New bus route could improve downtown access

By Adrian Florido

If approved, a new campus bus route could significantly reduce travel time between downtown and the U of C campus beginning in the fall.

The Transportation Office is awaiting word from the office of the Provost on whether to begin implementation of a new #173 bus route that would offer express service between the Reynolds Club and the downtown Gleacher Center near East Wacker Drive and North Michigan Avenue.

The bus would operate both northbound and southbound runs, and along the way would make limited stops at the Roosevelt and State/Lake Red Line stations, said Brian Shaw, director of the Transportation Office.

Unlike the #6 CTA route, which many Hyde Parkers use to travel downtown, the revised #173 will not make additional stops either in Hyde Park or in the Loop.

The current #173 route, which is operated by the CTA but paid for almost entirely by the University, offers service from campus through downtown and to the North Side, but only runs northbound during the afternoon rush hour and offers no southbound service. The #192 shuttle that runs between the University of Chicago Hospitals and downtown also runs on a limited rush hour schedule.

Current ridership on the #173 is about 200 people, said Jarrod Wolf, a member of College Council who worked with Shaw to draft the proposal.

“We decided that because the #173 is rarely used and only goes north…we would take that bus which is highly inefficient and change it into this express service,” Wolf said.

As proposed, the new route will make trips to and from downtown all day and run later on weekends, Shaw said.

“The concept is to have a #173 route operate throughout the morning and then have a midday run and then have service during the evening rush hour and into the more late night hours,” he said.

The inclusion of stops at one South Loop and one downtown El location would offer students an alternative to the 55th Street Red Line stop that is one of the only current options for students who live close to campus and are returning from downtown and the North Side during the late night hours. Many students have expressed safety concerns over having to wait for the #55 bus that operates between that station and Hyde Park. The CTA also operates a University-subsidized #174 route between that stop and the Reynolds Club.

If implemented, the revised #173 route will allow students to board the bus at either of the downtown Red Line stations where it will stop and ride it directly to the Reynolds Club.

The route will also eliminate the need for students living on or immediately near campus to walk to and from the #6 bus stops at the eastern end of Hyde Park.

According to Shaw and Wolf, because of the closure of the Shoreland at the end of the next academic year and the subsequent opening of the new dorm on East 60th Street and South Ellis Avenue, the route could eventually include a stop at that location.

The route could also benefit the increasing number of students electing to live outside of Hyde Park, especially in the South Loop, and Graduate School of Business students who regularly commute between Hyde Park and the downtown Gleacher Center.

But the proposal is contingent upon allocation of funds for the route in the 2008–2009 University budget. Because the route will be requested by the University, the CTA will require that it be almost entirely subsidized.

Similar to the #174 bus that operates between the Reynolds Club and the 55th Street Red Line station, students will have to pay regular CTA fares for the service because it will make connections to CTA transfer points. But the #173’s specialized ridership will be unlikely to entirely offset costs, at least initially, Shaw said.

According to Shaw, if allotted funding for the change, his office would work with the CTA over the summer in hopes of making the new route available by the start of the next school year.

“I think it’s just a matter of the university supporting us in the way that we would need them to support us, which would be financially,” Wolf said.

The Transportation Office should know later this month whether the new route has received University approval, Shaw said.