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Where the Sidewalk Ends: New Hope for Pedestrians in Altgeld Gardens

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Altgeld Gardens residents return from Rosebud Farm Stand on the dirt road next to the market. Photo: John Greenfield

[The Chicago Reader recently launched a new weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership will allow Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We’ll be syndicating a portion of the column on the day it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

For years, Altgeld Gardens-area resident Deloris Lucas has pushed for a sidewalk on 130th Street, an interstate-like truck route that serves as the northern boundary of this far south-side public housing project.

“[Altgeld is] a poor area that’s a food desert, where people don’t even realize we lack facilities like sidewalks and bus shelters,” says Lucas, 59. Since 1967, Lucas has lived in Golden Gate, a quaint enclave of single-family homes just west of the housing project.

Due to lack of interest from decision makers, her crusade hasn’t gained much traction since she first told me about it in July 2014. But a new multimodal transportation plan for the area from the Chicago Department of Transportation may lead to Lucas finally getting her sidewalk.

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Deloris Lucas. Photo: John Greenfield

For context, the Altgeld area is hemmed in by the Little Calumet River to the south and west, a water reclamation plant to the north, and the Bishop Ford to the east. CTA service is limited, and bike infrastructure is nonexistent. Median household income is less than a third of the city’s median of $47,250. Only about half of households own cars, compared with 72 percent citywide.

Access to nearby Rosebud Farm Stand, 525 E. 130th, is a particular sore spot. It’s the area’s sole grocery store, but it’s difficult to access by foot. The only way to walk there from the west is via a narrow trail pedestrians have worn on the south side of the five-lane highway. Walking north to Rosebud from Altgeld means taking a rutted dirt lane.

Lucas began her advocacy after she was laid off from her job as a CPS teaching assistant in 2013. She launched the grassroots Safety and Transit Action Council, currently made up of a dozen or so neighbors. The group soon partnered with the Active Transportation Alliance and the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children to assess her neighborhood’s walkability. In addition to sidewalks, the groups determined the community needs more crosswalks, STOP FOR PEDESTRIAN signs, pedestrian islands, speed humps, and streetlights.

The Chicago Housing Authority has earmarked money to pave the lane between Altgeld Gardens and Rosebud, and the project is currently out to bid, according to an Active Trans rep.

But the sidewalk on 130th has been a tougher nut to crack. It’s a state route, which would normally give the Illinois Department of Transportation control over upgrades. However, agency spokesman Guy Tridgell said 130th is actually maintained by CDOT, which is also responsible for sidewalk construction in the city.

Read the rest of the article on the Chicago Reader website.

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IDOT Provides an Update on the North Lake Shore Drive Reconstruction Study

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IDOT is considering the possibility of extending Lake Shore Park east over the drive via a “land bridge.” Photo: Charles Papanek

Starting in 2013, the Illinois and Chicago transportation department have hosted a series of public meetings on the North Lake Shore Drive reconstruction study, dubbed “Redefine the Drive.” At a hearing in July 2014, planners introduced Chicagoans to the project’s latest purpose and needs statement (essentially a mission statement), while also asking attendees to chime in with their own ideas for the corridor.

IDOT seems to have been busy since that last meeting, but they still haven’t presented a preliminary list of design alternatives for improving the eight-lane highway. Instead, a hearing held last week at the Chicago History Museum served as a behind-the-scenes look at IDOT’s planning process.

First, the IDOT staffers presented data gathered at the July 2014 meeting. There were 330 attendees who left 750 comments, which included 1,600 ideas. That’s a good indication that the public is paying close attention to the project, even in its early stages.

Next, the planners discussed their methods for forecasting future travel demand on the drive, using data about upcoming transportation projects from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s Go To 2040 plan. The region the planners are studying is a wide area, bounded by Touhy Avenue to the north, I-90/94 to the west, I-55 to the south, and Lake Michigan to the east.

The data was surprising: The population of this area was predicted to grow 15-to-20 percent between 2010 and 2040 with negligible motor vehicle traffic growth. This info provides a massive boost to arguments for prioritizing transit in the redesign of the highway.

The presenters then talked about several potential roadway junction designs. Most are so complex that grade separation for pedestrian and bike routes was highly recommended. This seems to go against the spirit of an earlier statement from IDOT that Lakeshore Drive is a “boulevard through a park and not a highway.”

On the positive side, the planner said IDOT is open to relocating or even removing some of the junctions. The Wilson Avenue interchange is probably the best candidate for removal due to its close proximity to other junctions.

Next, the presenters discussed transit on the drive, including some noteworthy statistics. The highway sees 70,000 transit trips a day on nine bus routes, accounting for about one-fifth of all passenger trips. This number is projected to grow 15-20 percent by 2040, while the number of car trips will stay flat.

To address this growth in transit ridership, the project team is looking into many alternatives including bus-on-shoulder (like some existing PACE routes), dedicated bus lanes, and even light rail. Options like these would give transit the dedicated, traffic jam-free space it needs and deserves.

