Bus Rapid Transit: Not So Fast

By Geoff Dankert | Thursday, June 14, 2012

CTA leaders are asking for feedback on how best to establish dedicated rapid transit bus lanes on Western and Ashland Avenues. Credit: Geoff Dankert

The Chicago Transit Authority took a step Wednesday night toward establishing dedicated bus lanes on Western and Ashland Avenues, while acknowledging that such a development could take as long as four years to become reality.

More than a dozen representatives from CTA, the Chicago Department of Transportation and the Active Transportation Alliance gathered at an open house at Lane Tech High School, 2501 W. Addison St., to explain plans to establish dedicated Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lanes on 21 miles of Western and Ashland.

This was the second of three open houses staged along what CTA calls the Western and Ashland Corridor, and it attracted dozens of neighbors and business owners asking questions and absorbing information from the 17 placards placed around the Lane Tech student cafeteria.

CTA leaders say they’re committed to establishing BRT lanes for both the #9 (Ashland) and #49 (Western) buses to make them more viable as transportation choices for the 45,000+ people living in the corridor who have no access to cars. The #9 and #49 are the CTA’s second- and third-most popular bus routes, but bus speeds during morning and afternoon rush hours can often average less than 10 mph.

The “alternatives analysis” presentation on display during the open house asked visitors for feedback on the best placement of BRT lanes (at the curbs or in the center of the roadway) and the best ways to make room for those lanes (losing sidewalk width, losing on-street parking or losing traffic lanes). Project leader Joe Iacobucci noted that because Western and Ashland travel through multiple neighborhoods, different trade-offs might be more acceptable depending on location; a largely industrial area with little pedestrian traffic might be more willing to lose sidewalk width, whereas more residential areas might prefer to give up parking.

Iacobucci said CTA project workers also have exhaustively documented both Western and Ashland Avenues. “We know the location of every parking area, every loading zone, every LAZ parking space,” he said.

That information will be combined with results from the open houses to create the first of several studies on the creation of BRT lanes. It’s expected that a second round of open houses will be scheduled in the fall to collect feedback on the next phase of the plan. Final approval by the CTA board is expected next winter, but according to Iacobucci, implementing BRT is not as simple as marking off lines on the road and saying “go.” The process of securing federal funding and completing work on an effective BRT project could take as many as four years. As an example, work will begin this summer on the city’s first BRT lanes serving the #14 Jeffery bus from 103rd Street to Ogilvie and Union Stations. The planning process for the Jeffery BRT project began in 2007.

The next Western and Ashland Corridor BRT meeting is set for Thursday, June 14, at Wells Community Academy High School, 936 N. Ashland Ave., 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. For more information about the project and how to submit your feedback, visit the BRT website.

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  • rhino21

    My primary thought to speed service on these roads has always been to make all the buses run “express”-style.  I feel the single biggest factor slowing progress is stopping EVERY BLOCK to drop someone off.  It is practically door service.  I think everyone could stand to walk a whole extra block or two if it cut cross-town commute times significantly.

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