Skokie, Lincolnwood have disparate transit needs, options
Commuters exit a Skokie Swift train at the Dempster station on Aug. 20 in Skokie. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 7, 2012 6:10AM
SKOKIE — Skokie and Lincolnwood may share a border, high schools and state representatives, yet when it comes to public-transportation options it’s a tale of two different towns.
A recent DePaul University-based study naming neighboring Park Ridge the 13th “top transit suburb” of 20 excluded “city suburbs” with rapid-transit service.
Skokie-bound commuters and village administrators, though, insist the town’s public transportation system is top-notch.
The village has 10 Pace bus routes that provide rides to Chicago, Glenview, Niles, Des Plaines, Evanston, Schaumburg, Mount Prospect and Lincolnshire. But what puts the suburb on the transit map is the Yellow Line, part of Chicago Transit Authority’s system.
Known as the Skokie Swift the route connects the village to the city with trains running from Dempster Street to Howard Street, with one stop in-between at Oakton Street in downtown Skokie.
Village Planning Supervisor Steve Marciani said the Yellow Line saw a 15-percent increase in ridership halfway through this year, representing the most growth of the CTA’s rail lines.
The Oakton-Skokie station, which debuted April 30, had 671 commuters on opening day alone pass through its turnstiles, he said.
An average of 3,426 people a day rode the Yellow Line in June, a majority who boarded at the Dempster-Skokie stop, Marciani said.
He said Skokie’s workforce of reverse commuters, particularly in retail and medical jobs, make up a majority of riders.
Chicago resident David Johnson, who works in the village, said: “Public transit for Skokie is good.”
Richard Donaldson takes the Yellow Line to his job, too. He catches the train at Howard, exits at Oakton and then walks two blocks east.
Donaldson said he wouldn’t work up north if public transit wasn’t an option.
“The Yellow Line is the only way (for me) to get to Skokie besides the bus,” he said.
Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen said public buses and trains are “big selling points for recruiting new tenants,” particularly businesses from Europe and Asia where use of mass transit is the norm.
Public transit, he said, is “a catalyst for economic development.”
“Part and parcel is getting our residents to and from their destinations, and getting workers who come to Skokie to work and to stay and shop,” Van Dusen said.
He said few options exist for more mass transit.
“We’re pretty well-served already,” Van Dusen said.
Lincolnwood’s layout offers a different traveling experience.
Unlike other suburban areas that developed around rapid transit, the village was established based on the automobile, said Community Development Director Tim Clarke. As a result the low-density population is mostly made up of single-family homeowners.
Lincolnwood Mayor Jerry Turry said he hasn’t received any inquires from residents about expanding bus and rail services.
“We are a town that makes little use of public transit,” Turry said. “Although the services are not spectacular, they’re not awful either.”
Four PACE bus routes wind through Lincolnwood on Oakton Street and Touhy, Lincoln and Central avenues.
The CTA also has a bus that runs between the Lincolnwood Town Center and 31st and Central Avenue on Chicago’s South Side. The village lacks a Metra or CTA train station and, therefore, a traditional downtown area.
“We don’t have that rail stop that creates a synergy with lots of people that businesses that can feed off of,” Clarke said.
Turry said there has been some discussion among village officials and staff to designate the town’s center — the Purple Hotel site has been bandied about — though it would not be related to public transit. After all the rails are not that far away.
“The Skokie Swift is a boon and has been very helpful to us,” Turry said.
Lincolnwood residents may be accustomed to their cars but Toby Landesman, of Chicago, wonders whether more options should be provided to those who visit the town.
On a recent afternoon at Lincolnwood Town Center she recounted how her mother’s caretakers often scramble to catch the last scheduled Pace buses of the evening.
“These are people who are dependent on it because they don’t drive or don’t have cars,” Landesman said. “It creates problems because they don’t run late enough.”
Her mother lives near the Lincolnwood-Chicago border on the east side of McCormick Boulevard. If a caretaker misses their nighttime bus they end up walking to nearby stop with later routes, Landesman said.
“That’s their only alternative,” she said.