BRT update: what you should know before the comment period ends Wednesday


Chicagoans inspect the presentation boards at the open house.

As part of the federal public planning process, the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) is required to hold at least one public meeting for any project funded by federal grants. This is the case with the Central Loop BRT project for which an open house was held Wednesday, May 2, 2012. CDOT requests comments about the project, to go on public record and to be included in a submission to the federal government, to be submitted by May 9.

You can email your comments to To help you prepare a comment, the following materials and information is being provided:

What is BRT?

In as few words as possible, it’s a bus system that offers the some of the advantages associated with rail service.

From CDOT’s fact sheet handed out at the open house, “BRT is a term applied to a variety of bus service designs that help provide faster, more efficient and more reliable services than an ordinary bus line.” “True” or “gold standard” BRT systems include these four critical elements:

  1. Dedicated lanes that no other motor vehicles can use. The Central Loop BRT project will have dedicated bus lanes with tinted pavement.
  2. Off-board fare collection. you pay before you get on the bus to speed boarding. This will not be present in the Chicago projects.
  3. Signal priority at intersections, letting the bus go first when it’s green. The Central Loop BRT project will have this.
  4. Level boarding. No stepping up or down from the bus to the street. Of the three scenarios, the “Basic” scenario would not have this. “Balanced” and “Focused” would.

Where in the United States is BRT used?

Los Angeles, California – L.A. is known as the king of car culture in America, but it also has an extremely extensive and diverse transit system. Eugene, Oregon; Cleveland, Ohio; New York City, New York; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Las Vegas, Nevada.

Where in the world is BRT used?

BRT was invented in South America and is used in many major cities and capitals. These are just a handful of the cities that use BRT:

  • Curitiba, Brasil – First BRT system in the world, started in 1974
  • Bogotá, Colombia
  • Mexico City, Mexico
  • Santiago, Chile
  • Hangzhou, China
  • Seoul, South Korea
  • Johannesburg, South Africa

Is this a BRT project?

This project will construct some of the elements of BRT, including items 1, 3, and 4, in the “critical elements” list above. Think of the east-west circulator service as a complete streets upgrade to streets that are currently designed to best accommodate automobile traffic, and pedestrian traffic somewhat (there is a higher volume of people on sidewalks than in the roadway). When the project is built, the streets will balance all transportation modes: bus transit will be expedited and new bikeways will be constructed.


A map of the enhanced bus routes in the central Loop on Madison, Washington, Randolph (bike lanes only), Clinton, and Canal. 

Materials from the open house

Slideshow (PDF).

Audio recording of the presentation (MP3).

Photos from Steven and John, including all the presentation boards set up.

Handouts, including fact sheets from CDOT+CTA, and Metropolitan Planning Council. I’ve compiled those handouts into a single PDF along with a flyer from Citizens Taking Action, a resident’s prepared comments, and the CDOT comment card.

Study report by MPC

Metropolitan Planning Council, a 75-year organization that promotes good transportation policy, released a study in August 2011 that methodologically suggested 10 routes for BRT in Chicago.

From the study report, it appears that MPC conducted well-informed research with good methodology. The study report (pdf), for the most part, clearly explains how they found 10 routes, pared from all existing CTA bus routes, to recommend for bus rapid transit in Chicago. For brevity and clarity, I believe, details about the process were left out. These details would most likely only be understood by those trained in transportation planning and the special geography and modeling software that was used. The report is laid out in an easy to follow and nicely designed fashion. The report talks about complications when removing travel lanes for personal and commercial automobiles which, in the current atmosphere of Chicago politics and community organizing, will probably be one of two extremely difficult processes when advocating for and building a widespread BRT.

The second process, comprising my only complaint about the study report, is the lack of discussion about the impact of the parking meter lease on modifying (swapping or removing) on-street parking to accommodate a BRT system, where such modification may be necessary.

The study’s methodology includes atypical transportation planning factors that emphasize the United States Department of Transportation’s livability principles, for which MPC should be commended for incorporating these. These six livability principles are:

  • Provide more transportation choices
  • Expand location- and energy-efficient housing choices
  • Improve economic competitiveness of neighborhoods
  • Target federal funding toward existing communities
  • Align federal policies and funding
  • Enhance the unique characteristics of all communities

The factors studied are on page 9. MPC developed its own criteria and weighting scale for livability analysis, discussed on pages 10-13. Visit the study’s website for appendices and video presentations.

Upcoming event to learn more

Bus Rapid Transit on the Western Avenue Corridor

Join us at Floyd’s Pub with special guests Josh Ellis and Peter Skosey from Metropolitan Planning Council and Chris Ziemann from the Chicago Transit Authority for discussion on Bus Rapid Transit. The event will include a short tour of Western Avenue where our guests will point out opportunities and challenges of retrofitting a street with BRT.

Thursday, May 31
5:30 PM
Floyds Pub
1944 N Oakley Ave (1 block east of Western Blue Line station)

22 thoughts on “BRT update: what you should know before the comment period ends Wednesday”

  1. Thanks for the reminder. I will try to fire off a comment but I am in the middle of final exams.

    Roughly my comment…
    – Central Loop circulator is good idea and should proceed
    – Signal priority is a good idea but in no way does it have to be limited to BRT
    – level platform boarding on buses for wheelchairs is not ADA-approved as with trains, which move close to platforms with much closer tolerances. Some ramp must be still be used

    1. On your second point: very true. TSP can be implemented for any bus.

      On your third point about level boarding: the ramps on buses would still be there and could still be used. But the buses wouldn’t have to spend the time and energy kneeling, including the kneeling for people who don’t need a ramp.

