Update on CN freight traffic on the EJ&E

The purchase of the EJ&E railroad tracks by Canadian National in 2008 was contentious in a number of Chicago suburbs. Here is an update on freight figures as the federal requirement that CN report data to local communities has ended:

Freight trains on the old EJ&E tracks have spiked from about four or five daily to 19 or 20 in communities stretching from Lake Zurich to Barrington and West Chicago.

But municipalities such as Buffalo Grove and Des Plaines are getting fewer trains. There were 3.6 freights a day in November compared to 19 before the merger as CN moved trains to the EJ&E tracks, which form a semicircle along the North, West and South suburbs…

Barrington and the Illinois Department of Transportation, with support from U.S. Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, want to extend the oversight period by two years and get CN to chip in for an underpass at Route 14. The underpass will allow ambulances to reach Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital quickly and prevent traffic backing up, Darch said…

The freight train increase is no surprise and is below projections on average, the railroad has stated.

Looking back, it appears that the train traffic has shifted further away from the Chicago. This was the original plan as so many tracks and trains go through the Chicago region that congestion is a major issue. For the whole region, this changed freight train pattern is probably a good thing. But, if “all politics is local,” this may be truest in suburbs where any perceived negative change – such as an increase in trains – is seen as destroying an idyllic locale where homeowners have invested much money.

Apartment construction increases in the Chicago suburbs

The construction of apartments in the Chicago suburbs reached some high marks in 2016:

Meanwhile, in the suburbs, more apartments were opened last year than in any time in the past 20 years and demand for those units meant suburban rents grew more than the increases downtown, according to research by Appraisal Research Counselors…

The rents in new or almost-new units in the suburbs increased 6.7 percent in 2016, while they increased just 2.85 percent downtown, according to Appraisal Research. The median rent was just $1.39 per square foot in the suburbs in 2016, while downtown it was $2.89 a square foot for space in a newer building. In other words, for 1,000 square feet a renter would pay on average $1,390 in the suburbs and $2,890 for one of the new downtown apartments. An older but well-kept Class B building downtown would be $2.52 a square foot, or $2,520 for 1,000 square feet…

The strongest occupancy in 2016 was in DuPage County, with 95.7 percent of the apartments full and the median price of a two-bedroom apartment at $1,315. Northwest Cook County was 95.4 percent full with a two-bedroom apartment averaging $1,390. The weakest area was the North Shore at 93.8 percent occupancy and a two-bedroom apartment at $2,446…

“From Schaumburg to Naperville, you are starting to see new construction,” said Stephen Rappin, president of the Chicagoland Apartment Association. It’s a trend that’s occurring nationally after the surge of construction in downtown areas.

This is where the debate between whether cities are growing or suburbs will win the day breaks down. What if the American future is denser suburban development and a shift away from single-family home ownership even as people stay in the suburbs? This would represent a change from “typical” suburban life – single-family home, lawn, lots of private space – while better mimicking some urban conditions such as denser housing, renting, and giving up a home to be near certain amenities.

As this article suggests, it is not surprising that the suburban apartment demand would be high in places with more economic and quality of life opportunities, places like Schaumburg and Naperville that have little greenfield space but where people would still want to live. Just like Chicago where apartment construction has boomed in the Loop but lagged elsewhere, a similar process will likely take place in the suburbs. This may be good for developers since there will be high demand for certain places but isn’t necessarily good for aiding issues of affordable housing.

Highlights from Chicago region commuting report

Here are some highlights from a new Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning report on commuting:

Here’s what you may not know: DuPage County has the highest percentage of residents (5.7 percent) using Metra. DuPage beat out suburban Cook (4.6 percent), even though Cook has more rail lines…

A one-way commute for white or Hispanic workers was 29 minutes compared to 31 minutes for Asians and 35 for blacks…

During the morning rush at 8 a.m., 39 percent of trips in the region were to jobs, 21 percent were school-related and 34 percent fell into an “other” category. Those include shopping, errands, recreation or personal business.

