Elevating Chicago

BRT Archives

A New Idea: the North Side Connector

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Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

Lately I've been looking over the city's old and new plans for potential bus rapid transit lines.  There's one corridor I haven't seen the city or CTA explore in any studies or plans--an east-west connection on the Far North Side.  Just as a 79th street BRT line -or the Mid-City Transitway (MCT) alignment along a rail right-of-way near 75th--would connect the Far South Side to Midway, a North Side Connector (NSC) could connect the Rogers Park-Loyola area to O'Hare efficiently.

The isolation of Rogers Park is a quirk of land use and political boundaries.  First, the land use: the mile-wide swath of land east of the Edens between Foster and Peterson features a Nature Preserve (the LaBaugh Woods Forest Preserve,) 5 cemeteries (St. Boniface, Bethel, St. Luke, Bohemia National and the enormous Rosehill,) 2 university campuses (Northeastern Illinois and North Park,) and is split almost in half by the North Shore Channel.  Then, there's the quirk of Chicago's border with Lincolnwood, which dives south from Howard all the way to Devon along the canal.

The result is striking: the normally robust Chicago street grid hits all sorts of dead ends, and transit access suffers as a result.  The northernmost bus line that connects the lakefront to the Blue Line is the 92 along Foster.  The 84 along Peterson jogs northwest along Caldwell and never crosses the North Branch of the Chicago River, and the 155 along Devon ends at Kedzie, rather than cross the Canal into Lincolnwood.

There's a solution to this mess, and it lies in abandoned railways, just like the MCT.  In among the weaving highways at the Junction is the old Chicago & Northwestern Railway.  From its merger with the current Union Pacific lines running northwest/southeast at Montrose, it curves north and east with foundations visible as far north as Emerson St. in Evanston.  In order to connect Rogers Park, we'd only need the right-of-way between Lawrence and Devon.  This works very well, as the line makes its southernmost at-grade crossing at Devon just east of Pulaski.



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(Re-)introducing the Mid-City Transitway

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Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

Abandoned rail rights-of-way stripe the Chicago landscape, mostly outside the loop.  Some of these have been reclaimed for use as walking and biking trails--like the Skokie Valley Line.  Others have groups devoted to reclamation projects which have not yet come to pass--like the Bloomingdale Trail.  And still others lie dormant and mostly ignored, except for the occasional study suggestion from long-term planning organizations or a state legislator looking for a pet project.  This last area is where the Mid-City Transitway sits right now.

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BRT vs. Street Parking: a fight to the death.

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shymen

I've lived all over the country and world, my background is in International Affairs, Political Science, and Economics, and I'm a Chicago boy born and bred.

Besides the fact that street parking spots are making it difficult to create a bike lane system in Chicago (see last week's post), they are also making it difficult to create a viable BRT system. Recently, Ted noted the importance of starting the discussion on BRT in Chicago; I want to add to his post today.


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Do you want to hit a parked car while riding your bike? I don't.

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shymen

I've lived all over the country and world, my background is in International Affairs, Political Science, and Economics, and I'm a Chicago boy born and bred.

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My first alteration to the street-parking nightmare in Chicago was simple: raise prices.  As I wrote on Monday, not everyone will like this idea, but you can't make everyone happy.  Today, I want to talk about something that I don't necessarily know the solution for (maybe you do, so please share), but I want to discuss nonetheless.  With parking spaces lining the streets of every main road throughout Chicago's neighborhoods, it eliminates potential for a much needed revamp and addition to our bike lane system.


Chicago has started to create bike lanes, but in my opinion, the work they've done to this point, is mediocre at best.  (Check out the Chicago Bike Map)  It would be great to have more bike lanes, safer bike lanes, and even a potential stopping zone at intersections (like Portland has).  One unfortunate rationale as to why these options can't and won't happen in the short term, is because there are too many street-parking spots.  It's hard to create a bike lane when there are cars parked on the entire right side of the street.  Also, when there are so many slow moving cars looking for parking, it makes it difficult for bikes to move freely.  Even if the city does make bike lanes just left of the parking spots, it won't be a very safe bike lane; not having to worry about getting hit by (parking) cars, is the reason bike lanes were created in the first place.


One potential fix is something that many European cities have started to do: put the bike lane right of the on-street parkers (and sometimes left of the cars parked on the left side, thus creating two bike lanes per road).  If we did this on both sides of the street, it is true that it may cut down a lane for cars, but if they're built on roads like Columbus or Wacker that have more than one or two lanes in each direction, it wouldn't be the end of the world.  Plus, it will enable the Chicago Bike Map and the new bike trip-planner on Google Maps, more options for planning bike routes.  Often times with bike trip-planners, it's necessary to go out of the way to avoid the major streets with no bike lines.  However, bike lanes on the curb-side of parked cars along major streets could fix this.


Chicago, like most major cities, doesn't have a ton of money.  Daley thought that giving a private company control of our street parking system would make us money.  Who knows if this will be a good idea in the long haul, and who knows if he hadn't done this that the system would be better off.  But no matter who is running the system, they need to start thinking long term solutions for Chicago.  In the short term we want money, in the long term we want more bike lanes and a BRT system second-to-none (my next post will discuss BRT and street-parking).  I know there must be a way to accomplish all of these goals simultaneously, and I hope as a city, we think of one soon.

 

Getting Bus Rapid Transit Right the First Time

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Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

The Metropolitan Planning Council made a big fuss earlier this week over its renewed interest in studying Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in Chicago.  They say they'll be releasing their study's results this summer, and I look forward to it.  For now, I'd like to focus on one of the little details that is so easy for cities to get wrong, but which it appears the MPC has gotten correct.  Namely, its definition of BRT:

"BRT is defined as a transit service operating along its own right-of-way with signal prioritization technology in place and prepaid boarding at stations. The study is examining true BRT services, not an express bus with elements of BRT."

There is, however, a wrinkle in this I hope they'll take note of, because it can make or break a BRT system.  In September 2008, the CTA had a presentation about their four pilot BRT routes: Chicago Ave from LSD to Cicero, Halsted from North Ave. to the River, 79th St from Jefferey Blvd to Western, and Jefferey Blvd from about 63rd to 87th.  In this presentation, they said these BRT routes would be "Integrated with but not replacing local bus services."  The devil will be in the details of how this integration works.  They say BRT will be given its own right-of-way.  Where BRT is mapped onto a city street, this usually means giving the buses the curbside lane, and setting up some type of physical separation--or at least an emphatic paint job and lane striping.  But if local bus service continues, it will have to make curbside stops as well.  Without spending huge sums on grade-separated rights of way or drastically widening the street to put a busway with bus shelters in the median, there are two ways of ensuring that local bus does not impede BRT: giving local buses curb cuts for their stops so that BRT can pass, or giving over the street to buses completely.  Curb cuts into already crowded sidewalks can ruin an area for pedestrians, and since any program vying for FTA funds must meet its 6 livability standards this won't fly.  Alternatively, since many of the BRT routes CDOT/CTA are studying are arterials, I'm skeptical that they would even try to kick cars off the road.  (I'm not saying it wouldn't work--I'm the guy who wrote this with my tongue only partly in cheek, after all.)

I'll hold off on hard criticism until the full results of the study are released in a few months.  But if CDOT and the CTA are going to convince the city of Bus Rapid Transit's potential, they need to get these details right the first time.

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