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Posts from the Bus Transit Category


Norway or the Highway? Oslo’s Car-Free Plan Should Inspire Chicago


Madison Street, part of the Loop Link network, might be a good candidate to be a car-free street. Photo: John Greenfield

[This article also runs in Checkerboard City, John’s transportation column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings.]

“I think we should look to countries like Denmark, and Sweden and Norway, and learn from what they’ve accomplished,” socialist presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said recently. That statement surely gave the Republicans hives.

One area where U.S. cities like Chicago should definitely look to Scandinavia for inspiration is traffic management. Last month, the newly elected city council of Oslo, Norway, announced that it plans to make the central city free of private cars by 2019. It’s part of a plan to cut greenhouse emissions in half within five years, as compared to 1990 levels.

“We want to make it better for pedestrians and cyclists,” Lan Marie Nguyen Berg from the city’s Green Party told reporters. The party won the September 14 election along with its allies from the Labor and Socialist Left parties. “It will be better for shops and everyone.”

European cities like London and Madrid charge congestion fees to drivers entering their downtowns, and others have car-free days in their city centers, like Paris did last September. But Oslo’s plan is said to be the first total and permanent ban of private cars in the center of a European capital. Streetcars and buses will continue to provide downtown access, and accommodations will be made for deliveries and people with disabilities, the three parties said in a statement.

The politicians hope to reduce overall car traffic in Oslo by twenty percent by 2019, when the next election will be held, and thirty percent by 2030. “In 2030, there will still be people driving cars but they must be zero-emissions,” Nguyen Berg said.

The initiative involves a “massive boost” in transit funding, subsidies for the purchase of electric bicycles, and the construction of at least thirty-seven miles of new bike lanes by 2019. In comparison, Chicago has installed 103 miles of bike lanes over the last four years. But since Oslo has less than a quarter of our population, their goal is the equivalent of the Windy City installing 154 miles of lanes.

While I’m not suggesting that Chicagoans will be swapping Italian beef for lutefisk any time soon, we would do well to consider a similar strategy for reducing congestion and pollution. I’m not proposing that private automobiles be immediately banned from all streets in the entire central business district, or even the Loop proper. But, along with Streetsblog Chicago’s Steven Vance, I’ve brainstormed a few ideas about how car-free and car-lite roadways could make downtown travel safer, more efficient and more pleasant.

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New Ashland, Western Express Buses Will Be Fast, But BRT Would Be Faster

Southbound Ashland bus

The current #9 Ashland bus. Photo: John Greenfield

Bus riders who take buses on Ashland and Western Avenues are getting faster, more reliable service. The Chicago Transit Authority is bringing back the old express bus routes on these streets, and they’re also adding transit signal prioritization and cutting little-used stops on the local bus runs. While these are welcome improvements, the city should move forward with its plan for full-fledged bus rapid transit service on Ashland, which would be much faster than the express buses.

The X9 Ashland and X49 Western expresses bus routes, along with all other X routes and other service, were cut in 2010. The new express buses will make about half as many stops as the local buses, which provides a significant time savings. Later, the CTA and the Chicago Department of Transportation will add Transit Signal Priority. By extending stoplights turn green faster as a bus approaches, or extending the green, TSP helps keep riders from getting stuck at intersections.

The local buses on Ashland and Western will also be faster because the CTA is removing some stops where few people board or disembark, so that buses will stop approximately every one-quarter mile instead of every one-eighth mile. It then makes sense for riders to simply hop on the first bus that shows up at an express stop, rather than waiting for an express bus, because waiting for the express might cancel out any time savings from fewer stops.

Daniel Kay Hertz charted the projected travel time gains of the Ashland and Western service on his blog City Notes. He compared the CTA’s estimates of the travel times for the current bus service, the new local service, the new express service, and the proposed Ashland bus rapid transit system. Hertz’s chart makes it clear that while consolidating stops on the local buses will result in a significant time saving, the new express buses won’t be that much faster than the new locals.

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By Popular Demand, CTA Will Test Restored Lincoln and 31st Street Bus Lines

#11 Lincoln CTA Bus Route

Currently, the #11 terminates at Western Avenue. Photo: Jeff Zoline

At Monday’s Chicago Transit Authority budget hearing, politicians and residents implored the CTA board to bring restore the 31st Street bus and Lincoln Avenue bus routes. The #31 bus line was canceled in 1997, while the segment of the #11 Lincoln route between Western and Fullerton was eliminated in 2012.