But by 5 p.m., that “other” category surged by 33 percent. That means instead of going straight home, thousands more vehicles are on the roads during the evening rush headed to a variety of destinations or making multiple stops.

There is a lot going on with daily trips within a region with over 9 million residents. It is a complex system involving multiple modes of travel – driving (solo or carpooling), trains, buses, bicycles, and walking – across a lot of land. Given the number of ways things can go wrong, such as accidents between vehicles, perhaps it is impressive how well it works (or how much we all put up with it).

Two additional thoughts or things I would highlight:

  1. Look at the interactive map of trips by time of day. Couldn’t a lot of problems be resolved if fewer people were traveling between 7-9 AM and 3-6 PM? I know people have proposed staggering work times but this could be a much easier fix compared to keep expanding max capacity (particularly on roads, where adding more lanes just leads to more traffic).
  2. The larger number of trips in the United States take place between suburbs. A lot of attention in Chicago is focused on suburbs to the city but there is a lot that could be improved in moving people throughout the region.

Prediction that the 2017 housing market in the Chicago region will be country’s worst

Realtor.com just released a prediction that the Chicago housing market will not do very well next year compared to the country’s other largest markets:

Both prices and sales will increase, but at a stunted rate compared with other areas, according to a forecast by Realtor.com, a website for the National Association of Realtors. The prices of homes throughout the Chicago metropolitan area are expected to climb just 1.95 percent, and sales of new and existing homes are expected to increase 2.27 percent…

Chicago’s problem is a combination of slow growth in both population and jobs, said Jonathan Smoke, an economist at Realtor.com. The area’s population is expected to increase only 1 percent next year.

Given the size of Chicago, the city should be among the nation’s top three markets for job creation, Smoke said. Instead, Chicago is ranked eighth, with job growth much stronger in areas such as Dallas and Phoenix…

Nationally, Chicago has been among the slowest areas to recover from the housing market crash. According to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Index released this week, Chicago’s home prices on average remain about 20 percent below July 2007 levels. Meanwhile, the average price for the largest 20 metropolitan areas is now above pre-crash levels.

Not good news for a region that is still the third largest in the country but suffers from a number of problems: its central city is losing residents, the state government is a mess with no long-term budget deals in sight, it doesn’t seem to have enough innovative companies or industries, and there are negative perceptions about violence. Add a slow housing recovery and both the people living there as well as those who might consider moving there may not see much to celebrate.

Actually, this is an interesting question to consider: what positives would Chicago region residents note compared to other regions? What would attract those who have the ability to choose where they want to live? Chicago may be an important global city but it doesn’t want to slowly slip into being a center solely for the Midwest.

One important trait of the Chicago region isn’t going away anytime soon: even in the world of the Internet and jet travel, it has a prime location in the middle of the United States and is a key piece of many transportation and freight networks.

Chicago suburbs largely go for Clinton

Bucking historical trends, all but McHenry County in the Chicago suburbs went for Hillary Clinton.

The Democratic Party of DuPage got a sudden influx of young foot soldiers, like organizer Alex Franklin, who campaigned for charismatic Democrat Bernie Sanders until the Vermont senator conceded to Clinton in July, then went to work for Clinton. Clinton won DuPage County by 14 percentage points on Tuesday.

“If you look at the holes right now, even where Democrats lost in DuPage there were absurdly high numbers, which are a direct result of the Sanders people and what we were doing out here,” said Franklin, of Glen Ellyn. He sees the merger of Clinton and Sanders supporters as the beginning of a beautiful friendship that will spill over into spring municipal elections…

This year, support for local candidates by minorities down ballot helped Clinton at the top of the ticket, experts said…

Shunning the New York billionaire might have cost Illinois Republicans down ballot, said Mark Fratella, a Trump delegate and Addison Township GOP organizer.

