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Streetsblog gets a sneak peek at Pace’s west suburban Pulse Cermak Arterial Bus Rapid Transit corridor

Pace Suburban Bus is working with a group of western suburbs along or near Cermak Road to refine the details, and we got a look at those plans.

3:07 PM CST on January 26, 2024

Pace Route 322 bus at North Riverside Park Mall’s main stop. (This post is *not* sponsored by Lerner & Rowe!) Photo: Igor Studenkov

This post is sponsored by Ride Illinois.

Pace Suburban Bus is working with a group of western suburbs along or near Cermak Road to refine the details of the Pulse Cermak Arterial Rapid Transit corridor, and Streetsblog got a look at those plans. 

The Pulse lines aren’t full-fledged Bus Rapid Transit services, but they do have some BRT-like features. The stops are more station-style (complete with raised platforms to make boarding easier) and transit signal priority. With the first round of lines, Pace strove for regional balance. The two existing lines – Pulse Milwaukee and Pulse Dempster – serve north and northwestern suburbs. On the South Side and in the south suburbs, Pace has been planning two corridors. These include the section of Route 352 that mostly runs on Halsted Street between the 95th / Dan Ryan Red Line station and the Harvey Transportation Center; and Route 381, which mostly serves the 95th Street corridor west of the Red Line.

Pulse Cermak will be the first west suburban ART. It will follow Pace Route 322, which mostly runs along Cermak Road and 22nd Street between the Pink Line’s 54th/Cermak terminal in the suburb of Cicero and the Yorktown Center shopping mall in Lombard. 

Pulse Cermak Project Corridor. Image: Pace

The planning process is still in the relatively early stages. Pace invited municipalities Route 322 serves, no matter how tangentially, to join the Community Advisory Council. It will refine the initial concept, and whatever changes they agree on will be reflected in the plans that get presented to the public. The council had its first meeting last month at the North Riverside Public Library. The representatives saw an early concept for the line, including potential alignment and station locations, and areas where Pace might put in bus lanes.

Normally, the public doesn’t get to see those early plans. But a municipal official from a CAG suburb shared the copy of the December presentation with Streetblog several weeks after the meeting.

Cermak Road corridor

Route 322 serves Cicero, Berwyn, North Riverside, the southern edge of Forest Park, the south end of Broadview, Westchester, a small slice of Hillside, Oak Brook, Oak Brook Terrace and a small section of Lombard. The buses run an average of once every 20 minutes on weekdays, once every 30 minutes on Saturdays and anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour on Sundays. CTA Route 21 serves the corridor as far as North Riverside Park Mall.

Image: Pace

The weekday ridership statistics included in the CAG presentation suggest that Route 322 has a sizable reverse commuter ridership – during morning rush hour, more Route 322 riders head west than east, and the number is nearly equal in both directions during afternoon rush hour.  The presentation also mentions that 65 percent of all riders travel between the Pink Line and the North Riverside Park Mall. 9 percent of the riders travel to one of the spots between between 1st and 25th avenues, the area that includes Broadview Village Square shopping plaza and a transfer point to Route 331, which serves the nearby Hines VA Medical Center / Loyola University Medical Center campus. Four percent of the riders stop at the intersection of La Grange and Cermak roads, a transfer point with O’Hare Airport-bound Route 330. Seven percent of the riders use it to reach the Oakbrook Center mall, and five percent go to Yorktown Mall, a local Pace transit hub. 

Route 322 westbound stop at 1st Avenue, the closest stop to the Hines VA campus. Photo: Igor Studenkov

Pulse Cermak plans

As with other Pulse corridors, the route mostly mirrors the original Pace route, with two options for how it would access the malls. The current Route 322 has several stops at the North Riverside Park Mall and drives inside the Oakbrook Center. There are two options: one that makes a relatively straight line and one that keeps the current routing.

Image: Pace

It also shows two options for accessing Yorktown Center: the current aliment via Butterfield Road or the new alignment via 22nd Street.  

The presentation shows 16 "potential" station stops and nine “alternative” stops. Most notably, there are three alternative stations located at the Harlem Avenue/Cermak Road intersection. Pace’s long-term plans call for a Pulse line at Harlem Avenue, and those stations could potentially serve as transfer points.

Image: Pace

Pace spokesperson Maggie Daly Skogsbakken said that the “potential” stations are “slightly more preferred” than the “alternative” stations – but CAG prefers the alternative stations, Pace will listen.

The station locations generally follow what Pace did with Pulse Milwaukee and Pulse Dempster, putting them at major intersections or destinations.  Daly Skogsbakken emphasized that, since Pace plans to use federal funding to build the stations, their final locations will be determined by the federally required environmental review process.

“The station locations [shown in the presentation] are not final,” she added. “The project team identified opportunities that align with the general principles and best practices of the Pulse program and BRT in general: for instance, ideally around a half mile between stations, adjacent to popular destinations, pedestrian accessibility with existing (or enhanced) conditions, intersections and places with connections to rail or other bus services, and the location of existing stops and shelters for Pace Route 322, as well as CTA Route 21, where relevant.”

One of the “potential” stations is located at the office park near the spot where I-294 / the Tri-State Tollway passes under Cermak Road. One of Pace’s other long-term projects is to put in an express service that would run along the tollway, with one of the stops most likely serving the office park. Daly Skogsbakken said that the planning for Pulse Cermak will take the project into account. "The Pace team is already thinking about how transferring between those two potential services would be most feasible."

The presentation also highlights several sections of the corridor ripe for "bus priority treatment" beyond transit signal priority. Most notably, these are sections between York Street and Yorktown Center, and most of the corridor east of Oak Park Avenue. The presentation said that it can be bus lanes or queue jumps, the bus-only sections of the lanes that let buses bypass regular traffic at busy intersections.

Image: Pace

Daly Skogsbakken said that CAG and Pace will figure out which improvements may go where at the future meetings. 

What’s Next

Pace expects to refine the plans in 2024, with the goal of finalizing the station designs and bus priority treatments by 2027. They agency hopes to have the line up and running sometime in 2029.

Daly Skogsbakken said that the public most likely won’t get to provide input on the designs until the project is into the Environmental Review phase. That means that "The first public meeting could [tentatively] occur late 2024 or into 2025."

In the meantime, she said that Pace scheduled one-on-one and small group meetings "with municipalities, partner agencies, and community organizations" throughout January to further refine the plans. 

"Pace wants to make the stakeholder-input process as inclusive as possible, as Cermak traverses a diverse array of towns and neighborhoods," Daly Skogsbakken said. "Our CAG is already pushing to make sure that the existing customers along the corridor are represented in making final decisions about where and how the service is implemented."

Streetsblog reached out to the municipalities to get their impressions of the December meeting. Riverside Village Administrator Sue Scarpiniti declined to comment on the project. Broadview mayor Katrina Thompson said their one concern so far is how the stations within her village are going to be maintained and who will maintain them, adding that "We expect our concerns will most likely grow as the advisory group moves to develop this plan." 

Forest Park mayor Rory Hoskins said that, since the corridor barely touches his village, he doesn’t expect the project to have much effect on it, but Forest Park officials will take part in CAG meetings to keep an eye on it.

Image: Pace

Given that the Yorktown Center serves as a Pace route hub, Lombard’s director of community development William J. Heniff believes that Pulse Cermak will benefit Lombard. "Pace currently operates several bus routes within the village, many of which originate or terminate at Yorktown Center. Programs or services that enhance capital investment, operational efficiencies or the user experience are seen as positives, and the idea of supporting such efforts by Pace can be mutually beneficial."

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