Analyzing Private Investment in the CTA

Chicago Transit Authority's Potential for Joint Development

"Analyzing Private Investment in the Chicago Transit Authority: the Potential for Joint Development" was my thesis at the University of Chicago. I presented my work at the 2011 Transport Chicago Conference (June 3, 2011). My paper was published in the Chicago Studies Annual Journal, and won the public policy departmental prize for best undergraduate thesis.

>> Download the Chicago Studies paper | Transport Chicago slides

Executive Summary

With more than two thirds of the American population living in urbanized areas, there is an increasing need for comprehensive, efficient, and high quality public transit to ensure the vitality of cities. Yet, the insufficient capacity of the government to meet the increasing demand for public transportation requires a critical look at alternative tools that support mass transit. One strategy is joint development. Joint development is a public-private partnership at, adjacent, or near a transit facility in which the private partner(s) help offset the costs of improving a transit facility with the recognition that improved facilities can enhance the surrounding area. This strategy has proven successful in cities like Washington DC, but has not been adequately pursued in Chicago due to challenges unique to the CTA.

I argue that fostering joint development is a worthwhile goal in Chicago, as it will support public transportation and provide considerable benefits to the transit agency, the private partner, and the general public. I found that joint development has the potential to encourage transit usage, enhance property values around the transit improvement, spark new development or redevelopment, increase revenues, and support urban planning principles that improve urban form. While Chicago’s aging transit system faces unique challenges in leveraging private investment, these challenges can be overcome. The success of the CTA and Apple public-private partnership for the refurbishment of the North and Clybourn Red Line station demonstrates the potential of planning and implementing joint development projects in Chicago.

From my findings, I make five recommendations to make joint development a more attractive and viable option in Chicago: 1) adopt formal, yet flexible, joint development guidelines or policies; 2) support private sector participation through workshops; 3) explore opportunities within the zoning ordinance to encourage more investment in transit; 4) encourage the new transportation authorization bill to incorporate policies for joint development, value capture, public-private partnerships in transit, and transit-oriented development; and 5) open public forums to foster communication about joint development deals.

Mass transit is plagued with problems that no single solution can remedy. While I find that joint development cannot solve all the challenges of mass transit, it is certainly a worthwhile means to support the lifeblood of America’s urbanized societies. Only through the pursuit of multiple strategies that support mass transit, like joint development, can the nation’s valuable transportation network thrive for ages to come.