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Busway to Nowhere

(Cover of a transit survey appearing this month under downtown high-rise residential doors.)

The City of Chicago is surveying downtown residents about their traveling habits. Why? To spend tens of millions of dollars to build an exclusive bus transitway between…Union Station, Mag Mile, and Navy Pier. Hmm.

Why worry about real transit problems that impact Chicagoans on a daily basis, like filthy buses and trains, rotten maintenance, or closed stations, when my City tax dollars can be used to make it easier for suburbanites to go shopping and drinking in Streeterville.

The survey asks downtown residents how often they use transit or a car to get around downtown and positively dotes on questions regarding auto use and parking. But asking River North residents if they ever actually go to Navy Pier? Not so much. (Last time I checked, most Chicagoans sneer at the place as a suburbanite tourist trap).

I know on the odd day when I actually have to go to Union Station, the West Loop, Mag Mile, or Streeterville–and I don’t feel like walking for 10 minutes–I think to myself, “Gee, I wish we had a multi-million dollar busway to whisk me there.”

Well, actually, I don’t think that at all, because the CTA already runs service throughout downtown to those destinations. Downtown residents can already hop on the 29 bus to Navy Pier, the 125 to the West Loop, the 36 up State, and any number of buses up and down Michigan and down around Wacker Drive to the financial district. So if you’re looking for who this busway idea will serve, don’t look here.

Look at the proposed transitway map included with the survey, instead:


I’ve highlighted the locations of Northwestern (Ogilvie is just so wrong) and Union Stations, North Michigan Avenue, and Navy Pier. Notice how the transitway virtually “connects the dots”?

Another good question is which bus routes will run in the proposed transitway? Existing peak-hour buses that already run in droves from the North Side to the financial district on the recently and expensively refurbished Upper Wacker Drive? Or new routes that, er, could more easily be run along the recently and expensively refurbished Upper Wacker Drive?

Still looking for that raison d’etre? How about, simply, a City administration fundamentally out of touch with the daily needs and problems of City transit riders? Witness the multi-million dollar Block 37 airport L project for business travelers and others who also don’t live in Chicago to save eight minutes on a rapid transit ride to O’Hare. In that light, a pork transit project to link City-phobic commuters with two locations that are already the two top tourist draws in Illinois–meaning the masses are going to come anyway–is, sadly, not that difficult to understand.

Think about those priorities the next time you step onto an unmaintained, uncleaned Red Line car and sit down in pee.

Categories: Planning TRANSIT

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Mike Doyle

I’m an #OpenlyAutistic gay, Hispanic, urbanist, Disney World fan, New York native, politically independent, Jewish blogger in Chicago. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I write words and raise money for nonprofits. I’ve written this blog since 2005. And counting...

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3 replies

  1. Well, I’m about four years too late to this party, but I have to disagree. Whatever the origin of this study (which now appears to be forgotten), this hardly looks like a waste of money.

    While you interpret the busway as a way to get tourists from their trains to tourist destinations faster, you’re forgetting that the area served by the busway also has a high density of jobs, and that most of the people coming into the city on the trains in the west Loop are commuters. Consolidating peak-hour routes onto busways not only makes their commutes faster but frees up road space for the rest of us. And don’t forget that a sizable number of residents of River North and Streeterville need to reverse commute from their homes to the train stations, too.

    Don’t forget that Navy Pier already has a bus terminal; I presume that part of the reason this, Water Tower, and Northwestern Memorial were chosen as termini was because a number of buses already end their runs there.

    And if the busway ends up servicing large numbers of suburbanites, so what? If they can’t understand the buses, they drive or take a cab and clog our streets that way. Potential transit users, particularly occasional users, find a fixed guideway (like a busway or railroad tracks) a kind of reassurance that they’re in the right place.

    Now, I never heard of this study again. It’s possible CDOT ran out of money. It’s also possible they decided the cost/benefit ratio was insufficient and decided to try something else. But I’ll wager something like this gets built in the next few decades. And when it does, you’ll be glad.

  2. The whole idea of busways is to push bus traffic through the same way as the McCormick Place busway that opened in 1992.

    This is what happens when aldermen lose out on pet projects but think of ingenius ways to ressurect them. A million years ago (actually 1994 & 95), Alderman Burton Natarus pushed hard for a $775 million light-rail circulator that would have connected commuter rail stations with the State Street and North Michigan office/shopping areas, Navy Pier, and the McCormick Place convention center. His plan eventually lost funding.

    It would’ve been similar to San Francisco’s MUNI Metro. Except whereas SF’s MUNI Metro is efficient and complements buses and trolleys, Natarus’ plan would’ve torn up the streets with train tracks and added yet one more transportation department with patronage jobs and fraud.

    Gee, I wonder why it wasn’t popular.

    There’s a perception by the City that to retain Chicago’s draw of regional tourists (those who aren’t used to walking and complain about $12 parking near Navy Pier), the city has to make it even easier to get those porkers and cheeseheads from train stations to whatever tourist trap/major destination they want to go to.

  3. Block 37 a Block too Far?

    Today, the New York Times reported on the hard time Mills Corp. is having getting its New Jersey Meadowlands development, appropriately given the fantasyland monicker, Xanadu, off the ground. Apparently, blown deadlines, cost overruns, shareholder laws…

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