Transportation deputy commissioner Luann Hamilton and commissioner Gabe Klein answer questions. Updated 08:57 to clarify details about Jeffery BRT project and add construction timeline.
Bus rapid transit in Chicago has never felt more real for me than it did tonight at the open house hosted by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Even though the Jeffery BRT project will be constructed and operational this year, I never visited one of the community meetings about that project and I haven’t been keeping track of its development. But BRT really will come to Chicago. What’s up for debate is “how much BRT” each project exemplifies.
Every BRT implementation is different. Planners pick and choose the attributes most appropriate to the street characteristics, political, business, and community support, and funding availability.
Project map showing six bus routes that will run in enhanced busways on Madison, Washington, Clinton, and Canal.
Bus rapid transit is best explained by the guides put out by the Metropolitan Planning Council, and by the ITDP, who created the BRT “gold standard” and accompanying score card. Luann Hamilton, deputy commissioner in charge of project development at the Department of Transportation, showed photographs of BRT in other countries (it was invented in South America) and reviewed some of the potential elements of any BRT system. See slide 5 in the presentation document (PDF).
Today’s meeting was as much about BRT in Chicago as it was about the specific project in the flyer: Central Loop BRT. The other projects discussed were the Jeffery BRT (route 14/Jeffery Express, with a rush hour bus lane from 67th to 83rd Streets and enhancements elsewhere all along the route; see slide 10), a study about implementing BRT on Western and Ashland Avenues, and a citywide master plan. Also part of the meeting was re-presenting the Union Station Transit Center (USTC), first presented in December 2011.
The Central Loop BRT is atypical. Most BRT systems around the world wrap an entire bus route in BRT features, or create a new line from scratch. This project is more about improving two things: (1) the mobility of buses on Clinton, Canal, Madison, and Washington Streets between Michigan and Clinton on the west and east, and Washington and Jackson on the north and south; (2) bus stops and waiting areas. CDOT proposed three enhanced busway options: Basic, Balanced, and Focused – click on the links for the slides; a comparison table is at the bottom. I prefer Balanced, but with a slight modification (described in Unanswered questions).
The routes affected are
- 14 – Jeffery Express
- 20 – Madison
- 56 – Milwaukee
- 60 – Blue Island/26th
- 124 – Navy Pier
- 157 – Streeterville/Taylor
After the proposals were discussed, CDOT showed the results of a transportation mode survey to see how many people are using these streets and with which mode. It didn’t seem surprising to anyone (at least not me) that there are more people in a “walking” vehicle than an automobile vehicle. In other words, there were more pedestrians than those bicycling, in taxis, on buses, or in automobiles. I pointed out to a CTA project manager that while most people are traveling by foot, they are forced to shuffle on too-narrow sidewalks, crosswalks, and bridges.
I was thrilled when I learned about the projected travel time savings (for bus trips) and travel time increases for automobile trips (although the Basic option “improved” travel time by 0.1 minutes). We need to try every trick in the book to facilitate the conversion of trips by car to trips by bus and train, two extremely efficient transportation mode, comparatively.
I quickly made a BRT scorecard for Central Loop BRT based on the ITDP’s method. I couldn’t find scorecards of existing systems. Regardless of Central Loop’s BRT score (try scoring it yourself) the real matter is that trips by bus will be a more attractive and reliable option for travelers.
Graphs showing how many people use the street and what mode they use.
Travel time changes.
Many staff from CDOT, CTA, Metropolitan Planning Council, and their consultants were available to directly answer attendees’ questions about bus rapid transit. Photo by John Greenfield.
It happens too often that I don’t come up with these questions until I can’t ask them before publishing.
1. Madison Street cycling accommodations. In no scenario was cycling accommodated with a dedicated bikeway. Slide 23 (PDF) said, “Bikes relocated to Protected Bike Lane on Randolph”. This statement is misleading as bikes (really, people riding bikes) aren’t being moved anywhere: if their destination is on Madison Street, they will be cycling on Madison Street. I asked a consultant about the lack of bikeways here; note that there’s a bike lane there now, the first and only bike lane in the Loop in the “modern era” (bike lanes were installed on Clark and Dearborn in the 1970s, I believe, but I don’t know if they were in the Loop or elsewhere). He said, “That’s one of the drawbacks of these scenarios and we’ll have to study that further”. It should be.
2. Branding. Will the buses be identified as being part of this enhanced busway, or will the new branding only be visible at stations? I predict the buses won’t have any different livery because the CTA requires the flexibility to use any bus at a specific garage for any route from that garage. New York City Transit, having the same need for flexibility, uses a purple light to distinguish vehicles running on Select Bus Service routes.
3. Street configuration on Clinton and Canal. This was not discussed in the presentation or poster boards.
4. How travel time changes were calculated. What is a round trip? Is the figure based on the average improvement of all runs of all routes that will operate in the enhanced busway?
1. Who will operate it? What will the fares be? The CTA will operate these buses (remember only the bus stops and busways are changing, not the routes) and collect the same fare as any other route.
2. What about enforcement? CDOT and CTA will work closely with the police department. Additionally, the bus lanes will be more visible than existing or previous bus lanes. CDOT/CTA is looking into video enforcement but this would require a legislative change.
3. Will private companies, like MegaBus and shuttle operators, be able to use the Union Station Transit Center? Perhaps. The USTC is designed primarily for CTA and only when it meets CTA’s needs can other users access the off-street boarding and alighting area.
- Jeffery BRT will begin construction this summer or fall
- Alternatives Analysis study (a plan that describes all the different ways CDOT surveyed to move people in a corridor) for Western/Ashland BRT to be completed in 2012.
- May 17 – Apply to Federal Transit Administration (FTA) for NEPA approval (for categorical exclusion, which says that the Central Loop BRT will not have a negative environmental impact thus doesn’t need an Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS) – see slide 35
- September 30 – Grant deadline with FTA
- Fal 2012 to fall 2013 – Design and engineering
- Late 2013 – Advertise for and select contractor
- 2014 – construction
|Bike Lanes on Washington (eastbound)||Protected||Protected||Protected|
|Bike Lanes on Madison (westbound)||Standard||None||None|
|Bike Lanes on Randolph (westbound||None||Protected||Protected|
|Fully dedicated bus lane on Washington||No||Yes||Yes|
|Fully dedicated bus lane on Madison||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Vehicle lanes on Washington||2||2||3|
|Vehicle lanes on Madison||2||2||0 (access lane only with forced turns every block)|
|Vehicle lanes on Randolph||3||3||3|
|Curb extended boarding platforms? (wider sidewalks)||No||Yes||Yes|
|Travel time changed for bus round trips||Decreases 2.9 minutes||Decreases 7.5 minutes||Decreases 11.6 minutes|
|Travel time changed for automobile round trips||Decreases 0.1 minutes||Increases 1.5 minutes||Increases 4.6 minutes|
|Cost||$27.7 – 30.3m||$34.2 ‐ 38.1m||$38.4 ‐ 43.1m|