Ashland and Western express CTA bus routes - the victims of budget cuts in February 2010 - have found new life and will be reinstated later this year. But Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the Ashland bus rapid transit (BRT) plans are still in the works, though "way off in the future."
The CTA will begin a three-phase effort designed to provide faster service on the #9 Ashland and #49 Western bus routes, including:
- Reintroducing rush hour express service on both routes.
- Optimizing the spacing of bus stops for the local routes based on ridership.
- Expanding the installation of special transit signals to Ashland and Western that make it easier for buses to proceed through major intersections.
Express bus service, with limited stops roughly every half-mile and at rail transfer points, will save up to 22 minutes on trips along each route, said CTA President Dorval Carter Jr. "Optimizing the spacing between bus stops on the local routes could save up to 12 minutes for customers on local buses while still providing customers with convenient access."
The Chicago Department of Transportation will begin transit signal priority (TSP) work in phases to be completed in 2017. Through TSP, buses communicate with signal controllers to hold green lights longer or shorten red lights to allow buses to proceed through the light, which improves bus reliability with minimal impacts on overall traffic.
TSP work is expected to be completed along South Ashland Avenue from Cermak to 95th Street by spring 2016, followed by Western (Howard to 79th) by the end of 2016, and the remainder of Ashland (Cermak to Irving Park Road) by the end of 2017.
The Ashland BRT plan is more controversial because it would eliminate most left turns and put all traffic other than buses in one lane.
The Active Transportation Alliance is pleased with the return of the express buses, but is still pushing for the Ashland BRT.
"The CTA’s own analysis from 2013 shows restoring express bus service will result in slightly faster trips but nowhere near the speed of BRT," said Active Trans Executive Director Ron Burke. "Currently, the average bus speed on Ashland is less than nine miles per hour. With express service it could tick back up to just over 10 miles per hour. Buses will still be stuck in traffic during peak periods, however, and trips will remain unpredictable.
"The CTA found building a rapid transit corridor on Ashland could speed up trips to as fast as 16 miles per hour, an 83 percent increase over current speeds," Burke said. "The project would also result in predictability similar to a train, more efficient traffic patterns, and dozens of blocks of sidewalk and crosswalk enhancements."
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