As Active Transportation Alliance employees, we always attempt to walk, bike or take transit when visiting clients or attending meetings away from the office.
Recently, I needed to be at McHenry West High School to lead a student session at 3 p.m. on a weekday as part of a larger project in McHenry County high schools.
McHenry County is 40+ miles northwest of downtown Chicago, and McHenry (the city) is about a 50-mile drive from the Active Trans offices.
While McHenry (the city) does have a Metra stop on the Union Pacific NW line, the station is served from Chicago only three times daily--and none of those times were even close to assisting with my schedule. Crystal Lake is served more regularly and lies about an 8 mile bike ride from McHenry West High School, but Tuesday’s weather was not at all conducive to biking, so I made other plans.
McHenry County has three Pace bus routes, one of which runs between Crystal Lake and McHenry. However, once again, the schedule did not work to my advantage for my meeting time, since the route shuts down midday from about 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Luckily I had a contact who had offered to pick me up, so I took the Metra to Crystal Lake and my contact drove me the rest of the way to my meeting.
After the meeting, I planned to catch Pace Bus Route 806 to the Crystal Lake Metra station for my return to Chicago. I had looked at the map, and the route traveled right past the school and, according to its schedule, would get me to the station at 4:59 to catch the 5 p.m. train. At least I hoped it would…
I stepped out of the school, about 1/2 a mile south of downtown McHenry, and looked left and right for a bus stop sign but saw none. I had 20 minutes before the bus was scheduled to pass, so I walked about 10 minutes down the road, looking for a bus stop sign. Finding no signs, I decided to stand next to a traffic light just outside a post office and wait vigilantly, ready to wave down the bus when it did arrive.
Once the bus arrived, I chatted a bit with the driver who, after I said I was hoping to catch the 5 p.m. train to Chicago, assured me “I usually make that one.” We arrived at the train station with about 2 minutes to spare.
I consider myself an “advanced” transit user, but navigating the options for travel in this situation was a challenge even for me. I commend Pace and McHenry County for the transit options that are currently available, and they are certainly a first step, but there is still a lot of work to do in relation to signage, education and level of service to make transit a viable option for residents and commuters in McHenry County, especially those who cannot or do not have access to a personal vehicle.
In recent weeks, Active Trans has appeared at both CTA and Metra budget hearings with the urgent message that service reductions and fare hikes are not the answer. Instead, what's needed is more support from our political representatives who hold the purse strings.
If you want to help make transit better in Chicagoland, support Active Trans' Riders for Better Transit campaign.