‘Pilot’ return of No. 11 Lincoln Ave bus among day of victory for bus riders

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In a day of victory for bus riders, CTA officials Thursday approved restoring the Ashland and Western Avenue Express routes while announcing a “pilot” return of the axed No. 11 Lincoln Avenue and 31st Street buses.

The express buses were approved as part of a 2016 Chicago Transit Authority budget that includes no fare increases for the third year in a row and presumes state funding will hold steady, despite cuts threatened by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

But the surprise move during Wednesday’s CTA board meeting was CTA President Dorval Carter Jr.’s announcement that he wants to run “pilot” restorations of the No. 11 Lincoln Avenue and 31st St. buses next spring.

Years of pleas for the return of the No. 11 went nowhere under former CTA President Forrest Claypool, who cut the route’s service from Western to Fullerton in 2012 as part of a “decrowding” initiative.

Dozens of yellow-shirted No. 11 supporters showed up at three years of budget hearings to argue that the route was a critical lifeline for seniors seeking to “age in place” and for others who depended on it to travel within their own neighborhood.

The movement gained steam this summer, when one of its key leaders, Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), decided to join forces with Ald. Patrick Thompson (11th) and others yearning for the return of the 31st Street bus, which was killed off in 1997.

Carter noted Thursday that both sides of the so-called “Crosstown Bus Coalition” persuasively argued that circumstances had changed since both bus routes’ demise, justifying their resurrection, at least on a pilot basis.

In Lincoln Park, contended 43rd Ward Ald. Michele Smith, that included the upcoming conversion of the former Children’s Memorial Hospital site into a residential/retail development.

In Bridgeport, that included a 31st Street bus’ ability to link the area to the 31st Street beach and its new amenities, Thompson noted.

Carter said he has been listening to pleas to restore both routes since his first day in office this spring and the new budget had enough room for “pilot” programs — although he would not say how much.

Once the service hours and routes of the pilots are determined, ridership targets will be set. If they are met, the routes could become permanent, Carter said.

The Ashland and Western Avenue Express buses, dumped in 2010,  are due for a Dec. 21 launch. The rush-hour-only runs will feature stops roughly every half mile.

Also Wednesday, board members approved allowing the CTA to begin negotiations to purchase 23 parcels of land needed for the Red-Purple Modernization Program.

That includes 17 parcels needed to build a “Belmont Bypass” to separate the Brown Line from the Red and Purple Lines. CTA officials contend the flyover is needed to untangle a bottleneck and increase capacity.

Opponents charge the Belmont Bypass will soar like a “rollercoaster” over Lakeview and destroy the neighborhood.

“I’d like to know, 10, 20 years from now, which one of these politicians would like their name on it,’’ said opponent Ellen Hughes. “I don’t think anyone will. It’s going to ruin the neighborhood.”

Negotiations to purchase the parcels must follow regimented federal procedures and could take months if not years to complete, CTA officials said. Property owners will be contacted in the “near future” about the process, they said.

After four bus routes got the green light Wednesday, Charles Paidock of Citizens Taking Action for Transit Dependent Riders said the CTA has been cutting out or cutting back bus routes for years, in an apparent effort to force people onto CTA trains.

“Maybe we’ve turned the corner and they are seeing the value of buses as part of public transportation,” Paidock said.

Pawar said he thought a “fresh set of eyes” and a “fresh set of ears” at the CTA helped the situation, as did forming the Crosstown Bus Coalition.

“I think coming together helped,” Pawar said. “We didn’t just make it about our neighborhood, and 31st Street [proponents] didn’t just talk about their neighborhood. I think that made an impact.”

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