CTA will reveal more detailed plans about Western/Ashland bus-only lanes today

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The CTA is proposing 4 “design alternatives”, seen here. Some remove left-turn lanes, and some remove all or a portion of parking. Two run buses in center lane (faster for buses), and two run buses in a curbside and parking-side lane (potentially much slower for buses). 

In a series of three open house meetings, the first tonight, the Chicago Transit Authority will reveal the most detailed plans to date about bus rapid transit (BRT; with dedicated bus lanes) on Western and Ashland Avenues. Open house is a meeting style where attendees can freely view the information on large posters and discuss questions and concerns directly with CTA and Chicago Department of Transportation staff.

The CTA updated its website on Tuesday to add well-detailed and depicted information about the 4 different design alternatives proposed (how the the bus system would be configured).

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A rendering created by Booth Hansen and Metropolitan Planning Council that shows what could be possible on Western Avenue (at Chicago Avenue; the building in the left background doesn’t exist). View more photos and renderings

Next week John will be publishing an update on the city’s CTA’s BRT initiatives based on an interview with BRT manager Chris Ziemann and info from one of this week’s open houses. The meeting details follow (and are available on our calendar):

Tuesday, October 16, 2012
5:30 to 7:30 PM
Iglesia Rebano Church
2435 W Division Street

Wednesday, October 17, 2012
5:30 to 7:30 PM
Lindblom Math and Science Academy
6130 S Wolcott Avenue

Thursday, October 18, 2012
5:30 to 7:30 PM
Lane Tech College Prep High School
2501 W Addison Street

Catch up on the project by reading our past coverage, or the Chicago Tribune’s preview article from Monday:

The two streets also connect with most CTA rail lines, cross multiple Metra rail lines and many residents who do not own cars live nearby, according to demographic data. BRT service is viewed by transit planners as potentially strengthening non-downtown north-south transit connections.

Riders for Better Transit, a campaign of the Active Transportation Alliance, posted a transit and BRT infographic last week detailing current statistics about transit usage in Chicago and comparing ridership figures between existing lines and the potential impact dedicated bus lanes on Western and Ashland would have. They are asking people to ask for center bus lanes (with center loading median), a single car lane in each direction, curbside car parking, and wide sidewalks. It’s not clear what other street configurations are possible, nor the feasibility of including a bikeway in the cross section (which has been asked about in the comments section on Active Transportation Alliance’s blog and in a conversation on Twitter with @stevevance).

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The infographic; view full size.

64 thoughts on “CTA will reveal more detailed plans about Western/Ashland bus-only lanes today”

  1. Western makes more sense than Ashland for BRT, since 5 ‘L’ and two Metra branches have stations at Western – although I’m not sure how the CTA would deal with the overpass at Belmont/Clybourn. Isn’t that slated for demolition soon?

    BRT will also make biking on Western possible. Right now, it is the most bike-unfriendly street in the city – it’s so wide that drivers treat it as a highway. BRT would give Western a much-needed road diet. If CDOT can somehow squeeze cycle tracks into the design, then the Western corridor will become a huge asset for the city. It’s too bad that parking spots can’t be removed from the design.

      1. “rush hour parking restrictions”
        I have *never* (in 11 years of regular travel on Western) seen a car on North Western with a ticket for rush hour parking, and I have *never* (in 11 years of regular rush hour travel on Western and Irving Park) seen the city tow a car from a rush hour zone. Very, very much a “believe it when I see it” thing.
        Not to mention that the seemingly preferred BRT proposals (keeping virtually all the parking, for unknowable reasons–only 279 paid spots on 16+ miles, so the meter lease isn’t the controlling issue) make Western 2 lanes all the time.
        Want to improve rush hour bus travel times on the cheap? Get the tow trucks out for rush-zone towing starting at 7:00:01 am and 4:00:01 pm. Other cities manage to do this.

        1. Have you ever seen a tow truck in London? They remove the car by picking it up with a crane. Just thought it was interesting to share with people… 🙂
          Anyway, it remains to be seen what effect rush hour parking restrictions has on local bus movement on streets now, like California Avenue between Diversey and Fullerton.

          1. “it remains to be seen what effect rush hour parking restrictions has on local bus movement on streets now”
            You want to see the *failure* in action? Check out the eastbound side of Irving Park, especially east of Broadway, but really anywhere east of Ashland, almost any weekday morning. Traffic gets destroyed by busses pulling around illegally parked cars, including ones with tickets (ie, one’s obviosly parked there at or shortlyafter 7 am).
            Without *aggressive* towing practices, the rush hour parking restrictions do not work.

