A great leap forward? Riding the entire Jeffery Jump express bus route


7:58am After waking up at an ungodly hour, cycling to the CTA’s Fullerton stop, riding the Red Line south to 95th Street and pedaling a few more miles to the 103rd Street & Stony Island garage terminal, I board a shiny blue J14 Jeffery Jump express bus. As I load my cruiser onto the front bike rack, the driver calls out the open door, “Could you hurry up please? I gotta go.”

Launched on November 5, the Jump is a new service that’s the transit agency’s first venture into bus rapid transit (BRT), systems that create subway-like speeds for buses via car-free lanes and other timesavers. The Jump, funded with an $11 million Federal Transportation Administration grant, isn’t full-blown BRT. But it does include several pioneering features that will hopefully pave the way for bolder bus corridors downtown and on Ashland and Western avenues later this decade. I’m here to ride the entire sixteen-mile route from the Far South Side to the Loop, to see how these elements are working out.

Continue reading A great leap forward? Riding the entire Jeffery Jump express bus route

Might as well Jump! The CTA debuts a stepping-stone to bus rapid transit


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.

Continue reading Might as well Jump! The CTA debuts a stepping-stone to bus rapid transit

Life in the bus lane: can Chicagoans be convinced to make a switch?


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.

Continue reading Life in the bus lane: can Chicagoans be convinced to make a switch?

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


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).


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).


The infographic; view full size.

CTA announces name for Jeffery Boulevard BRT route


Photo of the new bus livery (paint scheme) courtesy of Chicago Transit Authority. 

It’s the Jeffery Jump.

The Chicago Transit Authority describes the name for the Jeffery Boulevard bus rapid transit service in a press release issued this morning. Jeffery Jump replaces the 14-Jeffery Express route. The press release is quoted in part:

The Jump service is branded to communicate the way this service allows commuters to “jump” ahead of traffic and get a “jump start” on their morning and evening commutes  Jeffery Jump buses uses will be visually distinguishable from other CTA buses—wrapped in bright blue with the Jump logo.

The previously announced service will operate from 103rd Street on the south side to Metra’s Ogilvie and Union Stations downtown, saving an estimated five to seven minutes off of morning and evening commutes. The new service is scheduled to begin in November 2012. Road work to prepare Jeffery Boulevard for Jump service has already begun.

Two stations, located at 71st and Jeffery and 100th and Paxton, will have unique sidewalk and crosswalk designs and a large canopy for protection from the weather. Curb bump-outs will limit the need for buses to merge in and out of traffic in order for customers to board.

Bus rapid transit partners in Chicago have simultaneously launched a new website, BRT Chicago. There are three routes in the works: Jeffery Jump, Central Loop BRT, and Western-Ashland Corridor BRT.

Highlights from this week’s Mayor’s Bike Advisory Council meeting


CDOT staff front row, l-r: Share the Road Coordinator Carlin Thomas, Deputy Commissioner Luann Hamilton, Bike Coordinator Ben Gomberg, Commissioner Gabe Klein.

Wednesday Steven and I attended the quarterly Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting at City Hall, a great opportunity for citizens to get updates on Chicago’s bike projects and network with planners and advocates. Currently the meetings are geared towards “stakeholders,” staff from various city departments, the park district, CTA, the Active Transportation Alliance and other nonprofits, but the general public is welcome to attend and ask questions at the end of the meeting. To get on the mailing list for MBAC meeting announcements contact Carlin Thomas at carlin.thomas[at]activetrans.org, or sign up on this webpage. Here are a few news items from the meeting.

Bike Share

Although the bike sharing program failed to launch this year, Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) bike coordinator Ben Gomberg said things are on track for a spring 2013 debut. The project was awarded a total of $22 million in federal funding, which will pay for a system with 4,000 bikes and 400 rental kiosks (in two implementation phases). Gomberg said the current challenge is to find the required twenty percent local match of $5.5 million. CDOT has secured enough funding from Tax Increment Financing dollars and aldermanic menu money to cover the local match for the first year of operations. Gomberg joked that if anyone at meeting had a friend with a few extra million to donate, the city would gladly name the bike share system after the benefactor.


Bike share in Berlin.

Asked exactly when the system will launch next year, CDOT commissioner Gabe Klein said, “As soon as possible, as soon as the sun is shining and it’s 55, 60 degrees.” Gomberg added, “Let’s just say there’s an optimist and a pessimist in this room.” A potential speed bump is that Bike Chicago (a Grid Chicago sponsor) is contesting the contract, claiming that Alta Bike Share was given an unfair advantage in the bidding process. The case is currently under investigation by the city’s Office of Inspector General.

In October the city will hold three public meetings across the city to introduce the program and ask for suggestions for the kiosk locations. Initially the boundaries of the service area will be Montrose Avenue, Damen Avenue, 43rd Street and Lake Michigan; in time the borders will expand, and hopefully most of the city will someday get bike share. CDOT has already identified about 150 locations for kiosks, mostly at CTA and Metra stations, but the city will also be creating a “crowdsourcing” website to solicit suggestions for locations, Gomberg said. When New York City did this they received over 8,000 recommendations.

