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CTA Budget: Fares Stay Flat and Low Gas Prices Cause Lower Bus Ridership

The CTA predicts that rail ridership will continue rising and bus ridership will continue to drop. Despite the same number of bus service hours, service is owow and gas is cheap. Chart data from CTA budget. Compiled by Yonah Freemark and Steven Vance.

Earlier this week the Chicago Transit Authority announced its proposed budget for 2017. Mayor Rahm Emanuel touted the fact that the budget “freezes” the $2.00 and $2.25 cash fare on buses and trains, respectively.

The CTA holding the line on fares – for the eighth consecutive year – creates positive publicity for Emanuel, even while he raises many other fees in Chicago. Agency spokesman Jeffrey Tolman said “we will continue to look for ways to keep CTA as affordable as possible while maintaining the high level of service.”

However, it would be wiser for the CTA to raise fares incrementally each year to accommodate perennially rising costs, and give itself more breathing room to add or expand bus route changes without having to find an equivalent cost to cut elsewhere in the budget.

The agency’s repeated decisions not to change the “base” fare could lead to a future doomsday scenario. Chicago is currently experiencing a building boom, but if development slows the CTA will have less funding from its share of local sales taxes, and from the real estate transfer tax (a tax on property sold). At that point it will need to cut staff and service, or raise fares steeply, to a price that would likely be higher than if the fares were raised periodically.

Even the language in the CTA’s budget document bemoans the scarcity of transit funding, stating, “CTA continues to face funding challenges to meet our ambitious modernization goals.”

Although the total number of rail and bus rides in 2015 was 516 million, up 1.6 percent from 514.5 million in 2014, the current budget projects that total annual ridership will have dropped by nearly 17 million rides from 2015 to 2016. A majority of this drop will be seen on bus routes. The CTA also predicts a total drop of 3.4 million rides, all of them on bus routes, between 2016 and 2017. The agency is projecting an increase in rail ridership.

Tolman said the drop in bus ridership is caused by “low gas prices, traffic congestion, [and] shifting population trends.” He added, “CTA ridership, especially bus, has been heavily influenced by gas prices over the last 20 years. Inflation adjusted gas prices are near 100-year lows and are forecasted to remain low in 2017.” Figures from the Federal Highway Administration show that people drove more last year than the previous peak in 2014, which followed a decline during the recession.

The budget also attributes the ridership drop to the Divvy bike-share system, competition from ride-hailing services, and slower bus speeds. The document also states that improved walkability in some parts of Chicago has been a factor in fewer people riding CTA buses and trains. Tolman explained, “CDOT has made a number of improvements to increase walkability across the entire city including improvements to sidewalks, intersections, [and] streetscapes.” Read more…


Change to UP-West Schedule Left Some Customers Stranded on the Platform

Metra UPW Train at Oak Park

A Metra Union Pacific West train at Oak Park. Photo: Jeff Zoline

Streetsblog Reader and former Transport Notes blogger Alan Robinson contacted us on Monday, concerned that a poorly publicized change to Metra’s Union Pacific West Line schedule that started that day would lead to riders missing their trains. The line runs from the Ogilvie Center to the small town of Elburn, stopping at suburbs like Oak Park, Elmhurst, Wheaton, and Geneva along the way.

The schedule change affects off-peak inbound trains 44 to 54, leaving Elburn between the mid-morning and mid-afternoon, and post-evening rush runs 62 to 70. The trains, which generally run at one-hour intervals, would leave the station seven minutes earlier than shown on the published schedule.

Robinson, who commutes from Oak Park to Fermilab, said he’d only heard about the upcoming UP-W schedule change from an announcement made by a conductor the previous Friday, and by a posting on Pace’s Batavia Call-N-Ride schedule. (Call-n-Rides offer reservation-based, curb-to-curb, shared-ride service for anyone within the designated service area.)

Robinson was worried that many regular passengers who had missed the memo would be a few minutes late for their usual train and would be stuck waiting the better part of an hour for the next run. So he took it upon himself to print up some flyers explaining the new schedule change.