At the hearing, Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), who has helped lead the charge for restored service, noted that the Lincoln bus was formerly a lifeline for seniors in his ward. Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) noted that a new development planned for Lincoln Park will bring over 1,000 residences to the neighborhood, increasing the demand for transit. Ald. Patrick Daley (11th) proposed a new 31st Street route that would connect the 31st/Ashland Orange Line stop, the Sox/35th Red Line station, and 31st Street Beach. A number of their constituents spoke up as well.

Despite this urging, it seemed unlikely the board could make a decision on the matter and revise their proposed 2016 spending plan in time for today’s scheduled budget vote. However, at this afternoon’s meeting, CTA President Dorval Carter made a surprise announcement that next spring the agency will conduct pilots of the restored #31 and #11 bus service.

Details are still being finalized, including the exact locations, days and times of the service, and the duration of the pilot, according to a source at the CTA. As soon as those details are known, the agency will work with the aldermen and their communities to promote the pilot tests. Depending on how much ridership the routes get, service may ultimately be restored on a permanent basis, the source said.

“We’re thrilled about the news,” said Pawar’s community outreach director Dara Salk. “We’re very grateful to the board for listening to our concerns and taking action.”


Residents and Politicians Urge CTA to Restore Lincoln, 31st Street Bus Service

They want their bus back

CTA riders have been donning yellow shirts to signify that they want the agency to restore bus routes on Lincoln Avenue and 31st Street.

During the public comment period of last night’s Chicago Transit Authority’s budget hearing, the only one the agency is holding this year, many politicians and residents urged the CTA board to restore the Lincoln Avenue and 31st Street bus routes.

The hearing opened with budget director Tom McKone providing an overview of the 2016 spending plan. It maintains virtually all current bus service and brings back the old express bus routes on Ashland Avenue and Western Avenue. As a strategy to avoid a fare hike, the budget includes layoffs for some management staff, plus eliminating some vacant positions.

When the floor was opened for comments, Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) said she was once again there to “respectfully request” that the board find a place in the budget to restore the full #11 Lincoln bus route. In 2012, as part of several bus line cuts to help fund the CTA’s “de-crowding plan” for additional train service, the agency cancelled bus service on Lincoln between the Brown Line’s Western stop and the Fullerton station. Smith said the strategy hasn’t been a success.

Smith noted that her Lincoln Park ward includes many college students, young professionals, and seniors – the most common demographics for frequent transit users, both locally and nationally, she said. Smith added new developments, including the redevelopment of the former Children’s Memorial Hospital site at Fullerton/Halsted/Lincoln, will bring over 1,000 new residences and over 150,000 square feet of retail to the Lincoln Avenue corridor.

Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), who has been leading the charge to restore the #11 ever since service was cut, was more somber when he addressed the board. Pawar said he wants his ward to include affordable neighborhoods where people can age in place. He added that, despite the increased capacity on the Brown Line, the elimination of Lincoln service makes it harder for many of his constituents to get to destinations within the ward.

Alder Ameya Pawar (47th) asking the board to reinstate the 11-Lincoln Ave bus

Ald. Pawar appeared again before the CTA board asking for them to reinstate the 11-Lincoln bus.

One North Side resident testified that the Brown Line is often too crowded to be a satisfactory replacement for the Lincoln bus. Another asked that the existing #11 route be extended north from Fullerton to at least Belmont Avenue, so that she could access a nearby Jewel-Osco.

Bridgeport’s Ald. Patrick Thompson (11th), elected this year, spoke up in favor of restoring the #31 bus, which was cut in 1997. “A lot has changed in our community” since then, Thompson said, noting that there has been a new wave of development in recent years and better transit could help reduce congestion. He proposed a bus route that would serve the 31st/Ashland Orange Line station and the Sox/35th Red Line stop, ending at 31st Street beach. Read more…


The New Ventra App Will Make Metra Easier to Ride For Millions of People

Update Nov. 18: The Ventra app is available half a day early. Download for Android and iOS

The Ventra app will be released this month, making it more convenient to pay your Metra fare, whether you’re an occasional rider or a daily commuter. The best thing about the app is that it allows you to buy tickets and passes via your smartphone. That means no waiting in line at a ticket booth, using an ill-designed ticket vending machine, or paying a surcharge on board. That’s a big plus if you’re rushing to catch a train and don’t have time to buy a ticket at the station.

