Advocates win permanent restoration of 31st St. and Streeterville/Taylor bus routes

The launch of the 31st Street route as a pilot in September 2016. Photo: Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community
The launch of the 31st Street route as a pilot in September 2016. Photo: Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community

In the words of the social justice-minded Chicago soul group The Impressions, “It don’t make sense / Not to keep on pushing.”

Transit advocates who’ve tirelessly lobbied the CTA for years to restore the #31 #1st Street route and the #157 Streeterville/Taylor line finally achieved victory as the transit agency’s board voted this week to make pilot service on the routes permanent. The board also approved permanently realigning the #52 / #94 routes along Kedzie and California Avenues.

“The pandemic impacted daily travel habits for thousands of Chicagoans and these service changes reflect our responsiveness to the needs and desires of the communities we serve and those who are dependent on public transit services,” said CTA President Dorval R. Carter, Jr. in a statement. “It also is part of our work to expand our efforts to provide equitable service to all communities—especially those who rely on transit as a primary mode of transportation.”

“What a journey,” said Tom Gaulke of the Bridgeport Alliance, which advocated for the #31 on Facebook in response to the news the route would become permanent. “Congrats to the humans who built power so that people could live and move a bit more freely!”

#31 #1st Street bus

The #31 relaunched as a pilot in September 2016 on a 3.5-mile route, which runs from the Ashland Orange Line station to Lake Meadows Shopping. But in August 2018 it was nearly cancelled due to modest ridership, as well as an effort by Third Ward alderman Pat Dowell to kill the pilot because she perversely blamed the buses for causing traffic jams. Boosters from the Bridgeport Alliance, the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community, and the Active Transportation Alliance argued that the pilot never really had a chance because it only ran on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., with only two runs per hour in each direction. Ultimately, the CTA gave the pilot a last-minute reprieve.

According to the CTA, ridership on the #31 increase after morning rush hour service was added in fall 2019. The permanent route will continue to operate on weekdays between 6:30 a.m. and 7 p.m., but with the same 30-minute headways as before.

The number 31 route.
The number 31 route.

The #157 Streeterville/Taylor line

West Side advocates also pushed hard for the restoration of the full #157 route, so that it now connects North Lawndale with the Near North Side. “We’re not professional transportation people, but we do have a love and passion for our community,” said Valerie Leonard, a community development consultant at a 2016 forum. “We want to make sure that transit is accessible and affordable. People have said, ‘Some jobs I can’t take because of the way the buses run.'” The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council endorsed restoring the service.

The southwestbound Ogden Avenue bus route stops at California. Photo: April Alonso
The southwestbound Ogden Avenue bus route stops at California. Photo: April Alonso

The #157 will be permanently extended west of Ogden/California to the Pulaski Pink Line station, continuing to operate weekdays, from about 5:20 a.m. to 7:15 p.m. With this extension, riders now have direct connections with the #21 Cermak, #52 Kedzie, #53 Pulaski and #82 Kimball/Homan bus routes, as well as the Pulaski and Central Park Pink Line stations, the CTA said.

The #157 route.
The #157 route.

Realigned #52 / #94 Routes on Kedzie and California avenues

In January 2020 the CTA board approved tweaks to the #52 Kedzie and #94 California routes intended to streamline service and improve connections to the California and Kedzie Green Line stations. The #52 will continue to operate between 63rd/Kedzie and Chicago/Sacramento via Kedzie Avenue. The buses will run from about 4:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays, 5 a.m. to 10:40 p.m. on Saturdays, and 6 a.m. to 10:40 p.m. on Sundays.

The #94 California route will continue to run between 74th/Damen and Addison/Rockwell via California. The buses will run from about 3:40 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. on weekdays, 4:40 a.m. to 10:50 p.m. on Saturdays, and 5:20 a.m. to 10:20 p.m. on Sundays.

The old #52 California/Kedzie (red) and #94 South California (blue) routes will be replaced by the new #52 Kedzie (green) and #94 California (orange) routes. Routes are simplified and/or approximated Image: John Greenfield via Google Maps
The old #52 California/Kedzie (red) and #94 South California (blue) routes were replaced by the new #52 Kedzie (green) and #94 California (orange) routes. Routes are simplified and/or approximated. Image: John Greenfield via Google Maps

According to the CTA, the, annual operating costs the #31 and #157 routes are about $1.1 million and are bankrolled with CTA operating cash. The realignment of the #52 Kedzie and #94 California routes didn’t involve any additional expenses.

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