The RTA's directions tool Goroo had it right the first time. When asked to plot a course from Downers Grove to Arlington Heights, the first option it suggested was — driving.
However, the point was not to drive to work on Chicagoland Car-Free Day Thursday but to embrace public transit.
That's how I ended up — for the third year in a row — spending three hours on a suburb-to-suburb odyssey.
Usually, it takes about half an hour to get to the office using I-355 and I-290.
With transit, I took a combination of four Pace buses on a circuitous route through Lombard, Villa Park, Elmhurst, Bensenville, O'Hare International Airport, Schiller Park, Rosemont and Des Plaines. Total travel time — nearly three hours.
There were compensations. Fresh air during a 45-minute wait to transfer from Bus 834 to Bus 313 in Lombard. A scenic tour through O'Hare's back yard cargo area while relaxing on Bus 332. And, with high gas prices plus tolls, the $3.75 ticket tab couldn't be beat.
But six hours a day for a 48-mile round trip? And that's just between DuPage and northwest Cook County. Imagine a transit trek from Lake to Kane County. Or northern McHenry to southern DuPage. Riding a horse might be faster.
Transportation experts agree the region offers an efficient transit system for commuters between the city and suburbs.
But “it's challenging to travel from suburb to suburb using transit. Clearly, we need better transit options,” Active Transportation Alliance Executive Director Ron Burke said.
The nonprofit group that advocates for cyclists and pedestrians has launched a campaign — Riders for Better Transit. It aims to organize transit riders to lobby for cleaner, safer and more efficient transit, as well as system expansions.
“The reason we don't have a better transit system in the region is lack of funding and the result of inadequate political will,” Burke said.
Pace bus officials echoed the funding lament.
“There has always been a lack of regional investment in suburb-to-suburb commuting,” spokesman Patrick Wilmot said. “For every dollar that our region invests in transit, about 10 cents comes to Pace. The challenge of serving a six-county service area that's roughly the size of the state of Connecticut is a monumental challenge hampered further by this level of investment.”
And each community has its own needs, he added. “Transit solutions that work well in Des Plaines may not work in Bloomingdale. Our service model for Elgin is vastly different from that of Naperville.”
The agency has invested in suburb-to-suburb commuting, and where bus service is impractical it offers a Vanpool program in which up to 13 people share a ride to work in a Pace-provided vehicle, Wilmot explained.
What about enhanced bus service along major roadways, such as Route 83?
It's complicated because some arterial roads are hardly pedestrian-friendly, Wilmot responded.
“Much of the (Route 83) corridor lacks sidewalks or crosswalks, and many of the shopping centers and businesses are set far from the road, making them difficult to access,” he said.
But there is hope. “Kane County has been a great partner to develop pedestrian infrastructure along Randall Road to make the use of transit more feasible and safe.”
Got a suburb-to-suburb tale of horror to share? Send it to email@example.com.
And for more info on Vanpool, check out Pacebus.com. To learn more about Riders for Better Transit, go to activetrans.org/ridersforbettertransit.
You should know
Are the days of freebie exit and entrance ramps onto the Illinois tollway numbered? Illinois State Toll Highway Authority planners intend to look at all non-tolled ramps in the near future, officials said at a Wednesday strategic committee meeting.
“It's an equity issue,” said deputy chief of engineering for planning Rocco Zucchero.
For example, I-PASS customers pay 30 cents when using the new Eola Road interchange at the Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88) but not when exiting or entering at Route 59 just a few miles away.
The committee's work will “include reviewing the different tolled and non-tolled access points along our system, their impact on traffic flow and how they may be able to help manage congestion in the future,” a tollway spokeswoman said. Stay tuned.
Bernie Thomas of Pingree Grove is unhappy with Metra's proposed fare hikes of up to 32 percent. “Metra is its own worst enemy when it comes to fare increases,” he writes. “If you look back in history to when Metra made increases, you find many long periods without an increase. If management had done its job and made small increases of maybe $1 or $2 on a monthly pass every couple of years, Metra would still have money in the bank.”
Got an opinion on the proposed spike in fares? Drop me an email.
Ÿ Illinois Department of Transportation folks will be all ears from 3 to 6 p.m. Tuesday in Kane County at a forum on the 2013 to 2018 road program. Residents are welcome to learn and comment during Tuesday's event at the Hilton Garden Inn, 4040 E. Main St., St. Charles. For more info, visit dot.il.gov and click on Public Involvement.
Ÿ Pace is considering consolidating Bus Route 747 — DuPage Connection and Bus Route 301 — Roosevelt Road. A hearing on the issue takes place from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the DuPage County government center, 421 N. County Farm Road, Wheaton.
Half the traffic? Lake County drivers seeking to maintain calm should avoid Half Day Road at the railway tracks between Waukegan and Telegraph roads from Oct. 5 through Oct. 13. Work crews will close the road for Metra to replace the crossing on the Milwaukee North Line.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.