      1. What you are saying is true but with something like Western avenue the benefit of having the lower buses for the disabled will be lost due to the 1/2 mile distance between stops. I think “true BRT” on Western would be a net loss to the aging and disabled population of the city.

        See level boarding on light rail in Dallas.

        1. With “true” BRT like the ones used in South America, the bus operators pull up extremely close to the platform edge.
          The buses in Las Vegas have a camera and software that tracks a line in the road to help the driver line the bus up to the platform edge. I tried to find the video I watched a long time ago but couldn’t. Here’s some information about it:
          “There are two types of electronic guidance systems currently in BRT operation: (1) optical, in which a video camera detects the position of a vehicle relative to painted lines on the pavement and steers via a servo motor in the steering mechanism, developed by Siemens and implemented on the Irisbus Civis vehicle; and (2) magnetic, that works essentially the same way as optical, but uses magnets buried in the pavement. The FROG system was implemented on the VL/APTS Phileus.”
          From this paper “Vehicle Selection for BRT: Issues and Options” by Samuel L. Zimmerman,

          1.  I wonder if the Las Vegas BRT system got some kind of an ADA-waiver to test the new technology. My understanding is that no bus can have level boarding without a ramp.

            I think it’s a positive for the US that we have higher standards than other countries when it comes to accessibility.

            Thanks for the link. More from the same journal on Level Boarding and BRT at the link below.


    2. There are guidance mechanisms ranging from specially designed curbs to higher tech systems that can enable a BRT vehicle to “dock” close enough to the platform for a wheelchair to roll in.

       In latin america,  the only mechanism is driver training. Articulated buses have three sets of double doors, and the front set is reserved for people with disabilites and parents with strollers. This is the section of the bus the driver has the most control over – and despite it being human-guided, it works well. The gap is never more than 3″, usually 2″ish.  Some BRT systems do use small ramps (6″ or s) that flip out quickly, but most ramps such as those used by kneeling buses just take too much time to deploy.

      1. The ramps on US buses are designed to meet a requirement under the law. What looks slow and bulky to one person looks safe and robust to authors of the law requiring the ramps. Can the laws be improved? Of course! But those slow ramps and squatting buses exist for a reason and it has to do with civil rights, not transit policy. I don’t care how much transit planners moon over dwell times, they still have to follow the ADA  at a minimum.

          1. I enjoyed Ryan’s contribution! I am not trying to be a curmudgeon here, I’m just repeating what I believe to be true – BRT is not ADA-compliant without ramps.

            “The ADA requires low-floor buses to have ramps, while standard-floor buses must
            use wheelchair lifts…..If ADA policy for buses applies to BRT (requiring securements and ramps), the end result will increase dwell times and decrease the productivity gains of the system, running in the face of the very purpose of BRT. If the federal government will adapt rail regulations to BRT, however, then the rail-required use of level boarding and precision-docking would preclude these inefficiencies, as precision-docking helps to ensure a minimal gap for level-boarding and alighting, acting as rails do for rail transit.” – from the Journal of Public Transportation, 2006 BRT Special Edition,
            “Issues and Technologies in Level Boarding Strategies for BRT”, pg 97

            Maybe this is outdated and I am wrong but this is what where I am getting my information. I’ve never seen a story or mention of bus rules being rewritten so BRT does is not viewed as a “bus” under the law.

          2. Perhaps the federal government has adapted rail regulations to BRT, which the paper suggests means that BRT buses don’t need ramps to be ADA compliant. That’s 6 years old and there have been at least 3 new BRT routes since then.

          3.  The FTA had a draft of a rule revision involving BRT in 2008.

            T203.2.1.2 Ramps.  Where ramps are
            provided on vehicles more than 6.7 m (22 feet) in length,
            the ramps shall be permanently installed and power

            EXCEPTION:  Vehicles that operate
            only in level boarding bus systems where all the designated
            boarding and alighting areas have station platforms shall
            be permitted to provide portable ramps that are capable of
            being deployed to the roadway on board the vehicle.


            I don’t know what happened after 2008 and I’m going to bed. ZZZ is now more interesting to me than BRT.

        1.  Single-point boarding is absolutely going to make this more of a flop. With no fare controls at the “stations” and without multi-door boardings, what the hell is the point? Even with traffic signal priorities, 10 passengers boarding an express will take 15-25 seconds (average 1.5-2.5seconds/each)… add on the time to alight and then the time to activate signals and wait for cross-traffic to clear, and there’s no time savings.

          Then, there’s the other issue… CTA is dumping articulates.

  2. Without island platforms and segregated lanes, this project is just going to fail. BRT would work great on Western as it offers such a generous ROW, but else, it’ll be just a check-box for Chicago to show “we have BRT”.

      1. A waste of valuable funds for what is to be a complete flop. A time savings of 3-8% isn’t worth the funds being allocated to BRT. There’s plenty other places (capital or operational) that those monies could go at CTA.

        Here’s a quick trivia question: why is it that the X (express) routes were cut from various arterials throughout the city. Is it..

        A) The buses were not comfortable enough
        B) People didn’t like the speed at which the buses were travelings
        C) The running time differential between a local and express was so negligible that it didn’t warrant the cost?

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