Driving Ourselves Crazy: Easing the Chicago Region's Congestion Woes
By Tim Grzesiakowski and MPC Research Assistant Kevin Hawryluk
How often do you get out of your car after a particularly grueling commute, frustrated and stressed, and you haven’t even started your work day yet? You’re not alone—69 percent of Chicago area residents drive to work regularly because they feel that it’s the fastest and most flexible commute option available. In addition to creating gridlock and consequential stress, driving alone also contributes substantially to economic losses for businesses and governments, and environmental damage to the region.
Since late 2010, MPC has spearheaded a Commute Options pilot with 16 regional employers, surveying more than 6200 employees total on how they choose to get to work, and why. This pilot has enabled us to better understand these employees’ transportation needs and develop suggestions for the employers on how to address them. On Friday, Dec. 6, at noon, we will be celebrating the culmination of the two-year pilot by presenting our findings and recommendations for coordinated transportation demand management (TDM) in the Chicago metropolitan area.
So what is TDM? Transportation demand management is a strategy for reducing the number of commuters driving alone by promoting alternative transportation options, which include public transit, ridesharing, bicycle and pedestrian commuting, as well as marketing pre-tax transit benefits, promoting alternatives such as telework and flexible work hours and providing employers with information on alternatives to driving alone. Metro areas across the United States have developed TDM strategies that seek to reduce driving alone rates and expand alternative commute options.
Of the 10 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, the Chicago area is the ONLY one that does not have a comprehensive TDM strategy.
Although there may be a number of reasons TDM has not caught on in Chicagoland, in part it is likely due to our region’s host of partial programs. While several organizations including Metra and Pace have TDM efforts, there is no “one-stop shop” where commuters can find out all of the alternatives that exist. Gaps in service outreach and public education also create obstacles. As a result, TDM often becomes a low priority for many employers and employees alike.
On the upside, that means a little communication and education can go a long way. The Commute Options pilot helped many employers better communicate options to their employees, and many began offering new incentives as well. From pretax transit benefits, to emergency ride home programs, to employee telework policies, many changes and additions occurred as a result of the pilot.
We’ve learned that much needs to be done to address Chicago area commuting issues, and the very first act should be the formalization of a TDM strategy in the region. Well-coordinated, effective transportation management efforts will help Chicago and the surrounding area beat back congestion and economic waste, all while fostering a more dynamic and connected region. Join us this Friday, Dec. 6, for an engaging discussion on the future of TDM in the Chicago metropolitan area.
Photo Credit: Chicago and Traffic/shutterstock
Since 1934, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has been dedicated to shaping a more sustainable and prosperous greater Chicago region. As an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, MPC serves communities and residents by developing, promoting and implementing solutions for sound regional growth.
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