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.”
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.