Why is suburb-to-suburb commuting by public transit so impossible?

 
 
Updated 6/12/2017 7:36 AM
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  • Taking transit to work in Arlington Heights started well with boarding a Metra train in Downers Grove, but a round trip lasted more than 5½ hours.

      Taking transit to work in Arlington Heights started well with boarding a Metra train in Downers Grove, but a round trip lasted more than 5½ hours. Marni Pyke | Staff Photographer

  • A round trip to work in Arlington Heights and back to Downers Grove using Pace buses, Metra and the CTA lasted 5½ hours.

      A round trip to work in Arlington Heights and back to Downers Grove using Pace buses, Metra and the CTA lasted 5½ hours. Marni Pyke | Staff Photographer

  • Taking transit to work

    Graphic: Taking transit to work (click image to open)

Take transit to work instead of driving for Dump the Pump Day? I'm in.

All that's needed is to jump on a Metra in Downers Grove, switch to a CTA train in Chicago, and grab a Pace bus to the Arlington Heights newsroom.

Heading home, it's a simple matter of walking to board a Pace bus, making a few transfers and -- voilà! -- back in DG.

But in reality the commute took 5½ hours, round-trip, leaving my car in the driver's seat when it comes to choosing a mode of transportation. And it begs the question: Why is suburb-to-suburb commuting by transit so impossible?

There are some transit deserts in the region, Pace Media Relations Manager Maggie Daly Skogsbakken said.

But innovations such as expanding express buses that use shoulder lanes are changing the landscape.

"We want growth. We want to cut your commute down to an hour from any suburb to any suburb in the relatively close vicinity," Skogsbakken said.

In 2011, Pace debuted buses on I-55 empowered to hop on the shoulder lanes when traffic slowed to less than 35 mph.

In August, a fleet of express buses on the Jane Addams (I-90) Tollway will start using a "flex" shoulder lane.

This May, workers began upgrading Edens Expressway lanes between Foster Avenue and Lake-Cook Road to institute shoulder use for express buses.

And in a major game-changer, the Illinois tollway and Pace are planning to collaborate to offer bus-on-shoulder expresses on the Central Tri-State as part of a rebuild project between near Oak Lawn and Rosemont.

Construction could start in 2019, although Pace will be hard-pressed to find funds for new Tri-State routes.

The bus agency gets just 10 percent of the transit public funding pie with Metra and the CTA receiving the rest. "Without money we can't run anything," Skogsbakken said.

Attracting riders, however, should be a slam-dunk if the I-55 experiment is any indicator. Using the shoulders improved on-time performance from 65 percent to 90 percent and increased ridership fivefold on I-55 routes from DuPage to downtown.

"Bus-on-shoulder is a legitimate competitor with private cars," Skogsbakken said. "If I can get people confidently to work on time and confidently home to be with their families, I can feel real good about trying to sell that."

You should know

My odyssey was prompted by the annual Dump the Pump Day, which encourages people to embrace public transit instead of driving.

Here's a recap of the two-hour, 36-minute voyage to work:

• 8:20 a.m.: Boarded a Metra BNSF train in Downers Grove that arrived at Union Station.

• 9:23 a.m.: Caught a Blue Line train to Rosemont after a short walk from Union Station and a fight with a Ventra machine.

• 10:13 a.m.: Arrived at Rosemont and transferred to Pace Bus Route 606 at 10:30 a.m.; reached work at 10:56 a.m.

The tedious reverse commute lasted two hours, 57 minutes.

• 2:49 p.m.: Boarded Pace Bus Route 757 in Arlington Heights en route to the Forest Park Transit Center.

• 4 p.m.: Left on Pace Bus Route 301 headed to Oak Brook Center.

• 5:03 p.m.: Departed on Pace Bus Route 322 to Yorktown Center at 5:23 p.m.

• 5:30 p.m.: Took Pace Bus Route 834. Arrived in Downers Grove at 5:46 p.m.

By car, the trip is typically 30 to 40 minutes in the morning and 30 to 60 minutes in the afternoon, depending on traffic.

Your voice

Cheryl Pellus of Hoffman Estates wants to know where the westbound I-90 access ramp at Roselle Road will go. "I don't see enough land for a ramp," she wrote.

Tollway officials replied that, because of space constraints, "Cook County is constructing the new entrance ramp providing a westbound entrance to I-90 for Roselle Road traffic via Central Road west of the interchange."

Gridlock alert

• Bear up, Des Plaines drivers. Two Union Pacific Railroad projects will close roads this week. Oakton Street is closed at the tracks between Mount Prospect and South Wolf roads now through Tuesday. Also, Rand Road at the UP tracks between South River and Golf roads will close today and reopen Wednesday. Why? Crossing repairs.

• Sorry, Elgin. Expect lane closures on the Route 20 bridge over the Fox River for deck patching today until June 19.

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