Bus route to O’Hare may start by winter

Paul Thissen

Bus service between the Davis Street El station and O’Hare International Airport could begin as early as December, based on preliminary plans presented by Pace officials Thursday.

Pace route No. 250, which currently runs from the Davis Street stop to Des Plaines, Ill., would be extended to O’Hare in two of the three plans discussed. Another plan would create a new weekday bus route running between the stop and the brown line Kimball El stop via Main Street and Crawford Avenue, passing through Skokie and Lincolnwood.

“I personally believe the extension to the airport is a great idea,” said Thomas Wittmann, senior transportation planner for Perteet Engineering, the firm hired by Pace to propose changes to North Shore routes.

The No. 250 route operates seven days a week, with buses running every 15 to 45 minutes. The ride from Davis to O’Hare would take a little more than an hour, based on current bus schedules.

Getting to O’Hare using public transportation now takes at least three El trains and about two hours. Even some students with cars said they might use the bus if Pace added an O’Hare extension.

“Hell yes,” Communication sophomore Katie Del Priore said when asked if she would use the service. Del Priore currently drives herself to the airport.

Wittmann presented the three plans at a forum held at the Evanston Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave. The first two plans represent straightforward route revisions focusing either on strengthening popular bus routes or increasing coverage area.

The third plan is a more unusual idea called bus rapid transit. The plan would run express buses along a road designated for buses along the Union Pacific rail lines parallel to the Edens Expressway. Wittmann said the plan aims to attract people who get stuck in traffic on the expressway.

The revisions must operate within Pace’s current budget. The new routes and route extensions will be paid for by cutting some existing routes. Under the proposals, Pace will cut routes No. 204, serving Dodge Street on Saturday; No. 254, serving Irving Park and Skokie on Saturday; No. 212, serving Evanston, Old Orchard Shopping Center and Northbrook; and No. 210, serving Chicago and Glenview. Several Pace buses still will run between the Davis Street stop and Old Orchard.

Against the suggestions of local transportation advocacy group Evanston Transportation’s Future, none of the plans recommend that Pace operate Northwestern’s intercampus shuttle for more hours than it currently does.

Wittmann said he never had seen any bus service plan put into place exactly as it was presented initially. The final recommendation likely would be a combination of the three plans, he said.

A more polished proposal will come up for another public review in July, and the Pace board could approve plans as early as August. Whatever plan the Pace board approves will be implemented in December, said Michael Bolton, Pace’s deputy executive director for strategic services.

During the meeting, residents in attendance had the opportunity to talk to a number of Pace representatives and to submit their comments in writing about each of the three proposed North Shore route alterations.

The proposed changes are based on usage data as well as surveys of both customers and residents who do not use public transportation.

“It’s not all about the numbers,” Wittmann said. “It’s about people’s lives.”