CTA to look at Western Avenue for bus rapid transit service

There was some news at Friday CTA board meeting that was not as sexy as electric buses, but could potentially impact more people:

The CTA got a $1.6 million federal grant to “examine the
feasibility of Bus Rapid Transit service [along Western Avenue] as a means to provide faster service, improved connection points and enhanced transit services.”

BRT on Western Avenue might actually make an impact. The “justification of need” is that “the corridor contains regional destinations, offers many redevelopment sites, has high bus ridership and is home to many zero-car households.”

Here’s a primer video on BRT done well – and first – in Curitiba, Brazil.


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  • You are right, neither this nor the electric bus ones were news. Also, both the Tribune (expected) and Sun-Times picked it up from the CTA Press Release.

    With regard to this one, we discussed last week that CTA wasn't going to get real BRT. Furthermore, in essence, CTA got a grant for consultants to study something that the corridor had until Feb. 2010, i.e. the X routes.

    Thus, both are good gaming the system, but I can see why people in Congress are saying enough is enough.

  • You are correct Jack, that Chicago won't get "real BRT" as depicted in this video and the video from Guangzhou I posted April 8. However, that doesn't mean we can't adapt the technology and ideas behind BRT to how Chicago streets are laid out.

    Western and Stoney Island are two streets wide enough to make the attempt at adapting the technology/ideas. Halsted? Not so much.

  • As someone who has extensive experience riding the 49, 49B, and X49 (RIP), I am going to go ahead and say any BRT test on Western will conclude that it isn't feasible. It is simply too slow of a route for BRT to be effective. Even if they timed the stoplights to coincide with the arrival of the buses, I still think there is simply too much traffic for this to work well. Also, timing out the lights to give priority to Western buses could mess up the timing of lights on other major streets (Belmont, Fullerton, etc). The only time it could work effectively would be during extremely off-peak (possibly overnight) hours, but at those times the service isn't very slow anyway. Unless you're planning on widening the street (not going to happen) or taking out a complete lane of parking on each side (hopefully not going to happen), I just don't see it working.

    I'm curious to see what others (Martha?) with similar riding experiences will say though.

  • In reply to Nirvana911:

    That's probably a good indication, but it isn't just the timing, but, as they tried to demonstrate on Western with some Novas, signal preemption (denoted Transit Signal Priority by the RTA).

    However, another gaming the system, Pace has a bid request out there for traffic signal priority design. While some routes, such as Cermak and 159th make sense, they say they also got a grant for Rand Road from Des Plaines to Lake Zurich, except that they don't run a bus there, and I don't see how there is enough transit oriented development that they ever could.

  • In reply to Nirvana911:

    My understanding is that this would include dedicated bus lanes (for at least part of the day), off-board ticketing, and signal prioritization. These three combined, along with fewer stops (a la the X49) should make it a faster route if executed right (big caveat there).

    As you mention, the city could free up a dedicated lane by eliminating parking or a lane of traffic for a certain number of hours a day (i.e., rush hours). See how NYC does it on 1st and 2nd avenues in Manhattan (http://www.nyc.gov/html/brt/html/current/first_ave.shtml).

    Also curious why you'd be averse to removing a lane of parking if it could improve transit service significantly? I know there's a cost involved with the parking meter deal, but do you have other objections?

  • In reply to aaronjbrown:

    Well, I don't have a car so theoretically I wouldn't be opposed to removing parking, because what do I care about parking, right? But in reality I think it would cause extra hardship on people looking to park at local businesses down Western. I'm sure this argument has been had on previous posts and there are valid points on both sides. I do not necessarily subscribe to the notion that people will completely change their shopping habits (aka shop somewhere that isn't on Western) if they can't park on Western, but I do think that there will be enough annoyance to make removing parking a poor option.

    Also, I could see there being plenty of enforcement problems as well. If the lane allows parking for some of the time, but not ALL of the time, you are going to have people illegally parked there a decent amount of the time. Are you going to have those cars towed or ticketed? Towing them may be an option but it may take a while to get the car out of there. Ticketing would be good for revenue but also bad for the bus. You'd be running into possible situations where often the bus doesn't have a clear lane anyway, causing merging back into the next lane.

    Maybe that situation wouldn't happen as much as I envision it. And I know that there are plenty of downtown streets that prohibit parking for rush hours, and sometimes that seems to work okay. But as a regular 49 rider I still see plenty of people parked or stopped in front of the bus stops as-is, so I feel like if you're dedicating an entire lane as suddenly "no parking" there are still going to be plenty of people there clogging up the road.

    Now, if instead you want to make the parking lane PERMANENTLY no-parking, I think that would be better for the buses, but worse for the local communities. And at this point I haven't been convinced that the trade-off of benefits for transit adequately negates the negatives for businesses and drivers. But hey, maybe the CTA will come up with an amazing plan and I'll be convinced. I guess it can't hurt to try this, but I'm just very skeptical.

  • In reply to Nirvana911:

    Even though I don't ride the Western bus daily any longer, I still mourn the X49. Having to stop southbound at the Western/Armitage/Milwaukee intersections alone could add 5 minutes. Let's have a moment of silence....

    I think you're right about CTA BRT essentially being a reiteration of the old express routes. Unless the city has the will (guts? cojones?) to eliminate parking and develop a true BRT lane with boarding kiosks and traffic signal priority, it will be BRT lite. I've been on the real BRT line in Cleveland. It's lovely and efficient and entailed substantial changes to traffic patterns. Since there's not nearly as much traffic in Cleveland, it's not as much of an issue, but it would be a huge problem on high-use cross streets in Chicago, especially if those streets are one lane each and already more prone to backups.

  • In reply to Nirvana911:

    I also miss the X49 and think the express buses are a far better solution in Chicago than any kind of BRT. I just don't see it working here without widening the streets involved. I know the city has done that in the past, but I don't see it happening again.

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