The Virtues of Repurposing Car Lanes for Buses

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Buses bogged down in traffic on 125th Street in New York City. Photo: Matthew Engle

Slate business and economics correspondent Matt Yglesias ran an item today that nails the issue at the crux of the battle for the soul of Ashland Avenue. The CTA has proposed converting two of the travel lanes on the four-lane street to dedicated bus lanes, but the anti-BRT crowd is fighting the plan to take away space from cars and give it to people on buses. The Nimbys have floated their own proposal, disingenuously called “Modern Express Buses,” that would involve plenty of window dressing but keep buses bogged down in traffic, with zero inconvenience for drivers. Yglesias points out the virtues of reconfiguring streets like Ashland:

But the biggest possibility for bus transit wins requires something even more contentious than spending money—repurposing lanes. Virtually every street in America dedicates the majority of its space to private cars, whether as travel lanes or parking lanes. Far and away the cheapest way to speed the movement of people through congested space is to take some of those lanes away from cars and give them to buses. That will decrease your movement of vehicles, but increase your movement of people since buses are a much more efficient use of space. And it can be done at a fraction of the cost of building new transportation infrastructure from scratch.

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BRT in Mexico City. Photo: Sergio Ruiz

Hopefully, as more Chicagoans come to understand the value of repurposing lanes from cars and giving them to bus riders, support will grow for making historic changes to Ashland, and the weak-sauce MEB proposal will end up on the dustbin of history.

  • david vartanoff

    Seems to me CTA should start w/ Red Paint Lanes as on Jeffrey and queue jump traffic signals. for buses on Ashland, both of which are low buck quick fixes. When the ridership bulges, then file the EIR for the full monty having already built up an interest group to out shout the scarred NIMBYs.

  • Not a bad idea. We could also easily throw in cameras on the buses to issue citations for drivers blocking the bus stop.

  • There isn’t actually any red paint on the road on Jefferey, just the text “Bus Lane” and a white lines to the left, plus overhead and curbside signs.

    I say go for the gusto. Dedicated lanes will definitely boost ridership, whereas red paint and signal prioritization might either not have enough effect to convince people is a good idea, or enough of an effect that people might argue that BRT is not needed, when it is.

  • Anonymous

    What Mr. Yglesias did not recognize is that where ridership or development potential are very high, light rail is more cost-effective than BRT. Rail might also be a better choice if your street has the potential to become a world-class pedestrian shopping environment, or you want a safe bikeway next to your transit lane, or you care about pollution and transitioning from fossil fuel to renewable energy, or you want to attract as many drivers as possible onto transit.

  • Gunner

    Interesting how BRT examples, like the picture above, are usually from third world countries. Culture and cost are much different between entitled Americans and improvised latins.

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