A variety of explanations. Yet, one is ignored here: the Chicago suburbs have experienced a lot of demographic change in recent decades: more non-white residents, more immigrants moving directly to the suburbs (rather than to neighborhoods of Chicago first), more lower and working-class residents. In other words, the images of Lake County and the North Shore or DuPage County as looking like Lake Forest, Highland Park, Hinsdale, Elmhurst, and Wheaton (all white and wealthy) simply do not hold.

A great graphic shows the change over time in recent elections:

Elections since 1960

The trends are clearly away from Republicans in the collar counties.

See earlier posts about presidential candidates fighting over the suburban vote here and here.

Illinois Tollway, Canadian Pacific Railroad fighting over railyard land

Both railroads and tollways are important in the Chicago region so which should get their way when they both want the same land?

The Tollway has already built part of I-390 with the intention of extending it east to O’Hare. A new tollway would meet I-390 and connect it north to I-90 and south to the Tri-State Tollway along the airport’s western border. The project is expected to cost about $3.5 billion…

In March 2014, Canadian Pacific asked for $114 million for land acquisition and improvements to its Bensenville yard. The Tollway wants to use about 36 acres of the yard for the highway project. But the Tollway said CP restricted Tollway access to the yard, interfering with its ability to study the area to respond to the offer.

Schillerstrom said that the Tollway presented plans that addressed the railroad’s operational and land acquisition worries in November 2015, but CP ended discussions and since then has not been willing to discuss anything…

“With $140 million in federal dollars already invested in the project, Sen. Durbin is concerned about Canadian Pacific’s newfound unwillingness to work with the Tollway and other stakeholders,” Marter said. “After years of working toward a mutually beneficial solution, the railroad’s about-face is troubling.”

I’m a little surprised the state let this go so long and/or they didn’t wrap this piece of the puzzle up before they put themselves between a rock and a hard place. I imagine the public might rally around the cause of the tollway here – the road could help a number of drivers – but CP is correct about the level of railroad gridlock in the Chicago region. Say more about this particular railyard here; the picture at the top highlights the size of the facility.

Might this call for some sort of deal where the land in this railyard is traded for some other land or access elsewhere in the region? One solution to railroad congestion is to funnel more traffic around the edges of the region.

 

A significant minority of Chicago area residents can’t find affordable housing

A new report suggests many Chicago area residents – poor and wealthier – have difficulty finding affording housing:

To identify “distressed homeowners and renters,” researchers used a housing rule of thumb that requires affordable housing to cost no more than 30 percent of a household’s gross income. In Chicago, 48 percent of people said they were devoting more than 30 percent of their income to rent or a mortgage. In the suburbs, 40 percent were stretching beyond the manageable 30 percent limit.

According to the research, 11 percent of households in Chicago had cut back on healthy food, and 12 percent had made cuts in health care to afford housing. Another 11 percent moved to less safe areas.

While the problem of finding affordable housing is most acute among people ages 18 to 34, African-Americans and households with incomes under $40,000, 49 percent of those in households with incomes over $75,000 said “it’s challenging to find affordable housing in my area.” Sixty-six percent of people with incomes under $40,000 noted the challenge…

In the Chicago area, 87 percent of adults said having stable housing that is affordable is a very important part of having a secure middle-class lifestyle, while 67 percent said it’s harder to afford stable housing than for previous generations.

Housing is crucial for many other areas in life as it influences daily well-being (do you feel safe?), schools that kids go to, amenities (local municipalities, recreation, retail, etc.) available nearby, what kind of neighbors you will interact with, commuting times, and more. So, if you don’t have the resources to live in a nicer community or have to stretch yourself, that will have consequences.

Is it time to reconsider the 30% rule? Of course, if you spend more than 30% on housing then you have to cut back elsewhere. But, given the housing bubble of the last decade and perhaps a new normal of higher rents and less new cheaper housing, perhaps Americans may have to devote more to housing in the future?