Central Loop BRT: It’s For Chicagoans, Not Navy Pier Tourists

11,000 people ride the J14 Jeffery Jump each weekday
A J14 Jeffery Jump bus at Michigan Avenue and Monroe Street. The route carries over 11,000 people each weekday between downtown and several South Side neighborhoods.

A follower tweeted to us yesterday, “Let’s get real bus rapid transit on Ashland/Western before we spend more money to get suburbanites to Navy Pier.” It’s an understandable concern, but when you look at the proposal a little closer it doesn’t hold up. While CDOT’s map of the Central Loop BRT does make it look like bus routes to Navy Pier will receive a big share of the improvements, the fact is that the project is targeted to speed Chicagoans’ daily bus trips.

The Central Loop BRT project’s decreased travel times of 3 to 9 minutes per trip will benefit mostly Chicagoans. Bus-only lanes and island boarding areas on Madison, Washington, Canal, and Clinton Streets will serve 11 bus routes with 93,764 daily passengers. Just one of these routes visits Navy Pier: the aptly named 124-Navy Pier, with only 822 weekday riders.

So thousands of city residents will have quicker trips from their neighborhoods to jobs in the Loop, to the Metra stations, and to shopping on State Street and Michigan Avenue. Additionally, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of workers at Navy Pier who will get to their jobs faster.

Two of the routes, 124 and 125, are strictly downtown routes. All the others pass between neighborhoods and the Loop. Their average weekday ridership in December 2012  [PDF] is listed below:

1 Bronzeville/Union Station: 2,623
J14 Jeffery Jump: 11,810
20 Madison: 19,923
28 Stony Island: 5,041
56 Milwaukee: 10,406
60 Blue Island/26th: 10,436
124 Navy Pier: 822 (the only route that reaches Navy Pier)
125 Water Tower Express: 1,496
126 Jackson: 6,564
151 Sheridan: 20,157
157 Streeterville/Taylor: 4,486

Total: 93,764

  • CL

    I appreciate that the new routes will be useful to Chicagoans, but helping people get to the loop area faster seems like it should be the last priority considering that every train line goes to the loop. The loop is basically the only place in Chicago that is already very well-served by existing transit. The problem is traveling between areas of the city that aren’t near the loop — that’s where travel times can approach two hours on public transit. Saving central loop commuters 9 minutes is nice, it’s not like I’m against it — but if we have limited resources for BRT, I think it’s much more important to improve transit in other areas of the city where residents must take a very slow bus, and then transfer to another very slow bus, to get anywhere.

    Looking at the central loop map, I feel like I can get to any of these places easily on the L, and I don’t live anywhere near the loop. We need to bring BRT to places where the L doesn’t run, or where it can take you downtown but is useless for going anywhere else.

  • John

    Agreed. This is a huge time-saver for people who connect from Metra to jobs closer to Michigan Avenue, north of Randolph/east of Michigan, or Streeterville. It’s also huge the opposite direction for people coming in on the Metra Electric or Red Line going to the West Loop or beyond.

  • John

    Except these funds are from an FTA grant specifically for this project. You can’t transfer it to a different option. Use it or lose it.

  • Dave W

    It’s worth investigating why a bus would be faster than the L in the first place. I agree about the routing. BRT lines from almost any part of the city to Union station (and maybe other Metra stations) is one crying need. And from the north side/north burbs, a route to OHare comes to mind. Hopefully this whole idea will develop into something covering the map, and well enough connected to transform public transit in this town. Too small is too marginally useful.

  • Consider this scenario: You live in Little Village, along 26th Street, and you work at Prudential Plaza at Randolph/Michigan.

    You have two transit options (that I know of):

    1. Take the 26th Street bus to the Pulaski bus north to the Pulaski Pink Line station. Take the Pink Line to State/Lake and walk a few blocks.

    2. Take the 60-Blue Island/26th bus directly to the Prudential Plaza. The trip has now been shortened by 3-9 minutes because that slow journey *through* the Loop has been improved.

  • Adam Herstein

    Wait, so other buses will share the bus-only lanes that the BRT route will use?

  • There is no BRT route. The project is for infrastructure improvements and won’t change existing routes.

  • CL

    So it will take about 55 minutes instead of 60 minutes — I just don’t see this improving people’s lives in a noticeable way. What difference does a few minutes really make, especially when you’re taking one bus the whole time so there is no transferring and less uncertainty?

    Especially when you could imagine lots of other commuting scenarios that don’t involve the loop where it takes 90 minutes, with transferring. I think that’s where we need BRT the most.

    I’m all for BRT, and I’m not against the project — I just think other areas need it way more.

  • CL

    That just means there’s nothing we can do about it, not that it’s the best place to put BRT

  • Emmy

    I’d just like to point out that I take the 28 to the loop and I live in Hyde Park aka the land of actually zero El stops. I could take the metra, but I transfer to the Blue Line for school so taking the 28 to downtown makes more sense. If the corridors I see work out, then my commute home (maybe not to school so much) will be 3 to 9 minutes faster which is awesome.

  • Creating bus-only lanes should make the travel times more reliable, day after day. Since non-buses are unable to use these lanes, then it can be expected that the portion of the route on these lanes is consistent.

  • Ramon

    CL’s point is a good one, and I think it deserves to be acknowledged as such–even if the FTA grant is only for the loop. Why reply in a snarky way about technicalities about funding? This just reinforces the idea that planner-types are elitist and unsympathetic.

  • Joseph Musco

    I wish CTA would call all these wonderful new improved bus routes Jump routes. Loop Jump isn’t alliterative but the improvements are the same. Jump is a good name that can be reused. Let Jump simply mean Improved. Make all the Jump buses Chicago blue.

