More than 100 people turned out last night at the Chicago Architecture Foundation to learn about the City of Chicago’s $37 million plan for Central Loop Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), which will speed travel between the Union and Ogilvie Metra stations to points east and north, including Michigan Avenue and Navy Pier.
The three scenarios shown by Department of Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein and Deputy Commissioner Luann Hamilton were “preliminary,” focusing only on the east-west corridor from the Metra stations to Michigan Avenue, but they revealed a lot about what the city and CTA are thinking – or not thinking – about Chicago’s adaptation of BRT.
First, the basics.
- All three scenarios include a new off-street transportation hub at Union Station. It will have room for 12 buses serving six routes and connect to an existing pedway under Jackson so that riders don’t have to cross at street level.
- All approaches stress the idea of “complete streets” with clearly delineated areas for pedestrians, cyclists, cars and buses. The bus lanes are tinted red. The green bike lanes are protected in some instances (with parked cars between the cyclists and auto traffic) and unprotected in others, depending on the amount of right-of-way available.
- All scenarios allow “queue jumping,” which gives buses the green light ahead of other traffic. But none uses traffic signal priority to give buses longer greens.
- There was no detail provided about the routing and street layouts beyond the east-west corridor.
The “Basic” scenario, least expensive at about $28 million, adds bus-only lanes on the right side of Madison and Washington with bike lanes on the left. “Stations” are similar to current bus stops – just a bus shelter.
The “Balanced” option, costing $34 million to $38 million, adds raised boarding platforms on Madison and Washington that are built on an existing lane of traffic. This leaves two lanes for through auto traffic plus a protected bike lane on Washington. There’s not enough room for bikes on Madison but a new protected bike lane will be added on Randolph.
The “Focused” option is the most radical and carries the biggest price tag at $38 million to $43 million. It also uses raised boarding platforms but they’re on either side of Madison, which becomes a bi-directional busway with stations alternating from side to side on each block. That leaves room for an intermittent auto lane for alley and garage access only. Protected bike lanes are on Washington and Randolph.
The basic scenario saves bus riders three minutes on the east-west round trip and the middle option ups that to 7.5 minutes. The focused option cuts 11 minutes from the bus trip but adds almost five minutes to similar auto trips. With six bus routes on the corridor, the buses will come through every two to three minutes at rush. Not bad considering the current bus traffic, at peak hours, sometimes moves at three to five miles per hour, which Luann Hamilton drolly pointed out makes walking competitive with the buses.
Pre-paid boarding wasn’t mentioned in the presentation, though it is considered a critical element of world-class BRT because it allows rapid boarding through multiple doors (see The BRT Standard). A representative of the city’s technical consultant, Aecom, said pre-paid boarding could be used with the raised platforms by adding turnstiles or enforcement mechanisms, but isn’t yet part of the plan. He added that the CTA will be using its existing articulated buses on the route and that those buses present “technical barriers” to boarding through the rear doors.
Design and engineering will stretch into 2013. Startup is set for late 2014.