

  • The proportion of workers commuting by private vehicle—either alone or in a carpool—declined in 99 out of 100 of America’s most populous urbanized areas between 2000 and the 2007-2011 period.
  • The percent of workers commuting by private vehicle in the Chicago urbanized area fell 2.1 percent between 2000 and the 2007 to 2011 period—the 30th largest reduction out of the 100 largest urbanized areas in the U.S..
  • The number of passenger miles travelled on transit per capita increased 2.6 percent in Chicago between 2005 and 2010.  Measured in terms of the number of trips taken on public transit per-capita, Chicago witnessed a 3.7 percent increase from 2005 to 2010—the 46th largest percentage increase among the 100 largest urban areas in that category.  
  • The proportion of commuters travelling by bicycle grew in Chicago, as it did in 85 of the most populous 100 urbanized areas between 2000 and 2010. In Chicago the increase was 0.3 percent, the 13th steepest in the nation out of the 100 largest urban areas in the category.
  • The proportion of households without a car increased 1.1 percent in the Chicago urbanized area between 2006 and 2011. This proportion fell in 84 of the largest 100 urbanized areas. Likewise, the proportion of households with two or more vehicles fell in 86 out the 100 most populous urbanized areas during this period, including Chicago, where it fell 2.2 percent. 
  • The proportion of residents working out of their home increased in all 100 of America’s most populous urbanized areas between 2000 and 2010, including in Chicago which had the 31st steepest increase among that group.

The study found that cities with the largest decreases in driving were not those hit hardest by the recession. On the contrary, the economies of urbanized areas with the largest declines in driving appear to have been less affected by the recession according to unemployment, income and poverty indicators.

“It’s time for politicians in Springfield to support transportation initiatives that reflects these travel trends,” said Gowda. “Instead of wasting taxpayer dollars continuing to enlarge our grandfather’s Interstate Highway System, we should be investing in the kinds of transportation options that the public increasingly favors.”

Across the nation, young people have shown the steepest reductions in driving. Americans 16 to 34 years of age reduced their average driving miles by 23 percent between 2001 and 2009.

“With transit ridership breaking records across the country, rising gas prices, and baby boomers and young people moving back to cities from suburbs, it is no surprise that people want to drive less,” said Christopher Ziemann, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Chicago Project Manager. “Common sense says that we need to invest in fast, reliable, transformative transit. Cities around the world, including Chicago, are successfully using Bus Rapid Transit to address the future and to maintain their competitive edge as 21st Century cities. The Central Loop BRT and the Ashland Avenue BRT projects are two world-class examples of how Chicago is working to make downtown and neighborhoods greener, more connected and more attractive to current and future residents and businesses who either cannot or do not want to drive as much as before.”

“The large, recent increase in Chicago bike commuting shows that a 21st century city must provide transportation choices to be competitive,” said Ed Barsotti, Executive Director of League of Illinois Bicyclists.  “The large, recent decrease in both federal and state grants for local bikeways is a double whammy, at exactly the wrong time.”  

“Working Bikes has definitely noticed and benefitted from an increase in biking in recent years,” said Marie Akerman, Communications Coordinator at Working Bikes. “In 2013 alone, we’ve seen Divvy stations pop up within blocks of our shop and have launched our first bike education programs for youth. This growth is important because bikes change communities. Biking invites people to explore their neighborhood and get to know their neighbors. Biking promotes health by providing a source of exercise, reducing pollution, and necessitating improvements to infrastructure. In other words, Chicago’s biking boom is strengthening our communities and we’re excited to be a part of this change.”

Download the report, “Transportation in Transition: A Look at Changing Travel Patterns in America’s Biggest Cities” here.

To read an earlier Illinois PIRG Education Fund report on the implications of the national decline in driving, download, “A New Direction: Our Changing Relationship with Driving and the Implications for America’s Future” download here.

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Illinois PIRG Education Fund works to protect consumers and promote good government. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public, and offer meaningful opportunities for civic participation.