The CTA’s decision to try out new bus routes on 31st Street and Lincoln Avenue is smart, future-oriented thinking.
Changing city demographics, changing lifestyles and traffic-clogged streets all say that a public policy emphasis on alternatives to automobiles — bikes, trains and buses — is the way to go.
And it’s nice to see the CTA is listening.
For years, citizens groups have called for the restoration of bus service along Lincoln Avenue — the No. 11 bus — and 31st Street. The two bus lines will start back up on a trial basis this spring. The buses will allow people — especially those on limited incomes who don’t own cars — to get to L stops and, more importantly, get around their neighborhoods. If enough people use the two lines, they will be continued.
Younger people flocking to the city prefer public transportation and bikes to cars whenever practical, studies show. And senior citizens often depend on buses just to move around their neighborhoods. Top-notch public transportation is a critical component of a city-centered living, essential to our evolving local economy. When Motorola Mobility moved back to Chicago last year, for example, the company was riding a major cultural shift. It’s relatively young and tech-savvy work force had little interest in the ‘burbs or driving; give them Logan Square and a Ventra card.
On the South Side, new development along 31st Street is upping the demand for public transit. Along Lincoln Avenue, major new development at the former site of Children’s Memorial Hospital will increase the number of people looking to commute along Lincoln Avenue. Even if killing the No. 11 bus line seemed to make sense in 2012, that decision looks like overkill now.
This is a victory for good urban planning, but let’s acknowledge the raw politics. Given who was lining up behind these two bus lines, the CTA would have had a hard time saying no.
On the North Side, Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, state Sen. Heather Steans, state Reps. Ann Williams and Greg Harris and Cook County Commissioners Bridget Gainer and John Fritchey, and Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) all got behind restoration of full No. 11 service. On the South Side, newly elected Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th) — note the clout in the middle name — made restoration of the 31st Street service a top priority.
It’s important that the CTA not set the bar for success on the two restored bus lines, setting them up for failure. On the contrary, the CTA’s job now is to market the two lines heavily — get the word out. The aim is not only to prove the values of buses on 31st Street and Lincoln Avenue, but to demonstrate the viability of upgrading bus service elsewhere in the city. Better public transit often follows local economic development, as along 31st Street, but the opposite can also be true — economic development is encouraged with better public transit. Transit-oriented development is especially promising around L train stops.
Chicago is all about transportation, and always has been. From riverboats working their way down to the Mississippi, to international shipping on the lake, to trains from all corners of the nation, strong transportation services built this town. Good public transportation locally is every bit as important.
Because of the political dysfunction in Springfield, the CTA has not received its full statutory state funding, let alone any addition funding. It’s a tough time for an urban transit agency to push forward, making the CTA’s decision to restore two bus lines all the more commendable.
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