I’d been looking forward to riding the new J14 Jeffery Jump bus service for a few weeks now. It was a chance to participate in a small but significant turning point in the history of the CTA. The Jump is a new express bus along Jeffery Boulevard (2000 East) on the South Side, incorporating several elements of bus rapid transit (BRT) and hopefully paving the way for full-blown BRT downtown, on Ashland Avenue and/or Western Avenue within a few years.
In a nutshell, BRT brings buses up to subway-like speed via special infrastructure on the existing roadway, at a fraction of the cost of creating new rail lines. Ideally, BRT includes dedicated bus lanes, center running buses, stations in the median where customers pre-pay before boarding, traffic signals that turn green when a bus approaches and other features.
The Jump, funded by an $11 million Federal Transportation Administration grant, is essentially BRT lite, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction. Dedicated bus lanes only exist on a portion of the sixteen-miles Jeffery route, a two-mile stretch from 67th to 83rd Streets, and only during rush hours. From 7 – 9 am weekdays, parking is banned on the east side of the street to accommodate inbound bus traffic, and vice versa for outbound buses during the evening commute from 4 – 6 pm.
To further speed service, the Jump will have fewer stops between 67th and 103rd streets, nineteen in each direction, compared to the 35 northbound and 37 southbound stops that the #15 Jeffery Local will continue to make. Many Jump stops have half-mile spacing instead of the standard quarter-mile increments. Riders on the local bus will also enjoy the rush-hour dedicated lanes and both the Jump and local take Lake Shore Drive from 67th to 11th streets and make the same downtown stops.
In early 2013 the Jump route will get bus-priority stoplights between 73rd and 84th streets. A “queue jump” will also be added at Anthony Avenue, where the street narrows under a Chicago Skyway viaduct, creating a traffic bottleneck. The buses will get a special bypass lane and dedicated signal allowing them to cut to the front of the line of vehicles, a bit rude perhaps but very handy.
I headed down to the ribbon cutting yesterday morning at 71st and Jeffery in the South Shore community and was impressed by the new infrastructure. Handsome new “showcase” bus shelters with LED bus arrival time displays have been installed at this intersection. They’re larger and offer better weather protection and twice as much seating as standard CTA shelters. Next year similar shelters will be installed at 100th and Paxton with curb bump-outs to expedite bus boarding. All Jump stops are also identified with nine-foot-high info kiosks and blue paint stripes at the curb.
At 10:30 AM when the media was invited to hop onboard one of the blue-painted Jeffery Jump buses for a test ride, it was a bit anticlimactic since it was after morning rush hour and parked cars occupied the dedicated lanes. The Jump served regular passengers earlier that morning. Since it was the Veteran’s Day holiday we wouldn’t have gotten to see how the service performs in full rush-hour traffic anyway, but I plan to return and ride the bus sometime during a typical business day. Onboard I buttonholed Joe Iacobucci, the CTA’s manager of strategic planning and policy, to get his take on what had to be one of the highlights of his transit career.
What’s the most exciting aspect of launching the Jeffery Jump?
This project is great because it provides immediate impacts for current riders. We currently have about 12,000 boardings [per weekday] on the Jeffery corridor, so it’s providing those customers with a faster, more reliable trip. We’ll be able to increase travel speeds on the bus to potentially save customers up to seven minutes. We’ve already seeing some of the early feedback from this morning and the results are encouraging.
But the other thing is this provides a good foundation to launch future Bus Rapid Transit projects in Chicago. It tests a lot of “proof-of-concepts” including dedicated lanes, transit signal priority and queue jumps so they can be replicated on future corridors in the central Loop, Ashland Avenue and Western Avenue, and all the future projects we hope to provide.
Joe Iacobucci, center.
How did things go on the maiden voyage this morning?
It went really well. It’s a holiday today so traffic is a little bit lighter. So we don’t want to take the results today as being a normal day. Ridership was a little bit lighter because it was a holiday but the bus was also much faster. We’ll be monitoring the results of the bus speeds, reliability and ridership very closely over the next coming months and we’ll be able to adjust service accordingly.
Did you talk with any customers onboard?
Yeah, we had a lot of interaction with customers. We had volunteers at eleven stops this morning passing out brochures. We wanted to make sure that customers were aware of the new service and the changes involved in it, and the type of improvements they can expect to see. We also just wanted to be able to celebrate the launch of this new type of bus service with them.
What kind of comments did you get from customers?
They were very enthused. From the beginning we’ve had a lot of positive feedback, going back all the way to 2007 or 2008 when were looking at this project from a hundred-thousand-foot view, all the way through the project development process about a year and a half ago when we had public meetings. We had overwhelmingly positive comments from those meetings. Customers knew that the bus was very slow, especially during that stretch between 67th and 83rd Street.
Bus ad featuring Derrick James, director of government affairs at Amtrak, former CTA employee and community advisory group co-leader for Chicago’s Streets for Cycling Plan 2020.
As we’re piloting elements of bus rapid transit we’re taking what is an abstract transit improvement and providing proof-of-concepts here, being very sensitive to neighborhood needs. As we implemented the bus lanes we decided on rush-hour-only lanes for a couple of reasons. One, that’s when the most congestion was, and that’s when the most ridership was happening. It also allowed us to implement the project without asking anybody to change their behaviors for other modes of transit.
The one change is that there used to be rush-hour travel lanes for cars as well. Now cars are supposed to stay out of the bus lanes. What’s the plan for enforcing no parking in the bus lanes and no driving in the lanes?
We’ve been working on a daily basis with the Chicago Police Department, OEMC [Office of Emergency Management and Communications] and the Chicago Department of Transportation. We had meetings for three months leading up to this and we’ve been doing flyering and ticketing, and this morning we started towing [illegally parked cars] on the corridor.
I think the other thing to look at is that even from an auto perspective you can see how the lanes have a traffic-calming effects because you have a line that’s striped a couple feet to the left of the parked cars. So anecdotally [as the center travel lanes have narrowed] we’ve already seen automobile traffic become calmer, as opposed to cars racing down the street when there were just these wide-open lanes. So it makes things safer as well.
Great, anything else that you want to tell me about this?
This has been about a thirty-month process in the latest iteration of this project and we’re extremely happy about this launch. It’s great thing for Chicago to make this step forward, it’s a great day for transit, and it’s a great day for our customers on the South Side.
Grid Chicago is a blog about sustainable transportation matters, projects and culture in Chicago and Illinois, by John Greenfield and Steven Vance since June 2011.
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