Chicago DOT - Sustainable Urban Infrastructure Policies and Guidelines

The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) issued these guidelines (“Guidelines”) to require the implementation of sustainability best practices (environmental and social) into all transportation infrastructure projects, with metrics to ensure that projects are designed to be resilient to the long-term impacts of climate change. The Guidelines include two components: Volume I outlines the city’s sustainability goals and the process for integrating those goals into urban infrastructure design, construction, and maintenance; Volume 2 provides specific strategies, references, and resources to help project managers and engineers incorporate sustainability principles into specific projects.  The Guidelines are intended to apply to all CDOT projects small- and large-scale, and to all activities in the project life cycle (planning, contracting, design and construction, operations and maintenance, and monitoring). 

The Guidelines include over 80 specific requirements that apply to all CDOT activities.  The requirements are organized to ensure that transportation projects meet objectives, which are organized into eight broad sustainability categories. 

  • Water – reduce stormwater floods, flooding, and potable water used for irrigation by deploying green infrastructure, using passive irrigation to water landscaping, and harvesting and reusing rainwater.
  • Energy – reduce energy consumption associated with transportation assets and coordinate with sourcing and siting of renewable energy facilities.
  • Economics – ensure the long-term resilience of infrastructure investments and quantify environmental and social benefits by aligning economic development with projects, training and employing residents to fill job opportunities, and developing a sustainable cost-benefit analysis tool.
  • Materials and waste – maximize use of recycled materials, reduce use of virgin materials, reduce waste of demolition materials, and choose materials to reduce the urban heat island effect by diverting demolition waste from landfills, reusing materials, and maximizing use of cool pavements.
  • Climate and air – reduce construction activities that produce greenhouse gas emissions and decrease air quality by reducing idling of equipment, controlling dust, reducing travel distance for construction equipment, etc. Increase travel efficiency of vehicles by synchronizing traffic signals and encouraging multi-modal transportation.
  • Beauty and community – improve the beauty and quality of public right of ways, and increase education for the public, designers, engineers, contractors by increasing stakeholder engagement, creating complete streets, and mitigating construction noise.
  • Urban ecology – increase health habitats and bio-diversity through the selection and planting of trees, by ensuring habitat linkage, and by maintaining and expanding existing urban tree canopy.
  • Commissioning – test design assumptions, monitor the long-term performance of projects, and update maintenance protocols.

The “Implementation” section of the document includes a table identifying requirements that apply to specific project types (e.g., installation of signals, tree planting, resurfacing, alley improvements, streetscaping, roadway realignments, transit projects, bike stations, etc.). The Guidelines also include “Design Checklists” to help project designers identify the sustainability requirements that will apply to their project and how those requirements should be implemented at each phase of the project design (from initiation and scoping, to construction, maintenance, and monitoring of performance). For different objectives, the Guidelines also provide performance measures by which designers can evaluate the efficacy of sustainability measures incorporated into transportation projects.

In Volume 2, the Guidelines provide a list of strategies with design drawings to help project designers achieve the objectives listed in each sustainability category. Examples include measures that can be incorporated into different types of streets. For example, for a 66-foot right of way in a residential area the guidelines suggest that designers install bioswales and street trees, provide bumpouts to increase planting, install benches, and use recycled aggregate. For a 100-foot right of way in a mixed-use thoroughfare, the Guidelines suggest that designers create a bioswale median, create and monitor tree pits, install enhanced cool pavement strategies, replace sidewalks with permeable pavers, use recycled materials and high albedo pavements, and incorporate living walls and solar panels in bus rapid transit shelters.

The Guidelines were developed by a Task Force of city officials and other experts through a series of workshops and discussions. They drew from sustainable rating systems, guidelines from other cities, and pilot projects implemented by CDOT. The Guidelines also set specific performance metrics and benchmarks to help ensure that the city is meeting broader sustainability goals set in the Chicago Climate Action Plan and the Sustainable Chicago 2015 Plan.


This Adaptation Clearinghouse entry was prepared with support from the Federal Highway Administration. This entry was last updated on January 28, 2016.


Publication Date: July 2013

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  • Agency guidance/policy
  • Best practice

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