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"Alternate" hell

After reading Windy City Mike's email about the CTA adding a "bus-only" option on its Trip Planner page, and after hearing plaintive pleas to "leave early, leave late, alternate," I checked out a Red Line bus alternative recently.

And it looked promising on the Trip Planner site: Board the 147 Outer Drive Express at Sheridan and Farwell at 7:17 am and arrive at Michigan and Ohio at 7:47 am. After a two block walk I figured I'd be at my office in 40 minutes door-to-door. It often now takes me 45 to 50 minutes door-to-door from Morse on the Red Line to Grand and State. So that sounded too good to be true.

It was.

I left my house at 7:06 for the five minute walk to Sheridan, thinking maybe I could catch an earlier bus. I didn't, but fine. So I waited. And waited.

And the 7:17 bus arrived at 7:24. I understand that these times are approximate and subject to the whims of traffic and weather. But I didn't expect the bus would already be seven minutes late just one mile out of the Howard terminal starting point.

The other maddening thing is that the bus stops at nearly every single block. I really think most people wouldn't mind walking a block and have the bus stop at every other block if they knew it could shave 5 to 10 minutes off the total commute time.

So after the bumpy start, I hoped for the best. But alas, my dreams for a better Red Line alternative were dashed.

First, I didn't realize we wouldn't enter Lake Shore Drive until Foster. So those extra boardings seemed endless.

And the bus that was supposed to be at Michigan and Ohio at 7:47 had only made it to Lake Shore Drive and Marine Drive by that time. And then it was time to crawl on the jam-packed Drive.

It took 25 minutes just to get from Foster to Irving Park. After Irving Park we picked up speed a bit, but not by much. There was no accident. It had rained the previous night but the rain had stopped by daybreak.

So we got on the Drive at 7:47 and got to the next stop at 8:25 --38 minutes on Lake Shore Drive. We got to Ohio and Michigan at 8:32. So a bus ride that was supposed to take 30 minutes ended up taking 75 minutes.

I think it's fine to encourage Red, Brown and Purple Line riders to take alternative bus routes during the three-track nightmare. But I also think the CTA needs to do a better job of setting expectations of riders by adjusting the travel times upward on the Web site.

Comments

Preach it!

For what it's worth, after the last time I went to get on the blue line in the morning and found a train stopped in the station -- with announcements systematically destroying all hope in any sort of forward motion any time soon, due to another train's mechanical failures -- and wound up waiting endlessly for a cab with all the other would-be CTA riders, finally arriving only an hour late to work ... I gave up. I switched to using a #9 bus + pink line combo. It takes much longer than the "scheduled" blue line would but when has the blue line stuck to a schedule in recent history? And it's pretty inconsistent in terms of time, too (though less so than yours was, evidently!). But it's *SO* much less frustrating. I'll spend an hour instead of 20 minutes commuting my three miles (oy) if it doesn't mean I'm ready to bite people's heads off by the time I finally do make it to work...

Kev, I must live right around the corner from you. It takes me easily 50-55 minutes to go from Morse to La Salle and Van Buren, and even without heavy traffic that beats the 147 by a lot.

The CTA buses are so unpredictable. One day I wait 3 minutes before the bus shows up, the next day I can stand there for over half an hour. And when the bus does come, there are 3 of them bunched together.
I used to live 5 miles from where I work, it took me a hour on the 66 each day because the bus had to stop at every single corner. And then people would talk to the bus driver discussing all the stops along the way.
I now live in the suburbs and it takes me 75 minutes door to door. I moved 20 miles away and added a whole 15 minutes to that commute. Something doesn't sound right with that.

The buses stop at every block and sometimes in between. They also open the doors three bus lengths from a stop, then move forward and open them again to let in the passengers who didn't run from the stop. Driver training might help...

I agree that buses need to stop less. Mayor Daley should instigate a new 'fitness' plan whereby removing unnecessary stops (and there are plenty) would not only keep the buses moving better but would give Chicagoens some much needed exercise.
A good start would be the #82 Kimbal/Homan route :)

You have to be familiar with the routes in your neighborhood before getting on. The Trip Planner (which, as I mention again, is an RTA, not a CTA, "service") never could be trusted. Look also at the CTA map for such things as where a route enters the Drive.
From where you say you started, you are only a couple of blocks from the Rogers Park Metra station, and Ask Carole suggests you take that starting April 2.