          2. That’s at one location. I’d like to see a thorough review of the practice in Chicago that also includes a study on when peak driving occurs and the basis for “7-9 AM” and “4-6 PM” remaining our accepted definitions of rush hour.

          3. You really think that the parkers on IPR are so different from everywhere else that elsewhere people won’t just risk a ticket? Seems an unreasonable reliance on civic-mindedness/ticket-avoidance.
            But the point about peak driving times is an excellent one. To me, it’s more about peak bus frequency, which is both easier to determine and easier to manage a bit than total traffic peak.

          4. I sometimes ride on California between Diversey and Fullerton during rush hour parking restrictions (disallowed southbound in the morning, and northbound in the afternoon). I think it helps the bus and makes it way easier to bike. But perhaps that’s because compliance is much better on California than IPR.
            Another thing: I think the directions are wrong for California. In the morning, more people are trying to go north to the expressway entrances on Kimball and on Diversey, not going towards the CBD. And in the afternoon, people are exiting the expressway to go home via California. So that’s another thing to look at with RHPC (rush hour parking controls).

    1. Counterpoint: Western doesn’t pass through the Illinois Medical District, which is a pretty important employment center. I’d say it’s pretty much a wash as to which has better rail connectivity—although it doesn’t intersect the Eisenhower branch of the Blue Line, I doubt there are that many people using it to get to Oak Park or (via another bus transfer) points beyond—I’d guess most transfers would happen at Orange, Pink and Blue (Milwaukee), with the only real downside being that there’s no Brown Line station right on Ashland. You’d also connect to Clybourn Metra in exchange for Western-Milwaukee District lines, which isn’t a bad trade; frequency (and ridership) at Western-BNSF is negligible so I doubt CTA users are really missing out on skipping it.

      1. Fair enough. The question is would BRT continue north on Clark all the way to Howard after Ashland ends? This would result in the Howard terminal becoming an even bigger transit hub.

        1. I’d love to see BRT extend all the way to Rogers Park. Unfortunately, Clark gets pretty narrow north of Devon–it would be a choice between losing parking or losing bus-only lanes. Going north to Devon would still be a welcome, huge expansion of Ashland bus service.

          1. Having the Western route end at 79th St. SUCKS! If they create BRT but still have it terminate at 79th, then it’s mostly useless to me because I have to wait and make a connection.

          2. And Howard on the north side, never understood why the last few miles of the 49 bus on either end were separate routes. If nothing else they could have had every other bus terminate at Howard and 95th.

          3. I’m guessing there’s such thing as too long of a route for an individual bus operator. But that theory doesn’t mesh with routes that have operators switching mid-route.

          4. Extending the route that much further compound the problem of bus bunching and poor service reliability. With BRT, it may make sense to interline the routes again, even if some buses are to short turn.

          5. I definitely will. I suspect that I’m not the only person who would like a better transit option to reach Midway airport (one of several reasons I’d like to see Western BRT extend to 95th). Right now my most direct option uses 3 different buses, which is a pain in the butt unless I’m traveling very light and weather is pleasant. If Western BRT went to 95th, I could catch it at 95th and Western, then transfer to the orange line.

      2. The Western BRT will stop at 18th St and allow an easy BNSF transfer. This is mainly to connect to the #18, and the Metra transfer is gravy. It will also stop at Hubbard, which allows a Milwaukee District transfer and potentially a #65 transfer if that bus gets a minor reroute. I think it’s absolutely important to connect with Metra lines; otherwise we end up with the same damn balkanized transit system we’ve had for a century.

          1. There are other reasons to have it there. Most people driving from locations south of 79th are passing beyond that point (often far beyond that point) into areas that are very congested.

            Extending BRT to 95th would offer a direct connection to the orange line at 49th, which would offer a 2-leg trip to Midway. This has the potential to eliminate a fair number of car trips – not just on Western. Currently the only transit options from 95th/Western to Midway are a 3-leg Pace/CTA bus trip, a Metra-CTA combo, or a 2 bus/1 train CTA trip, none of which can be done in less than an hour. These combinations can take significantly more than an hour, making transit trips from points south of 79th to Midway unattractive unless you do not have a car available or your trip is long enough to make even remote parking really expen$ive.

