By Elliott Ramos

In our recent story on Chicago’s sidewalk cafes, we sought to figure out how and why they were focused on the North Side.

We delved into economic development projects, but also wanted to key in mass transit, which appears to play a big part.

The map below shows the 2012 sidewalk cafe permits alongside the CTA transit routes.

We wanted to get a take as to how people interact with public space as it relates to transit, so we turned to an expert.

Steven Farber, is an assistant professor of geography at the University of Utah. He recently published a study that examined the land use and transportation of 42 major U.S. cities, and the implications those systems have on social outcomes.

Farber said his research indicated that people are spending more time on their commute were not fully engaging in their communities.

“If people are spending more time on their commute, we did find that the first thing that drops out of someone’s life as they engage in more commuting is social-activity participation,” he said.

“People are still going to go shopping. They’re still going to eat; they’re still going to do these mandatory daily activities that they need to do. If you’re going to drive more, there’s only so many hours in the day. The first thing that drops out are the discretionary activities.”

While his researched focused on automobile commuting, it may well have resonance in Chicago.

The concentrations of sidewalk cafés are clustered in neighborhoods with close proximity to CTA “L” stations, especially the Red and Brown Lines. There are nearly a dozen on the block of the Southport Brown Line station and dozens within a 3-6 block radius of the Brown Line Armitage stop and the Red Line Belmont and Addison stops.

While sidewalk cafes are a manifestation of businesses aided by the number of restaurants in an area, density, zoning and streetscapes projects, mass transit plays a big deal as well.

"I don’t see anything insidious in the fact that these establishments  have arisen at these locations," Farber said.

"I think that neighborhoods without those types of opportunities for social contact may not fare as well as neighborhoods that do have these cafes and sidewalks and better streetscapes, so from that perspective, spending money on neighborhoods that are already at a higher socioeconomic level might just further decrease the divide between good neighborhoods and bad neighborhoods or high income neighborhoods and lower income neighborhoods."