Yes, it's useful to be able to game the system, but generally you're picking the least inconvenient of the lousy alternatives. I've actually considered starting to take the northbound Clark up to Lunt to pick up the southbound Metra and then the 33 to Michigan Ave., but even the Trip Planner isn't optimistic about that being any faster than just taking the 147 from Bryn Mawr. (Where, unless my timing is perfect to catch one of the rare 147s staged to enter the route at Hollywood, I never get a seat.)

At least, and this is surely the smallest possible consolation, you found the reason adding a zillion more buses to each route isn't going to help.

Move South. Seriously; the #6, #26, #14, #28 and a ton of others burn up lake shore from 47th or 67th; I can get from the Museum downtown in less than half an hour outside rush hour, and during rush (when Ryan-avoiders totally bone lake shore), the metra electric gets me there in less than 20 minutes.

Do me a favor tho, and bring Tea Gschwendender and Trader Joe's down here with you when you come!

Another practical alternative would be to find a job somewhere other than downtown.

If the CTA is going to propagandize using buses, the least they could do is set up routes that only stop at L stations. This would be obvious to any manager except the ones at our down-the-tubes transit "system".

I ride the 134 in the morning and it comes about every 3-5 minutes and takes less than 30 minutes for me to get to work. I also get on at the first stop, which probably helps, since I always get a seat. Buses are always slower when it is raining or when it rained the night before. Try taking the bus when it is sunny outside.

This situation is actually pretty scary. I don't think it will encourage people to live in the north parts of the city.

We are a world class city and it's really inexcusable that we can't find a better inetrim solution. I am thanking my lucky stars I live and work on the north side.

I've been thinking about moving up north after 4 years in Hyde Park, so that I'm closer to friends and actual nightlife. But the growing nightmare of the CTA is definitely making me think twice. Let's see: a 15-minute walk to work, or the 1-hour+ commute that my co-workers endure everyday? I second "quack"--bring a Trader Joe's down here and I'll never leave.

amen-a stop at every block or halfblock is useless..speed things up

As someone that owns my home- a northside condo- and has a great career (well i think it's great) with a big company in the loop, I can't decide whether to laugh and brush it off, or consider it idiotic when people suggest I "just move south/burbs/etc" or "get a job somewhere else"

I really, really hope you all are being facetious

The only valid suggestion/complaint so far on this thread has been to space out the stops on the 147 more. Sometimes, stops are frequent due to specific trip generators; for example, a senior citizens home will probably get a stop in front regardless of how close it is to other stops. For much of the 147's route, the stops could certainly be every 2 blocks, which would speed up the trip AND somewhat reduce bus bunching.

Also, it's true what Tim says; on rainy days, stick to the train, on sunny days traffic moves much quicker and thus buses are actually viable.

I agree with the idea of reducing the number of stops on the north side for "commuter" routes like the 147.

The CTA has done this on some other routes by introducing "X" buses, like the 80/X80. Maybe they don't realize that would be useful for buses like the 147, since those are already "express" buses using the drive. But I think all of us here agree that it would help.

People who aren't able to walk the extra blocks between stops could use the local bus to get to the express bus stops if they wanted, though I suppose that would be controversial because those people would potentially need to pay a transfer fee for only a block or two.

For routes like the 147, 136, 146, 145, and 135, adding corresponding "X" buses may not even be required, since relevant portions of the route may already be covered by the 151, which would remain local, with its current stops.

It seems like a reasonable idea for the CTA to try out during the "Leave Early. Leave Late. Alternate." period.

I have a birds eye view of the traffic on the drive from Montrose and I can say that If I'm not out the door by 7:15 to catch a 136, it's going to be a slow crawl. I think part of the problem is the way the entrances at Belmont and Fullerton are set up.

