CTA Claims Enhanced Ridership, Faster Service

August 22, 2012
The Chicago Transit Authority today announced a plan it says will reduce crowding on certain bus and rapid transit routes. The $16 million plan would reduce time between trains and buses “and lower peak crowd loads” by from 10 to 15 percent, the agency says. Ravenswood bus routes on:
  • Ashland (9),
  • Clark (22),
  • Western (49),
  • Damen (50),
  • Montrose (78),
  • Irving Park (80),
  • Foster (92) and
  • Addison (152)
would see additional service. The CTA says there would also be frequency improvements on the Brown and Red Lines on weekdays and weekends. The Wilson/ Michigan Express (145) would be discontinued, with service picked up by the Inner Drive/ Michigan Express (146). The Wilson/ Michigan Express starts at the Ravenswood Metra station, then continues downtown by way of Marine Dr. and Inner Lake Shore Drive. The Inner Drive/ Michigan Express serves the Berwyn Station of the Red Line, then continues downtown by way of Marine and Inner LSD. According to a recent ridership report the Wilson/ Michigan Express served an average of 6,388 riders each weekday. The Inner Drive/ Michigan Express served 10,529 riders each weekday. In addition, the Lincoln (11) would eliminate service between Western and Fullerton. The new Lincoln route would serve from the Western station north to the terminal at Howard and Kedzie. South of Fullerton the route would be known as the Sedgwick (37). According to a recent ridership report, the Lincoln bus served an average of 5,581 riders each weekday in June. “In nearly every case where service is proposed for discontinuation, there is duplicate CTA bus or rail service,” the agency said in a prepared release. The plan calls for less frequent service on the Brown Line during off-peak hours. The agency said in a release that train frequency would increase by as much as 2 ½ minutes between trains for the Brown and Red Lines. The CTA said rail service would be “enhanced” with additional trips during peak weekday times and increased frequency and extended hours at other times. The agency said there would be 17 additional trains added to six rail lines during peak travel hours. During weekends, however, frequency will increase “substantially.”  

Let's Take it Apart

  During a recent informal survey of off-peak use of the Brown Line (10P on a Wednesday), The Bulldog counted an average of 20 passengers on each unloading of the Brown Line at Montrose over a period of four consecutive trains. The CTA says crowding happens on train cars when there are more than 90 passengers a car. Current off peak operations call for a Brown Line train every 9 to 12 minutes. If the frequency increased to say 12 to 14 minutes, a 25 percent increase in time between trains, we can assume that passengers per train would also increase. Probably by 25 percent. Extrapolating the informal survey over the 11 stations on the Brown Line north of Belmont, we can assume that at 10P weekdays there are more than 200 passengers aboard the train when it leaves Belmont. (The actual estimate is 222). A 25 percent increase would mean about 250 passengers, or more, would be aboard the 10P train if we are using the 200 estimate. The resulting train use is still within the CTA's estimate of acceptable service because usually there are four cars servicing the 200 passengers. So fear not late-night Brown Line passengers. You may not get a seat and you may be smelling someone's armpit from the Merchandise Mart north to Irving Park or Montrose, but you are not, officially, in a crowded train car. For Lincoln bus users, the change is complicated. If the new route 11 has the same number of runs as the current route 11, that would mean 57 runs in each direction weekdays. The bus has an average of 97.9 passengers a trip, though we can assume there are more passengers at peak travel times, fewer in off-peak hours. The bus passengers are also entering and leaving frequently, though assumptions about terminals, particularly at the Brown Line Western station can be conceived. The loss to the area from Western Avenue south to Fullerton of the Lincoln bus is also difficult to assess. The CTA is relying on Brown Line service to cover local transit for the roughly 3.5 mile route. The area is well covered by east-west and north-south bus lines. And the Brown Line is within about a half mile of each Lincoln stop. However Lincoln is a key artery for the Northcenter and the Lakeview communities. And the plan eliminates 3.5 of the 12.5 mile current route, or about 28 percent of the total. We could assume that about 25 percent of the Lincoln ridership will use alternate routes. And we can assume that the Lincoln route will be on the table for further discussion during the next round of cuts. The final route to consider is the Wilson. If the new route from the Ravenswood Metra station started at the current bus depot, we can anticipate longer travel times for commuters if this happens. However, if the route started at Argyle and then swung west to Ravenswood, the bus depot at Wilson could be turned into parking spaces for the Metra and the surrounding neighborhood. This would help alleviate the loss of spaces at the Sears Lot due to the Marriano's development. Commuters on the southbound bus could use the new Metra station in several years for shelter. And there would probably be a need to upgrade the bus service too, whether it starts at Wilson or it starts at Argyle. In sum, an Argyle start for the new route seems more promising for Ravenswood.  

Bus Rapid Transit

  Finally, into this mix is the plan to create a Western-Ashland Bus Rapid Transit service. That plan would change the infrastructure of Western and Ashland to create dedicated bus lanes with stations, special high capacity buses and presumably traffic controls to aid bus transit. A similar plan, cited by the Metropolitan Planning Council, was found in Cleveland. Called the Euclid Corridor Transportation Project/ Healthline, that plan cost about $200 million or $7 million per mile and saved riders 12 minutes on their travel. The project in Cleveland, the study notes, experienced $4.3 billion in real estate investment along the BRT route (the study doesn't attribute the entire real estate investment to the creation of the BRT line nor does it note the timeline of the study. That investment total may not have been as significant if it happened during the real estate bubble). A similar system in Chicago, on both Ashland and Western, could cost nearly $300 million. The Cleveland plan was first introduced in late 1995, according to the Cleveland RTA. Construction started in October 2004 with the final portion of the line opening in October 2008. According to boosters, the line rejuvenated neighborhoods, including in Cleveland's city center. Opponents of a similar line proposed for Berkely, Calif. pointed to Cleveland stories of increased congestion and small business stress during construction. Public hearings on the Chicago BRT have finished. The CTA is sending a bus with a BRT exhibit, to visit area Chambers of Commerce and train stations.

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One Response to CTA Claims Enhanced Ridership, Faster Service

  1. Fred on August 23, 2012 at 9:29 am

    “Frequency is the number of occurrences of a repeating event per unit time. ” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frequency

    “The agency said in a release that train frequency would increase by as much as 2½ minutes between trains for the Brown and Red Lines.”
    An increased frequency would mean more trains per hour.
    I think what the CTA (or is it Mr. Boylan) meant to say was “wait times between trains would increase by as much as 2½ minutes”