Fixing Chicago's Transportation


Dissecting the transportation inadequacies that presently face urban areas is crucial for enhancing modern transportation systems so as to make them more equitable and environmentally sustainable. In this essay, we shall take a utilitarian approach to transportation, thus assessing how transportation serves the community at large.

Chicago, a city with noticeably decaying and unequal modes of transportation will be the perfect case study for our discussion.
Clearly, access to quality transportation has become increasingly rare and seems to only benefit the upper middle class and higher-income citizens.
In this essay, I will argue that the current neoliberal economic models of transportation must be refined so as to provide affordable, flexible, and environmentally sustainable public transportation to all of Chicago’s citizens.
Considerable inequities in Chicago’s transportation system manifest apropos an uneven distribution of user benefits, in space and by network type (Martens, K., Golub, A., & Robinson, G. 2012).
For instance, deep rooted class inequalities in the Chicago area are best illustrated by the contrast between Metra and Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) services. Specifically, the Metra is the commuter train that provides service outside the city to richer suburban areas, thus, it is more expensive, cleaner, and safer than the CTA.
In fact, you can even eat and drink on it. This illustrates to us the reprehensible income inequalities along Chicago city boundaries and how transportation is often a physical manifestation of these inequalities.

Walzer’s “Spheres of Justice” — which defines the benefits of transportation access as a sphere deserving a separate, non-market driven, distribution — is a useful framework for addressing these rampant transportation inequalities in Chicago.


Regarding this transportation distribution, a maximum gap between the lowest and highest accessibility, both by mode and in space, should be limited, therefore maximizing average access for citizens.


The disparities between the neighborhoods with the lowest and the highest level of access should remain within a predefined range, as should the gap between car-owning and car-less households residing in the same area.


These goals and initiatives serve the purpose of yielding the highest possible average access levels across neighborhoods and mode-related groups, thus creating new principles of transportation based on social justice.


A transportation distribution like this would contrast the reprehensible transportation inequalities in Chicago that come as a direct result of Laissez-Faire crony neoliberalism that yields a decaying and dismal transportation infrastructure that is often distributed unevenly among the general citizenry.


Neoliberal urbanization has transformed the role of public transportation into a mere entrepreneurial mechanism that creates place-based advantages for capital in global cities (Farmer, S. 2011).


For instance, new transit-construction projects focused on Chicago's downtown, like the Central Express Airport Service and Circle Line only serve the purpose of attracting global capital and enhancing rich residents' and tourists' rights to the city, thus shunning the transportation needs of poorer Chicagoans. It is the poor residence of the Chicago Metro area that ultimately pay the price of these often-unnecessary Neoliberal experiments.

A complete lack of new public transit investments in areas outside of Downtown and a declining level of service undoubtedly creates a network of unreliable transportation infrastructure that drastically limits poorer people's rights to the city.
The lack of innovative, sustainable and accessible public transportation options in the Chicago Metro Area illustrates to us the negative byproducts that the rise of American suburbia has on the poor and communities of color.
American Suburbia, which becomes prevalent in the 1970s, is the epitome of neoliberalism’s deregulatory moment, in the course of the protracted unwinding of metropolitan Keynesian economic models (Peck, 2011).

Chicago is a timely illustration of the decay of Keynesian economic models in favor of a more Neoliberal approach to economic policies (Addie, 2013). The decaying regionalism that manifested as a direct result of Neoliberalism in Chicago symbolizes to us the dangers of political fragmentation and weak relations between cities and suburbs — and how these relationships produce negative byproducts for communities of color and the poor.

A suitable illustration of the negative effects of suburbanization that was curated by Laissez-faire Neoliberalism is the gradual decay of the CTA, which sees falling ridership by the mid 1990’s — likely due to the fact that it gradually became a rapid transit system that was unable to reroute people to employment destinations.
This illustrates the dangers of Laissez-faire Neoliberalism, which creates urban sprawl and suburbanization that negatively effects city transport systems.
This phenomenon highlights to us the need for mega cities like Chicago to focus more on making cities safer, accessible and attractive to residents as well as investors so as to prevent urban sprawl.
The rise of Neoliberalism in Chicago has curated suburbanization, thus disincentivizing the need for sustainable, affordable and accessible public transportation — while simultaneously emphasizing the need for infrastructure for those who are able to afford personal vehicles.
Funds for transportation often focus more on suburban highway construction, which causes job sprawl, thus negatively affecting poor areas as well as areas with People of Color (Bullard, 2003).