On Monday Robinson biked from Oak Park to Bellwood stopping at all the Metra stations in between to tape up the notices by the posted schedules. He observed that while the new schedule had been posted at several of the six stations, a couple of them still had the old one up, and the Maywood stop didn’t have any schedule on display at all. After boarding at Bellwood, he gave the flyers to departing passengers and asked them to hang them at their stations.

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Active Trans’ Kickstand Classic Fundraiser Ride Springs Into Action


Students from South Elgin High cheer on a rider. Photo: John Greenfield

Last Sunday was the maiden voyage of the Active Transportation Alliance’s Kickstand Classic, a combination race and fun ride to support the group’s walking, biking, and transit advocacy effects. Thanks in part to absolutely perfect weather, the event, held in the northwest-suburban village of Bartlett, appeared to be a big success, which makes it seem likely it will become an annual happening.


One of the faster heats gets ready to ride. Photo: Active Trans

Active Trans director Ron Burke had stressed beforehand that the Kickstand Classic was an experiment, because it was intended as a cross between a competitive race and a leisurely recreational ride, something that may not have been done before in the U.S. But the event exceeded expectations – the group had hoped for 500 participants and instead sold out the event with 600. Burke wasn’t sure yesterday how much money was taken in, but it seems likely the event could grow into a significant funding source for the organization.


Some nice scenery along the way. Photo: John Greenfield

The starting line and post-race festival area were located just south of the local Metra station and the event took place on a 4.8-mile, roughly trapezoidal course of village streets that were rendered car-free for the occasion. There were three different heats for experienced, fast racers and road riders; confident cyclists who wanted to try their hand at racing; and casual riders who wanted to see what it was like to pedal a bit faster, or just take a mellow cruise (I counted myself in that last category).

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Today’s Crash, Nick Fox’s Passing Bring 2016 Chicago Bike Death Toll to Six


This morning at 9:30, police had blocked off Addison at Damen following the fatal bike/truck crash. Photo: John Greenfield

Tragically, last week’s epidemic of bike fatalities and serious injury crashes in the Chicago region, has continued into this week. This morning a young woman was fatally struck by a flatbed truck driver in Roscoe Village. She was the sixth person to be struck and killed by a commercial vehicle driver while biking in Chicago and Evanston since June, and the third to be run over by a right-turning flatbed truck driver.

And early Sunday morning, well-liked Garfield Ridge pizzeria worker Nick Fox passed away from injuries sustained from a bike/train crash in June. That means that six people have died from bike crashes in 2016.

According to police, at around 7:50 a.m. today the female cyclist, believed to be in her 30s, was biking north on Damen Avenue south of Addison Street. According to the city’s bike map, this stretch of Damen has “shared-lane markings” – bike-and-chevrons symbols designed to remind motorists to watch out for cyclists.

Police said that the driver of the northbound flatbed truck, carrying construction supplies, made a right turn, heading eastbound onto Addison, and ran over the woman. Witnesses said the woman was killed instantly.


The flatbed track from this morning’s crash. Photo: John Greenfield

According to an ABC news report, witness Carole Cifone said the truck driver immediately jumped out of the vehicle and tried to aid the woman. “The driver was so distraught, they took him away in an ambulance,” Cifone said. “He was just bent out of shape by what had happened [and the fact] that he was responsible.”

Officer Nicole Trainor from Police News Affairs said an investigation of the crash is ongoing and the driver has not yet been cited. According to the Cook County medical investigator’s office, the victim’s name and age had not been released as of early this afternoon.

As of 9:30 this morning, police had closed off two blocks of Addison east of Damen, and the victim’s body still lay in the street covered with sheets. The bike was not visible, but photos from other news reports show a badly damaged road bike.

“Any vehicle needs to constantly be aware of cyclists on the road,” a bike rider named Meg told ABC. “This is a [road with shared-lane markings]. There’s no excuse.”

DNAinfo reported that about ten people were waiting for the #152 Addison bus at the intersection when the crash occurred, and they stayed on the scene to provide testimony to investigators.

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Active Trans’ Kickstand Classic Lets You Race or Cruise on Car-Free Streets

Kickstand Classic Logo Full Color

Which kind of rider are you?

