LINCOLN SQUARE — If the Chicago Transit Authority expected a pat on the back from riders for having balanced the agency's proposed 2015 budget without resorting to "doomsday" scenarios, fare hikes or service cuts, it didn't get one during Monday's public board hearing.
Instead CTA President Forrest Claypool, CTA CEO Terry Peterson and agency board members were confronted by more than 100 angry North Siders who are still fuming over the board's decision in 2012 to eliminate the Western-to-Fullerton leg of the No. 11 Lincoln Avenue bus route.
Converging on the board's annual budget hearing, commenter after commenter called on the CTA to amend its $1.4 billion 2015 budget to include money to restore service on the No. 11.
"We're not going away. We'll be here until you bring the bus back," said Jack Lydon, 47th Ward resident and Democratic Ward Committeeman.
Supporters at the meeting said they'll help fund the route's return:
Called a "lifeline" by many, the bus connected Lincoln Square and Lincoln Park, ferrying riders to shops, grocery stores, school, work, doctor's appointments and everything in between.
"It got me to my Buddhist temple, to Trader Joe's and Whole Foods," Lincoln Square resident Sandra M. Adams said.
An empty-nester, Adams had opted to go car-free — "I thought, 'It's Chicago, a big sophisticated city'" — shortly before the No. 11 fell prey to CTA's budget ax.
"Bring back the No. 11 bus," she stated succinctly, echoing the statement emblazoned on the bright yellow T-shirts worn by the bus' backers.
Seniors and the disabled have been most affected by the loss of the route, according to Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), whose office chartered a pair of school buses to transport people to CTA headquarters for the hearing.
"At the end of the day, we're all going to grow old. We have a responsibility to allow people to age in place ... and create a city sustainable across age," he said.
Though the CTA cited redundant Brown Line service as the reasoning behind the No. 11 cut, Pawar said, "It's the 17th of November and it's 17 degrees outside. Asking seniors, the disabled and parents with strollers ... to walk four to five blocks to get to the Brown Line is a nonstarter."
Chris Bakker, a Ravenswood resident and stay-at-home dad, said he had counted on the No. 11 for daily adventures with son Pierce. The two would check out new cafes and shops up and down the route, which Pierce grew so fond of that he named his cat Lincoln.
"We relied on it for everything. He just wanted to ride the bus and I just wanted to get out," said Bakker, whose wife uses the lone family car to commute to work.
After the elimination of the No. 11, "the whole Lincoln corridor is gone as far as we're concerned," he said. "Now we frequent businesses on Montrose and Damen."
Whereas the majority of Chicago's transit system seems to be designed to shuttle riders to and from downtown, the No. 11 was the rare bus route that moved people from neighborhood to neighborhood, said F. K. Plous of Lincoln Square.
"We had a good circulating system," Plous said of the Western-to-Fullerton leg. "You could get on and off that bus and patronize businesses. Today, when these neighborhoods are becoming more robust, we need neighborhood circulation."
CTA's emphasis on "L" service over buses runs counter to other major cities such as New York, Boston, Philadelphia and San Francisco, according to Yonah Freemark, project manager for the Metropolitan Planning Council.
"We're falling behind," Freemark said.
While he lauded CTA for efficiently managing its finances, the agency's lack of investment in bus service "has had negative consequences," he said.
Buses carry more people every day than "L" trains, according to Freemark. The No. 11 is just one of hundreds of bus routes that should be added to CTA's coverage map.
The planning council has even identified a source of funding for bus routes — an expanded sales tax on services such as haircuts, he said.
"The big point to make is that the transit system we have is the lifeblood of our community," Freemark said.
The economic impact of the elimination of the No. 11 shouldn't be underestimated, said Lindsay Eanet, associate director of the Northcenter Chamber of Commerce.
From mom-and-pop shops to the CVS pharmacy across from the chamber's offices on Lincoln, "businesses have suffered due to the removal of the bus route," Eanet said.
With its craft brewery scene, restaurants and boutiques, Lincoln Avenue has the potential to become a vibrant hub for tourists and growth, she said, "but people aren't going to see that unless they can get there."
The CTA board is expected to reconvene Wednesday to vote on the 2015 budget.
While some No. 11 supporters remained hopeful that money would be found for the bus, others were less optimistic.
"This hearing is absolutely meaningless as usual," said Charles Paidock of the transportation advocacy group Citizens Taking Action.
"If you have written statements, I suggest you put it in a bottle and throw it in Lake Michigan," he said. Asking to have a route restored "is like throwing a snowball at the sun."
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