Got express trains? Decent coffee, bike racks, clean washrooms and well-lit parking for commuters?
Arlington Heights does and so do Wheaton, Naperville, Des Plaines and Mount Prospect, joining 20 other municipalities on a DePaul University list of the "Top Transit Suburbs" released Wednesday.
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Researchers at the university's Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development reviewed 250 towns to develop a list of finalists. The criteria for those making the grade included: commuter-rail service seven days a week with express trains; at least 150 people who bike or walk to the Metra station each weekday; and a walkable downtown.
Given that some commuters may take the train to work 10,000 times in their life, "it's important to create a transit-friendly environment," Chaddick Institute Executive Director Joseph Schwieterman said. "We want to reward those suburbs that create warm, exciting station environments."
Researchers looked at: stations, platforms and grounds; amenities near the station; and how the community connects to public transit.
This included "white glove" tests of dirt inside stations, waiting room hours, the proximity of gourmet coffee, bicycle storage, connecting buses and what types of amenities, such as shops, are close by.
"We had a lot of fun doing this; some of our students went into parking lots at night with light meters to see if the lighting was adequate," Schwieterman said. "It's the small things that make a difference, things as simple as having bike racks covered from the elements to prominently displayed timetables to keeping stations clean."
The top transit town was LaGrange followed in descending order by: Wilmette, Arlington Heights, Glenview, Elmhurst, Wheaton, Downers Grove, Naperville, Des Plaines, Mount Prospect, Glen Ellyn, Northbrook, Park Ridge, Westmont, Western Springs, Homewood, Deerfield, Palatine, Highland Park and Tinley Park.
"Some of the best stations were further out (from Chicago), they had a lot of room ... the closer-in stations were more cramped," Schwieterman noted.
Five suburbs along the BNSF Metra line made the list, partly because of the high number of express trains on that service. "The BNSF rush-hour schedule is tremendous although there are gaps in the middle of the day," Schwieterman said.
Municipalities in Kane and McHenry counties didn't fare as well because they didn't meet the 150-a-day biker/walker requirement.
Towns such as Arlington Heights wouldn't have made it to the third spot 15 years ago, Schwieterman said, adding that the difference is committing to creating a "strong transit culture."