Life got a little bit better for Chicago's bus commuters this week, as the CTA announced it's bringing back the Ashland and Western express routes next month, as well as a "pilot program" for two other routes that were shut down as a part of a series of citywide bus closures in 2012.
Service on the two express routes (#X9 and #X49) is set to begin on Monday, December 21, and will run only during morning and afternoon rush periods. Those buses will stop every four blocks and at every train and bus transfer point. The pair of routes were put on "hiatus" five years ago, and the CTA finalized their return at its regular board meeting on Wednesday.
In 2013, the city tried to push through a Bus Rapid Transit system on Ashland Avenue that would bring a boarding platform to the middle of the street, add a "bus only" lane and remove left-hand turns along the route. That plan received a good deal of community pushback and has since floundered due to a lack of funding. With the return of the Ashland express route, that idea is all but dead.
The city will also roll out "Transit Signal Priority" along Ashland and Western avenues over the next two years, which will hold green lights and shorten red lights to accommodate the buses. That upgrade will be implemented on Ashland Avenue from Cermak Road to 95th Street next spring, on Western Avenue between Howard and 79th streets by the end of 2016, and on Ashland Avenue from Cermak to Irving Park roads by the end of 2017.
Perhaps an even bigger win for bus riders is the "pilot" return of the Lincoln Avenue and 31st Street buses next spring, which was also announced at Wednesday's meeting. Both of the buses were deemed "redundant" by the city in 2012, and service on the Lincoln Avenue bus between Western and Fullerton avenues was cut, as well as the entire 31st Street route (despite public outcry).
With the return of the routes and the construction of the "Loop Link" Bus Rapid Transit system, riding a bus in Chicago is about to become a slightly less miserable experience.