Transit-Supportive Land Use

Land use and transit are inherently linked. Active land uses foster more effective transit service, and transit mobility makes locations more viable for development. These guidelines recognize that market viability for specific uses, or levels of development intensity, vary across Chicagoland, as does the local tolerance for density. However, the following represent principles for land use and development intensity that, if appropriately implemented, would enhance transit performance and potentially justify increased levels of transit service.

Local Land Use

Transit service is most effective when coupled with specific types of local land uses. To provide mutual benefit for local transit users, business owners and Pace, municipalities should seek land uses that contain the following characteristics:

Preferred uses have a high population ratio compared to the size of the spaces they occupy. For example, manufacturing facilities tend to require large footprints but employ few people. This is a missed opportunity close to transit service. Instead, communities should target office, service, or residential uses that place more people closer to transit stops.

Preferred uses create consistent foot traffic and high levels of activity. Successful transit environments tend to support shopping, services, restaurants and other uses that generate frequent pedestrian traffic and spin-off investment. For example, quality retail draws people to local restaurants, and vice versa.

A preferred mix of uses creates activities at various times of the day. For example, office activity and some commercial services with regular office hours provide activity during weekdays. Residential and entertainment uses provide activity during evenings and weekends. Restaurants can then thrive since they are not relying on one service rush each day. Though it is unlikely to find a single type of use that generates activity throughout the day or week, the appropriate mix of uses can do so effectively.

Preferred uses align with the behaviors and patterns of transit riders. For example, large grocery stores are a necessary community-based land use, but transit supportive development must assume that many of their customers are walking home after shopping. Transit-based shoppers do not buy groceries for the week since they cannot carry them home. They may shop more frequently and buy less on each trip. The types of uses and formats of stores should be tailored to transit rider behaviors and preferences.

Preferred uses are not dependent on large areas of parking. Parking not only increases potential conflicts between motorists and pedestrians, but it also takes up significant pieces of land that could better support transit through active uses.

The following list includes a sample of transit supportive land uses. Other uses not on this list should be considered, assuming they meet the goals of local land use and transit supportive development:

  • Small lot single-family (<6,000 s.f. lots)
  • Townhouses
  • Multi-family buildings
  • Small grocers
  • Pharmacies
  • Hardware stores
  • Basic goods
  • Clothing and fashion
  • Home goods (delivery-based)
  • Medical/dental offices
  • Banking
  • Small professional services (i.e. architects, lawyers)
  • Dry cleaning
  • Daycare
  • Staff-intensive offices (i.e. customer service centers)

Transit-Supportive Mixed-Use

Mixed-use development is often used to attain the balance of activities that help create a transit supportive environment. Mixed-use development should be encouraged around transit corridors and nodes. Development should be configured to accommodate a variety of the uses described in the Local Land Use section above. Structures should also be designed to be flexible over time to respond to evolving markets. For example, a building with ground-floor retail may have upper story space that could serve as either office or residential based on the overall building footprint, access, and structural grid. Over time, space could change to maintain occupancy and market viability, which in turn helps sustain activities near transit.

Development Density

Increasing the level of density around transit service makes the service more viable and effective since there are more potential users and destinations in a smaller geographic area. However, attitudes toward density vary throughout the Chicago region. Municipalities should consider opportunities to increase development density around existing or planned transit services in such a way that development meets the goals of both enhanced access to transit and the preservation of community character.

The map to the right illustrates places in the Chicago region that have transit supportive residential densities based on the assumption that seven (7) dwelling units per acre are required to support basic bus transit service (source: APTA).

The images on the accompanying page illustrate regional examples of various transit supportive development densities and demonstrate how they are an integral piece in defining a positive local character.

Small-Lot Single-Family Housing of 7-10 units per acre may support basic bus service

Townhouses of 12-15 units per acres may support higher levels of bus service and concentrated mixed-use development

Multi-Family Housing of 15+ units per acre tends to support the highest levels of bus service and more extensive mixed-use development

Transit Supportive Land Uses Implementation Checklist

Guideline PrinciplesImplementation Tools
Target office, service, or residential uses that place more people closer to transit stopsLocal zoning regulations
Seek land uses that generate pedestrian foot trafficLocal zoning regulations
Pursue a mix of land uses that create activity at various times of the dayLocal zoning regulations
Encourage mixed-use development near transit nodesLocal zoning regulations, local incentive programs
Seek development densities that support transitLocal zoning regulations, local incentive programs