A CTA bus driver. | Daniel Schwen/Creative Commons

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Board of Directors voted unanimously on Feb. 9 to permanently extend bus route 154 past California Avenue, so that it will keep serving Ogden Avenue as far west as Pulaski Road. 

The section of Ogden Avenue between Pulaski Road and California Avenue lost bus service on June 16, 2008. Since 2015, the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council (NLCCC) and North Lawndale activists have been pushing CTA to restore the service, arguing that the service gap hurts seniors who need to get to medical appointments and makes it harder for residents to get to work. The transit agency brought it back as a pilot route on June 15, 2020.

With the pandemic hurting ridership city-wide, the activists were worried that CTA wouldn’t make it permanent. They said that they were pleasantly surprised by the transit agency’s decision, and expressed hope that, with the pandemic subsiding, the ridership will rebound as well. They also felt that it would compliment several Invest South/West developments on the vacant lots along Ogden Avenue.

The service along Ogden Avenue went through several iterations. At the time, the CTA discontinued the service west of California, it was part of Route 38. That route was subsequently merged with Route 157. The resulting route used Ogden Avenue, Polk Street and Taylor Street to connect North Lawndale to the Illinois Medical District, the University of Illinois at Chicago campus and various locations in the Loop and Magnificent Mile. 

The pilot route continued west along Ogden Avenue before reaching Pulaski Road, turning north to connect to the Pulaski Pink Line ‘L’ station. The route improved transit service to Mt. Sinai Hospital, 1500 S. Fairfield Ave., and Lawndale Christian Health Center, 3860 W Ogden Ave.

Rochelle Jackson, who chairs the NLCCC’s Transportation Committee, said that getting the service restored has been a major priority for the nonprofit since it was founded in 2015. 

“The route would allow our seniors to catch the train, to get to medical appointments,” she said.

Over the past two years, the City of Chicago has solicited proposals for the redevelopment of several vacant lots along Ogden Avenue as part of the Invest South/West initiative. 

In August 2021, the city approved the proposal to redevelop the lots at 3400-18 W. Ogden Ave. into the Lawndale Redefined mixed use development. The proposal by the East Lake Management corporation and North Lawndale’s Grace Memorial Church to turn the little-used western section of the 10th District police station, at 3201-3423 W. Ogden Ave., to build a 65-unit affordable housing development is currently making its way through the city approval process.

“[The Route 157 restoration] is a need in our community, and with the development going up on Ogden Avenue, it’s a logical thing to do,” Jackson said.

The CTA originally planned to launch the pilot in April 2020, but they decided to push it back to June 2020, when the stay-at-home order was lifted. And while the pilot was originally supposed to run for six months, it was extended past that point in hopes that ridership will increase as the pandemic subsides.

Jackson said the transportation committee tried to do everything it could to get the word out about the pilot, including organizing ride-ins.

The CTA press release said that the pilots were made permanent to support Invest South/West and in response to “strong” community support that “ has helped grow ridership since the experiments began.” 

“The pandemic impacted daily travel habits for thousands of Chicagoans and these service changes reflect our responsiveness to the needs and desires of the communities we serve and those who are dependent on public transit services,” said CTA President Dorval Carter. 

“It also is part of our work to expand our efforts to provide equitable service to all communities—especially those who rely on transit as a primary mode of transportation,” Carter added. 

Jackson said she’s optimistic now that the service to Pulaski has become permanent. 

“People haven’t been riding it as much as we’d like to see, because of Covid, but I have a feeling that this will change as the weather gets warm and more people become aware that the bus is there,” she said. 

Valerie Leonard co-founded NLCCC and served as the Transportation Committee’s first chair. While she is no longer involved with the organization, she said that she’s pleased to see the group’s work pay off.

“I am very happy to learn that CTA has decided to permanently extend service for the [Route] 157 Streeterville/Taylor  to the Pulaski Pink Line [station],” she said. “Rochelle Jackson and the NLCCC Transportation Sub-Committee are to be commended for their advocacy.”