South Siders are hopeful Halsted bus project will lead to faster, more reliable service

Photo: Jeff Zoline
Photo: Jeff Zoline

How to deliver efficient, reliable, and appealing bus service in an era when traffic-clogging car trips, fueled by the growing popularity of ride-hail, are on the rise is a major challenge facing local transit agencies. To help tackle that issue, yesterday the CTA and Pace held a public meeting at the Woodson Regional Public Library, 9525 S. Halsted, to collect input from residents on the South Halsted Bus Corridor Enhancement Project.

The project’s study corridor includes 10 miles of South Halsted, from the Pace Harvey Transportation Center (located at 153rd Street) to 79th Street. The corridor includes east-west segments at 79th Street and 95th Street that connect with the 79th and 95th/Dan Ryan Red Line stations.

The project area. Image: CTA
The project area. Image: CTA

South Halsted carries 11,500 bus riders per day. The transit improvements developed in this study should also complement CTA’s planned extension of the south Red Line from 95th Street to 130th Street.

Potential strategies to modernize service in this corridor include dedicated bus lanes, queue jumps, and Pace Pulse service south of 95th. Pulse lines have limited stops, relatively high-frequency service, transit-friendly stoplights, level boarding, bus stops with real-time info screens, and branded buses with digital screens, Wi-Fi and USB charging ports.

With the help of an advisory group made up of local community leaders, a Corridor Evaluation, Recommendations, and Project Strategy Final Report (Project Definition Report) was developed as part of an initial evaluation of the corridor. The transit agencies are now presenting the results to the public for feedback, through February 7. Stakeholder communities include Harvey, Phoenix, Dixmoor, Riverdale, Calumet Park, and the Chicago neighborhoods of West Pullman, Morgan Park, Roseland, Washington Heights, and Auburn Gresham.

Read more about the South Halsted Bus Corridor Enhancement Project here. You can email comments to southhalstedbus[at]transitchicago.com.

Attendees talk with CTA reps and check out displays at the meeting. Photo: James Porter
Attendees talk with CTA reps and check out displays at the meeting. Photo: James Porter

At the meeting, CTA chief planning officer Michael Connelly provided more background on the South Halsted project. “In any study that we do of the service, we have to look at the whole network,” he said. “The best way to characterize it is that the east-west bus routes intersect with the north-south bus routes to provide a full network. We do have a lot of transfers from one bus route to another, or bus to rail. That complete network covers the city and allows people to get around. Whatever we do on a north south street like Halsted will then have some impact or need to be looked at in terms of what the impact would be on the east west bus routes to connect as well.”

CTA director of strategic planning and policy Leah Mooney said the agency estimates that the project will get underway at the start of 2023. “We really have to line up funding for this, so we did an initial study with Pace,” she said. “This is the beginning of our public process and we’re going through federal environmental clearance. We’re trying to make this eligible for federal funding through [the National Environmental Policy Act]. That process of identifying funding is the thing that drives the schedule the most.”

The 2020 timeline for the project. Image: CTA
The 2020 timeline for the project. Image: CTA

Mooney added that the planners will have to do additional engineering work and traffic when finalizing the design of features to improve service. While amenities like bus lanes, which would take space away from private vehicles, have the potential to slow down drivers somewhat, she said any impact on non-bus traffic would be “not substantial.”

CTA rider Sherrell Moore said she’s cautiously optimistic about the possibility of improving service on Halsted. But she added that she’s a little skeptical, given that South Siders have been waiting for the South Red Line extension since the Nixon presidency. “They’ve been talking about extending the Red Line for a long time,” she said. “When they were done with the [95th Street station] renovations, they said they would extend the trains to 130th. They haven’t done it yet. That’s probably more money than they had to spend.” Indeed, the CTA is still a long way from lining up the estimated $2.3 billion needed for that project. Moore said she feels that if the agency haven’t made much headway with the proposed Red Line extension, then the current project might not fare much better.

17th Ward alderman David Moore (no relation) dismisses such concerns, though he said it’s understandable that some South Siders are a little cynical about the the likelihood of getting transit improvements given the history of the Red Line extension. “I’m glad the CTA came out to the community to educate everyone,” he said. “This whole thing is about is efficiently and effectively moving people, so that people can get to work in a timely fashion.”

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