By Jon Hilkevitch and Noah Isackson
TRIBUNE STAFF WRITERS
Date of Publication: May 4, 2000
Source: Chicago Tribune
The last time the CTA's Ravenswood trains operated to the Loop late into the evening on weekends, the fare on the "L" was 18 cents and Chicagoans didn't need an excuse or an automobile to enjoy a lively night out on the town.
That was 48 years ago.
Over the subsequent decades, many Northwest Siders simply switched to taxis and, lately, sport-utility vehicles and valet parking services--creating traffic congestion in the downtown entertainment districts that had seldom been seen before on Saturday and Sunday nights.
In one of several moves that transit officials say will pay for itself because of strong gains in ridership, the CTA board on Wednesday voted to restore weekend service to the Loop until midnight on the Brown/Ravenswood Line, effective July 16.
The improvement will allow better connections with other CTA trains and bring service to six stations north of the Loop that are currently closed when Brown Line trains stop running south of Belmont after 8 p.m. on weekends and holidays.
"That's awesome," said a smiling Meg Madden, 27, standing on the Rockwell station platform. "Now there won't be so many things I can't get to downtown."
In a separate action to reduce the commuting times to the downtown from the North and South Sides, the CTA will convert several local bus routes to express service early in the mornings, on evenings and weekends. Enhancements are being made on a total of nine bus routes, officials said.
And 14 rail stations that now are open only part time will be open to passengers 24 hours a day.
The service improvements approved Wednesday do not include any new routes, and they also don't address the demands of critics on the Southwest Side that weekend service be restored on the Douglas branch of the Blue Line.
But they represent a rebirth at the CTA, which had experienced a 40 percent loss of ridership since the late 1970s. Both train and bus ridership has begun rebounding in the last three years.
There is even something in the CTA's service improvement package for bicyclists. Starting Saturday, bike riders will be able to take their two-wheelers aboard CTA trains from 6 a.m. on Saturdays to midnight on Sundays. Unlike last summer's brief experimental project, this year's bike-and-ride program will continue year-round.
The CTA will continue to test bus-mounted bike racks, though it has not decided when or on which routes to begin operations with the two-bicycle racks, said Dick Winston, executive vice president of operations.
To improve bus service to Hyde Park and the Southeast Side, the No. 6/Jeffery route will become an express bus until about 12:30 a.m., said Mary Kay Christopher, the CTA's general manager of service planning. The change will take effect June 25.
Service from downtown on the No. 6 express bus currently ends at 10:30 p.m. during the week and 7:15 p.m. on weekends. Local service on the route, designed to serve Green Line rail stations, will be eliminated in favor of the continuous service to downtown. Passengers who rely on the local service can instead ride the No. 27/South Deering or the No. 63/63rd buses to the Green Line, officials said.
Beginning in August, the No. 145/Wilson-Michigan and the No. 146 Marine-Michigan routes will operate as express buses during all operating hours. Christopher said the changes are designed to provide commuters with more reliable service between Belmont, North Michigan Avenue and the Loop, while saving the CTA $102,000 a year by cutting out the local route.
The operating hours of six rail stations and eight station entrances are also being expanded on the Red and Blue Lines and the Loop elevated. The result is that all Loop subway and elevated stations will be open during the hours that trains on the lines are operating throughout the week.
The Loop "L" stations affected by the changes that are currently closed on Sundays and holidays are at Madison and Wabash, Washington and Wells and LaSalle and Van Buren. The subway stations to remain open 24 hours daily are at Chicago and at LaSalle and Congress on the Blue Line, and at Harrison on the Red Line.
The CTA said it will post the locations of the secondary station entrances to stay open at all times.
The changes on the Brown Line, while welcome to thousands of transit riders, are expected to stir debate over the levels of service that the CTA delivers to different parts of the city.
Peter Skosey of the Metropolitan Planning Council said the enhanced weekend service will be a boon to employees working late shifts, as well as families wanting to go downtown to the theater or other cultural events.
But other urban planning experts questioned the CTA's decision to improve service to some neighborhoods while neglecting working-class communities such as Pilsen.
"The city is now saying that predominantly upper-class commuters can come downtown to recreate, but people all along the Douglas Line cannot because there is not weekend service there," said Jacqueline Leavy, executive director of the Neighborhood Capital Budget Group.
"The inequity of it is what rankles a goodly number of citizens and taxpayers in many neighborhoods," Leavy said.