Visualizing select transportation investments

November 6, 2013 at 10:53 am

NOTE: This visualization is now available with more comparisons at the Chicago Transportation Spending interactive infographic at

Every time I’ve been to a community meeting, there’s always at least one person who wonders how we have money for [bike lanes, new transit stops, etc.] but we don’t have money for [police officers, the children, etc.]. If it’s a community meeting, it’s usually not that much money being spent anyway – in the grand scheme of things.

Too often, it’s easy to get lost in the zeros and the -illions of dollars being spent on a project. What’s the difference between $55 and $56 million dollars, anyhow?

One possible answer: 6.5 miles of new protected bike lanes, like Chicago’s Dearborn lanes.


When talking about numbers like this, it’s probably better to get a visual. Click the above for a high-res copy.

I would actually like to make an interactive graphic to put online showing the visualized cost of all of our regional transportation-related projects, rather than the select few that would fit here (O’Hare Modernization did not fit, for example), as well as adding functionality to mix-and-match different projects. I included smaller neighborhood-scale projects, because these are often what receives local scrutiny. The media can report various figures for large expressways, but the difference between a $1.1 billion highway and a $1.2 billion one could be a greenway in every neighborhood of the city! For many, the quality of a walk or potentially a bike ride outside the home is worth more than an expressway built at the exurban fringe.

It’s important to put the numbers in perspective so we truly understand what we decide to invest in.

UPDATE: The graphic has been updated to more accurately represent the data, now by calculating area instead of radius, as Illustrator does. The previous rendering understated the area of less expensive projects. The Circle Interchange project has also been added.