Imagine a bus line on Harlem Avenue from North Avenue to Toyota Park in Bridgeview, where service was so fast and frequent that you never had to consult a schedule, where you could get real time service information on a screen at a fully accessible bus stop and where you traveled on buses offering free WiFi and charging ports, so you could be productive during your commute.
It may be between four and seven years before any of that becomes reality, but that’s the goal of a joint RTA/Pace study of the Central Harlem Avenue Corridor, which kicked off earlier this year.
“They have an interesting challenge ahead of them,” said Riverside Community Development Director Sonya Abt, who attended a kickoff meeting of the Harlem Corridor Study steering committee in January and Pace’s follow-up tour of the corridor for steering committee members on Feb. 27.
That stretch of Harlem Avenue, which cuts through River Forest, Oak Park, Forest Park, Berwyn, North Riverside, Riverside, Lyons and points south, is a planned corridor for a new rapid-transit bus concept called “Pulse.”
Pace and RTA have identified a number of corridors for a planned Pulse network – Cermak Road and Roosevelt Road are other proposed routes — where buses arrive every 10 minutes during peak hours and make limited stops (roughly every half mile) along the way.
In addition to providing things like WiFi and charging stations, Pulse buses will also be equipped with “transit signal priority” technology that allows buses to communicate with traffic signals along the route, shortening red lights or lengthening green lights to help keep buses moving rapidly along the route.
Implementation of Pulse along Harlem Avenue might also include replacing crosswalks and sidewalks to make access to the routes and intersecting Pulse lines more efficient.
Officials who attended the Jan. 18 steering committee kickoff meeting said that the corridor study is in its infancy and that it’s too early to say definitively how it will finally play out in terms of station locations and how it will impact existing bus service.
The new Pulse routes, at least at this point, are not meant to replace existing routes, like Harlem Avenue Route 307 and Route 318, which uses Harlem Avenue between Madison Street and North Avenue.
“It’s kind of too early to tell,” said Bill McKenna, Oak Park’s village engineer. “One of the things that’s unique to Harlem Avenue is that it’s a tight corridor. There’s not much room for a traditional Pulse station, so they’re going to have think of creative ways [to place them].”
Ryan Ruehle, Pace’s project manager for the Harlem Avenue Corridor Study, said the company is in the process of collecting information on existing conditions along the route — infrastructure, demographics, land use and opportunities for economic development. That information will be shared with the public during one of two planned public outreach efforts during the next year or so.
A public review of existing conditions likely will be announced for late spring or early summer, said Ruehle, a session that will also give Pace an opportunity to get public input. In late 2018, Pace will unveil its recommendations for the Pulse line.
That will mark the end of the study, but won’t immediately lead to implementation, according to Maggie Daly Skogsbakken, media relations manager for Pace. It may take years before Pulse becomes reality for Harlem Avenue commuters.
“There are so many moving pieces,” Skogsbakken said.
Pace is expected to christen its first Pulse line, on Milwaukee Avenue from the Jefferson Park transit center at Lawrence Avenue to the Golf Mill Shopping Center in Niles, later this year.
The company plans to start construction of the new Pulse stations along the route in April or May. Some of the new buses are already in service along the existing Milwaukee Avenue route, said Skogsbakken.
Pace plans on opening an intersecting Pulse route along Dempster Avenue in 2019 and follow that with a Pulse route along Halsted Street. Given that rollout, the Harlem Avenue Pulse line isn’t expected to be up and running until sometime after 2021.
“We’re not sure what kinds of things we’re going to uncover,” said Ruehle.