Coming soon: Bus Rapid Transit and “complete streets”

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.

What’s missing?

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.

Steve Vance offers more analysis on Grid Chicago, and he snagged the CDOT presentation for those who crave more information.


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  • As awesome as this is, its still not BRT. If adding a queue jumper and painting a street red is BRT, then Troy, NY has BRT in downtown because they have a fancy bus shelter and a queue jumper. BRT is an entire corridor, not just 3/4ths of a mile. We need to stop watering down what BRT really is. The project should be marketed as complete streets, which is exactly what it is.

  • Various things that come out of this:

    --If that's as far as progress has gone on this grant, maybe something will actually be constructed in the second Hillary Clinton administration (i.e. about 2019).

    --Most of the concepts are not new. Washington used to have a bus lane. Apparently it was based on a streetcar theory, since the safety islands were in the middle of the street.

    --Claypool admitted that Jeffery was "BRT light." In fact, the Washington-Madison project was not submitted as BRT, but as Circulator, even though it was the only project that did not involve a mock trolley type circulator (like what is in Schaumburg).

    --Anyone who keeps up with Pace's plans knows that queue jumping is not green on demand, but that the bus can go into the right turn lane to go straight, and thus jump the light. TSP would be needed to turn on a green light for the bus.

    Of course, there is also the Deep Throat on who says that the rerouting from Madison to Randolph is permanent. Either he is a crackpot, or CDOT's planners are in for a surprise.

  • Here's the info on the CNU Illinois Happy Hour later this month about BRT on Western or Ashland featuring Metropolitan Planning Council:

    Join us at Floyd’s Pub with special guests Josh Ellis and Peter Skosey from Metropolitan Planning Council for discussion on Bus Rapid Transit. The event will include a short tour of Western Avenue where our guests will point out opportunities and challenges of retrofitting a street with BRT. RSVP and learn who else is coming via Facebook.

    Thursday, May 31
    5:30 pm
    Floyds Pub
    1944 N Oakley Ave (1 block east of Western Blue Line station)

  • In reply to RJB80:

    Here is another example of a scam perpetrated by the politicians.

    Western and Ashland had X bus service, which was eliminated in 2010.

    In fact, the FTA site had plans for a Western BRT-like service in about 2003, with street furniture and Compobuses.* TSP was being tried on Western at the time of the closing of Archer garage in 2010.

    But now, someone gets a stimulus grant to hire a consultant to plan something that previously existed.

    I hope Floyds Pub has good beer, because otherwise the MPC presentation is a waste of time. Why something supposedly official is being presented in a bar is otherwise beyond me.

    *Remember that CTA had a contract for up to 25 at the time, but that was about the time when the Hungarian NABI entity couldn't afford to build them, or something like that, and only the prototype was seen (see, which apparently has the only documentation of a sighting).

  • Its in a bar because its a monthly happy hour event. Nothing "official" will be presented, whatever that means. Its a chance to have an informal discussion with members of MPC and CTA, and dissenting views are welcome. Anybody with opinions and questions about BRT along Western/Ashland is welcome to attend. Jack - I'll buy you a beer. Come on out.

  • In reply to RJB80:

    Don't need to go down there for a beer; still have 3 312s in the refrigerator, although I won't buy more when they become 315s.

    And since this isn't being run by anyone in a position of authority and the project itself is a scam, not worth my time.

  • In reply to RJB80:

    I probably should add that the CDOT presentation of the Central City "BRT" correctly indicates that the Western-Ashland grant is only for an alternatives analysis. I don't have to tell, either some consultant on stimulus dole or someone with no official input, that Western Ave. probably is not going to get a maglev, high speed rail, commuter rail, an aerial heavy rail structure (L), a trench, a subway, or maybe even LRT. See all the AA PowerPoints on and the prior discussion on how the AA in Skokie came out.

    The only two alternatives are a BRT (and the components of that were defined in 2002, and, to a certain extent in 2008) or "no build." Unless CTA comes up with a source of operating funds to reinstate what it cut in 2002, it will be "no build." The days of Carole Brown saying that the state will put up its match so no federal funds are left on the table are, as Hawk says, ovuh.

  • In reply to jack:

    it cut in 2010, not 2002.

  • True BRT with large boarding areas et al cannot exist on the Jeffery corridor unless you are willing to make a one-way couplet with Chappel or Euclid Aves from 83rd north to 67th. I'd be fine with a restoration of the X-bus network.

  • In reply to urbanleftbehind:

    Since this was later said to be BRT light, consider the following.

    The grant for this was about $11 million. Someone else asked "why are they rebranding existing buses instead of getting new BRT ones?" That had a simple answer: 53 buses would cost $53 million and the grant was for $11 million. Do the math."

    For similar reasons, you aren't going to get true BRT boarding areas. In fact, I questioned at the time of the application for the $193 million or so BRT grant (Jeffery, 79th, Grand, and Halsted) the concept there of having a "caged in" paid area at the bus boarding areas, given how that neighborhood has become a shooting gallery (if you think I am being extreme, enter shooting + "south shore" + chicago in Google News or something equivalent).

  • Terror town is a little further east (past the optimal walk-to-bus distance at about 2300 E), but I do have to acknowledge a shooting at 79th & Jeffrey late last month. Sometimes its better to leave projects like the Robert Taylor homes in place since they were in effect minimum security prisons allowing places like Chatham some peace of mind.

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