The Active Transportation Alliance is pioneering a new kind of biking event, a cross between a competitive race and a leisurely recreational ride, which could eventually turn into a significant fundraiser for their walking, transit, and bike advocacy efforts. The Kickstand Classic takes place in the morning of Sunday, September 25, in the suburban village of Bartlett, Illinois, southeast of Elgin. The starting line and post-race festival area will be located just south of the local Metra station.

The event will take place on a 4.8-mile, roughly trapezoidal course of village streets that will be rendered car-free for the occasion. While the ride is only open to people 16 or older, Active Trans director Ron Burke says it’s designed to be enjoyable for riders of all abilities, analogous to a 5K fun run. There will be three different heats for experienced, fast racers and road riders; confident cyclists who want to try their hand at racing; and casual riders who want to see what it’s like to pedal a bit faster, or just take a mellow cruise.

Burke says some of the inspiration for the event came from seeing his father organize the first 10K race in the small southern Illinois river town of Chester, home of Popeye creator Elzie Crisler Segar, when Burke was a kid. “Running races really began to happen for the general public in the 1970s,” Burke says. “For example, the Peachtree Road Race started in Atlanta in 1970 with 130 people and it now gets about 60,000.”


Likewise, Burke expects a modest turnout for the first Kickstand Classic, but hopes it will pick up speed in subsequent years to become a major draw, and perhaps inspire similar events in other parts of the country. “Just as recreational running events have brought more people to running, we’re hoping to have a similar effect for biking,” Burke says. “We’re hoping that as bicyclists do this they’ll say, ‘That was fun’ and want to do more. I believe someone who gets into road racing or recreational riding is more likely to ride a bike to the store or the train station.”

To ensure a safe and comfortable start for novice racers, the races will feature staggered starts, with participants wearing electronic chips to keep track of their start and finish times. The “Speed Demon Wave” of the race departs between 6:30 and 6:45 a.m. and requires racers to do four laps, or about 19 miles. Racers are expected to maintain an average speed of at least 15 mph, and it’s the only heat in which drafting (riding closely behind another racer’s rear wheel to minimize wind resistance) is permitted.

The “Middle of the Road” wave starts between 7:45 and 8 a.m., and riders are expected to go at least 13 mph. The “Sunday Funday Wave” kicks off between 9:30 and 9:50 a.m. and is intended for rider who plan to go 12 mph or slower. All riders must be off the course by 11:45 so that the roads can be reopened to car traffic.

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City Hopes to Use State Law Allowing Transit TIFs to Rebuild CTA Red Line

20140926 060 CTA Red Line L @ Sheridan

Mayor Emanuel will introduce an ordinance that would create a kind of TIF district around the CTA Red Line on the North Side so the CTA can use property tax revenue to rebuild tracks and stations. Photo: David Wilson

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office has started crafting an ordinance that would activate a state law allowing the city to create “transit TIF districts” – officially called Transit Facility Improvement Areas – around four transit projects, according to the Chicago Tribune. Boundaries could be drawn up to a half mile around Chicago’s Union Station (to fund the improvements recommended in its master plan), the CTA’s North Side Main Line, the CTA’s Red Line extension to 130th, and the CTA’s Blue Line Congress branch modernization and possible extension.

The cost for RPM Phase I is $2.1 billion and the CTA is set to receive $1.1 billion in federal grants. Phase I includes rebuilding the Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn and Bryn Mawr stations and all tracks within a mile of the stations. CTA spokesperson Tammy Chase said, “specifically, about $956 million of federal Core Capacity funding and a $125 million CMAQ grant.” In order to get these funds, she said, the CTA needs to provide a local match of $881 million. The Red Line transit TIF district is projected to generate $622 million to pay back a low-interest “TIFIA” federal loan. The CTA would fund the remaining $219 million from its own bonds.

Transit TIFs would work much like existing tax-increment financing districts, in which the property taxes assessed on any incremental increase in property values since the TIF district’s inception are earmarked for improvements within the district. In the transit TIF districts, loans taken out to pay for public transportation infrastructure would be repaid via the future increase in property values and tax revenue brought about by the better transit service – a form of value capture.

The city’s existing TIF program is highly controversial because, unlike other city expenditures, the mayor gets to decide how the money is spent without needing approval from City Council. Critics also point out that the program diverts money from schools, parks, and other taxing bodies.

