Check Out MPC’s New Video Introducing Bus Rapid Transit to Chicagoans

The city’s plan for “gold-standard” bus rapid transit on Ashland between 95th and Irving Park will create a fast, reliable north-south public transportation route by converting travel lanes into dedicated bus lanes, helping more people move efficiently though the city. That’s a hard concept for many Chicagoans to wrap their heads around, as evidenced by a watered-down counter-proposal by Near West NIMBYs, a clueless editorial in a community paper endorsing it, and a number of complaints to Second Ward Alderman Bob Fioretti’s office.

The Metropolitan Planning Council has put together this easy-to-understand video that lays out the many benefits of BRT: 80-percent-faster bus access to work, school, shopping and medical appointments; reduced congestion and emissions; safer, more pleasant walking conditions; and more prosperous, vibrant business districts. The spot features Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein, CTA Chief Planning Officer Rebekah Scheinfeld, Illinois Medical District Director Warren Ribley and Teamwork Englewood Tech Organizer Demond Drummer.

As discussed at a recent roundtable on Chicago’s BRT proposal, the best way to convince residents that reconfiguring Ashland to prioritize transit is a good idea may simply be to implement the plan, beginning with the upcoming 5.5-mile pilot on Ashland between 31st and Cortland, and let people experience the benefits for themselves. But the more citizens who are on board with the project from the get-go, the smoother the road will be for creating this exciting new addition to the city’s transportation network. This MPC video is a good strategy for winning hearts and minds.

  • CL

    Great video. It seems like they really understand the problem with the current bus service (that it’s slow and unreliable), and they’re going to speed things up significantly while minimizing the negative effect on other types of transportation.

    The best thing about BRT is that compared to other improvements, like building trains and adding new routes, it’s relatively inexpensive because they’re just using the street. I’m pessimistic that the CTA will improve substantially in my lifetime considering their epic budget problems, and the future costs of our crumbling infrastructure, but BRT will speed up service (which should be a top priority) without building much in the way of costly infrastructure.

  • Anonymous

    Good job describing much needed improvements to Ashland bus service.

    One question, though: Why doesn’t the visualization include bikes? No bikes on Ashland?

  • Bikes are discouraged on Ashland under this plan; I believe it involves striping a good lane one street over on a parallel (smaller, less car-filled) road.

  • Anonymous

    I can’t say I’ve read every piece on BRT, so forgive me if this was covered elsewhere, but assuming Ashland is a success, have there been any studies on what E/W streets might be candidates for this?

    I know the Circle Line was proposed to link the Red/Brown/Blue on the north side, so it’d seem to me that BRT would be an easier idea to link them, and it occurred to me that Irving Park would be a possible candidate because it’s wide enough. I can’t think of any others that are 4 lanes for as far as Irving is.

  • Don’t be too gloomy CL. I’m confident that as it becomes painfully obvious that the auto-centric isn’t working, there will be more support for proper transit funding in the future.

  • Damen and California, four blocks in either direction, are the official bike alternatives to Ashland.

  • Andrew

    Damen and California are four and twelve blocks west of Ashland, not four in either direction. Racine, four blocks east of Ashland, is not a very good street for biking for a variety of reasons.

  • Whoops, sorry, I was thinking of Western. Yes, Damen is the recommended alternative west of Ashland. There’s no analogous street directly east of Ashland, but some of the options (from north to south in the BRT coverage area) include Southport, Racine, Elston, Noble, and Loomis.

  • I think an interesting challenge will be keeping cars out of the BRT lane. A bus every 5 minutes sounds frequent, but in another sense, that’s also a bus every 4-8 blocks.

    I could see drivers “hijacking” the lane if they see it’s empty that often.

  • Anonymous

    That, in an of itself, is a gloomy scenario – waiting until it has become painfully obvious . . . sort of like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, only to figure out [too late] that it is a train coming straight at you.

    Transit is always in the future, as though it is some space-aged technology. We need it today, of course.

  • Anonymous

    This would be a sensible use of traffic cameras.

  • Jean-Luc Grosjean

    Well NYC has them but I think they’re only in certain places because all the videos about it I watch always have cars in them. I don’t know why they don’t put on the other side of parking, like the copenhagen bike lane.

  • John Amdor

    Wood is a decent alternative too, at least between Division and Ogden.

  • A camera on every bus makes the most sense here. If you block a bus, you get ticketed.

  • Joseph Musco

    The Metropolitan Planning Council did a study that had 10 possible BRT corridors. I think Irving Park, Fullerton, Garfield and 95th are the possible E/W routes. Google MPC BRT & you will find the details.

  • Anonymous

    Honest question: why does the Ashland bus travel so slowly compared to cars? What are the *specific* causes? I mean, buses and cars are using the exact same road, sitting in the same traffic or cruising in the same uncongested lanes, and yet one type of vehicle travels at about twice the speed. Why?

    The reason is mind-numbingly simple. The bus is slow because it has to stop too often, period. There is no other explanation to explain the speed variation – the bus stops frequently while cars keep on driving.

