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Mallory Black/MEDILL

Walking along 31st street is about the only option for many residents, which is why groups are fighting to have bus service restored.

Mallory Black/MEDILL     

Bridgeport residents to pitch case for restoring bus service on 31st Street

by Mallory Black
Oct 17, 2013

CTA officials and Bridgeport residents are scheduled to talk Monday about restoring bus service along 31st Street, 16 years after the route was cut for low ridership.

Residents and community groups have fought for this hearing ever since the service was lost, pointing to the hardships it created.

“Members of my congregation can’t get to Mercy Hospital, the beach, the grocery stores, the senior center,” said the Rev. Tom Gaulke of First Lutheran Church of the Trinity at 31st and Lowe. “This whole strip of 31st Street is populated with small businesses, stores and schools.”

A report, the 31st Street Corridor Analysis, presented to the CTA board earlier this month concluded that a full east-west bus route was not feasible due to minimal demand.

With the No. 21 bus to the north along Cermak Road and the No. 35 bus to the south on 35th Street, there is no east-west public transit along the east end of 31st Street, at a span of 12 city blocks. DePaul University transportation professor Joseph Schwieterman said that’s a long walk for someone living an urban, transit lifestyle.

“Being that close to downtown, that’s a significant gap in service,” Schwieterman said. ”That’s too far to walk for a lot of people.”

The report did, however, recommend a permanent extension of the No. 35 bus route to include a western section of 31st between Cicero and Kedzie, as well as seasonal service to the beach in the summer. Partial service had been reinstated between Cicero and Kedzie for a 180-day experiment in September 2012, which reported good ridership.

In April, the board asked staff to examine the potential for a full bus route on 31st, which was divided into three parts: the western section, a middle section between Kedzie and Ashland avenues, and an eastern section between Ashland Avenue and the 31st Street Beach.

Shops and restaurants like Maxwell Street Depot, Maria’s Packaged Goods and Mr. Spanky’s are staples on the 31st Street, as well as four daycare centers and two public parks. Multiple coalitions and groups have pushed to reinstate the route along the two-lane street in the past.

“I think the CTA makes these bus routes out to be some big, crazy deal like they have to be running every seven minutes,” said John Schultz, 32, owner of Mr. Spanky’s restaurant on 31st Street. “I think if a bus was here once an hour it would make a big difference.”

Though some storefronts along the street remain vacant, Gaulke said new businesses pop up every so often, more so in the past five years.

“We have a lot of new businesses moving to Bridgeport, especially along Halsted and where Morgan hits 31st [Street], which I think should be an argument for a bus,” Gaulke said.

The CTA report came to the conclusion that a bus route on the east section of 31st is not likely to draw enough ridership to be an efficient use of CTA’s resources at this time.

With the future of bus rapid transit and jump buses on the horizon, Schwieterman said it would be hard to persuade the CTA to reinstate the route anytime soon.

“I think the city, if it expands bus service, is looking to take advantage of these new branded services that have a full range of development strategies tied to them, as opposed to these collector routes like the one on 31st,” Schwieterman said.

Though CTA’s report essentially reflects a cost analysis, said Brenna Conway, who manages campaigns for groups through her job at the nonprofit Active Transportation Alliance, there is more to measuring ridership than meets the eye.

“One of things to keep in mind is that the No. 31 bus was cut and has been out of service for 15 years,” Conway said. “It might take people a while to figure out that it’s back and work it back into their lives.”

CTA Board members have agreed to meet with the Bridgeport Alliance and community members at the Benton House community center on Monday.