Quick Hit Ashlee Rezin Wednesday October 9th, 2013, 8:51pm

CTA Study Reveals Ridership Does Not Justify Implementing A Full 31st Street Bus Route (VIDEO)

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) board voted Wednesday to make the No. 35 bus route’s expansion to West 31st Street permanent, but an agency study revealed potential ridership does not justify funding a 31st Street bus route that travels east of Kedzie Avenue.

The original 31st Street bus route, which ran from Cicero Avenue to the lakefront and cut through South Side neighborhoods such as McKinley Park, Armour Square, Bridgeport and Bronzeville, was discontinued in 1997 due to low ridership.

Since then, South Side activists, many of whom packed the agency’s board meeting Wednesday to hear the results of the year-long feasibility study, claim people in their communities have been held captive in a public transportation desert.

“For us today, the results that were presented are disappointing and infuriating,” said Rev. Tom Gaulke, pastor at First Lutheran Church of the Trinity and vice-chair of the Bridgeport Alliance, in a presentation before the board. “The conductors of the study don’t seem to understand the real situation and our real need. They must not have looked very closely at the needs of our community.”

As part of a trial period last year to test ridership, CTA officials restored a portion of the 31st Street bus route by extending the No. 35 route to 31st Street between South Cicero and South Kedzie Avenues. Thanks to Wednesday’s vote, that route will become a permanent addition in Little Village neighborhood on the city's Southwest Side.

More than 4,300 people rode the No. 35 bus on an average weekday in July, according to CTA’s latest ridership report. While bus ridership throughout the entire transit system was down 2.8 percent through July, ridership had decreased 4.8 percent on that route when compared with the same time period last year.

During the No. 35 expansion trial period, the CTA’s Committee on Strategic Planning and Service Delivery also conducted a feasibility study for restoring the 31st Street bus route between Ashland Avenue and the lakefront.

“Analysis indicates that it is not likely that a bus route on the east section of 31st Street would draw enough ridership to be an efficient use of CTA resources at this time,” said Michael Connelly, the CTA’s vice president of service planning and scheduling, to a reception of scoffs and “boos” from board meeting attendees.

A bus route along 31st Street from Ashland Avenue to the lakefront would cost about $1.3 million annually, Connelly said, and the study estimated the route would provide service to less than 20 people every hour. To project potential ridership on the eastern route, the agency surveyed people utilizing existing CTA bus routes in the area because “they are the people most likely to use the service.”

“The existing network of North-South routes on the East Side satisfies the majority of travelers’ needs,” Connelly said. "Of the 100 percent of people who are using bus service in that area, 75 percent of them want to go north and south."

To increase access to the renovated 31st Street Beach, the study recommends adding an eastern extension to the No. 35 bus route to extend from the route’s end at Cottage Grove Avenue, north to 31st Street to reach the lakefront on weekends and holidays during the summer.

“This is about so much more than the beach,” said Gaulke, who added that, other than the No. 35 route, the closest east-west bus routes for residents of Bridgeport is Cermak Road, the No. 21 route. “People can’t get to their basic needs. When you create a transportation desert like that you create a lot of economic hardships.”

Gaulke said, while the Little Village expansion is “fine”, residents of the South Side are still denied much needed public transportation that provides access to places like Mercy Hospital & Medical Center, located at the corner of East 26th Street and South Michigan Avenue, Here's more from Gaulke:

“The study is missing part of the story,” said C. W. Chan, chairman of the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community, in a presentation before the board.

Chan said neighborhoods on the South Side, including Chinatown, Brideport and Armour Square, are home to more than 27,000 Asian immigrants; more than half of which he estimated only speak their native language, such as Chinese and Mandarin. He questioned whether the study surveyed individuals in languages other than English and Spanish.

“The absence of a 31st Street bus has been cited for causing hardship and isolation for this immigrant group, which typically has fewer resources and needs extra attention and assistance,” he said. “While access to the beach was advocated by the alliance, the recommendations of the report convey an uncomfortably insensitive bias against people in need, versus people in want.”

In response to Chan’s accusations that the study was flawed, CTA Chairman Terry Peterson said the board would continue analysis of whether ridership could justify the cost of an eastern 31st Street route.

“The board remains open to continue to work with the community,” Peterson said. “We’re not closing the door.”

Meanwhile, Claudia Hajdas, who lives near 31st and Aberdeen Streets, said she has severe asthma and struggles to do her daily activities.

“There’s a bus on Archer and a bus on 35th Street, but it’s too far for me to walk,” she said to the board, with tears in her eyes. “I have to ask people to take me places, and because of that my value and my independence isn’t with me.”

Hajdas, a member of the Bridgeport Alliance, said the organization would continue to push for a 31st Street bus route that reaches neighborhoods east of Kedzie Avenue.

“I need a CTA bus that I can get on to go to my church, to go shopping, to go to the hospital,” she said. “We need to have a real discussion, with more input from the community, before you make any decisions about the 31st Street bus. We need a full 31st Street bus.”

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