    First, there are too many stops, we dont need half of them. Put a stop every four blocks at most. Second, placing a stop immediately before an intersection with a stoplight is the worst possible location, because when the light turns green and the bus finally is able to pull up to the stop, it has to then let people on/off which often causes it to needlessly miss the light and waste more time. It’s such a ridiculously inefficient design. With stops after the intersection, the bus wont ever needlessly sit at a red light again.

    Before we start spending $120 million on some plan like the BRT, I truly dont understand why we dont try this virtually costless solution that could make a meaningful improvement in bus speeds. It’s certainly not as “progressive” as a BRT but it’s far more sensible and infinitely more bang for the buck.

  • bedhead1, I don’t know if you’ve been involved with the Ashland-Western Coalition, the BRT NIMBY group that is proposing almost the exact same watered-down alternative you’re describing, but that would barely be an improvement over the status quo.

    Per the CTA, the average rush-hour speed of the old X9 Ashland express bus was 10.3 mph, only 16 percent faster than the 8.7 mph local buses. In contrast, with “gold-standard” BRT, the CTA is projecting an 83-percent increase in average rush-hour bus speed
    over the locals, to 15.9 mph, along with a 46-percent increase in bus
    mode share, to 26 percent of all trips.

    That’s why weak-sauce solutions to the problem of slow bus service on Ashland are not solutions at all. We need robust BRT now. Read more about the anemic BRT NIMBY proposal here: http://chi.streetsblog.org/2013/06/10/nimbys-fear-ashland-brt-propose-watered-down-express-bus-alternative/

  • Anonymous

    But *why* does the #9 travel so much slower than cars? I’m not asking a rhetorical question. I’m being serious – just tell me why you think the #9 bus moves so much slower than cars despite sharing the same road. Are the bus engines only capable of reaching speeds of 10 mph? Is there a secret lower speed limit for buses? Do passengers complain if the bus drives 25mph or higher? What is it?

  • You answered your own question earlier. Buses are slower than cars because they have to make stops to pick up and drop off passengers. The beauty of robust BRT on Ashland is that it will level they playing field. The buses will still have to make stops, but since they won’t have to deal with traffic congestion and will have other time-saving features, BRT buses will move 15.9 mph during rush hour, almost as fast as the cars, unlike in the watered-down scheme you’re proposing.

  • Anonymous

    I’m glad you at least agree what the problem is: too many stops. So now that we are certain about what the problem is, and we know what we can do to help alleviate that problem, why not just make some easy changes? Reducing the amount of stops and repositioning them will with 100% certainty increase the speed of the bus. The cost is ripping out some street signs.

    Spending $116 million or more on some extreme overhaul that might (I would argue probably) just cause more problems than it solves and has very, very little support among the community is just so laughably stupid in comparison. It’s like a light bulb went out in your house and I want to fix the lamp and get a new bulb but you want to demolish the house and build a new one. Unfortunately, this is what you get when spending other peoples’ money is involved.

    Anyway, as usual, I look forward to it inevitably going nowhere and you penning a furious article about it.

  • It has to stop so often, yes, but also if the bus stops are on the curb, it has to get into and out of traffic every time it stops, and cars are often obstructionist in this process. Assuming nobody’s parked in the bus stop, that is. A dedicated lane (if cars don’t swipe it; enforcement is going to be key) means that if it is not stopped to let passengers on/off, the bus can just go, without having to conflict with cars, change lanes, and otherwise delay itself and create congestion.

    It’s easy for you to say ‘walk an extra block or two’, but the CTA is not solely a service intended for those who can walk half a mile in any weather happily. 1/4 mile is the standard for local bus service FOR A REASON, and that reason is people of limited mobility, especially seniors or anyone else who has trouble walking distances.

    Addressing your ‘second’ point, the BRT plan outlined above will also probably include signal priority: meaning, if a bus pulls up to an intersection, it will get a green, and often a green before the cars going the same direction as it. No more ‘stuck at lights’ because of letting passengers on/off. Some cities do this with their ordinary (same lanes as cars) busses or streetcars; Chicago hasn’t yet.

    I would note that most of the bus lines I’ve had occasion to use lately have already moved to a ‘the bus stop is always after the intersection’ standard, where practical.

    Speaking personally, I’d like to see a lot of the Xbus services we used to have reinstated almost immediately (stopping every .5-1 mile in the ordinary bus stops, along the entire length of very long streets). I think you agree with that. But I don’t think that there’s a problem in letting the innovators try one section of one street and see what improvements can be gotten from dedicated (well, ‘dedicated’ — paint on pavement won’t stop most of the grabby drivers I’ve seen from stealing the lane anyway) right of way.

    The Xbus services were faster than the locals because of less fighting-to-the-curb to stop constantly, yes. They could also sometimes get in the left lane and avoid being stuck behind right-turners, etc, because they knew they wouldn’t need to be back curbside for several intersections, which a local can’t. And they don’t involve building new medians, or new left-side-entry-capable busses (which seems to me the most idiotic part of the entire proposition, but whatever). They’d be cheaper, but in the grand scheme of things, this ‘BRT’-type pilot plan isn’t all that expensive, especially since if it works it’ll be transformational.

