Pawar, and an Army of Seniors, Lobby the CTA to Restore Lincoln Bus Service

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Pawar testifies at last night’s CTA budget hearing. Photo: John Greenfield

Last night, local community leaders and dozens of senior citizens showed up for the CTA’s 2015 budget hearing, imploring the agency to restore the full #11 Lincoln Avenue bus route.

The Lincoln bus previously ran between Skokie and the Blue Line’s Clinton station in the West Loop. As part of the CTA’s 2012 decrowding plan, which added service to 48 bus routes and most ‘L’ lines, the agency partially or completely cut service on roughly a dozen bus routes. The heart of the Lincoln route, from the Brown Line’s Western stop to the Fullerton station, was eliminated as part of these cuts.

The #11 still travels between Skokie and Western, and a new #37 Sedgwick bus now runs between Fullerton and Clinton. However, the total bus ridership on Lincoln has dropped from the previous average of 5,489 rides per weekday to 3,152 rides, RedEye reported. Overall, CTA bus ridership has dropped over the past few years.

When the bus cuts were announced, the CTA stated that affected #11 riders could instead take the Brown Line, which roughly parallels Lincoln between Western and Fullerton. In the past two years, the CTA has added 15 weekday Brown Line roundtrips per day, and increased service on eight of the ten bus lines that serve the area, RedEye reported. The CTA says the Lincoln route cut is saving the agency $1.4 million a year.

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Some sections of the affected stretch of Lincoln are a half-mile walk from the Brown Line. Image: Google Maps

However, some locations on this stretch of Lincoln are a half mile away from the nearest Brown Line station – a ten-minute walk for able-bodied people, and a significant distance for seniors and people with disabilities. The Brown Line was overhauled in the late Nineties, and all stops are currently ADA accessible. 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar has said bus cut has increased travel times for his constituents. Some are now choosing to drive instead of taking transit, or are avoiding destinations on Lincoln, he said.

The CTA has said it doesn’t plan to bring the Lincoln service back, arguing that the affected area is still one of the most transit rich parts of the city. Pawar has offered to use Tax Increment Financing money to help restore the service, but TIF funds can only be used for infrastructure, not operating expenses. Frustrated with the agency’s refusal to reverse their decision, the alderman has said he’s pulling his support for the Ashland bus rapid transit project.

Dozens of seniors rode with Pawar on chartered buses to the hearing at the CTA’s downtown headquarters. They wore yellow t-shirts that said “Bring back the #11 Bus” and “It’s our lifeline.”

At the start of the meeting, CTA President Forrest Claypool touted the agency’s achievements under the Emanuel administration. “After inheriting a $308 million deficit in 2011, this is our fourth consecutive balanced budget.” He noted that the $1.44 billion budget includes no fare hikes or service cuts, but will instead increase service slightly on the Orange and Blue Lines. Meanwhile, the agency will continue with its $5 billion infrastructure modernization program, Claypool said.

When the floor was opened to comments, state rep Greg Harris, whose 13th District includes an affected stretch of Lincoln, thanked Claypool for the CTA’s progress but noted that the #11 service cut has had unintended consequences. “I was walking in this bitter cold weather today, and I realized how hard it is for some folks to make it to a train line or a bus line on a good day,” he said. “But for someone who’s frail or someone who may have problems with mobility, it’s really very difficult.” He asked the agency to rethink its decision, and promised to help push for better transit funding in Springfield.

When Pawar took the mic, he said five different chambers of commerce and numerous community organizations have written letters to support restoring #11 service. He noted that over 2,500 constituents responded to a survey the ward conducted this summer, and 80 percent said the cut has led to longer travel times for their trips along Lincoln.

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Seniors at last night’s hearing. Photo: John Greenfield

“What you have behind me are the faces of the cut,” Pawar said, indicating the crowd of seniors. “These are the people who are most dramatically impacted by the elimination of the  #11 bus… Asking seniors, asking parents with strollers, asking folks with disabilities to walk four or five blocks to get on the Brown Line is just a non-starter for a lot of the people who are here tonight.”

“We’re all going to be seniors one day, and we hope that the system that we pay into… will also take care of us when we are seniors,” he concluded. “We want to create a city where people can age in place.”

Lindsay Eanet, associate director of the Northcenter of Chamber of Commerce reported that the service cut has hurt local businesses, from mom-and-pops to big box drugstores, and some have even had to close their doors. “We’ve actually received letters from community members who said that the lack of the Lincoln Avenue bus precluded them from buying property in our area,” she added.

