To Smooth Out the Blue Line Rehab, Divert Cars From Milwaukee

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In San Francisco, private motor vehicle traffic is diverted off the iconic Market Street at key locations, which speeds up surface transit. A similar arrangement on Milwaukee could help Blue Line passengers who have to use shuttle buses while train service is disrupted on ten weekends later this year.

As the Chicago Transit Authority prepares to fix up Blue Line tracks, the agency is warning riders that they’ll face significant delays during the weekends when work is underway. But tens of thousands of transit riders would face less inconvenience if the city cleared some room on Milwaukee Avenue by diverting motor vehicle traffic.

The CTA will be upgrading tracks over ten weekends from March to August as part of the “Your New Blue” track and station rehabilitation program. On seven weekends, shuttle buses will carry passengers between Logan Square and Western, stopping at the California Blue Line station, and on three weekends, the buses will run between Western and Damen.

The CTA said it has been testing the shuttle service ”in traffic to determine the best routes and to gauge travel times,” according to the Tribune, and spokesperson Brian Steele said riders should plan on adding 5 to 20 minutes to their trip. O’Hare-bound riders should budget for the longest trips. The closures would start at 10 p.m. each Friday and last until 4 a.m. Monday morning.

The delays for transit riders don’t have to be this long. Instead of making tens of thousands of passengers deal with traffic congestion, the city could make more room for the shuttle buses by diverting through traffic off Milwaukee at spots between Kedzie Avenue (at the Logan Square station) and Ashland Avenue (at the Division station).

Diverting traffic every few blocks could reduce congestion and speed up shuttle and 56-Milwaukee buses while maintaining car parking and access. Diversions at select cross streets would mean that someone driving from Logan Square to Wicker Park would have to use the grid instead of Milwaukee. For example, one could drive east on Fullerton Avenue, and then south on Damen Avenue, or south on Kedzie Avenue, and then east on North Avenue. But drivers could still use cross streets to access any block of Milwaukee.

Here's a dilemma

Diverting cars off Milwaukee Avenue will speed buses.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority (which is like the CTA and CDOT rolled into one) diverts all downtown-bound private motorists from Market Street — the city’s iconic diagonal street — at 10th Street and 6th Street, while allowing taxis, bikes, buses and streetcars to keep going straight. The move immediately sped up transit trips, and bike ridership even increased.

The need to efficiently carry tens of thousands of Blue Line riders overs surface streets is a great opportunity to show how the city’s new complete streets paradigm, which prioritizes transit over driving, can have practical applications even during temporary situations.