By Igor Studenkov
For the Bugle
The Village of Niles Board of Trustees voted unanimously to allow Pace to begin building the stations for the new Milwaukee Pulse arterial rapid transit (ART) bus service during its July 25 meeting.
The vote puts the project one step closer to completion. Once Pace gets the utility permits, it would be ready to go. The transit agency officials are confident that they will be able to start construction later this year and launch the service sometime in 2018.
As previously reported by the Bugle, the arterial rapid transit bus lines are designed to provide faster service than regular routes. The buses only stop at major intersections, and the stations come with raised platforms to improve boarding. The stations also have a number of amenities most regular Pace bus stops lack, including bike racks, real-time arrival information displays and heat lamps in the passenger shelters. Unlike Bus Rapid Transit lines, where the buses have dedicated lanes, ART buses use regular lanes, but they will benefit from the Transit Signal Priority technology, which will either shorten the red light or extend the green light to speed up service.
Pulse Milwaukee Line will follow the same path as most Route 270 buses, traveling from Jefferson Park Transit Center to Golf Mill Shopping Center. In Niles, they will stop at Touhy Avenue, Harlem Avenue, Oakton Street, Main Street and Dempster Street. Touhy, Harlem and Dempster stations will double as transit links. Pace is currently in the process of developing another Pulse line along Dempster Street, and the agency’s long-term plan call for ART lines along Touhy and Harlem.
During the July 25 meeting, Charlotte Obodzinski, Pace’s Rapid Transit Program Supervisor, told the village board that the stations will be customized.
“One of the things we wanted to do with the Pulse program is to provide infrastructure the community can really get behind,” she said.
The bus shelter will have a large Niles logo, and bike rack designs have been tweaked.
“We’re swapping out standard bike racks to do the ones you’re already purchasing for the village,” Obodzinski said.
She added that the exact position of the stations was determined with village and resident input. For example, the southbound Touhy Avenue station was put in a place where it wouldn’t block the Niles Veterans Memorial Waterfall. And, in response to concerns that homeless residents would use bus shelters to sleep, Pace timed the heat lamps to only work for five minutes.
While most Route 270 trips don’t go past Golf Mill, some trips continue further northwest, toward Glenbrook Hospital. As previously reported by the Bugle, Pace currently plans to keep those trips going, but the Jefferson Park – Golf Mill trips will be eliminated and replaced by Milwaukee Pulse service. This means that Route 270 would only run an average of once every half an hour. Meanwhile, the ART service would become more frequent, running once every 10 minutes during rush hour instead of once every 15 minutes, and once every 15 minutes during mid-day off-peak hours rather than once every 20 minute. It will run once every 30 minutes during evening hours.
On weekdays, the Milwaukee Pulse will run longer than Route 270 currently does. While, under the current schedule, the last bus arrives at Jefferson Park Transit Terminal at 10:44 p.m. and at Golf Mill Shopping Center at 11:14 p.m., Milwaukee Pulse will keep going until midnight.
The line will also feature special buses that will come with on-board wi-fi, USB chargers and interior displays to show route info. Obodzinski said that some of the buses are already in service because they arrived earlier than expected. The Bugle spotted those buses on Route 250, which serves Dempster Avenue, as well as Route 240.
“As much as possible, we want to put them on [future] Pulse lines,” Obodzinski said.
She told the village board that Pace expects to begin service some time in 2018.
“It’s a 240-day construction period once we break ground, and there’s winder to be contended with as well,” Obodzinski said.
At the same time, she said, Pace is currently doing environmental review for the Pulse Dempster Line. Under the current plans, the stops that fall within this newspaper’s coverage area include stations at Austin Avenue, Waukegan Road, Harlem Avenue, Milwaukee Avenue, Cumberland Avenue, Western Avenue and Dee Road. Western Avenue stop would serve Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, while Dee Road station would be the closest station to Maine East High School. Pace currently expects to start construction in 2019.
Mayor Andrew Przybylo said that he was very happy with the project. He noted that the closest thing Niles has to dowtown is Milwaukee Avenue, and he hoped that the Pulse service would encourage further development and help the corridor businesses.
“It will make it more possible to bring development,” he said. “Development and [sales tax] revenue is going to the strengthen the Village of Niles, protecting our budget and thing we need to do.”
Trustee John Jekot expressed hope that the service would attract more young professionals.
“At Jefferson Park, they will be the voice of Blue Line or Metra [Union Pacific Northwest Line],” he said. “It’s a win-win for us.”