Bus speed-up projects debut: Loop Link, Ashland & Western express buses

Two new CTA bus "express" bus projects debuted this week - one meant to ease congestion and improve connections in the Loop; the other providing express bus service on two of Chicago's busiest streets.

Loop Link

Chicago Tribune photo by Zbigniew Bzdak

A Loop Link bus stop on Washington Street. (Chicago Tribune photo by Zbigniew Bzdak)

Loop Link features red bus-only lanes on Washington, Madison, Clinton and Canal streets. CTA riders on six buses through the area will see enhanced signage clearly delineating the CTA bus lanes and early traffic signals for buses at key intersections. These improvements are aimed at boosting bus speeds while reducing bottlenecks at congested portions of the Loop.

The project also provides distinctive bus stations with large canopies to protect waiting passengers from the elements, and raised platforms for easier boarding. CTA Bus Tracker screens on the platforms will show next bus arrival times.

The six bus lines using Loop Link - the #J14 Jeffrey Jump, #20 Madison, #56 Milwaukee, #60 Blue Island/26th, #124 Navy Pier and #157 Streeterville/Taylor - will link passengers to Union Station, Ogilvie Transportation Center, CTA subways and Navy Pier. More than 1,000 CTA bus trips will traverse the Loop Link corridor each day. A seventh route, the #19, provides service to and from the United Center on event days, such as Bulls and Blackhawks home games.

See the CTA website for more information.


Ashland and Western Express Routes

Also on Monday, the CTA reinstated the #X9 Ashland Express and #X49 Western Express bus routes.

They will run on weekdays during the morning and afternoon rush periods. Express buses will make stops roughly every half-mile and at bus and rail transfer points.

This is Phase One of improvements on these busy north/south routes. Future Transit Signal Priority (TSP) upgrades, will make it possible for buses running behind schedule to communicate with traffic signals along each corridor to hold green lights longer or to shorten red lights. The upgrade project will will begin in spring 2016 and be completed by the end of 2017.

CTA also is aiming to improve the speed and efficiency of the two routes by optimizing bus stop spacing by removing some of the least-used stops, based on the distance between stops, ridership data and community feedback. Because CTA buses will make fewer stops, it expects to speed service and reduce the time buses spend merging in and out of traffic.

See the CTA website for more information.


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  • First, why isn't there a dedicated Loop Link circulatory route? Of the routes listed, only the 124 makes the full loop. If I'm a tourist traveling from Wabash to Union Station, and I get on the J14, 20, or 56 buses, I wind up heading to the west side.

    Second, the full benefit of the system won't be realized until it supports pre-paid boarding. The slow Ventra cards are still the fly in the ointment.

    Lastly, I've heard from a few people that the canopies provide little protection in windy conditions. They are high and angled. How is that going to provide protection during rains w/ 20 mph winds?

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    It was a circulator grant, but 124 is the circulator. The feds weren't going to pay $30 million for some trolley route, which is what the small towns got.

    The real fly in the ointment on pre-paid boarding is that nobody has figured out how to prevent jaywaking from Daley Plaza to the boarding area of the platform, for instance, short of erecting a cage around the platform (as once was proposed for the Jeffrey BRT, not Jeffery Jump). You have a solution?

  • In reply to jack:

    Is the 124 clearly marked as a circulator, or does the poor tourist have to example the small print on the route signs to figure out that only 1 of 6 buses will get him/her to Union Station?

    Vigorous enforcement via spot checks is how one manages the freeloaders. The Portland light rail used to be free in the downtown area, and roaming bands of enforcers would board the train outside the free area to check tickets. Those without a valid ticket were fined on the spot.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    1. I don't think this was built for tourists. There are trolley replicas for that.
    2. 60 and 157 go to Union Station. You still have the defective map?
    3. Who is going to pay for fare inspectors on 6 bus lines, or even security guards at 8 platforms, 24/7? What's the cost going to be? This isn't one light rail line. (BTW, Buffalo does it too.)

  • In reply to jack:

    I know Saint Louis used to spot check on their Metro rail. When it first started up, it was free to ride to get people using it I think. Then later, they started enforcing the tickets, but only gave warnings and sold you a ticket. Then they later ramped up to fines on the spot.

  • In reply to chris:

    Mentioning "tickets" points up the other problem (and why Metra doesn't accept Ventra cards)--there aren't tickets. The rail systems that use automated fare collection give conductors some way to verify that the electronic medium was tapped or swiped before boarding. Assuming 157, just showing a Ventra card wouldn't prove that you tapped it at Michigan and Wacker or sneaked on at Madison and Franklin, especially if, as in the Portland or Buffalo models, the fare collector checks at Harrison. The fare collector would need a means of seeing your Ventra account to see that you boarded 157 at Mich & Wacker 10 minutes ago, requiring a second tap. Either the bus has to stop, or essentially you need a conductor riding every bus. Or you could have paper tickets issued. Weren't they called "transfers" and on the Purple Line "express checks," and abolished in the late 1990s?

  • Ashand and Western prove what can be done when you get a hack like Claypool out of there. The proposed 11 and 31, too. Someone proposed bringing back all the X routes, and if the minimal resources used to bring back these 2 (4 more buses per street) are involved (since the locals were cut back to ~15 minutes) CTA should.

  • Noted is a story that the Loop Link operates at a crawl because someone is afraid that someone on the platform will be hit by a rear view mirror.

  • In reply to jack:

    I see they have those blue things on the ground (don't know what they're called-sorry!) like for the trains. You're not supposed to be standing on that anyway until the doors open. If any knucklehead gets hit by a mirror, they were standing TOO CLOSE! It looks like a total waste of millions of dollars to me. Those 'shelters' are worse than the ones Daley stuck us with from that French company. When are regular cars and taxis going to start driving/parking in the bus lanes, just like they do on State Street all the time? We needed something to speed up travel times, but I don't think Loop Link is it.

  • In reply to mulder42:

    Those are "tactile strips" and are supposed to tell the blind (I guess through their canes or their feet) that they are near the edge. While there is an actual edge on a subway platform, they are used in a manner more similar to this at the border between the sidewalk and parking lot at a strip mall.

    At least Daley got JCDecaux to pay for the right to install those shelters.

  • I rode it yesterday. An absolute waste of taxpayer's money.

  • In reply to ibilldavis:

    One wonders, based on the State St. experience, when the unmalling will begin.

  • In reply to ibilldavis:

    I'm with you there, ibilldavis. I rode it for the first time on Saturday. As slow as my driver was going, I could've walked from Washington/Canal to State Street faster. And I'm a fast walker, when slow people aren't blocking me. I can't believe the money wasted on this fiasco!!!

  • The Red Paint was Gone (I mean Gone!) as of Wednesday 12.23.15 on Madison from Wacker to the Bridge Deck.

  • I'm confused here. They got rid of the X9 and X49 because the data showed they did little to speed up travel, and the numbers supported that. Why are they now being brought back as a solution? Increasing the number of buses on the normal routes would probably serve most people better.

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