            BRT to 95th would also offer a means to bypass the Loop on festival weekends or major sports weekends, when minimal Metra service is extremely crowded. For many of us whose destinations are beyond the Loop, a more efficient bypass option would be VERY welcome.

  2. I think either street would work well. The benefit of Ashland is that it seems to go through denser neighborhoods (Lakeview, Wicker Park, West Town, West Loop, Pilsen, Back of the Yards, etc.). I hope CTA looks at the potential for TOD around this line in making its decision.

    I think the complaints about bike lanes are pretty annoying. I know that Ashland and Western are both terrible streets to bike on, but there are numerous nearby alternatives (e.g., Damen, Wolcott/Wood, Southport). Real BRT service here would be a huge boon to Chicago’s overall transportation network, and CTA should concentrate on making that work very well, even if it means these streets remain difficult to bike on.

    1. Isn’t the option of BRT on both corridors in consideration. Do Western first, but there should certainly still be demand to improve service along Ashland thereafter.

      1. That is the option, and we’ll know more tonight about how CTA and CDOT are proposing to configure service in the two corridors. Will it be one street, both streets, or a little bit of each street?

    2. I agree regarding possible bike lanes in these corridors. Real BRT needs to be the number 1 priority… let PBLs happen on parallel streets like Damen and California.

    3. True – BRT and bike lanes are two separate projects, but it would be nice to at least simultaneously include a project of protected bike lanes on some parallel streets. I would certainly be happy with a true BRT without the bike lanes, however.

  3. Chicago has no stomach to pay extra to Abu Dhabi to delete metered parking spots from either route so you can forget bike lanes. The planners will grab the space they need for dedicated bus lanes by shrinking every other feature (sidewalks, green space, lane separation) and jamming in the lanes in on the cheap. It will be a real Complete Streets project, except for the pedestrian and bicyclist part. And the elderly will have to walk a 1/2 mile to stop because there will be no local service. Otherwise, it will be a dream!

    My best hope for this project is it is delayed until Rahm Emanuel leaves office, then canceled. Houston waited until antiurban BRT champion Tom Delay was out of office, then abandoned this overhyped mode and built light rail. Let Chicago build something sustainable (shorter headways/more capacity/scalable/more economic development) like streetcar advocate Gabe Klein championed in DC, before he moved to Chicago and became agnostic about mode. If Houston, Dallas, and Minneapolis can build successful light rail systems, so can Chicago.

    1. Actually, if you look at the plans the pedestrian space is not eliminated, and is expanded in many of the options. Biking is not improved on Western and Ashland, but if the city follows the Streets for Cycling plan cyclists should have many other options in the area for biking. Also, I am pretty sure the CTA plans to keep the local service, which wouldn’t force anyone to walk any more than they already do for a stop, unless they only wanted to take BRT and not local bus.
      The plans do always take a lane (either parking or driving) but the cars on the roadways are not completely blocked. One of CTA’s priorities here seem to be protecting the pedestrian and “livability” aspects of these two roadways.

      1. Thanks RG! A few points…

        1) I am happy that the reduced sidewalk options presented at the first BRT meeting have been eliminated in the latest plans.

        2) The 18 mph BRT speed on Western is 6 mph slower than the X49 Western Avenue Express bus per this FTA document I found online (no date, 1998?). The X49 service was cancelled in 2010 along with the X9 Ashland Express service. Comparing express BRT service to local service obfuscates the true policy choices available. With no fleet purchases and no infrastructure improvements CTA could bring back the X buses on Western and Ashland. Pre-Ventra, pre-signal priority, CTA predicted the X49 would average 24 mph. So why should anyone be excited about BRT averaging 18 mph at a much higher cost?

        http://www.fta.dot.gov/4324.html

        3) Unlike the X49, I don’t see how local service can coexist with BRT in any of the one lane configurations. How can you run a local bus with only one lane dedicated to commercial vehicles and automobiles? The MPC BRT study showed no ridership gains running both modes. If both modes cost money to operate, why would CTA run both? You could maybe run local bus service with the two traffic lane configurations. Did CTA run its auto-speed models with BRT plus local service or BRT alone?

        4) The “1 in 4 Chicagoans lives within a half mile of ____” must mean as the crow flies. Center for Neighborhood Technology and Transportation for America define accessible as a stop within 1/4 mile in the study Aging in Place. More than 10% of the people in any given 1/2 swath of Western are 2/3 of a mile or farther away from a BRT stop. If you work in the Illinois Medical District maybe the Western BRT is an option. If you are a patient, you are taking the Damen bus. Sick people don’t walk a half-mile to save 4 minutes on a bus trip.

