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Did You Know?

Half of school children walked or biked to school in 1969, but only 13 percent were doing it in 2009.

Schaumburg Express bus is suburban transit done right

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We often talk about the challenge of connecting Chicago’s many suburban communities via public transit. The vast geography of the region and the hub-and-spoke nature of our transit system makes it difficult to reach many major suburban destinations without a car.

I confronted this challenge this week when deciding how to get to a meeting in Schaumburg with newly elected Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi from my apartment in Logan Square. I figured I’d have to rent a carshare vehicle, or take Uber or Lyft from the nearest Metra station, where trains run infrequently in the middle of the day.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn I could take the CTA Blue Line to Rosemont, and then a Pace bus to a stop steps away from the congressman’s district office, which is just across from the popular Woodfield Mall.

On the way there I took a local bus from Rosemont that stopped frequently in Des Plaines, Mount Prospect and Arlington Heights. For the return trip, I got a tip to try the Rosemont – Schaumburg Express, which runs every 15 minutes during peak periods and every half hour off-peak.

After a productive meeting, I took a short walk over to the Northwest Transportation Center and stepped right aboard a waiting #600 bus. To my surprise, the bus was brand new with large, comfortable leather seats, and free Wi-Fi. I was at the Rosemont CTA station in less than a half hour.

As I completed my trip on the Blue Line, we flew past miles of bumper-to-bumper traffic on the I-90/94. At one point, I noticed my wife driving our car amongst the traffic on her commute home from the northern suburbs. Sadly, that traffic jam is part of her daily ritual.

This experience taught me to better explore suburban transit options, and not to automatically reach for the car keys. The transit agencies are working hard to address known connectivity challenges, and in some cases they’ve found solutions. Pace’s bus-on-shoulder service has been successful and is being considered with all new highway projects.

Obviously there’s much more work to be done. It’s still difficult – if not impossible – to reach many parts of the region via public transit. Just ask my colleagues on the Active Trans planning team who regularly travel to far-flung suburbs to work on biking and walking plans. Traveling from suburb to suburb is particularly difficult.

Acknowledging the challenges, it’s important to recognize progress is being made, and with more advocacy and investment we can implement more solutions. Central to that progress is more people giving suburban transit a chance on their next trip. I know I will.