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?

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.

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