Bus rapid transit may be in your transit future

Come to a public open house on the bus rapid transit project coming to Chicago's downtown. The open house will be held Wednesday, May 2 at 5 p.m. at the Chicago Architecture Foundation's Lecture Hall at 224 S. Michigan Ave. Learn more.

Did you know a new form of public transportation is coming to Chicago? It’s called bus rapid transit (BRT), and it will expand your transit options, making trips faster, more reliable and more convenient.

The photos pictured here show the BRT facilities in Mexico City.

Bus rapid transit provides the reliability, speed and quality of service of rail, but with the flexibility and cost efficiency of using buses on existing streets. Cities around the world--from Bogotá to Cleveland--have found BRT to be their best opportunity for expanding transit choices.

Don’t confuse BRT with your average city bus

Regular buses get held up by traffic congestion and lines of riders paying one-by-one as they board. This can lead to delays, bus bunching and slow travel speeds.

While regular buses average nine miles per hour, BRT’s limited stops and dedicated lanes with signal priority allow vehicles to travel faster while largely avoiding street congestion. BRT stations also function like train stations, with riders paying before they board--reducing time spent at each stop.

These are some of the core elements that set apart the most effective bus rapid transit systems:

Dedicated lanes help reduce traffic delays and road conflicts, making BRT vehicles faster and more reliable and making streets safer.

Pay-before-you-board stations reduce boarding times, while the permanence of stations provides economic development benefits similar to train stations.

Transit Signal Priority helps transit vehicles stay on time and reduces bunching by giving them preferential treatment at traffic lights.

At-grade boarding makes vehicles more accessible to seniors, people with disabilities and parents with strollers, while also reducing boarding time.

Check out a video of Bus Rapid Transit in action in Mexico City.

BRT in other US Cities

• Los Angeles, Calif.: The Metro Orange Line was so successful that a four-mile extension is under construction.

• Eugene, Ore.: The Emerald Express increased transit ridership by 74 percent and reduced trip times by 30 percent.

• Cleveland, Ohio: The Healthline, funded in part by private companies and institutions that benefit from the service, has generated more than $4 billion in new development and redevelopment along the route.

What can Chicagoans look forward to?

Chicago is developing three BRT routes, which will improve and enhance the city’s entire public transportation system. The Chicago BRT Task Force--which includes Active Transportation Alliance, Chicago Architecture Foundation, Civic Consulting Alliance, Metropolitan Planning Council, Urban Land Institute-Chicago, and other philanthropic, civic and nonprofit partners--is assisting CTA and CDOT as they develop Chicago’s system plan for BRT.

Later this year, the CTA will implement elements of BRT on the South Side along Jeffery Boulevard. Already a high-ridership bus route, Jeffery will be enhanced from 103rd Street and Stony Island Boulevard to the Loop, including dedicated lanes, limited stops, and enhanced stations between 67th and 83rd streets, as well as transit signal priority between 73rd and 84th streets.

Over the next couple months, the city will also begin public meetings for the East-West Transit Corridor and Western/Ashland Corridor.

The East-West Transit Corridor BRT plan includes designated bus-priority lanes on two miles of streets in Chicago’s Central Business District. The route would serve Union Station, Ogilvie Transportation Center, the CTA Red and Blue Line subways, Streeterville and Navy Pier.

A new, off-street transportation center just south of Union Station is also part of the concept. By promoting transit, biking and walking, this new route would make the Loop an even more attractive place to do business, visit and live.

The city will also be studying the feasibility of BRT along Western and/or Ashland avenues, from Howard to 95th Street--approximately 21 miles.

Active Trans has been partnering with the Metropolitan Planning Council to conduct outreach for BRT in this corridor by meeting with aldermen and community organizations to spread the word about the benefits of a possible BRT route. A 2011 report by the nonprofit Metropolitan Planning Council, which outlined a vision for BRT in Chicago, ranked this route highly, not only because it would fill existing gaps in the city’s transit network, but also because of the high potential to spark economic and community development in the neighborhoods traversed by the route.

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Bus Rapid Transit-The Boston Model

Recall, at a Public hearing, (CTA) I suggested a Bus Rapid Transit route stretching from the Red Line Terminal at the 95th Street Red Line Terminal to FOMOCO. This BRT would've used an electric trolley and power poles a.la Boston's Green Line from Boston Amtrak South Terminal to Boston Logan Airport. My idea was shot down because it was deemed that the monies spent on a BRT Alternative to the Red Line Extension may as well have been spent on a fixed rail system. The CTA did, however, acknowledge that an Electric BRT could be completed in as little as 2 1/2 years!

I've used the BRT in Mexico

I've used the BRT in Mexico City and they were quite efficient but I'm wondering how the BRT projects might interfere with plans for more bike lanes. After all, there is only so much room on the road.

go ahead

install bus lanes instead of bike lanes.

BRT on Western

Can't happen soon enough as far as I'm concerned. I live in Beverly, south of 95th St., and the current Western bus service is USELESS to me, because I want to reach points north of 55th, which would require a transfer at 79th. Travel times are ridiculously long with the current service/transfer, so I don't even bother.

If we get BRT on Western going all the way to 95th, it means I will FINALLY have a viable public transit option to get to Midway Airport - Western BRT to the Orange line at 49th. Taking Ashland to the Orange line at Archer/31st would take so much longer that it's not really a workable option. The idea of taking the Ashland bus to transfer to the 63rd St. bus to Midway doesn't appeal either. If you were carrying luggage, cash and documents for travel, would *you* want to wait for a bus at 63rd & Ashland?

BRT on Western would also make it feasible for me to go by bus to visit friends in Little Village and Douglas Park - not workable with the current service. If I can use public transit rather than driving for at least some of these trips, I'd prefer it. My friends on the other end of those trips could do likewise.

My gut feeling is that this would significantly increase CTA ridership on Western and decrease car traffic - a very positive change.

Anne-I support you


The only thing wrong with your idea is, is that BRT should extend to 119th Street! Everything else you say is excellent.

Anything south of 79th Street has dreadful transit, and any BRT should address that issue

Jon Evans

Here is the info for CNU

Here is the info for CNU Illinois upcoming happy hour event about BRT on Western/Ashland:

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 Zeimann 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. RSVP and learn who else is coming via Facebook.

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

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