Other ideas included queue jumps for buses entering and exiting the drive, as well as bus-only exit ramps located in the center of the drive. Traffic signal priority, which extends green lights and shortens reds to keep buses from getting stuck at intersections, is also being considered.

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The Loop Link Bus Rapid Transit System Launches This Sunday

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Loop Link corridor on Washington near Franklin. Photo: CDOT

The long-awaited Loop Link bus rapid transit corridor, featuring dedicated bus lanes, limited stops, island stations, and other timesaving features, will begin operations this Sunday, December 20. Whether the new system is deemed to be a success or a failure by Chicagoans will be a crucial factor in whether the city moves forward with its plan for a more robust BRT system on Ashland Avenue.

Loop Link will provide an express route across the Loop for six CTA bus lines that terminate in various corners of the city, including the #J14 Jeffery Jump, #20 Madison, #56 Milwaukee, #60 Blue Island/26th, #124 Navy Pier, and #157 Streeterville/Taylor. The route includes red bus-only lanes and extra-large bus shelters on Madison and Washington in the Loop, plus red bus-only lanes on Canal and Clinton in the West Loop. The city projects the system will double rush hour bus speeds, which are currently a glacial pace of 3 mph.

Some of the planned features of the Loop Link route have been reduced, modified, or delayed, but it should still offer a significant improvement in service. The system won’t include stoplights that turn green when a bus approaches, truly level boarding, or enclosed stations, and pre-paid boarding won’t be piloted until next year.

But the system will include limited bus stops, signal timing that gives buses a head start over cars, nearly level boarding, and extra-long bus shelters with lots of seating. Prepaid boarding should be tested next summer at the Madison/Dearborn Loop Link station, the busiest stop in the system, according to Mike Claffey from the Chicago Department of Transportation, which is building the Loop Link infrastructure.

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Rendering of BRT on Washington at LaSalle.

Seven of the eight planned bus stations are nearly complete. The eighth one at Washington/Wabash was delayed by the construction of a new ‘L’ station at that location, but that bus shelter should open in January, Claffey said.

The dedicated bus lane on Canal should be finished this spring. CDOT is currently building a new bus-boarding center just south of Union Station, which is slated for completion this summer.

The Loop Link corridor already includes a new eastbound protected bike lane on Washington, located between the island bus stations and the sidewalk, plus a two-way protected lane on Clinton. An existing westbound bike lane on Madison has been removed, and it will be replaced by a new westbound protected lane on Randolph, after a construction project is finished at Block 37.

Two of the six bus routes will be modified to take advantage of the Loop Link corridor. The Jeffery Jump, which was the first route in the city to pilot BRT-style elements like dedicated lanes and signal priority on its South Side leg, will run eastbound on Washington instead of Monroe in the Loop. The Navy Pier route will uses Washington instead of Wacker.

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A New Hope in the Land of the NIMBY? Introducing Jefferson Park Forward

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Jefferson Park Forward want more development near the local transit center. Photo: Andrea Bauer, Chicago Reader

[The Chicago Reader recently launched a new weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership will allow Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We’ll be syndicating a portion of the column on the day it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

There’s a culture war going on in Jefferson Park, a middle-class community in Chicago’s northwest side bungalow belt that’s home to many city and county workers. Some longtime residents want the neighborhood to remain an enclave of low-slung houses and two-flats, where driving and parking are prioritized. Others, many of them newer arrivals, want to see the community become more urban, with more apartments near the Jefferson Park Transit Center, and better conditions for walking and biking.

“I choose to live here because I like the way it is,” wrote Carlene Blumenthal, a board member of the conservative Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association. “I am a proud NIMBY.”

Indeed, in recent years, the neighborhood association has spearheaded “Not In My Back Yard”-type opposition to several proposed multiunit buildings and sustainable transportation improvements.

“This is a semi-suburban area,” recently-elected board president Bob Bank told me. “We’d like nothing [taller] than what’s the current zoning in downtown Jefferson Park, mostly four stories or less.” The 56-year-old AT&T employee and his wife have lived and raised their three now-adult children in Jefferson Park since 1983.

On the progressive side of this battle are people like 34-year-old transportation planner Ryan Richter. Richter grew up in Jefferson Park and moved back in 2009 after buying a house, where he lives with his wife and two young daughters. He joined the neighborhood association in January, then ran against Bank in September to be its new board president. (He didn’t win.)

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Ryan Richter. Photo: Andrea Bauer, Chicago Reader

“The JPNA doesn’t see how important density is for taking advantage of our rich transit resources,” Richter argues. The transit center, located just northwest of the Lawrence/Milwaukee commercial district, is served by the Blue Line, Metra, and 12 bus routes. The neighborhood association has fought several plans for development near the station.

“There’s no vision there,” Richter griped. “They’re against everything, but they’re not for anything.”

The neighborhood association has also been a constant irritant to 45th Ward alderman John Arena, who is himself a thorn in Mayor Emanuel’s side as a leader of City Council’s Progressive Caucus.

Like Richter, Arena has argued that transit-friendly housing and walkable, bikeable streets are crucial for revitalizing a neighborhood blighted by vacant lots and empty storefronts. “We are blessed with tremendous access to public transit,” 45th Ward chief of staff Owen Brugh told DNAinfo’s Heather Cherone last year. “We should play to our strengths.”