    A quick glance at the length and character of the bus routes are that going to use these Central Loop improvements suggests that level boarding is an impossibility for this project. So why does CTA continue to include banal statements about BRT in press releases? If you (“There is no BRT route”), John Greenfield (“The streets with bus-only lanes would incorporate…level boarding”, reported from the press release), and Ben Fried (“I’ve got level boarding envy here in NYC.”) can’t agree on what is being proposed at a glance you can hardly expect other citizens to be making informed inputs in the decision making process. CTA throws out the term BRT in so many different contexts the term is meaningless.

    What does a project do for mobility? What does a project do for access? What does it do for quality of life? What are the costs/benefits of a given project? CTA saying BRT like a parrot answers none of these questions. I LOVE this project and it still pisses me off because of all the BS marketing transitspeak used to pitch it.

  • Joseph Musco

    I wish CTA would call all these wonderful new improved bus routes Jump routes. Loop Jump isn’t alliterative but the improvements are the same. Jump is a good name that can be reused. Let Jump simply mean Improved. Make all the Jump buses Chicago blue.

    A quick glance at the length and character of the bus routes are that going to use these Central Loop improvements suggests that level boarding is an impossibility for this project. So why does CTA continue to include banal statements about BRT in press releases? If you (“There is no BRT route”), John Greenfield (“The streets with bus-only lanes would incorporate…level boarding”, reported from the press release), and Ben Fried (“I’ve got level boarding envy here in NYC.”) can’t agree on what is being proposed at a glance you can hardly expect other citizens to be making informed inputs in the decision making process. CTA throws out the term BRT in so many different contexts the term is meaningless.

    What does a project do for mobility? What does a project do for access? What does it do for quality of life? What are the costs/benefits of a given project? CTA saying BRT like a parrot answers none of these questions. I LOVE this project and it still pisses me off because of all the BS marketing transitspeak used to pitch it.

  • You’re forgetting the thousands of people who who come in on Metra to Union and Ogilvie stations and need to get across the Loop, and the benefits to those who come in on those very slow buses (like Milwaukee), who will see a faster end to the downtown part of their rides.

  • The press release says level boarding. The drawings show level boarding. Why won’t there be level boarding?

    I think of the four questions you asked, at least two of them have been answered:

    What does a project do for mobility? Trip time reduction is the main benefit for mobility.

    What does a project do for access? With the trip time reduction, more destinations are possible in the same duration.

    What does it do for quality of life? With priority through the Loop and West Loop, travel time reliability is increased, which, according to RTA Chairman Gates, was the number 2 priority of transit users (security was #1).

  • Are they putting in barriers to keep other vehicles out of the bus-only lanes? Currently I see lots of turning and stopped vehicles – especially taxis – in the bus-only lanes around the Loop.

  • Joseph Musco

    A quick look suggests this project will serve the #20, #56, #60, #124, #125, and #157 (or similar) routes. Those routes travel both inside and outside the scope of the Central Loop improvements and will therefore require the normal adjustable handicapped ramps to access 6 inch curbs. According to APTA, “level boarding” allows for simple fold-over ramps to meet access requirements.This project will continue to use bi-fold ramps. I don’t think either the Madison or Washington stops pictured will be constructed to tolerances that allow for level boarding even with a dedicated fleet. It looks to me what is pictured in these slides are “raised platforms” (a APTA technical term). A raised platform splits the difference in spanning the distance between the bus and the station platform. Raised platforms are not synonymous with level boarding. They may both improve boarding times but one meets one standard of access and one does not. (Link #1)

    For example, Eugene, OR’s Emerald BRT has a dedicated BRT fleet, dedicated routes, and fold-over ramps. They still don’t claim “level boarding” status for themselves. They describe their system, accurately, as having “near level” boarding. (Link #2) This may be semantics to most people but as you have seen with the the policy changes surrounding “buffered” and “protected” bike lanes similar terms are not all interchangeable. The different language ends up having huge consequences depending on your perspective.

    I stand by what I said about the CTA’s communication policies. They use the language of marketing in communicating with the public far more than they use the language of transportation professionals. I understand the desire to build brand value with optimism and bold claims but I don’t think expecting clear language and consistent use of technical terms from transportation professionals is cynical. When projects are oversold it hurts the ability of the city to construct meaningful transit projects in the long run. I don’t want that to happen.

    APTA BRT stations recommended practice: http://www.aptastandards.com/Portals/0/Bus_Published/002_RP_BRT_Stations.pdf

    Eugene’s EmX BRT described as “near-level” boarding:
    http://www.gobrt.org/Eugene.html

  • No, but hopefully there will be camera enforcement of the lanes. CDOT’s Pete Scales discusses the subject in today’s BRT post: http://chi.streetsblog.org/2013/02/26/how-far-is-the-city-going-to-go-with-the-central-loop-brt-corridor/

  • Similar to what will make protected bike lanes successful, keeping excluded users out of the bus lanes is crucial to the success of the project.

  • Similar to what will make protected bike lanes successful, keeping excluded users out of the bus lanes is crucial to the success of the project.

  • I didn’t run these through Google Maps to see what the time differences are in taking 2 buses to the L versus taking a one-seat ride. With low frequency routes (and I consider most routes to have low frequency), making a transfer in a reasonable amount of time is unreliable. As is the waiting duration and where you have to wait.

  • I didn’t run these through Google Maps to see what the time differences are in taking 2 buses to the L versus taking a one-seat ride. With low frequency routes (and I consider most routes to have low frequency), making a transfer in a reasonable amount of time is unreliable. As is the waiting duration and where you have to wait.

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