If the CTA thought holding a public forum the day after a holiday weekend at a relatively inconvenient location–the agency’s headquarters at 567 W. Lake St.–would discourage attendance, officials seriously miscalculated. Ironically for a discussion of a “crowding reduction plan,” the meeting was packed beyond fire-code capacity, with speakers asked to leave the room after presenting their comments in order to free up space and allow others to enter.
People came from all corners of the city to protest CTA’s proposal to eliminate a dozen bus routes completely and discontinue partial segments of three others (notably the #11 Lincoln bus) while beefing up service on 48 routes and rail lines at no net cost. “The main driving factor,” said Rebekah Scheinfeld, CTA’s chief planning officer, “was how can we make trains and buses more comfortable, reliable and faster.”
Attendees were unconvinced.
The reduction of service at a time when the CTA is touting 16 months of consecutive ridership growth struck many as inconsistent. “To increase the 146 [bus] and then eliminate the 145, it makes no sense at all,” said lakefront resident Michael Reiter. Though advocating specifically for the restoration of the #145, Reiter spoke for the majority of those gathered as he complained about a process that relied heavily on recommendations from Northwestern University’s Transportation Center in the absence of any public input: “No surveys of residents, no meetings in the neighborhood.”
“The perception of what’s going on here…it’s another parking meter deal,” said Reiter.
For more than two and a half hours, rider after rider strode to the microphone to make impassioned plea after impassioned plea in front of a largely impervious CTA board, including chairman Terry Peterson and president Forrest Claypool.
“You need to listen to the stories…how it affects people,” said Jeff Lipman, speaking on behalf of mentally disabled group home residents who rely on the #11 bus. “If you wipe it out at Western, hopefully they can learn how to take the El, get off at Irving Park and walk four blocks.”
Heather Way, executive director of the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce, delivered a petition with nearly 2,000 signatures to save the Western-Fullerton segment of the #11 Lincoln bus route, which CTA says duplicates Brown Line service. “We’re finally making a resurgence,” she said of businesses along Lincoln between Belmont and Diversey, which have added 150 jobs in the past year. “A lot of that is due to the accessibility of public transit.”
Representing Wrightwood Neighbors, Allan Mellis also made a bid to reinstate the #11, which, under the proposal, would maintain its current route north of Western as the #11 and operate as the #37 Sedgwick (weekdays only) south of Fullerton. “Seniors and the disabled living in our CHA senior buildings on Lincoln Avenue will have limited mobility, including not being able to see their doctors or visit friends,” Mellis said. “The replacement of the #11 Lincoln Avenue bus with the Brown Line reminds me of what happened to the local businesses that were located on Main Street when the Interstate Highway was built outside of town. While some people could get from point A to point B faster, the local businesses perished.”
CTA, clearly aware of the groundswell of support for the #11, came prepared with PowerPoint slides detailing the service alternatives for every eliminated stop along the route and reiterated the duplication with the Brown Line. “Most” Brown Line stations are within “a few blocks” of Lincoln; “many” businesses will still be within a half-mile of another train station or bus stop. (See presentation below.)
Not good enough, according to Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), on hand to represent constituents from Lincoln Square and Northcenter affected by the cuts. “We understand your fiscal situation,” he said, “but let’s be mindful of who actually rides the #11 bus.”
The loss of the #11 would be felt hardest by seniors, students, the disabled and low-income residents, noted Pawar. Access to transit not only makes a neighborhood more affordable but more liveable; those “few blocks” referenced by the CTA may be insurmountable, particularly during the height of winter or heat of summer, to anyone with a physical impairment.
“I respectfully ask you to reconsider,” Pawar concluded.
Northcenter resident Matt Simons, a software engineer, echoed the alderman’s sentiments. He and his wife moved to the neighborhood a year and a half ago specifically because of the #11 bus: They bought a house near Jewel, send their five-year-old to Hamilton Elementary (they also have an infant) and do without a car.
“I came home to my wife in tears,” said Simons. “She said, ‘They’re cutting the #11 bus.’”
What bothers Simons–in addition to his wife now having to schlep several blocks “at toddler pace” in February to reach the next-available transit stop–are the mixed signals related to transportation.
On the one hand, Ald. Pawar has a proposal on the table to create a greenway on Berteau and has been a strong supporter of public transit and increased bike commuting. “This cuts directly against one of the most liveable neighborhoods,” said Simons. “It’s such a totally weird message to send–ridership is up, so let’s cut.”
Though much of riders’ frustration was aimed at the CTA, Brenna Conway, who leads the Active Transportation Alliance’s Riders for Better Transit campaign, broadened the debate.
“CTA’s plans illustrate just how severe the funding problem is for public transit in the Chicago region, to the point where CTA can only pay for much-needed system expansion by eliminating service somewhere else,” Conway said. “We need to look at the way public transportation is funded by elected leaders…and avoid having to make winners and losers out of our fellow transit riders.”
The CTA board will vote on the proposal Sept. 12. Comments about the prospective changes can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org; deadline Sept. 11, 5 p.m.
CTA Crowding Reduction Plan