However, the transit TIF program would be designed so that the Chicago Public Schools would receive the same portion of property taxes it would if the Transit Facility Improvement Area didn’t exist. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the official regional planning organization, created the following charts to illustrate how that would work.

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Evanston Protected Lanes Face Backlash While Making Dodge Ave. Safer

A person cycles on Dodge Avenue in Evanston

A person cycles on Dodge Avenue in Evanston in very light afternoon rush hour traffic. Photo: Steven Vance

Evanston installed new protected bike lanes on Dodge Avenue from Howard Street to Lake Street last month, and already some residents are complaining that the lanes have made it unsafe to park their cars. But these fears are unfounded because Chicago has had protected lanes with a nearly identical design for five years.

The new Dodge protected bike lanes replace conventional bike lanes that were located on the left side of the parking lanes, in the door zone. The new bike lanes are curbside with the parking to the left, separated from bike traffic by a striped buffer and flexible posts. It’s the same strategy that was used on Kinzie Avenue, Chicago’s first protected bike lane street, in 2011 and has been employed successfully on many more Chicago roadways since then.

I recently rode the Dodge Avenue PBLs and found them to be just as good as any that the Chicago Department of Transportation has installed. They’re also a little better than the first PBLs Evanston installed downtown on Church Street because the Dodge bike lanes are somewhat wider.

Map of the new protected bike lane on Dodge Avenue, from Howard Street (the border with Chicago) to Lake Street. The marker shows where the bike lane has a large gap at Oakton St.

Location of the new protected bike lanes on Dodge Avenue, from Howard St. (the border with Chicago) to Lake St. The marker shows where the bike lane has a large gap at Oakton St.

But some Evanston residents are up in arms about the new street configuration. “The new design makes it more hazardous for people boarding buses or getting into cars, because driver-side doors now open into very heavy, fast moving traffic,” a resident complained at a City Council meeting on Monday night, according to a report in Evanston Now. Actually, bus passengers aren’t affected by the protected lanes at all because the design still allows buses to pull up to the curb to pick up and drop off customers.

When I rode the Dodge bike lanes during the evening rush, motorized traffic was light, and vehicles were traveling at moderate speeds. That was probably partly because the street reconfiguration involved narrowing the existing travel lanes to make room for the PBLs, a type of “road diet,” which discourages speeding. While the new layout may put parked cars a bit closer to moving traffic, the traffic is likely going somewhat slower than before. Another benefit is that the bike lanes shorten crossing distances for pedestrians.

Some meeting attendees also argued that the new bike lanes make it challenging for emergency vehicles to travel on Dodge Avenue, according to Evanston Now. However, reporter Bill Smith added that he observed a fire department ambulance making its way down Dodge from Church Street to a nursing home near Howard at the end of Tuesday’s a.m. rush, and the ambulance seemed to have no trouble navigating the street.

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What’s Up With Evanston’s Unusual Divvy Station Location Pattern?


A Divvy station at Church and Dodge in Evanston, at the intersection of two protected bikeways. Photo: Steven Vance

As I pointed out back in early June when the new Divvy expansion map was released, which included the system’s first suburban docking stations in Evanston and Oak Park, the locations of the ten Evanston stations seemed a little odd.

When Chicago originally launched the bike-share system in 2013, a high number of stations were concentrated downtown and in dense, relatively affluent Near-North Lakefront areas, with roughly quarter-mile spacing between stations, in an effort to make the system financially sustainable. The rest of the coverage area generally got less convenient half-mile spacing, using a fairly consistent grid pattern. This half-mile grid pattern was also used for Chicago’s 2015 and 2016 expansions.

2016 ExpansionMap_EvOP_160526_v3

The 2016 Divvy expansion areas are show in red on this service area map. Click for a larger image.

One notable exception in Chicago this year is Rogers Park, where there’s a dense cluster of new stations near Howard Street, the Evanston border. “There are a number of logistical and practical factors which have to be balanced when siting stations and it’s really more of an art than a science,” Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Michael Claffey stated when I asked for an explanation of the Rogers Park layout. “These include availability of off-street right of way, parking restrictions and aldermanic support, among other issues.”