        
        
        

        1. Transit planning assumes that buses will get slower over time due to increased delays from rising traffic congestion and rising ridership/boarding times. (Obviously this doesn’t apply to shrinking/depressed areas). The bus lane is a bulwark against this degradation of travel times.

          The X49 was a weird bird; it offered reduced stops but no signal priority or any kind of advantage over gridlocked traffic. The small gain in travel time you got from riding it was canceled out by the longer time it took you to walk to a stop and the (I think) lower frequency. You have to run the numbers about whether people actually get faster door-to-door trip times from a service improvement; you can’t just debate on vague concepts.

          1. Steve, you’re expressing an idea that has exactly the opposite effect on perceived travel time. The more time spent outside the bus, the longer the trip feels. Walking and waiting times are normally penalized by factors of 1.5 to 2.

    2. “And the elderly will have to walk a 1/2 mile to stop”
      Why would anyone walk from immediately next to one stop to get to the next stop? Max distance added is 1/4 mile, and that is only if one is coming from the 1/4 street, rather than slightly north or south, which would be the majority.
      The estimates of “percentage of trips by bus” are radically influenced by the (accurate) presumption that, with automobile travel lanes reduced from 5 to 2, that a huge percentage of auto traffic will be displaced. This isn’t a genuine increase from 15% to 26% or 31% transit use (using Western as the example), it’s a large reduction in the denominator.
      Similarly, the average auto speed (of 16.3) is simply not realistic with a reduction from 5 lanes to 2, unless there is a presumption of a HUGE decrease in vehicle count. With no left turn lane, and a single lane of auto traffic, Western from North Ave to Foster, would simply not move at most times of most days, even with a substantial reduction in vehicle count. And very few of those driving are going to use the bus to replace even 50% of their trips, no matter how much faster it is moving.

      1. Your walking distance figures assume pedestrians live on Western. If you live at 2200 W. Berteau, today you have 1/4 mile walk to the local Western bus each leg of your trip. With BRT you have an extra 1/4 mile walk, or 1/2 mile extra per round trip. Using the CTA’s 1/2 mile corridor as a guide to service, a pedestrian at 2000 W. Berteau would have a 3/4 mile trip to get to the nearest BRT station. Three-quarters of a mile is 3 times greater than the 1/4 mile used to define accessible for a bus stop.

        http://t4america.org/docs/SeniorsMobilityCrisis.pdf

        1. So, you’re opposed to BRT, as it is commonly understood, and would only support a dedicated bus lane. Fair enough.
          A bus that stops every 1/4 mile …(Oh NOES!! Then someone who lives at 2000 w Byron has a 3/8’s mile walk, rather than just 1/4!! It’s NOT ACCESSIBLE!! Better make the stops 1/8 mile apart!!) ok, so, that stops every furlong are NOT “rapid transit” even with a dedicated bus lane. If we want BRT, more frequent stops are NOT compatible.
          Also, note that all of the renderings of the lane layouts show a “local bus”, too, operating in the same lane. Which (1) mitigates Joe-cubed’s issue and (2) really wil lhave a major negative effect on the “rapid” piece of BRT.

          1. A bus (potentially) stopping every quarter mile is one of the most annoying things about riding the bus in Chicago.
            If there is a large population of senior citizens or people with disabilities, the CTA can take that into consideration when planning stop locations, for local and BRT stops, so that there is no “hard and fast” rule requiring a stop every quarter mile.

          2. Totally agree. The worst I see regularly is Irving Park between Ashland and Damen, where there are *4* stops in between, and actually all 4 within about 1200 feet: Wolcott, Brown Line, Ravenswood and Hermitage/Paulina.
            Frankly, I’d be *thrilled* if stops were actually 1/4 mile apart, even tho it would result in more walking for me, as the closest stops to home are one’s that would be cut with that standard.

          3. I wouldn’t be opposed to a majority of buses being express buses or a supermajority of buses being express buses during rush hour. I am strongly opposed to eliminating local bus service, for the reasons I’ve stated above. I just want to see inclusive planning.

          4. Thanks. According to Google Maps measurement tool, Berwyn to 79th is 15.7 miles & Irving Park to 95th is 16.1 miles. At $13 million+ per mile, these are large expensive projects and deserve a lot of scrutiny.