Why am I so confident that the Ventra App will be convenient to use? I’m part of the app’s beta testing group, and I recently used the app during a Metra excursion to the South Deering neighborhood for a fried fish snack at Calumet Fisheries. Aside from some visual quirks that I find very annoying, including flashing screens and unpolished buttons and dialog boxes, I found that the app performs all functions flawlessly.

You’ll be able to use the Ventra app to start, stop, and change auto-load preferences on your account, setting how much money you want drawn from your credit or debit card when it dips below $10. The Ventra app also has a built-in transit tracker. It shows the nearest Metra and ‘L’ stations, as well as bus stops, plus the predicted time the train or bus will show up or, in the case of Metra, the scheduled departure time.

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The Yellow Line’s Revival Was Anything But (Skokie) Swift


The maiden voyage of the resurrected Yellow Line featured circa-1976 rail cars. Photo: Jeff Zoline

The CTA Yellow Line, aka the Skokie Swift, and its “Swift Bird” logo, have finally rose from the ashes this morning, following an embankment collapse last May. Getting the rail line back in operation posed plenty of challenges for both the public and the CTA.

The Yellow Line runs between the Howard Street, at the Chicago / Evanston border, and Dempster Street in nort-suburban Skokie, with an intermediate stop at Oakton Street in Skokie. The trip takes an average of about 10 minutes. According to the April 2015 CTA ridership report, published just before the embankment collapse, the line had served 299,365 ride so far in 2015. That represents an average of 2,271 riders a day on weekdays, 1,533 riders on Saturdays and 1,301 riders on Sundays.

The collapse occurred on May 17 as a result of construction on adjacent property owned by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. Contractors were building an underground pipeline from the MWRD’s O’Brien Water Treatment Plant at Howard and McCormick Boulevard to a new disinfectant plant at Oakton Street and McCormick, just north of the Yellow Line embankmen The tunneling caused the collapse of the section of embankment just west of McCormick.

While the ‘L’ line was shut down, the CTA ran free shuttle buses on the same schedule as the train service. The buses traveled between the three stations via Dempster Street, Skokie Boulelvard and Howard, which generally took 30 minutes per trip instead of the usual ten, since the buses got stuck in traffic. The Village of Skokie offered free parking at Dempster during the outage in an effort to make up for the inconvenience.

Repairs to the embankment and rail line were a long and painstaking process. The CTA originally estimated that Yellow service would resume within a month, but the work and the coordination between the different involved parties proved to be more difficult than expected.

The CTA, MWRD, Village of Skokie and Walsh Construction, the contractor, eventually agreed that the pipeline work should be completed first before restoring train service, in order to ensure that there wouldn’t be a second service-disrupting collapse. Once the pipeline work was done, the CTA began performing repairs to the tracks and infrastructure. Once that work was completed, they ran unoccupied trains with weights to simulate a full load of passengers.


Passengers on the inaugural commute were glad they donut have to take 30-minute shuttle bus trips anymore. Photo: Jeff Zoline

The CTA and the Village of Skokie have both suffered financial losses due to the service shutdown. According to the Chicago Tribune, the MWRD has taken responsibility for the accident and will reimburse the CTA for lost revenue and repairs. The estimate is around $3.5 million dollars for the loss of fare revenue, the cost of running the shuttles and the redirection of rail car maintenance operations to the South Side, which required transporting the rail cars by truck.

The loss in riders was severe. The CTA reported that the shuttles only saw about the half the typical ridership of the Yellow Line trains. Due to the much longer travel times between Yellow stations, many riders used other CTA, Metra, or Pace routes, or simply opted to drive instead.

The logistical challenges for rail car maintenance were a major issue as well. The CTA’s heavy maintenance facility known as the Skokie Shops was cut off from railway access. Operations were moved to the 63rd Street Yard along the CTA Green Line, which required trucking the rail cars.

Major repairs could only be performed at the Skokie Shops and redeployment had to occur at 63rd Street due to the amenities and equipment in the respective yards. Deployment of new railcars had to be moved to 63rd treet as well.

The Village of Skokie experienced a loss of commerce due to the reduced transit accessibility. Some businesses near the Oakton and Dempster stations reported declines in sales. The Village also lost revenue from waiving the fee for parking at the Dempster stop.