Oak Park has distributed its 13 stations using a fairly consistent half-mile grid pattern, similar to what’s been done in much of Chicago.

However, the Evanston locations seem scattershot by comparison. There’s no grid pattern, most of the stations are located in the northeast portion of the suburb, and there are almost none in the southwest quadrant, which is relatively close to Chicago.

Divvy’s Evanston webpage notes that eight of the ten Evanston stations were purchased via a state grant, with matching funds from the suburb. These station locations were chosen based on data from a survey conducted during Evanston’s bike plan update, a Northwestern University industrial engineering research project, a community meeting, an online survey with over a thousand participants, and paper surveys distributed at a senior center and the suburb’s main libraries. This data was used to identify trip generators and destination points.

The other two stations were paid for by Northwestern, so their locations were chosen to provide access between the other eight stations and the campus, according to the Divvy website.

Evanston’s transportation and mobility coordinator Katherine Knapp provided some additional info on the thought processes behind the location choices. “It’s important to note that we not only have to take into account the street grid, which [isn’t as consistent] in Evanston, but also land use, the distribution of employment centers, and where community resources are located.”


The Evanston Divvy locations, plus trip generators like transit stations, schools, and workplaces. Click for a larger image. Map: City of Evanston

Knapp noted that Oak Park had 13 stations to spread over a suburb with an area of 4.7 square miles and a population of about 52,000. Meanwhile, Evanston’s ten stations had to serve a city of 7.8 square miles and about 75,000 people, which made it especially important to be strategic about locations. Why did Evanston buy fewer stations? “We were trying to strike a balance of community needs with the size of the grant,” she said.

There’s a strong correlation between the Evanston station locations and transit, Knapp said. She also noted that stations were placed along Dodge Avenue (the same longitude as Chicago’s California Avenue), where a protected bike lane was recently installed.

Weight was also given to the parts of town with the lowest rates of car ownership, based on U.S. Census data. This includes northeast Evanston, which features plenty of high-rise housing and “a surprising mix of students and young professionals,” according to Knapp. She noted that the area around the Davis CTA and Metra stops is especially dense with residents and retail.

“When you step back and look at the [Evanston Divvy location] map, it’s been called ‘zany,’” Knapp said. “But when you drill down and look at the demand and what the travel patterns tell us, it makes sense.” The city of Evanston’s Divvy webpage includes detailed information about the destinations served by each of the ten stations.

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New County Policy Supports Active Transportation, Lacks Specific Goals


Cook County’s Long-Range Transportation Plan mimics existing regional plan to increase transit ridership while changing little in county governance.

Cook County’s new “Long Range Transportation Plan,” released last week, is the first such document published since 1940 and is a policy platform that will guide decisions about transportation spending for the next 24 years. To the credit of county officials, the plan voices strong support for improving walking, biking, and transit, which represents a major change for a governmental body that has focused on facilitating driving for many decades. However, I’d argue that the document, called “Connecting Cook County,” falls short of being a plan when it come to setting concrete goals for promoting sustainable transportation, and that’s a missed opportunity.

On the plus side, the language of the report acknowledges the mistakes of the past and emphasizes the benefits of active transportation. “Cook County, like the rest of the country, has long prioritized the automobile as the preferred mode of personal travel,” it states. It outlines the safety, mobility, and health benefits of better pedestrian and bike facilities and commits to improving this infrastructure across the county.

In particular, the document calls transit “the single-most important” mode for helping Cook County compete with peer urban areas around the world that offer businesses and residents “realistic, high-quality” transportation options. It argues that public transportation is also a way to shore up the county’s economic development strategies.

According to county spokesperson Becky Schlikerman, the document wasn’t intended to be a check list of goals to accomplish over the next few years, but rather a set of general policy guidelines. “The Long Range Transportation Plan is a long-term policy document that will serve as a roadmap for transportation priorities and policies for decades to come,” Schlickerman said  “This document is not a list of projects that will be completed in the short-term.”

But for the $1.4 million it cost to create the report, Cook County county taxpayers – who provided feedback in 2014 – should have gotten something more specific. Effective transportation plans set measurable goals, detail objectives on how to achieve them, and detail current statistical benchmarks against which future achievements will be measured.