  • The cost is not just ripping out some street signs, it’s making the service completely unusable for an unknown proportion of its current users — people who can’t walk an extra 2-3 blocks to their stop.

  • Anne A

    Stops every half mile are fine for able bodied people (especially men). For seniors, the disabled, or anyone who is more vulnerable to crime (petite women, children), more frequent stops are important for personal safety and transportation needs in areas that aren’t well served by nearby train stops. In such areas (including much of the Ashland route) having only express service often fails to meet the needs of the communities there.

  • Anonymous

    Elliot, thanks for the intelligent reply. I understand how the BRT works and obviously, viewed in isolation it’s a well-designed system for the bus for many of the reasons you laid out. “In isolation” being the key phrase…it would certainly be good for bus riders and the CTA, but it’s pretty bad, perhaps very bad, for just about everyone else.

    Regarding the issues with seniors or people of limited mobility, it’s a somewhat touchy subject but in the end I dont think 1-2 extra blocks is an unreasonable request. Heck, isn’t this what the BRT would do anyway? I’m not trying to brush aside these cases of limited mobility or sound cold about it, but at some point the costs outweigh the benefits, and I really dont think a extra block or at most two is outrageous or inhumane.

    I dont think the BRT will work anything like it’s advertised; I think the assumptions behind it are bad. But I admit out of curiosity I think it would be interesting to see it live. Unfortunately, if nothing else, it’s basically cost prohibitive. $116 million is a TON of money for what’s essentially a science experiment. Even if it worked out, it’s not like the CTA could ever even afford to deploy BRT across the city, so to me there’s almost this pointlessness to it. The city has about a $600 million budget deficit and the CTA has a $165 million deficit, so it’s pretty disappointing to see something like the BRT be discussed as a priority. I certainly wish we had the money to afford luxuries like an experiment like this but we simply dont.

  • Anne A

    In some sections north and south, Halsted is also a suitable alternative to Ashland.

  • Fred

    All these alternates may be fine and good over longer distances, but if I am currently on Ashland and want to be a mile down Ashland, I’m certainly not going a mile over to Halsted, a mile down Halsted, then a mile back to Ashland. There have to be good local alternative routes.

  • Obviously reducing the number of stops will help bus speeds, but as the modest speed advantage of the the old express buses showed, it’s not nearly enough to make buses anywhere near as fast as cars, because buses still need to make some stops.

    Dedicated lanes are necessary for getting that additional 5.6 mph speed increase that will make bus travel almost as fast as driving. I’m confident you understand this concept, but maybe you’re choosing to ignore it, so let’s not go back and forth on this topic anymore.

  • Nope Elliot, curbside local bus service will be maintained. Also, 2 full blocks is the maximum additional travel you’d need to do to access a BRT stop instead of a local.

  • Nope, BRT promises to be a win for just about everybody: bus riders, obviously, but also pedestrians, nearby homeowners (who’ll see their property values increase) and merchants (since more people will be able to easily travel to their businesses without worrying about parking). Even motorists would only be traveling 5% slower than before, and they’ll benefit from increased safety, since there will be less speeding during non-peak hours.

    BRT is not a science experiment. It’s a proven success in dozens of cities around the world.

  • Fred, your wish is my command: http://goo.gl/maps/MpRLj

  • Scott Presslak

    Irving Park seems to jump to the top: the MPC’s study showed it’d be feasible to do the Ashland corridor ending at Irving Park and the Irving Park corridor ending at Ashland, so I imagine it’d be pretty easy to just connect the two and create a single long route. (For demand balancing, buses could still turn around at Irving Park and Ashland.)

  • Scott Presslak

    Paulina’s pretty continuous down the Ashland corridor (southbound, at least), and that’s only a block over. Wood would probably work for the reverse northbound trip south of Armitage.

  • CL

    BRT on Irving Park would be sweet — we need some faster E/W routes in that area for sure. 95th would also be a good place.

  • CL

    Yes, this is why BRT will be so much better — it’s not about the amount of stops but about the fact that they won’t need to wait for cars to let them back into traffic. Busses lose tons of time waiting for an opening after they’ve been stopped at the curb. And like you said, it’s made worse because car drivers don’t want to let the bus back in ahead of them, because then they’ll be stuck behind a bus. I’ve been guilty of this when driving — today I was driving east on 103rd St, running a bit late, and I was stuck behind a slow-moving bus for a while. I don’t race to get ahead of a bus that has started to pull back in like some people, but I was trying to get past it while it was stopped — and I was thinking about how much better it would be if the street had BRT — less stress for me, and a faster trip for passengers.

  • Luis

    Can’t Wait to ride this! Like the Metrobús in Mexico City, quick, fast, reilable and secured. Is there a spanish link I can send to my friends. Gracias =)

  • Luis

    Estupendo! llega un Metrobús a Chicago!!

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