By Bob Uphues
A high-tech, rapid transit bus route from Elmwood Park to Bridgeview along Harlem Avenue is one step closer to reality with the recent completion of Pace Suburban Bus and the Regional Transportation Authority's Central Harlem Avenue Corridor Study.
The RTA, which provided funding for the year-long study, announced its completion on Jan. 15.
"The Pulse program is a key part of Pace's plan to modernize our network of public transportation services to better serve the communities of northeastern Illinois," said Rocky Donahue, Pace's interim executive director in a press release. "Studies and plans like this help us lay a solid foundation to build the transportation system our region deserves."
Harlem Avenue was one of seven proposed Pulse corridors deemed "near-term priorities." Other near-term priority corridors include Cermak Road from the 54th Avenue Pink Line station to Yorktown Center and Roosevelt Road from the Forest Park Blue Line terminal to Oakbrook Center.
Another 28 corridors in the greater Chicago area are considered mid- or long-term priorities by Pace.
It will be some time before Pulse service debuts along Harlem Avenue, perhaps three to five years, but the corridor was identified as a priority route by Pace when it rolled out its Pulse rapid-transit concept.
The next step for Pace will be to identify funding for a roughly year-long environmental review, which will analyze the impact the new bus route would have on the corridor.
When completed, the Harlem Avenue Pulse route will augment the buses that already serve the Harlem Avenue corridor, but will be more frequent and have special stations spaced about a half-mile apart along the route, a 10-mile stretch in which 85,000 people live and 25,000 work, according to the study.
The stations themselves will be outfitted with "interior lighting, seating, bicycle racks, and overhead heating for passenger comfort during winter months," according to Pace's Pulse website.
In addition, the stations will be fully ADA-compliant and will have a vertical marker, making them easy to identify and an electronic display providing real-time bus arrival times and other information.
The buses themselves will have WiFi, device-charging stations, and will be equipped with transit signal priority technology, much like that used by police and fire departments, which can shorten red lights or lengthen green lights in order to keep buses moving along the corridor.
Right now, according to the study, bus trips along Harlem Avenue take 40 to 50 percent longer than auto trips.
The first Pulse route — which has been in the works since 2014 — will begin operation in late summer 2019 along Milwaukee Avenue, connecting the Jefferson Park transit center in Chicago with the Golf Mill Shopping Center in Niles.
That route was supposed to have started in 2018, but the project has faced a variety of delays, including permit delays triggered by an unexpected need to move a water main. Getting the first route up and running has been a learning experience, said Pace's media relations manager, Maggie Daly Skogsbakken.
"With the first line there was a lot of legwork that's been done that will expedite the others," Skogsbakken said. "We're hitting our momentum on this program."
The one new wrinkle in implementing the Harlem Avenue corridor route is that it involves so many municipalities. The Milwaukee Avenue Pulse route involved just two. This new line includes Elmwood Park, River Forest, Oak Park, Forest Park, Berwyn, North Riverside, Riverside, Stickney, Lyons, Forest View, Summit, Chicago, Bedford Park and Bridgeview.
"That will add time, because of the public outreach we like to do," said Skogsbakken.
The completed study has also identified high-priority locations for Pulse stations along Harlem Avenue. Those locations include North Avenue, Circle Avenue/South Boulevard, Madison Street, the Eisenhower Expressway, Roosevelt Road, Cermak Road, the BNSF rail corridor, Ogden Avenue, 63rd Street and 71st Street.
Medium-priority locations include Division Street, Chicago Avenue, 16th Street, 47th Street and Archer Avenue. Low-priority locations are Longcommon Road, 41st Street and the Stevenson Expressway.
Other recommendations for areas near station locations include intersection enhancements such as high-visibility crosswalks, construction of pedestrian refuge islands, curb extensions to shorten crosswalks and the introduction of short "bus only" lanes.
The entire study can be found online at pulse.pacebus.com.
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