What CTA's Bus Rapid Transit will look like

What CTA's Bus Rapid Transit will look like
Aug. 20: CTA teases us with Jeffery "BRT"; hopes for "full-blown" model on Western. A conceptual rendering for CTA Bus Rapid Transit on Western corridor, from public meetings in June 2012, shows the raised platforms that could speed boarding. (CTA rendering)

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) was a big topic when CTA President Forrest Claypool sat down with transit bloggers last week. Claypool’s message was that Chicago’s first BRT projects will look different from each other as the city experiments with what works, where, and at what cost.

The CTA and Chicago’s Department of Transportation have a bunch of BRT initiatives in the works. This fall will see the launch of the Jeffery Corridor project, followed by a Central Loop BRT in 2014 and a much bigger and longer service on the Ashland and Western corridors sometime after that. BRT might show up on Lake Shore Drive, as well, Claypool said, with the CTA now doing early-stage studies for the south end and the Chicago Department of Transportation looking north.

“BRT is in the embryonic stages right now,” Claypool says, “but it has the potential to finally liberate buses from very slow, congested traffic. Buses can only move as fast as cars, or less so, because they are trapped. So ultimately some versions of BRT . . . even just on portions of busy streets like Western Avenue, for instance . . . will go a long way to making bus service faster and more convenient.”

Claypool acknowledges that the upcoming Jeffery service, with a budget of just $11 million, isn’t the full package. “I don’t even like to call it BRT,” he says. “It is a first stage, faster, and hopefully more convenient service for riders.” That service will incorporate some elements of BRT, Claypool says, mentioning jump queues at lights that allow buses to get a head start on cars, dedicated bus lanes, fewer stops and elaborated street furniture and shelters.

What the Jeffrey project won’t include is raised platforms for level boarding, pre-paid fares, and multiple entry doors, all of which help eliminate the dreadful wait as passengers shuffle through the front door of a typical bus.

The big barrier, Claypool say, is the expense. “You could spend a fortune on the gold standard of BRT like they have in Bogotá (Colombia), but if you could deliver 90 percent of the benefits of that type of service at a fraction of the cost, wouldn’t you do it? Wouldn’t you do it at more locations because you’ve stretched the dollars?”

That sounds like we could see several variations on faster bus services, starting later this year. “There is no one size fits all. Maybe some types of Bus Rapid Transit might be appropriate for downtown, but not for Western Avenue. We will learn a lot from (the Jeffery Corridor) this fall, and those lessons will be incorporated into our plans for Western and downtown.”

See more from the Claypool interview at Grid Chicago and ChicagoBus.org.

Patrick Barry is co-editor with CTA Tattler’s Kevin O’Neil of CTA Station Watch, a crowdsourced web site covering the North Red Line Interim Station Improvements. To contribute, tweet news of the station projects with hashtags like this — #jarviscta, #morsecta, etc – and they’ll appear on the site. Or post photos through Facebook


Leave a comment
  • I don't know what the Bogota "gold standard" is like, but I have ridden the LA Metro Orange Line which is a BRT line that runs on its own dedicated street [a former rail line] & uses city streets at each end.
    It has pay stations that you pass & you board at any door. It works just fine & has a very large ridership. An extension almost doubling its length on another abandoned rail line is scheduled to open this coming Saturday.

    As for that drawing of a proposed 21st & Western BRT station, it shows a bus with left hand boarding. Does that mean that they will be buying buses with right hand drive & run the buses in contraflow lanes in the middle of Western Ave?

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    I think it is more of an issue that everything around here is done on the cheap because just about everything is an imposition on the taxpayers by corrupt politicians, and this isn't different. For instance, Durbin was more interested in getting face time at 95th yesterday than working on actually getting a transportation bill that passed. A similar point was made about Soldier Field.

    I've mentioned before that essentially the current consultancy is to try to bring back what was promised for X49 9 years ago. At least Claypool is honest that none of these projects is BRT,

    And as far as the image, if they have no money to buy buses, and are only at the stage about deciding whether they can get a bus lane by buying off Laz's right to parking spaces, a depiction of a bus means little. For instance, someone pointed out that the depiction of the Jackson-Canal transit center, which seems closer to being built, includes a Toronto streetcar.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    Good observation, Scooter, about the left-side doors. It seems that a number of systems worldwide use crossovers on center bus-only lanes to get the doors on the platform side, according to Human Transit's Jarrett Walker. Though I'm not sure that would work on a busy and dense street like Western or Ashland.


    See the comments for numerous examples.

  • Here's an interesting link for everyone:


  • In reply to chris:

    I don't know if they know about what they are talking, but it does reinforce a point I made a couple of weeks ago, when the misconception was posted here that bond money somehow wasn't real money that needed a revenue or tax stream to be repaid, and, in the case of CTA "sales tax bonds," it could only be a squeeze on what was previously considered to be a source of operating revenue.