Two lanes of traffic are on the on-ramps at any given point during the morning rush, and combined with the fact that there are more SUV and larger vehicles getting on, and people are somewhat clueless to the fact that two cars can't merge into the same space, add a bus in the mix and get you get a crawl.

I love it when select bus drivers drive right into the middle of the lane, it tends to speed things up a tad, at least for the bus.

The boarding situation with every block being a stop is problematic as well - I'd advocate for less stops, at least one every 3 blocks and one at every MAJOR intersection to start with. And, one other thought, and unfortunately this is probably easier said then done, but, at stops that seem to be more heavily used, put an official who's sole job is to guide traffic on the bus, even collect fares for those paying with cash.

Just my 2 cents..

Speaking of the trip planner, I've been having a weird problem lately. It won't let me select the arrival/departure time with the mouse. Instead, I have to click on the box and then use the arrow keys. (If I click on some time with the mouse, the menu thing just closes without changing the time, then I have to use the arrow keys to actually select a time.) Is anyone else having this problem?

I'm amazed by the things I've read about the CTA.I haven't been in Chicagoland long so I wasn't aware that public transportation was so terrible. I am researching the CTA along with some of my Columbia classmates for a journalism project. I commute from Naperville by car 5 days a week, either to the loop (school) or rivernorth (work). It takes me far less than 75 minutes to make it to either destination, as long as I leave by 6am. I thought sitting in traffic was bad, but atleast there is no one next to me being obnoxious, and I can listent to music/new in peace.

a few things:

Some people take the 147 daily. I can only imagine how early they have to leave to get to work on time.

Also, the "Leave Early, Leave Late, Alternate" brochure says that Phase 1 is only closing tracks on the northbound side. it could slow things down a lot, but only minorly affect the south-bound trains. we might have a little more time to find a solution to getting to the loop on time in the morning.... but returning home could be harder.

Just wanted to point out: who would leave LATE if they want to get where they want to go at the same time without the delays? ("Leave Early, Leave Late, Alternate")

and also, in the brochure, in the last sentence of the first paragraph, it says that many brown line trains are "too often crowded for all waiting customers to board." has anyone ever looked at the redline passengers? (especially from addison to clark/division)

i've also been pondering suggesting to the cTA to create a new "hollywood" express or something of the sort. i like the idea of the X bus routes on the ones mentioned previously.
also, a carpool lane on lake shore drive could be extremely useful to the city. it would encourage people to drive with someone else, not taking up all the space of their SUV for themselves. also, it would reduce pollution with less vehicles on the road.

i also read somewhere about an idea of a 'bus only' lane on lake shore drive. i think this is a waste of a lane however, when it could be used to give drivers more room.

Austin said:
>>>Just wanted to point out: who would leave LATE if they want to get where they want to go at the same time without the delays? ("Leave Early, Leave Late, Alternate")<<<

The concept doesn't just apply to your departure times. It applies to your arrival times.

Does you employer offer some flex-time options? Of course it's not always possible, but when it is possible, why isn't it offered? (Or why not take advantage of what's offered.)

There are quite a few business out there where everyone works 8 to 5, but it isn't imparative that they do. Some could work 7 to 4, and others could work 9 to 6. Maybe even spread it out further.

Or people could work four 10-hour shifts, with part of the crew being off on each day. Imagine only having to commute four days a week!

Of course this isn't an option for everyone, but the more people who can do it, the better.

Imagine if instead of working from 8 to 5, you worked from 10 to 7. Sure, dinner would be later, and you might not make it home for some 8pm TV shows, but imagine how much time it would cut off your commute.

Of if not, imagine how nice it would be if just 10% of the other people jammed on that bus or train with you each day could make that change, and give you a little more elbow room.

The best solution is flex time. If you think it could work where you work, propose it to the boss. Tell him/her about how your productivity would improve in those early or late hours.

Austin, among other good ideas, suggests: "also, a carpool lane on lake shore drive could be extremely useful to the city. it would encourage people to drive with someone else, not taking up all the space of their SUV for themselves." I wonder, though, if people who commute in SUVs in the city are the kind of drivers who would either consider carpooling or respect a carpool lane. I also wonder if the carpool-only rule would be enforced with any more vigor than, say, the integrity of bike lanes or the driving-while-yakking-on-a-cell-phone ban. Maybe I've grown cynical over the centuries, but my guesses are No and No.