Transportation projects have physically cut wide paths through neighborhoods with poor folks and People of Color, thus physically isolating residents, businesses and institutions.


This causes a noticeable decay in infrastructure, safety and environment in these communities.


This physical dislocation is an obvious result of the Neo-liberalization of the American Urban system — which leads to phenomena such as gentrification. For instance, Logan Square and Wicker Park are notable gradients of gentrification.


In the case of Wicker Park, the construction of the Kennedy expressway in the 1960s results in mass displacement of people of color like Latino’s (Bayne, M. 2019).


These enormous highway projects often segregate residence of Chicago based on Race and Class. The disparities between areas divided by highways is especially omnipresent when contrasting White and Black neighborhoods on Chicago’s North and South sides.


For instance, take a look at the contrasts between the White and prosperous area near the Lakeshore Museum campus on the Chicago’s South Side and the crime filled and poverty-stricken African American neighborhoods near it.


This illustrates to us the role of urban planners in enabling segregation through highways, as well as how broader Neoliberalist policies fail to provide any sense of equity in the realms of transportation and housing.


From an environmental perspective, our current petroleum-based motor vehicle highway system is simply unsustainable due to the finite nature of petroleum reserves, air quality problems, global atmospheric problems, excessive fatalities, congestion and urban sprawl (Black, 1996).


Not only this, but congestion has been seen as a prevalent problem in major U.S cities like Chicago — hence, why less investment on Highway developments that encourage high levels of pollution should manifest.

Unfortunately, personally owned vehicles (POV’s) are the most popular form of transportation in the Chicago, with 61% of residence using them to get to work, as opposed to only 14% of Chicago citizens taking the railway to work(Schofer, Cohen, Gray, 2010).
In fact, the shifting of all work trips with both the origin/destination within 1 mile of commuter rail stations would potentially reduce the energy associated with all work-related POV driving trips by a maximum of 24%.
This symbolizes to us the need for the creation of new transportation services that are environmentally friendly and efficient, so citizens are not constantly stuck in traffic congestion that harms the commons.

The use of privately-owned vehicles (POVs) and their significant impact on U.S energy consumption (EC) and greenhouse gas emissions (GHGe), illustrates to us the negative effects of Neoliberalism on the commons — and how only affluent residence have the privilege to navigate Chicago and the suburbs around it with a car — which will eventually lead to a certain tragedy of the commons that will disproportionately disservice the poor.


As a result of this, it is in the best interest of cities like Chicago to invest in environmentally friendly bike lanes and walkways that are aesthetically pretty. Chicago should invest heavily in practical and environmentally friendly high-speed transportation solutions, such as electric buses.


The concept of electric buses as a means of mass transportation is a prospect that is both more environmentally friendly and efficient than the traditional and outdated Chicago CTA bus model.


To achieve this, mega cities like Chicago must expand the reach of railway and bus systems, so as to make using public transportation more convenient and sustainable for all residents.


Chicago should create special bus lanes for electric buses, which would dramatically increase the number of citizens who would take the bus as opposed to using their cars so as to avoid rush hour.


The environmental benefits of electric buses would be enormous. Specifically, the design of modern trolley bus operations overcomes the existing disadvantages of conventional busing systems using enormous amounts of fossil fuels (Kühne, 2010).


For instance, Germany is a modern example of an emission free and a low noise transit system. Likewise, options such as the trolley bus are cost effective and easy to integrate into an existing infrastructure, and they ease existing traffic for cities.


Structural changes to Chicago’s decaying infrastructure could be quintessential in restoring the city’s prestige, as well as unlocking its true economic and social potential by promoting modern service equities that launch the often-outdated city into 21st century modernity.