    If you go to the CTA Press Release on the 95th bus terminal, one will see that out of the 5 funding sources, 2 are loans, CTA bonds being the most obvious, but there is also a reference to "TIFIA loan," which is not explained in the release, but can be Googled. So, out of the $240 million, $108 million has to be repaid somehow. From what that article indicates, apparently it is by the same method that put Carole Brown's former employer, Lehmann Brothers, out of business.

  • In reply to chris:

    I think I need to clarify for the record that that organization is blaming the State of Illinois for getting into that swap, not the CTA.

    However, I also have to say:

    (a) this is no different than the CTA fuel hedge gone bad, but everyone then claimed there was nothing the CTA can do, so I suppose the same posters here have to say that the activists are now off their rocker in thinking there is anything the state can do, just because it made one of probably hundreds of bad deals with the banks.

    (b) If this refers to CTA getting the money, I suppose that it involves Illinois First money used to buy a portion of 226 buses now being hauled off for scrap. So the taxpayers apparently now have to pay for those bonds, plus the loss on the swap, for buses you can't ride.

  • I want to know about the buses themselves in this kind of setup. Will they be not "typical"? Might passengers have to strap in and hang upside down like a bat? Will they debark by sliding down a chute? I'm not optimistic that the CTA's design and decision process won't allow all sorts of "dreadful" things (from a passenger standpoint) to creep in without being seriously questioned by anyone advocating on behalf of rider comfort..

    "Jump queues" to get a head start on cars at lights? Sounds like a recipe for collisions and squished pedestrians.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    At least Pace explained what a "jump queue" is in connection with plans for 322 ART, which would be that the bus is in the right hand (presumably right turn) lane, and gets a green light all to itself if the gps indicates that the bus is running behind schedule.

    Jump queue would not apply if there were a dedicated bus lane, such as what is supposedly proposed by CDOT for Washington for the non-BRT, non-Circulator Circulator grant. It would apply to Western only if there wasn't to be a dedicated bus lane.

    Of course, Chicago being Chicago with red light jumpers, including bus drivers, you are probably right about it being a source for collisions. I still haven't heard why the contraflow lanes of the late 70s were abolished.

    As far as what the bus would be, it probably would be whatever CTA could get on the lowest price, and probably as a result of assigned options. So, ask Seattle what they intend to get next, since that's what CTA got for its artics to date and apparently for the next 100.

  • I should add that CTA already has its spec out on the next 425 after those 100 artics, so unless the nonexistent grant includes buses, that spec indicates what CTA is going to have to run on any BRT. Sort of similar to them saying that Jeffery will be existing buses, which I read to mean that a $10 million grant doesn't buy $48 million in new buses needed for that service.

  • In reply to jack:

    Chicago Bus reports that the RFP for new buses includes an option for a third door on articulated buses, which would make a big difference in how quickly the bus could load and unload, thus reducing dwell time at stops.


    A related discussion on three-door buses here: http://forum.chicagobus.org/topic/2787-more-new-flyers/page__st__80

  • In reply to Patrick Barry:

    Third door, huh? I just know someone is going to exercise their imagination with this one, with the primary goal being to squeeze it in where they want it. I imagine in the accordion area. Perhaps a trap door? Or a pet door with a flap? Maybe a sliding door like on a van, those are always fun to figure out.

    I tend more and more to want to exit by the front door simply because the rear door often requires a giant step down to the pavement. Not so friendly if you don't have young, bouncy knees or are carrying bags in both hands..

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    There is a Standard Bus Spec. European buses have 3 or 4 side doors, and none of them are in the articulation.

    The Standard Bus Spec says that the bus has to be low floor to the rear most door, so other than a slight slope, most of the rest is a product of your imagination.

    In fact, if you look under chicagobus.org under user: newport, you can get instructions for downloading the spec., so there is no need for you to invent one.

  • In reply to jack:

    Watch me climb down from the rear door to the pavement a few times and then we'll talk about who's imagining what.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    Well, you admitted imagining the pet door and the door in the articulation.

    Maybe you are still riding a MAN 7300, too.

  • In reply to jack:

    Sure, the bit about the doors was a flight of fancy, but the point was to dramatize the lack of interest the CTA has in rider ergonomics. Design solutions as implemented by the CTA and their vendors tend to focus on putting things in a certain place to fit with other things they want in a certain place, and the ramifications for the comfort of actual people (paying customers) seem to be quite low on the list if they're on it at all. This statement is based on actual riding of actual buses with features that clearly demonstrate the kind of "thinking" I just outlined.

    I don't care what the "standard spec" may say, in real life it's often awkward for reasonably able-bodied people to alight from the rear door.

  • fb_avatar

    I have no car and use the CTA religiously to get around, but I don't know if I'm a fan of the BRT plan proposed here. I've heard talk about cutting down the sidewalks, parking lots, etc. but what it's really gonna come down to is lane reductions, and I can't think of 2 worse streets to do it on than Western and Ashland. Ashland's already got 2 lanes, come on! At least extend the 9 to go past Belle Plaine, shift the bus stops past the streetlights instead of before, something other than adding to the dream that is Western during rush hour.

Leave a comment