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The 31st Street Bus Rides Again – Now Can Residents Keep It Rolling?

Tuesday's Launch. Photo: Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community

On Tuesday, almost 20 years after the CTA axed the 31st Street bus route, the line began running again on a pilot basis. A little after 10 a.m., the first run of the resurrected route rolled out of the Ashland Orange Line station, cheered on by residents, community activists, and politicians.

The question is, with a limited route, frequency, and service hours, and weekday-only operation, will the route garner the 830 average daily trips the CTA wants to see during the six-month test in order to make the bus line permanent? Locals are determined to make it happen.

Groups like the Bridgeport AllianceCoalition for a Better Chinese American Community, and the Crosstown Bus Coalition lobbied the transit agency to restore the service, in conjunction with Northsiders’ efforts to bring back the full #11 Lincoln Avenue bus route. The #11 relaunched in June for a six-month pilot with buses running every 16-22 minutes between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. on weekdays, and a target of 1,500 average daily trips.

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The maiden voyage of the #31 bus. Photo: Tom Gaulke

The #31 pilot features the same limited service hours, but the South Side buses are only running every half hour. The CTA has noted that this is twice the frequency that existed when the 31st Street line was canceled. But residents have also pointed out that the new service doesn’t provide access to 31st Street Beach and the Lakefront Trail but instead stops more than a half mile west at the Lake Meadows Shopping Center.

Regardless, at Tuesday’s launch community activists celebrated their successful campaign to bring back the bus. "We've been working on this for several years," First Lutheran Church of the Trinity pastor Tom Gaulke, a member of the Bridgeport Alliance, told DNAinfo. "For a while I thought we weren't going to get it, but it turns out that the persistence of grass roots organizing and a collaboration across communities, across racial and economic lines, across ethnic lines, actually does pay off sometimes."

A press release from the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community notes that the Near South Side’s changing demographics means there’s more demand for the bus than there was back in the Nineties. “The neighborhoods along 31st Street have changed significantly in the past twenty years, with more diverse residents, particularly new immigrants who are low-­income with limited English proficiency,” it stated. “Without many east­-west public transit options between Cermak/Archer and 35th, many struggle[d] to access the increasing number of churches, parks, senior centers, businesses, schools and tutoring centers along 31st Street.”

The route for the 31st Street pilot. Map: CTA

Along with members of the Bridgeport Alliance and CBCAC, local politicians like 11th Ward alderman Patrick Thompson and Theresa Mah, who recently won the Democratic nomination to be state rep for Illinois' 2nd District, showed up for Tuesday’s launch, joined by members of the CTA board.

Debbie Liu, community development coordinator with CBCAC said local seniors who rode the bus on its inaugural day were excited to have a new option. “Some of them got on without knowing it was the first day,” Liu said. She noticed one woman who took the bus east from Halsted for a couple of blocks, carrying several bags of groceries.

Liu added that during the pilot community organizations and elected officials will hold promotions to encourage bus ridership. There will be a party to celebrate the new service this Friday from 4-7 p.m. at the First Lutheran Church of the Trinity’s parking lot, 643 West 31st. The family­-friendly event is free and open to public.

Liu says the bus advocates are hopeful that the scope of the bus service will eventually be improved. “[Residents] have expressed that there's still work that needs to be done on the morning hours, evening hours, weekend service, the route and frequency,” she said. “We plan to work with elected officials and the CTA to ensure the route works well throughout the pilot.”

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