Chicago recently opened a new transit station in its West Loop neighborhood; the claims being made about its impact on economic activity are indicative of politicians and policy advocates perspectives on transport infrastructure and economic development. The Metropolitan Planning Council’s blog reports that “Google recently chose to relocate its Chicago office in the Fulton Market area of the West Loop because of public transit amenities, as in the new Morgan Street CTA station on the green and pink lines” and draws the straightforward conclusion: “It’s simple Chicago: Let’s grow our economy by investing in transit.” Okay….but is Google’s new west loop location more transit accessible than its former location in River North? If not, then Google probably did not relocate “because of public transit amenities”.
Using Mapnificent ( a wonderful mapping program for public transit trips), I calculated the distance one could travel in 15, 30 and 45 minute increments using public transit from Google’s current location (20 W. Kinzie St) and their future home (1000 W Fulton St); transit availability was based on a 6 am weekday transit schedule. From the maps below it seems clear that, at best, Google’s future West Loop location has equal amounts of accessibility (as measured by how far you can travel on public transit in a specified time period: not an ideal measure of accessibility) as its current location. Furthermore, the future West Loop location has much better automobile accessibility than its current River North location, supporting the plausible conclusion that Google chose its new location not based on transit amenities, but based on improved highway access. This seems just as plausible as the interpretations offered by MPC, the Mayor’s office and others – i.e. that Google relocated to the West Loop for the area’s transit amenities. What is clear is that a large, successful firm chose to expand inside the city, instead of opting for suburban locations that might only offer automobile access and more favorable tax concessions. They also chose to locate in a not-yet-established neighborhood outside of the Loop that is accessible by transit. This is definitely something to celebrate….but simplifying the process to a “simple” casual link between transit investment and economic activity is misleading and can only result in ineffective policy prescriptions (at best) and a misuse of scarce public funds (at worst).
See an additional summary in this Atlantic Cities post.