CMAP’s new tool elevates the urgency for innovative transportation solutions

By Chris Spahr
While the state of transportation funding remains uncertain both at the national and state levels, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning is taking an innovative approach to bring public awareness to the degrading transportation infrastructure within the seven-county Chicago metropolitan region. CMAP spent $82,000 to design a website that uses an immense amount of transportation data collected by the agency to create user-friendly visualizations of the challenges facing regional transportation systems. Using interactive maps and visually appealing displays, CMAP identifies the difficulties faced by the freight industry, roadway users, and transit riders—highlighting congestion, bridge conditions, transit access, freight train crossing delays, and much more. The goal is to help the public and policy makers to understand transportation deficiencies experienced in the Chicago metro area. CMAP spokesperson Tom Garritano explains, “We think the public will support investment if they have confidence that it will be made with quantifiable benefits in mind.”

Highway Congestion (hours per weekday) Source: CMAP
Highway Congestion (hours per weekday)
Source: CMAP

While the interactive maps are beautiful and informative, some of the most powerful aspects include the statements that appear as the user moves through the website. These statements act as challenges to policy makers to take action in finding innovative solutions to some of the most pressing transportation challenges facing the region— solutions that are also proposed by SSTI in the most recent edition of The Innovative DOT. For example, when viewing the information on roads, the following statement appears:

The region must invest wisely because we cannot build our way out of congestion, which costs more than $7 billion each year in lost fuel and productivity.

And in a call to state policy makers to integrate land use and transportation decision making, CMAP offers the following recommendation:

Illinois needs to carefully target its infrastructure investments by integrating land use and transportation planning to pursue measurable objectives for reducing road congestion, increasing travel alternatives, and enhancing communities’ livability.

Whether CMAP’s new effort will stimulate policy makers to take effective action is still unclear; however, it is a clear attempt by CMAP to achieve its goal, according to Garritano, to “be as transparent as we can with public data.”
Chris Spahr is a Graduate Assistant with SSTI.