Talking Transit: Pace reveals plans for faster, more effective bus service on Milwaukee Avenue - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Talking Transit: Pace reveals plans for faster, more effective bus service on Milwaukee Avenue


Milwaukee Avenue arterial rapid transit service will offer better, more inviting bus stops.

Published monthly, MPC’s Talking Transit provides updates about transit-related activities around the world.

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More than 100,000 daily riders take advantage of bus services offered by Pace in the Chicagoland suburbs—that’s more than all the daily transit riders in the cities of Cincinnati, Columbus, Detroit or Indianapolis. Indeed, Pace is an essential transit operator in the Chicago region, complementing services offered by the Chicago Transit Authority and Metra. It connects people to jobs and offers them access to leisure, allowing them to avoid driving cars and thereby increasing regional congestion and pollution.

Pace’s plans for arterial rapid transit on Milwaukee Avenue

In order to improve service on its routes and ultimately attract more riders, Pace is planning the implementation of a new arterial rapid transit service on Milwaukee Avenue, the first of its kind in the region. Called Pulse, this line will offer improved comfort and transit speed to passengers beginning in 2017 and potentially serve as a model for improved bus service throughout the suburbs.

Pulse buses will be specially branded and offer wi-fi on board. Though these arterial rapid transit buses will not have their own lanes on the street like BRT lines do, they will be able to take advantage of transit signal priority, a technology that allows buses to either hold lights green or turn them green sooner than programmed so that they spend less time waiting at red lights. Pace has already installed transit signal priority on routes throughout the region, from Waukegan to Cicero to Harvey, among other locations, saving up to 20 percent on trip times.

The stations serving Pulse buses along the route may be the most exciting part of the program. Each stop will offer level boarding, allowing seamless wheelchair access into vehicles, as well as lighting, heating, bike racks and USB charging. The stops will be clearly marked with tall signs and provide real-time bus arrival information, ensuring that riders always know when the next bus is coming.

Pace plans to significantly improve service with Pulse by increasing the frequency of buses. Vehicles will arrive every 10 minutes during rush hour and every 15 minutes off peak, up from 15 and 20 minutes, respectively, on current Milwaukee Avenue services. Reduced wait times, combined with faster buses, will mean more time for riders to spend with their families or working.

The Milwaukee Avenue Pulse line, which will be seven miles long, will run from the Jefferson Park transit center in the northwest portion of the City of Chicago to the Golf Mill Shopping Center in Niles. At Jefferson Park, the route will provide connections with the Chicago Transit Authority Blue Line and Metra’s Union Pacific-Northwest line, as well as to a number of local buses. The project will enter construction next year and will cost about $8.5 million to complete. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning is paying for the project with federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funds.

The Pulse line will have just 10 stops along its route, compared to 46 on the existing Pace 270 line that runs along the same alignment. By itself, the difference in number of stops will dramatically increase the average speed of buses. The 270 line already attracts about 3,000 riders a day and will continue to serve the route, albeit with slightly lower service levels.

An example for the whole region

The Milwaukee Avenue line will be Pace’s first arterial rapid transit offering, but Pace sees it as the first among many services. The next line could run west to east along Dempster Street from O’Hare International Airport to downtown Evanston, offering a direct connection to the Milwaukee Avenue Pulse route. And Pace’s 2009 long-term study suggests additional routes throughout the suburbs, to the north, west and south of the city of Chicago.

Pace’s efforts to improve the performance of its bus service aligns directly to the work the Metropolitan Planning Council has been undertaking since 2011 to implement bus rapid transit in the Chicago region. Last month, the Chicago Transit Authority began construction on Loop Link, which will provided dedicated lanes for buses along Madison and Washington Streets in downtown Chicago. The service will result in faster buses as well as more comfortable, accommodating stations.

With both Chicago Transit Authority and Pace working to ensure that our buses move people more effectively, our region’s residents will benefit from faster, easier transit and thus be able to take better advantage of the money-saving option that is public transportation.

Pace’s buses carried just three percent more passengers in 2014 compared to 1995, despite a suburban area that had added more than half a million people over that time. Much of the problem relates to the fact that Chicago region governments have not committed adequate resources to the expansion of public transport over the past twenty years. The Pulse services will undoubtedly attract more riders, as they will provide more convenient, comfortable and frequent buses than Pace has been able to offer in the past.


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