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)

The CTA’s Chris Ziemann and Joe Iaccobucci gave an update on local efforts to create bus-priority corridors, including the impact on cycling. They compared the project to their agency’s work to eliminate slow zones on the ‘L’, suggesting that BRT routes on wide streets with high bus ridership will function like efficient rail lines. Construction of new bus facilities along Jeffrey Boulevard started last month and operations may start by the end of the year. Ziemann and Iaccobucci acknowledged that Jeffrey will “by no means” be true BRT, since its bus-only lanes will only exist on a portion of the route and only during rush hours. But they said the dedicated lanes plus other firsts like bus-priority traffic signals and a queue jump, will pave the way for more ambitious BRT projects.


CTA rendering of a potential BRT lane configuration on Ashland.

The CTA is currently studying 21-mile corridors on Western and Ashland Avenues as potential locations for more robust bus-priority routes. And the agency plans to complete design work for the Central Loop BRT from Union Station to Navy Pier by 2013, with construction happening in 2014. The project would include dedicated bus lanes, a new off-street bus terminal near the railroad station, level bus loading platforms, and protected bike lanes on Washington and Randolph streets.

Download the CTA’s BRT slideshow.

Protected bike lane maintenance

CDOT bikeways project manager Mike Amsden said the department is aware that removal of debris and snow from protected lanes will be a growing issue as the network expands. He showed a slide of broken glass in the new lanes on Elston Avenue. “We are working our tails off to figure out how to do this the best we can,” he said. Amsden added the city is looking into the possibility of purchasing a compact street cleaner especially for use on the bike lanes. Some of the amusingly named models they’re considering include the Madvac CN100, the Green Machine, the Elgin Broom Badger and the Nitehawk 200 Osprey, which sounds like a vehicle David Hasselhoff might drive. The city is also considering applying – no joke – a mixture of salt and beet juice to the protected lanes prior to snowfall to prevent accumulation. I assume this technique was pioneered in Denmark, where they eat beets with everything.


The Nitehawk 200 Osprey: a lone crusader in a dangerous world of bike lane debris.

Bike Parking

Chris Gagnon, my successor as the city’s bike parking manager, is moving on after five years in the position and almost a decade at the bike program. Gagnon’s productive tour of duty saw the installation of some 3,000 bike racks and the city’s first on-street parking corrals. He reported that new corrals recently debuted in Andersonville next to the existing “People Spot” parklet, 5228 N. Clark Street, and in front of the Hopleaf bar, 5148 N. Clark. There will be a “Party in the People Spot” celebration of the new green space and racks this Friday from 5:30 – 7 p.m. at the parklet. Gagnon added that the city’s first year-round on-street parking corral is coming to Café Jumping Bean in Pilsen at 1439 W. 18th Street.

One community member asked if CDOT could create a document or brochure that he could give to businesses that are interested in installing a bike rack they purchase. Commissioner Klein mentioned how in Washington, D.C., there was a program called Bike Brand Your Biz and said that the department will have a guide done by December on how a developer can get a bike rack.


New on-street bike corral by the Andersonville People Spot. Photo courtesy of the Andersonville Development Corporation.

Aldermanic Bike Camps

Charlie Short, manager of Chicago’s Bicycling Ambassador program, reported on the four bike-safety camps inspired by visits by aldermen Ameya Pawar (47th), Pat Dowell (3rd), Harry Osterman (48th) and Danny Solis (25th) to bike-friendly European countries. Bikes Belong, a national advocacy group, donated Schwinn BMX bikes to the eighty campers. “My hands were like claws for days after building those eighty bikes on the Friday before the camps started,” Short joked. Many of the campers had never spent much time out of their own neighborhoods but after receiving training in proper riding and maintenance techniques, they took pedal-powered field trips to destinations like major parks and a tour of Wrigley Field. “Now the kids are like, ‘Wow, bikes are freedom, they’re transportation,” said Klein. “We want to have maybe 500 kids in the program next year.”


Pat Dowell and 3rd Ward bike campers.

MBAC community representatives

Gresham resident Demond Drummer, Mike Tomas from Garfield Park and Lincoln Park resident Michelle Stenzel are serving as stakeholder representatives for the South, West and North sides of the city, respectively. They said there’s a need for more outreach to educate the public about what the new protected and buffered bike lanes are and how to use them. “I live off of Halsted and 79th,” Drummer said. “When I woke up one morning and there was a new buffered lane on Halsted, I knew what it was. But other people see it as, ‘Oh, I’ve got a narrower lane to drive in, with a lot of paint on the side.”


Front row: Drummer, Stenzel and Tomas.

Klein said the city will be using a number of strategies to get the word out about the incoming bike network. The Streets for Cycling 2020 Plan for 645 miles of bikeways is currently under review and which should be officially released next month. CDOT also has about $1 million set aside to create a “transportation demand management” (TDM) program this spring, which will help Chicagoans in up to three different communities find alternatives to single-occupancy vehicle trips, including cycling, possibly launching in the spring. In addition, the agency is creating a new website and blog to promote sustainable transportation options, similar to Washington, D.C.’s colorful goDCgo.com. “By December we’ll have something nice to present to you,” Klein promised.

Updated September 20 to add information about bike parking for businesses and the CTA’s BRT slideshow.