Daily Herald opinion: Pace moving in right direction with Tri-State express lanes, electric buses
Suburb-to-suburb transit is a hard sell to residents used to hopping in their cars to head to work, shop the mall or enjoy weekend attractions.
But in tweaking a famous line from a beloved baseball movie, newly appointed Pace Executive Director Melinda J. Metzger explained how that could change.
"If we can get a flex route where we're faster than cars, people will come," she told our Marni Pyke. "It's a field of dreams here."
She's referring to the Tri-State Tollway and Pace's plan to create express bus routes that would move between the North and South suburbs -- one that officials hope will change the way some skeptics view transit between the 'burbs.
A preliminary study calls for buses to circulate on I-294 between Harvey in the South suburbs to bus hubs in Rosemont and Schaumburg. Pace would build stations along the way, first at the Cermak Toll Plaza, then near Oakbrook Center Mall and at the former O'Hare Oasis site. Down the road, a station is proposed for Chicago Ridge.
To avoid nasty rush hour traffic, Pace drivers could navigate designated "flex lanes" to save time.
Pace has gone the express route before -- first with buses on I-55's shoulder lanes and then on the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90). The Illinois tollway built flex lanes for buses while reconstructing I-90, and both agencies are teaming up for the Tri-State rebuild.
Pace's plans won't have most of us leaving our cars at home, but they do provide a way for North suburban businesses to entice workers from the South suburbs. It's a smart strategy and an important way to help those who want jobs and those who desperately need to fill them.
Any time we can replace a trip in our car with public transit we reduce our carbon footprint, an important step in combating climate change.
And Pace has more good news on that front: The bus agency is working toward converting to an all-electric fleet by 2040. "We will not order another diesel bus in our capital budget," Metzger said. That's the right move for Pace -- and the planet.
Metzger has a tough road ahead in selling suburban transit. She's right, though, that making commuting faster is the only way to get people with cars on board.
Pace might not be the first route we think of when crisscrossing the suburbs, but if bus travel offers a fast, easy way to visit family in Harvey or check out a mall outside our backyards, we ought to give it a try. If not for the convenience, then for the planet.