One senior testified that she had recently had knee surgery, which makes it difficult to walk to the Brown Line. “I would have taken the #11 bus downtown today if I could have,” she said. “Now it’s easier to drive… Please let us help you come up with ways to pay for the #11 bus.”

  • Just by looking at the map, if the #11 is duplicate of brown line, why wouldn’t the #8 Halsted bus be turned around at North and ask the riders to take the red line from there? I mean, they’re pretty parallel.

    I know labor is a big cost but could CTA look at running smaller “community shuttle” type bused for the #11?

  • Kate R.

    Is it that hard for people to transfer? This area has great bus service on Fullerton, Diversity, Belmont, Addison, Ashland, Damen…..

  • CL

    Pawar has done a great job of keeping the #11 bus in the news. I can’t remember anything like it since I’ve lived here — usually when service gets cut, people just have to deal, and the news never covers it again.

    I also think it’s cool how he is empowering his constituents to participate in the campaign, by providing bus service to events.

  • It’s hard to evaluate this without an understanding of the other ways the money could be used.

  • ardecila

    Pawar seems like a pretty good guy. I’m glad he’s trying to start a public debate about these issues instead of living with the usual dynamic where those in power make decisions, and the rest of us just bend over and take it.

  • Jeff H

    All the east/west buses are packed during rush hour. It’s extremely hard for seniors or people with disabilities to even get on the buses sometimes, much less squeeze their way into a seat (and then subsequently get off). I even have trouble myself carrying my daughter to daycare every morning via the Diversey bus. The Lincoln bus wasn’t as crowded, and made it much easier to go down to Fullerton to the Red line or north to one of the Brown line stations to transfer. So while yes, we have many transit options, the experience is far worse than it used to be when we had the Lincoln bus.

  • alexfrancisburchard

    So besides TIF, did Pawar propose any real way to pay for the bus, or what? Like, as people say, the busses in the area (and throughout the city for the most part) are overcrowded frequently, so does he think CTA is just going pull this money out of its mattress or something? They’ve already cut their cleaning services to the bone, etc. busses and trains are dirtier than ever, and they’re doing these things to make sure there’s enough of them, but what more do these folks want?

  • urbanleftbehind

    If the Pace set of operating costs is significantly lower than CTA’s why not create a North Lincoln route with a minimal touch point in Skokie or Lincolnwood running south to Fullerton. Prior to the 1997 cutback there was a limited stop service from skokie to either Kimball or Western on the Brown Line utilizing Lincoln for much of the route.

  • Bus service continues on Lincoln north of Western. It’s the part south of Western – to Fullerton – that’s under concern.

  • Good for him. At least someone is constantly reminding the board that service cuts affect people.

    This is also happening at a time when the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce, through the Special Service Area #27, is putting on event after event, program after program, to revitalize one stretch of Lincoln that lost bus service (Belmont to Diversey is the part of major focus). This service cut can’t be linked to the business vacancies along those blocks but not having bus service surely doesn’t help.

    Would keeping the Clark bus off the blocks between Fullerton and Diversey improve or worsen the retail conditions in that area?

  • SP_Disqus

    And shockingly, what they’ve continued is pretty bare bones. Ends in the early evening, once every 20 – 30 minutes

  • Moto5858

    Removing the bus service from a main diagonal artery of the city such as Lincoln was a completely insane decision in the first place. Yesterday, Nov 18th, the day all hell broke loose due to the Sheffield fire which shut down the Brown/Red/Purple lines during morning rush hour, was a good example of how much the #11 Lincoln bus was/is needed. Many of us were wishing, “God, if we ONLY had the the #11 to get downtown to work…” Instead I had to ride the Clark 22 for 2 1/2 hours from the north side to get to the loop. Asinine.

  • R.A. Stewart

    “CTA Heeds Riders, Restores Service.”

    Now that would be a headline for the ages. Sort of like “Budget Cuts Spare Poor, Disabled” or “Straight Talk on Issues Reaps Landslide for Candidate.”

  • Anton Cermak

    Ensuring convenience for a few is a poor way to manage a system for millions.

  • urbanleftbehind

    I know that. I just wonder if it would be worthwhile to convert the CTA Lincoln bus “north of Western” service to a Pace bus with that Pace service extended down Lincoln to the Fullerton Red Line – but only if Pace’s per-mile operational costs were somewhat-to-significantly lower than CTA’s.

    Dont know if ATU (transit union) rules explicitly bar Pace from traveling # distance into the City of Chicago. Recent precedent is the #349 having been entrusted to take the place of the old 49A south Western service. The majority of that route’s mileage occurs in Chicago proper.