Rusty has the right idea -- and think of it this way, the 25% capacity reduction problem is only for the peak hour of the afternoon commute, at least in phase 1. So Kevin, you'll have no problem getting a seat in RP every morning. And coming home, only 1 in 4 commuters need to do something like what Rusty described to make the commute act "normally" (I know, I know, as if).

Here's my bet -- things will sort out in a week and everyone will wonder what all the fuss was about.

You're very optimistic, Vic. I doubt it will be sorted out in a week.

I travel slightly off-peak now--I work 10-6. I'm all for getting 10-25% of the people going to work off peak as well, but seriously, how many employers are going to let people work a move flexible schedule? And is the CTA willing to lengthen what they consider rush hour? There's lots of times I've just missed the last rush hour bus (both ways) and have had to wait 20-40 minutes for the first non-rush hour bus to come along.

I lived in the South Side until 2004. I could certainly feel the deterioration of the rail system, and I finally switched to biking 7 miles to work everyday. I don't know much about the traffic on the north half of Lake Shore Drive, but I certainly had the same idea about a bus lane or carpool lane during rush hours between 47th St and Roosevelt. To Quondam El Rat: I live in New York now, and I think the HOV lanes here are effective. First of all, they are all in effect during rush hours but favor the early side (like between 5:30am and 9am), which encourage an earlier work schedule). Secondly, and more important, there is always a police officer at each entrance *and* exit of the HOV lane to make sure that there is the requisite number of passengers in each vehicle. That might slow things down a tiny bit, but it's well worth it. The officer at the exit is especially useful--it feels so good when you see some single driver sneaking into the HOV lane only to get pulled over for a heavy fine in the end :)

I've been saying from the beginning that the CTA needs to craft an appeal intended specifically for employers, reasoning with them to allow more latitude with respect to work schedules. As others have said, a large percentage of downtown jobs are not so time specific that they can't be shifted an hour or two before or after 9am. However, as much as I've tried to prevail upon my managers to allow me to move my start time back to 9:30 or 10, they just are not hearing it. Even though none of my work is specifically tied to having something ready first thing in the morning, to them asking to come in later equals me just wanting to come to work whenever the fuck I feel like it. In reality, if I could leave home later, I'd not only spend less time commuting, but my commute would be easier as well. I'd be better rested and more focused upon arriving at the office. So have we seen a press release aimed at letting employers know how looser scheduling would benefit everyone? Of course not.

In the course of explaining the impending transit disaster to my managers, they've brought up the brilliant idea of taking the bus. Why if only I'd thought of it first! Yeah. In reality, I COULD take any of the Marine or Clarendon express buses, but my experience has soured me for some reason. Maybe it's the herky-jerk nature of the ride, with stops every block and tons of traffic? Could it be the buses that are underheated in the winter and that often spew exhaust fumes into the cabin? Could it be that, even adding 20 minutes to my train trip, it will only take 50 to 55 minutes via the red line, versus about 70 or 75 minutes by "express bus"? Of course, I'm telling my managers this, and I've also told the CTA. Still, they have decided in their infinite wisdom that many people who don't currently take buses for whatever reason are going to suddenly view them as an attractive alternative to the slower, more overstuffed red line? Anyway, taking nine trains out of service during the AM rush equals about 80 buses. Am I really to believe that the tiny adjustment in service frequencies on the few routes that are receiving additional runs add up to anywhere near 80 trains worth of capacity? How many of those 5000+ riders are going to be picked up by the blue line or Metra? In reality, most of that lost capacity will be turning to cars, increasing gridlock, resulting in even slower bus runs.

