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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

After Long Fight By West Siders, The Ogden Bus Is Back — For Now: ‘If You Don’t Use It, You Lose It’

Advocates are urging residents to use the bus so the one-year pilot program becomes permanent.

A revitalized Ogden Avenue corridor with the renewed #157 bus, as envisioned by the North Lawndale Quality of Life Plan.
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NORTH LAWNDALE — The No. 157 bus route that once gave Lawndale residents a direct connection to Downtown has returned after more than a decade.

The bus route used to run from the Pulaski Pink Line Station along Ogden Avenue all the way to Streeterville. It was shortened 12 years ago due to low ridership and stopped serving the area west of California Avenue, cutting off Lawndale’s main business district along Ogden Avenue from much of the city.

Residents spent years demanding the route be restored and the city finally agreed. An extension of the bus line has resumed service to the area — but only as a pilot.

Residents are encouraging locals to take advantage of the bus route and prove to the Chicago Transit Authority the one-year pilot should become permanent.

“I pray that ridership will increase as the city opens up more,” said Rochelle Jackson, the Lawndale resident who spearheaded the initiative to restore the Ogden bus with the support of the local alderman. “Because we really need to keep that bus route for the community and for the surrounding communities.”

Jackson, who is co-chair of the transportation committee of the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council, saw the Ogden bus as central to the revitalization of North Lawndale’s economy and quality of life after decades of disinvestment. The bus gives residents easy access to businesses for shopping, as well as the medical district, CineSpace Film Studio and Downtown, where many West Side residents work.

The renewed service also will make it easier for frontline, essential workers battling the coronavirus pandemic to get to work at the Lawndale Christian Health Center, Mount Sinai Hospital and the Medical District, all of which are along the Ogden Avenue bus route.

“It was worth the fight …  for the seniors so they don’t have to go out of the way to get to their doctors appointments,” Jackson said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the bus extension aligns with the city’s goal of equitably distributing public resources to communities that haven’t gotten their fair share of city dollars over the years.

“This pilot is a great example of one of the ways that our public organizations can take specific actions to reverse and address years of historic disinvestment,” Lightfoot said. “This is an area that has suffered from high unemployment, a lack of local jobs and limited transit connectivity, but now CTA is taking action to help foster this community’s ongoing revitalization efforts.”

City leaders will evaluate the pilot at the end of the year based on ridership and feedback to determine whether it will become permanent.

The CTA initially aimed for the extension to add at least 700 daily riders to the route on weekdays, but agency officials said in a statement they would adjust expectations due to the impact of the citywide shutdown and lower overall ridership throughout the system due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th) urged neighbors to use the bus so it doesn’t get canceled after the pilot.

“I just implore people to get out there and use the buses that they’ve advocated for so long,” Scott said. “It happened with grocery stores, and diners and the movie theater that was Roosevelt and Homan — if you don’t use it, you lose it. There are … a lot of different communities vying for a lot of different resources.”

Jackson hopes community members use the bus to rediscover areas that were frequented by Lawndale residents when the neighborhood had better bus access. Lawndale was once closely tied to the Taylor Street corridor, which includes many classic Chicago restaurants.

“Now we get to see the changes that have been made since that bus route disappeared,” Jackson said. “And now we get to see a whole new world.”

Jackson and the transportation committee are organizing a “field trip” in the coming weeks that will take residents on a sightseeing expedition from one end of the No. 157 bus to the other. She said the trip will encourage people to use the bus and show them all the different amenities they’ll be able to access.

“That’s how I learned how to get around the city when I was younger as a teenager,” Jackson said.

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.

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