  • Anton Cermak

    The thing is, as well, is that Pawar KNOWS that TIF is off the table. He’s mentioned it half a dozen times and CTA consistently tells them that isn’t an option. He’s using this as a political grandstand – championing a hyper-local issue while skewering TIF at the same time. At any rate, his timing on reviving this displeasure seems exceptionally convenient.

  • BlueFairlane

    The #11 is one of those issues where, for reasons I can’t figure out, a lot of people go ass-backwards on themselves. The 11 provided convenient, efficient service right through the middle of a part of the city most people want to be densely populated. Eliminating the 11 leaves a hole, and yet people who on other issues chant “If you build it, they will come” are happy to eliminate service a lot of folks obviously want. The contradiction doesn’t make a lot of sense.

  • Jeff H

    Honestly, at this point I would take bare bones service. Not ideal but at least I could time it with the bus tracker (when it’s working).

  • Anne A

    I’m guessing that you’re not a senior and that you’ve never tried to get around with a walking disability or with little kids. If you’re not an able bodied person, waiting to cram into a crowded bus, get off at a brown line station and then waiting again can be more than an inconvenience even in good weather. Until you’ve been in one of those categories, please don’t assume that what works for you will work for everyone.

  • alexfrancisburchard

    Like, I’m not against bringing it back, but he needs to propose funding if he wants it back!

  • Is there a word for reverse NIMBYism, ie people that only care about advocating for services from which they directly benefit? IMBYism? It just makes me crazy that with the far more significant service gaps that affect low-income seniors on the south and west sides of this city (any conversation abt adding service should begin with 26th Street), Pawar (who is my alderman) is mounting such a blatantly vote-courting effort to save the number 11, and sacrificing potential progress on the BRT in the process.

  • I strongly disagree. To me, Pawar’s stance on this feels very Chicago politics in the WORST way, using BRT as a bargaining chip, it’s like let me advocate for me and mine, my little fiefdom, at the direct expense of a more collective good. Especially with the far more significant service gaps that affect the south and west sides (e.g. the lack of 26th street bus???), I just find Pawar’s focus on this kind of infuriating. …And I live in his ward.

  • Cameron Puetz

    Pawar is doing his job and looking out for his constituents and his ward. The problem is that he’s one of the few aldermen doing his job, so most wards don’t have a strong advocate.

    Part of the problem with chronically underserved areas is that their alderman aren’t looking out for them. Their aldermen are more beholden to the machine than their constituents so no one fights those wards.

  • cjlane

    Ya, would be better if the guy representing us instead were advocating for the southwest side.

    Would free the SW side Aldermen to focus on graft.

  • JacobEPeters

    That image of a map is of the area not served by Rep. Harris at all, and only 1/8th of the map shows any part of the 47th Ward or Northcenter’s SSA #38 (it only pictures the portion of the 47th Ward & SSA #38 where Lincoln stays within 2 blocks of the Brown Line). It would be more fitting based on the subject of the article to include a screenshot of the section of Lincoln between Ashland and Western.

  • Guest

    At the very least, the #11 route, if cut at all, should have been kept running to Fullerton, providing direct access to both the Brown and Red lines. The space between Fullerton and Lawrence was arguably the portion of the route that carried the most passengers and their fares. In a city that is primarily laid out on a grid pattern, eliminating transit on any of the few available diagonal routes makes absolutely no sense.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Bingo. I’d love to see the reaction around here if the CTA decided to eliminate the Milwaukee Avenue bus, which is far more redundant with the Blue Line than the #11 Lincoln ever was with the Brown.

    In addition to the obvious paradox of fixing something that wasn’t broken, the #11 Lincoln was how families could get to the Zoo, Conservatory and Lakefront conveniently, the Brown Line does not do that.

  • Fred

    It sounds like the #11 bus was a victim of its own best quality: it wasn’t overcrowded.

  • Jeff H

    Exactly. You can’t look at just ridership numbers when determining what services to cut. You have to look at the overall user experience as well, and how that will possibly degrade if certain cuts are made.

  • Guest

    I do agree with you, but you do realize that 26th Street has 24-hour service between Western and Cicero, on to downtown?

  • Michael

    I do agree with you, but you do realize that the #60 Blue Island/26th bus provides 24-hour service between Western and Cicero.

  • Michael

    Most recently, the 49a only operated during rush periods at 20-minute-or-worse intervals.

  • Michael

    and the 349 operates early morning through late evening.

  • Jeffrey H.

    For what it’s worth to the article, the Brown line was indeed overhauled — not “in the late Nineties”, however, but rather from about 2006 to 2010. The CTA still has web pages about it: http://ctabrownline.com/

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