The Yellow Line returned to service early this morning. A public ceremony was held at the Oakton station with CTA President Dorval Carter, Jr., Skokie Village Mayor George Van Dusen, Congresswoman Jan Schakowski and a representative from the MWRD addressing the crowd. Two new 5000 Series Railcars were deployed, and customers also got to ride on Bicentennial-decorated 2400 series railcars, complete with disco-era advertising. Commuters on the trains expressed relief that they’ll no longer have to deal with a 30-minute trip from Dempster to Howard.

After 5 months without Yellow Line service, the CTA and the village of Skokie are hoping to regain lost ridership and commerce by offering incentives to lure back riders. These include free fares for riders boarding at the Dempster and Oakton Street stations through November 6th and free parking at the Dempster Station for the remainder of the year. They’re also spreading the good news about the resurrected service via fliers, signs at stations and key bus stops, customer audio alerts, social media, and door-to-do outreach in Skokie. Hopefully ridership will soon return to its pre-collapse levels.


CDOT Promises the Miró-Obscuring BRT Station Won’t Be an Art Faux-Pas


The Rake’s Progress: The new bus shelter, which doesn’t yet have glass panels, is currently making the inconspicuous sculpture even harder to notice. Photo: Steve Marsala

Don’t worry art lovers, the city assures us that the project to bring faster, more efficient bus service to the Loop won’t permanently upstage one of Chicago’s most beloved public sculptures. The Chicago Department of Transportation says they have plans to use lighting and signs to highlight a statue by the famed Spanish artist Joan Miró, which is now located behind a giant Loop Link bus rapid transit shelter.

The sculpture, officially titled “The Sun, the Moon, and One Star,” but better known as “Miró’s Chicago” or “Miss Chicago,” was installed in 1981under Mayor Jane Byrne. It already had less-than-stellar placement in Brunswick Plaza, a dark nook sandwiched between the Cook County Administration Building and the Chicago Temple Building.

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Photo: Steve Marsala

The Miró statue, which looks something like a lady in a dress with a fork coming out of her head, is located across the street from Daley Plaza. There, the lion-like “Chicago Picasso,” by Miró’s colleague Pablo Picasso, is much more prominently displayed.

The Loop Link project, expected to wrap up by the end of the year, is creating dedicated bus lanes on Washington and Madison Street in the Loop, plus protected bike lanes on Washington and Randolph. CTA customers will wait for a ride at eight 14-foot-tall bus shelters, averaging 90 feet in length, with a design that’s reminiscent of an upside-down rake.

Originally, the Chicago Department of Transportation planned to build fully enclosed stations that would have provided good weather protection. However, after merchants expressed concerns that their storefronts would be blocked, CDOT is instead building giant canopies with glass backs that stop several feet before the roof, so they may not offer much protection from blowing rain and snow. However, a concrete bench will run the length of each shelter, so there’ll be plenty of room to sit.

Despite the department’s efforts to make the canopies relatively unobtrusive, the shelter that they recently erected in front of the Miró makes the previously inconspicuous sculpture even harder to notice from the street. Karen R. Nussbaum, a classical singer who performs at the Chicago Temple, wrote a passionate letter to the Sun-Times decrying the situation:

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CDOT Will Create a Multi-Modal Transportation Plan for Altgeld Gardens Area

Map of Riverdale community area

Rail lines, viaducts, the Bishop Ford Expressway, the Calumet River and bridges surrounding Riverdale all create barriers for people walking or biking. Image: CDOT

Residents in the Riverdale community area, which includes the Altgeld Gardens, Eden Green, Golden Gate, and Riverdale neighborhoods, are surrounded by barriers that make it hard to travel within and beyond the area. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning recently awarded the Chicago Department of Transportation a Local Technical Assistance grant to create a multi-modal transportation plan for the area. In the grant application [PDF] CDOT noted that Riverdale residents are hemmed in by large industrial land uses, the Bishop Ford Expressway, four railroads, and the Little Calumet River. Additionally, all of the arterial streets are recommend truck routes, “creating an additional challenge for people walking and biking due to high truck traffic and speeds.”

“There is a need to improve access to adjacent neighborhoods, recreational opportunities, transit service, and employment centers,” said CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey. He added that there are many “nearby developments…or existing resources that support active transportation…but are difficult to access via walking, biking, or transit.” These include the Cal-Sag Trail, Major Taylor Trail, Wolf Lake Trail System, Millennium Reserve, and the Pullman National Historic Monument. In addition, Claffey noted, local residents are in support of improving transportation options.