          5. Take another look at the display boards. The most expensive scenario is $10.8 million per mile, Ashland, center running with parking and median removal. The cheapest scenario is $6.8 million per mile, Western, curbside running with parking and median removal.

          6. I got the $13 million figure from a quick Google search of media reports from when the project was announced last year. Since the display boards have an asterisk noting that the cost estimates do not include the purchase of a BRT fleet, and CTA has issued no comment on the cost of buying out parking spaces from Abu Dhabi / Morgan Stanley parking, I am comfortable with the higher figure being the more accurate figure.

          7. I’m opposed to eliminating local bus service on Western or Ashland, not BRT in general. CMAP projects the number of metro Chicagoans aged 65-84 will double in the next 30 years and the number of residents over 85 will triple. I’d like to see major transportation investments value these people equally as members of society and not have their mobility limitations mocked or ignored.

            I’m not opposed to BRT everywhere. I think the Central Loop BRT is a great idea and CTA should go with their boldest vision on that project. I just don’t see the value of the Western and Ashland BRT projects. The CTA is two years removed from eliminating express bus service on both Ashland and Western. If there are travel time issues on those routes, they are self-inflicted by the CTA.

          8. Joe-cubed:
            Wanted to clarify–I’d shorthanded “opposed to BRT” to mean “opposed to BRT *as proposed, on Western and Ashland*”. Didn’t mean to imply that I thought you opposed it everywhere.

      1. It’s my conclusion, not a statement from CTA.

        The Metropolitan Planning Council is a partner to the CTA proposal. The MPC BRT proposal in August 2011 used a trip model that eliminated local bus service and I haven’t heard anybody from CTA say they using a dramatically different model in their new planning. In fact, CTA increased their projected average BRT speed to 18 mph from the 15 mph speed MPC used in their models, models that had no local bus service (see page 19 of PDF below).

        http://www.metroplanning.org/uploads/cms/documents/brt_report_20110817_reva.pdf

        My guesses in addition to what I’ve said above are you can’t run local service on one-lane configurations, you can’t run local buses in the BRT lanes without destroying the headway of BRT buses. I also don’t think anybody is eager to pay millions of dollars to Abu Dhabi / Morgan Stanley parking meters to maintain two lanes of vehicle traffic or local bus service. Therefore, I think local service is getting axed.

      2. Hi Steve,

        I was talking to some of the consultants on the project last night. The CTA has not mentioned anything about the bus service implementation and they are leaving it as a detail to be worked out later. The consultants suggested that it would be better for the local bus to be eliminated unless there was a backlash.

        Personally, I find it ass-backwards that the CTA is pushing for a large amount of new infrastructure without giving a clear indication of what the service pattern is to be and what needs are going to be addressed by the implementation of the project. Until then, we will have meaningless debate over partial technical details without knowing the big picture.

        1. In other words, CTA is not mentioning the most controversial part of the proposal – eliminating local bus service on a 21 mile stretch!

  4. The bus-only lanes absolutely have to be physically separated from the car lanes with a curb or other sort of concrete installment. Otherwise, car drivers will drive in them, just as they drive in bike lanes.

      1. Good point. In seeing pictures of curb separation in Bogotá, I forgot that they probably don’t get much snow down there. Perhaps flexible bollards like the ones used for protected bike lanes would be a better solution?

        1. I’m not convinced that reed bollards are practical for snowplow climates, either; I fully anticipate that a large proportion of the ones Chicago installed this summer will be casualties this winter, and need to be replaced. But I’d be very pleased to be proven wrong.

    1. Buses could be outfitted with cameras that can automatically photograph bus lane incursions and issue citations.
      San Francisco uses short domes (which are terrible for cycling).

      1. Are you referring to Botts’ Dots? Those don’t work in snowy climes because the snow plow would just scrape them off the street.

          1. What would be the point? They wouldn’t prevent car drivers from entering the bus-only lanes. The only advantage would be that they make noise when driven over. Flexible bollards are the way to go, in addition to painting the entire bus lane a solid color.

          2. Wouldn’t flexible bollards serve this same purpose, but offer more of a physical separation rather than a visual one? There are far less people driving in protected bike lanes with bollards vs buffered and conventional lanes. The same concept can be applied to bus-only lanes. I see far too many people driving and parking in the bus-only lane on Clark Street during rush hours. Botts’ Dots would not prevent this behavior.

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