Chicago’s public transportation system demonstrates tension between city and suburbs that is often a cause of Neoliberal economic policies, thus illustrating the importance of political power, governance, and financing.


Multiple aspects of Chicago’s transportation apparatus need urgent reform, such as: the lack of coordination between land use and transportation, strong institutional support for local control, thus making it difficult to deal with growth issues that transcend local political boundaries, responsibility for transportation policy is divided among agencies, thus, none of these agencies can provide oversight over a viable and sustainable regional transport system (Hesen, 2004).

Chicago should return to its Keynesian roots and emulate the example of Toronto when reforming its transportation system.
Toronto holds a magnificent subway/streetcar/bus system — and transit mode share is high, even for trips like shopping (Cervero, 1986). So, this prospect raises the question: What exactly makes Transportation in Toronto so successful?
Toronto places a strong emphasis on comprehensive, regional planning and has uniformly higher population densities, due in part by the strategic siting of apartment buildings near railway stations.
Chicago should increase the reach of CTA trains, thus making it easier for travelers to get to their destinations in various undesirable climates.
Toronto has a larger concentration of regional employment in downtown areas, an absence of a federal freeway construction program and limits on downtown parking.
These are positive characteristics that would make Chicago into a more refined and bustling metropolis.
Toronto’s significant investment in public transit has proven to be an effective means of managing growth — thus, downtown has flourished and urban sprawl has been contained (Soberman, 1997).
The Toronto Transport Authority has much greater service than the CTA —and coupled with the careful integration of transit and land-use planning, Toronto illustrates to us a balance of equity and efficiency in the transportation sector.
The success of Toronto in the realm of transportation illustrates to us the importance of innovative approaches to transportation in the Chicago area. In order to maintain the sustainability of the Greater Chicago Area, public transportation services must improve considerably, and the usage of automobiles must decrease (Kennedy, C. A, 2002).
To achieve this, greater integration of bicycles is needed, as well as the construction of light rail systems in wide railways — but most importantly, a healthy and practical combination of mixtures and modes of transportation is crucial for a flexible and adaptable transportation system.
If Chicago continues to look for Neoliberal solutions to public service problems such as transportation, it will only deepen public service inequities. Take for instance Elon Musk’s new High-Speed Tunnel Project Proposal.
This project would transport citizens From Chicago O Hare into Downtown by loading passengers on pods that would transport them from place to place very quickly.
Although this project is a beautiful illustration of the use of entrepreneurial creativity and innovation in solving urban problems, it is simply unsuitable in the Chicago area and would be another mode of transportation that would only be enjoyed by the privileged.
The plan is simply far too expensive for the average citizen, as one trip on this avant garde contraption would supposedly cost 25$.
Instead of investing heavily in this project that is destined to only be utilized by upper middle class and higher income citizens, Chicago should instead invest in improving existing infrastructure, which is in desperate need for attention.
The private sector simply cannot solve the problems of an economically and racially segregated Chicago.
This paper has explored the role of Neoliberal economic policies in ensuring the demise of equitable transportation options in the Chicago land area.
The heavy emphasis on investments that only benefit car owners as well as the dislocation of poor residence due to highways has created a certain culture of severe inequity and inaccessibility in Chicago’s transportation infrastructure.
To combat these inequalities, I have mentioned numerous solutions that would create new environmentally friendly and equitable transport solutions and spaces.
Solutions mentioned above include the adaptation of new models and modes of transportation that would be based on social justice, as well as the adaptation of cheap and environmentally sustainable transportation options like new railway systems and electronic buses.
This essay outlines the dangers of the conflict between city and suburbs that is often a cause of Neoliberal economic policies, therefore reiterating the need for urgent local reforms that ensure the cooperation of cities and suburbs, as well as that of land and transportation.
I have reiterated the need for CTA services to be updated and more readily accessible to citizens, thus emulating the Canadian city of Toronto. Lastly,
I critiqued Elon Musk’s expensive Chicago Neoliberal transportation project “the hyperloop” as a further driver of the inequities I have attempted to name and remedy in this discussion.

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