Something else I don't get. Why is the CTA increasing service on the Sheridan and Clark routes when these buses are of limited value to anyone commuting north of Armitage. As it is, I can't understand why anyone uses either route to commute downtown. Both routes are local and even during off peak hours often are nauseatingly slow affairs. Now the CTA wants to add to the congestion on Clark and Sheridan? I know neither street is wide enough to accommodate easy passage of one bus around another at all points. Still, there are many stretches that do offer room to pass. As such, why isn't the CTA instituting X routes along these two routes? I'd run two X buses for every local during the rush. Stops would be at major intersections only. Since most runs would be express, there would be fewer entanglements with local buses.

Of course, all of this could be beside the point if the CTA planned this whole project more carefully. They never have explained why they didn't finish the platform work on Brown line stops north of Belmont BEFORE proceeding with work in the Belmont/Fullerton corridor. Had they taken care of this work first, the brown line could run 8 car trains during the rebuilding of Belmont and Fullerton. If it could run 8 car trains, brown line runs could be eliminated without losing overall capacity on the line. As a result, most or all of the red line runs that will be eliminated could be kept, and inconvenience for everyone would be minimized.

Just because the first work is only going to affect the northbound tracks doesn't mean there won't be an impact on southbound trains. What goes south must be able to go back north. They aren't going to stack brown and purple trains on the el because they can't go back north right away. They aren't going to send as many trains south to begin with.

I was thinking about the situation of the north bound trains being affected during this first phase but think about the Brown and Purple lines -- what goes north must first go south. So, departures from Kimball will have to be slowed down in the morning (southbound) so as not to create a jam-up coming northbound back to the Kimball terminal. Same with the Purple line. So, expect fewer trains on the line at all times of day.

To Jared: I recently transitioned from taking the red line at the Wilson station to taking the #148 express. I find that the bus is MUCH faster than the red line now. My red line commute used to be 15-20 mins from Wilson to Grand. In recent weeks (with all the track and prep work) it's gone to 40-45 mins. The #148 gets me downtown (even in early morning rush) in about 20 mins.

My only complaint with the #148 is this: the #148 and #144 are truncated routes of the #145 and #146 respectively. However, while the #145 stops/starts at Lake Shore & Grace during rush periods, the #146 is allowed to do a complete route to/from the Berwyn red line station. The CTA now says they're going to add more #148's to the road in response to 3-track operations. I think it would make more sense to simply let the #145 do a complete route to/from Ravenswood. Traffic in this city is already mind-numbing (and will get worse during 3-track), why add more buses to the mix?!?

Thanks so much for bringing up the point of the supposed "alternative" to the red line. I am a rogers park resident also and used to ride the 147 regularly. That was until it became so unreliable that I couldn't take it anymore. I haven't heard anything from the CTA on how they're going to compensate for the extra riders on bus lines that are already inefficient.

Unfortunately the likely answer to your question, lourdes--

"how they're going to compensate for the extra riders on bus lines that are already inefficient"

--is that they're not. Let's not forget that one of Frank Kruesi's most notable early "achievements" was the wholesale gutting of bus service in the city's neighborhoods, especially the outlying neighborhoods.

I know many ideas have been proposed for how to deal with the 3-track operations, and many of them simply aren’t logistically or financially possible, however I had an idea which I think is both.

What if for the duration of construction the forward and backwards facing seats were removed from the middle section of every purple and brown line car, and grab straps and poles were added. There would still be seats for those that need to sit, but this would allow a ton more people on each train, without affecting the rail operations too greatly. This would go a long way to absorbing the capacity lost during this time.

I know that Phase 1 will certainly affect the southbound trains as well, but all the red line riders wont be stuck on a train car waiting 30 min for the switches to get onto the purple/brown line track. or for the purple/brown line trains to proceed onto the red line track.

You might want to try the Red line to Berwyn. Walk east on Berwyn for two blocks to Sheridan and wait at the stop for the 147. The Red Line will skip all of those annoying north-of-Foster stops and then the 147 will by-pass the CTA's mess at Belmont.

I also took the 147 this morning and got the same thing (taking the 147 from the Loyola Red line to Michigan and Wacker). It took an hour and ten minutes to get to work. Why don't they have a "car pool lane" on lakeshore? They seriously need it to get rid of some of the congestion on lakeshore, or to force people to ride with friends or take public transit.

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