Center running BRT with travel lane removals. Image courtesy of CTA.
[This piece also appeared in Checkerboard City, John’s weekly transportation column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets in print on Thursdays.]
“It comes down to: how do Chicagoans want their streets?” said Chris Ziemann, the city’s bus-rapid-transit project manager, as we drank coffee downstairs from the Chicago Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) downtown headquarters last week. “Do they want them to be congested every day at rush hour with gridlocked vehicles? Or do they want fast, reliable bus service and nice, comfortable conditions for walking?”
As car-dominated transportation systems become increasingly dysfunctional, more U.S. cities are looking to bus rapid transit (BRT) as a solution. BRT delivers subway-like speed and efficiency at relatively low costs through upgrades to existing streets rather than new rail lines. These improvements can include dedicated bus lanes, pre-paid boarding at stations in the road median, bus-priority stoplights and more. BRT is already common in Latin America, Europe and Asia, and it’s currently being piloted in dozens of American cities.
CDOT and the Chicago Transit Authority are partnering on several BRT projects in various states of completion. A proposal to build corridors along Western and/or Ashland avenues may include removing two of the four travel lanes on each street and replacing them with bus lanes, a scheme that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. “This is politically the best opportunity for bus rapid transit that Chicago’s ever had or might ever have in the future,” Ziemann says. “Mayor Emanuel and [CDOT Commissioner] Gabe Klein really get BRT, and they want it to happen as part of their sustainable transportation policies.”
For an in-depth look at the features, pros, and cons for each of the four scenarios, visit our new Western & Ashland BRT Pros and Cons website.