In the application, CDOT pointed out that there’s a much lower rate of car ownership in these communities compared to the rest of the city. The area has limited transit access, sidewalks are often missing, and there are no bikeways. The median household income ranges from $13,000 to $14,500, far below the city’s median of $47,250.

The transportation plan will be a collaborative effort, Claffey said. They’ll work with a local organization called the Safety & Transit Action Council, led by Deloris Lucas. CDOT said in the application that they would also involve other organizations working on nearby projects, including Friends of the Major Taylor Trail, Friends of the Cal-Sag Trail, the Southeast Environmental Task Force, and Slow Roll Chicago. We Keep You Rollin’, a new biking group that launched in the Riverdale area last February, will also be involved.

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House Transpo Bill Spells Trouble for Transit Projects Across America


Chicago’s Red and Purple Line modernization project could be delayed or worse under the funding formulas in the House transportation bill, says Representative Dan Lipinski. Image via CTA

A provision in the House GOP’s new transportation bill threatens to upend how transit agencies fund major capital projects, delaying or killing efforts to expand and maintain rail and bus networks.

The Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act (STRR), released Tuesday and marked up in committee yesterday, would change funding rules for the three federal programs that support transit maintenance and expansion projects, known as New Starts, Small Starts, and Core Capacity.

Currently, transit capital projects are eligible to receive 80 percent of their funding from federal sources, with local sources providing the remaining 20 percent. This is the same as the federal match available for highway projects. But the new House bill would cut the maximum federal match for transit projects to 50 percent while leaving the highway formula untouched. The bill would also prohibit transit agencies from counting funds from other federal programs (TIFIA loans, for instance) toward the local portion.

Representatives from urban areas warn that the House bill jeopardizes projects to maintain and improve transit systems. At the mark-up hearing yesterday, Representative Dan Lipinski, a Democrat who represents Chicago, said the measure “could end or delay Red and Purple Line modernization projects in Chicago.”

By cutting the potential share of project funds available from federal sources, the bill would also make transit projects less appealing relative to highways in the eyes of local governments, which would have to pitch in a smaller percentage for road projects.

Smaller cities are more likely to take advantage of federal matching funds that exceed 50 percent of a project’s total cost. Albuquerque, for instance, is counting on an 80 percent match to build its downtown BRT route. Larger cities are more likely to supplement a 50 percent federal grant with another source of federal funds, like TIFIA loans.

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The New CTA Budget Doesn’t Include a Fare Hike, But It Should

Today, the Chicago Transit Authority cheerfully tweeted that their proposed 2016 budget calls for no fare hikes or service cuts, plus some improvements in service. That sounds good in principle, but there are a few reasons why not raising fares next year is actually a bad idea.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel will announce the new CTA budget recommendations [PDF] at 1:45 p.m. today, at the Blue Line’s Addison station. He’ll likely say that the CTA is avoiding a fare hike in order to support working families. At the same time, he’ll probably note that the transit agency will still be completing new projects next year, such as the Addison stop rehab, which will make the station wheelchair accessible.

The proposed budget is lean, but it’s far from draconian. It eliminates 100 “non-critical” staffed and unfilled positions, but it also provides funding for the return of two peak-only express bus routes, the X49 on Western Avenue and the X9 on Ashland Avenue.

Most straphangers will be pleased by the news that fares aren’t going up next year. However, it makes more sense to gradually raise fares every year, rather than implementing big hikes every three-to-five years, as has been the CTA’s habit.

The costs of running the system are constantly in flux, and the CTA has generally been good in the last 10 years at managing those costs, especially labor. But in its quest to keep fares low year after year, the agency may be laying off good employees and not providing the best possible service.

It’s important for the CTA to adjust the amount of money it takes in and spends as needed to improve buses and train service as ridership grows. The agency has only gotten better at controlling expenses. Revenues outside of tax support are mostly limited to fares, which currently make up 86 percent of its revenue stream. Moreover, farebox income is the revenue source with the greatest potential for gains.

Instead, none of the CTA’s prices would change next year. The “base fare,” which includes the $2.00 (bus) or $2.25 (train) single-ride ticket plus $0.25 transfers, was last raised in 2009. But the price of transit passes, which the CTA refers to as a “discounted fare,” went up dramatically in 2013. At the time, Emanuel argued that “fares stayed the same” because the base fare didn’t change, and said that driving was an alternative, despite fluctuating gas prices.

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