This ideological clash came to a head during the September board election. Bank, who had previously made unsuccessful bids for alderman and committeeman, says he ran for president at the behest of board members who feared the organization was being taken over by urbanists like Richter. Bank won by a vote of 60 to 27.

Richter has since launched a new group called Jefferson Park Forward. “A lot of people were disgusted with the JPNA and wanted an outlet for positive change,” he said. “Many of them are relatively new to the community and somewhat younger, and they want more bike facilities, walkable urban spaces, and independent businesses.”

Read the rest of the story on the Chicago Reader website.

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Transit Rankings Agree: Chicago’s Service Not As Good As Other Big Cities

While the South Loop has a “Transit Score” of 93, the city as a whole has a score of 65, ranking it sixth place in the United States.

A recent analysis of transit service in United States cities found that Chicago ranked #6, behind New York City, San Francisco, Boston, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. Transit Score, from the Walk Score company now owned by the realtor Redfin, reviewed public schedules data provided by the transit agencies in each city to study how often trains and buses come to stops near people’s homes.

Analysis from other organizations used different methodologies but made similar conclusions. Regardless of our ranking, transit in the city of Chicago and the region looks to be behind its peers.

Redfin spokesperson Alex Starace said that “for its size…Chicago is lagging in transit options and efficiency.” One reason that could explain why Chicago ranks sixth is that the Transit Score methodology give twice as much weight to run schedules at train stations as bus stops. Chicago has over 10,000 bus stops, and dozens of CTA and Metra train stations that are separated from residences by highways and in low-density areas. Additionally, many Metra stations on the South and West sides of Chicago have low service frequency.

“Rail better than bus”

Their reasoning in weighting this is to essentially say that people are better served by trains than buses. Starace said that the Walk Score advisory board provided input on that decision, describing further that, “bus lines are generally not as valuable as rail lines” because “they’re subject to move or change, which means that no real estate developer would invest in land because it’s near a bus line.”

Additionally, Starace said, “buses, more so than rail, are generally subject to vagaries of prevailing traffic, making their timing, speed and reliability lower than those of rail lines,” and that even if you run larger buses, they “generally hold far fewer people than a rail line can.”

But no developers? There’s a lot more at stake than whether a parcel they want to develop is near a train or bus stop. Is building at Western and the Eisenhower superior to Western and North because the former has a Blue Line station? Existing real estate developers in Chicago currently attract tenants by marketing the nearby express bus routes the CTA runs to north and south lakefront neighborhoods.

Where Chicago ranks, though, is perplexing because none of Chicago’s rail transit lines run in mixed traffic like the light rail trains and streetcars in San Francisco, Boston, and Philadelphia, all of which got the same 2x weight as CTA and Metra stations. Those light rail trains and streetcars are subject to the same “vagaries of prevailing traffic” as buses.

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Tour Bus Driver Fatally Struck Professor Who Was Walking to an Art Exhibit

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The intersection of Monroe and Michigan. Image: Google Street View

Hiromi Hosono, 42, an agriculture professor from Japan, was killed earlier this month by the driver of a trolley-themed tour bus who failed to yield while making a right turn.

Hosono, who was serving as a visiting professor at Cornell University, had been touring dairy farms in the Midwest when she decided to visit Chicago to go sight-seeing, and stayed at the Palmer House Hotel at 17 East Monroe, the Chicago Tribune reported. At around 10:20 a.m. on Saturday, November 21, she was heading to an art exhibit, authorities said. It was snowing at the time.

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Hiromi Hosono.

While Hosono was in a crosswalk at Michigan Avenue and Monroe Street, crossing legally with the walk signal, the tour bus driver, a 49-year-old woman, made a right turn and ran over her, according to authorities. Police News Affairs and local news reports did not indicate what directions Hosono and the driver were traveling.

A witness told the Tribune that when he went to aid Hosono, she was lying in the street face up, and she opened her eyes and moved her head slightly when he spoke to her. Other bystanders place coats around and over her and shielded her from the snow with an umbrella. First responders arrived minutes later. Hosono was pronounced dead at 10:24 a.m.

The bus driver was cited for striking a pedestrian in the crosswalk. Major Accidents is investigating the case, according to News Affairs.

Hosono’s colleague Andy Novakovic, who had been with her on the farm tour, described her as a vivacious, intellectually curious person with many friends. “It was a lovely week that tragically ended a beautiful life of a most vibrant and joyful woman,” Novakovic said in a statement. “She was someone worth remembering.”

Update 12/1/15: The bus driver was heading east from Monroe and turning south onto Michigan, and Hosono was crossing Michigan when she was struck, according to Officer Thomas Sweeney from News Affairs. Therefore, it appears the collision took place in the intersection’s south crosswalk.

Fatality Tracker: 2015 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths
Pedestrian: 29 (11 were hit-and-run crashes)
Bicyclist: 6 (two were hit-and-run crashes)

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

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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.

Read more…

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

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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

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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.”

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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…