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redeyechicago.com

Upcoming demise of CTA's No. 11 bus makes riders feel powerless

Mary Schmich

November 28, 2012

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If Michael Salvatore had known the sad fate of the No. 11 bus, he might not have opened his bicycle shop and cafe on North Lincoln Avenue a few months ago.

"It's asinine to cut the No. 11 bus," he said Tuesday, sitting in the former thrift store where he now handcrafts bicycles and serves upscale Stumptown coffee.

For the past few weeks, Salvatore, 31, has been a lieutenant in the campaign to save the bus, which is doomed to vanish in December along a three-mile stretch of Lincoln from Fullerton Avenue north to Western Avenue.

He has posted protests on Facebook and on Twitter. He has taken his objections to CTA meetings. He keeps a save-the-bus petition on the shiny coffee bar made of reclaimed wood.

"We're going to be in a no-man's land," he said.

Salvatore's new boutique, Heritage Bicycles, is very different from the Golden Apple diner just a few doors up. The Golden Apple, owned by Nick Alex for the past 16 of its 58 years, is old. So are many of its customers. No espresso served in its vinyl booths.

But on the subject of the No. 11 bus, Salvatore and Alex are soul mates.

"The bus is our lifeline," Alex said Tuesday. "We're trying to make it every day in this economy. And now they're going to take the bus away?"

He slapped a sheaf of signed petitions on the table — 2,100 signatures and growing.

"This is life or death for us."

The vanishing route of the No. 11 bus passes a parade of little shops, many of them old and redolent of a time when Lincoln Avenue was more exciting, but some, like Heritage Bicycles and the neighboring yoga studio, are testament to the street's push into the new century. The bus also passes Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and Jewel-Osco, along with a public library and the Old Town School of Folk Music.

In the past few weeks, I've been deluged with emails from people desperate to preserve this bus. I've resisted writing about it because, well, in a tough economy, some things get cut, and cuts always hurt, right?

But finally, after more emails this week, I had to admire the tenacity of the No. 11 lovers and wonder: Who exactly are they?

They're people like Salvatore and Alex and Liza Martin.

Martin is the director of the North Center Satellite Senior Center. She rides the No. 11 and knows many others who do, many of them old.

"Why are they doing this?" she said Tuesday. She was checking elderly people in for lunch at the center.

She has heard the CTA's assurances of the attractive options available under the agency's new plan, which eliminates some routes while beefing up others.

She has heard how No. 11 riders can benefit from expanded service on nearby bus lines. How they can ride the expanded nearby Brown Line.

She hears the assurances and she thinks: Walking three or four more blocks to the "L", or taking two buses instead of one, might not mean much to a young, fit person. But to an elderly person? To a parent with a stroller? To a shopper lugging groceries? To a disabled person? In winter?

And what about all the mom-and-pop businesses? What will happen to them when no bus passes by?

Since she got wind of the route's elimination, Martin has been part of an ardent army that puts fliers in neighborhood shops and pleas in church bulletins. (They recently cut the fliers to half-size; the full sheets cost too much.)

The campaigners scored a big turnout at a CTA meeting in September. They presented an e-petition backed by the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce.

"We thought, wow, this is going to work," Martin said.

It didn't.

"This board didn't even pretend to listen," she said. "They're not only not listening. They're disrespectful, feeling smug because they're appointed, not elected."

The doomed three-mile stretch of the No. 11 is not the only route set to vanish Dec. 16, but it is the one that has stirred the loudest opposition.

I rode the bus for a while Tuesday, and all the riders expressed concern and regret. Their reasons ranged from fear to sentimental attachment. Some just like this path through Chicago.

"I think change by its very nature is sometimes difficult to navigate," said Brian Steele, a CTA spokesman. "But I do think that when current No. 11 riders take a close look at the options available and start trying out those options, they're going to find that the services they receive get them to their destinations in a timely and convenient fashion the way the No. 11 did."

But the No. 11 lovers are looking for more than convenience. They wanted to be heard. Instead, they felt that a decision that affects their lives and livelihoods was made even before they spoke.

"You want to have a voice," Salvatore said. "But the machine is the machine. It does what it wants without you."

mschmich@tribune.com