Despite the fuzzy targets, the policy platform is a big move in the right direction for an a county whose transportation policies have long been stuck in a 1950s mindset. Its goals essentially match the priorities set forth in the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s comprehensive GO TO 2040 plan. That document calls on counties and municipalities in northeast Illinois to make measurable improvements over the next 24 years, with specific goals like doubling transit ridership, improving access to jobs, and reducing pollution caused by highway driving.

Admirably, Connecting Cook County states that supporting transit-oriented development – mixed-use development around transit stations – is the single most important investment the county can make to strengthen the transportation network and make the vast county a more desirable place to live. The document explains that “improvements to be supported by the department include sidewalks, facilities for bicycles, and community plazas.” Since there are over 260 CTA and Metra rail stations in the county, that strategy could indeed have widespread benefits.

The report doesn’t have a lot of specifics on the kinds of projects Cook County should implement, but it does include a few examples. It states that the county’s Department of Transportation and Highways “will assist Pace in its efforts to provide expedited bus service on arterial roads and expressways,” and coordinate traffic signals and transit signal priority for Pace’s Arterial Rapid Transit project.

Where it falls short

One issue with Connecting Cook County is that some of the statistics it uses are outdated, which may have resulted in some misinformed policies. It includes stats on county residents’ travel habits that are based on CMAP’s Travel Tracker, a detailed survey of all kinds of household trips, which supplements U.S. Census commuting figures, which only cover work commutes. The Travel Tracker survey was last conducted in 2008, but the county document argues that “the order of magnitude and character of those trips are not likely to have changed materially” since then.

However, downtown Chicago has gained tens of thousands of jobs, and thousands of new residences since 2008, CTA rail ridership has grown 20 percent while bus ridership has fallen 12 percent, and the number of people walking and biking has increased. Therefore the “character and magnitude” of urban travel has probably changed significantly over the last eight years.

Chart showing CTA ridership changes since 2008

“Connecting Cook County” was informed by data about Cook County residents’ travel patterns, but a lot about how we get around has changed since the survey was done in 2008. This chart shows how ridership on just the Chicago Transit Authority has changed. Chart: Yonah Freemark/Metropolitan Planning Council

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Rosemont Transit Center Rehab, Bus Lanes on I-90 Could Spur New Ridership

People getting off buses at Rosemont and heading into the station

The Rosemont Transit Center. Photo: Jeff Zoline

Pace Suburban Bus is starting a $1.5 million dollar project to modernize and rebuild the Rosemont Transit Center to increase capacity, improve service and maximize efficiency of traffic flow between buses, cars and pedestrians. The project is being coordinated with the Cook County Department of Transportation and Highways and the Chicago Transit Authority. The scope of the program details is as follows:

  • Expand the bus station islands to accommodate two buses in each bay for additional boarding capacity
  • Construct two new bus bays for additional boarding and one new bus bay for extra buses to sit on layovers
  • Upgrade sidewalks and bus boarding islands for improved ADA compliance
  • Improve pedestrian and bicycle access and safety around the transit center with additional sidewalks, crosswalks and bike racks
  • Improve the flow of traffic for taxi, shuttle, and Kiss-n-Ride zones to avoid conflict and congestion
  • Realign the bus lanes from the Tollway exit to reduce conflict with vehicular traffic around the parking lots upon entry into the Transit Center
  • Repair pavement and construct new parking lot gates

Pace will reimburse Cook County for the cost of the project because Cook County owns the land where the project will occur. The project is expected to start this summer and to be completed around October. However, according to northwest suburban news site Journal & Topics, Pace is still finalizing selection of a construction manager.

The Rosemont Transit Center was built in 1983 during the extension of the CTA Blue Line from Jefferson Park to O’Hare Airport. Today, the center is a busy multi-modal station hub located in the northwest suburban village of Rosemont serving over 6,000 riders a day. Rosemont is a small town with a large concentration of businesses, entertainment, restaurants and lodging adjacent to O’Hare Airport. In addition to the Blue Line, it’s served by 12 Pace bus routes. Additionally, the station is served by taxis as well as corporate and hotel shuttles. The station also has a 798-space Park & Ride lot for commuters and a drop off (Kiss-n-Ride) area.

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