Why the Anti-Bus Rapid Transit Arguments Don’t Make Sense

CTA Ashland BRT comparison
MEB would likely be slower than the old express bus. Click to enlarge. Chart by Steven Vance and John Greenfield.

I gotta hand it to the folks from the anti-bus rapid transit group the Ashland-Western Coalition, they’re nothing if not tenacious. On Wednesday they held another public meeting at Orlando Glass and Trim, 641 North Ashland Avenue, to discuss their strategy to derail the CTA’s plan to create fast, reliable bus rapid transit service on Ashland. Another meeting will be held this Friday, August 30, at 1 p.m. at First Baptist Congregational Church, 1613 West Washington. RSVP to AshlandWesternCoalition[at]gmail.com if you want to attend, but it’s probably best not to tell them you heard about the meeting here.

The coalition’s main beefs against the BRT plan are that it will involve converting two of the four travel lanes on Ashland to dedicated, car-free bus lanes, as well as the prohibition of most left turns. I’ll address their concerns about these changes later in this post. Claiming to be transit advocates, they have put forth a watered-down alternative proposal, dubbed “Modern Express Bus” service. This would include some BRT-style features like fewer stops, traffic signal prioritization, and front-and-rear bus boarding.

However, if you look at the chart above, you’ll see that MEB would essentially be a return to the old, slow #X9 Ashland Express, plus a bit of window dressing. While the X9 made 75 percent fewer stops than the local buses, it crawled along at 10.3 mph during peak hours, only a bit faster than the 8.9 mph locals, because it got stuck behind the glut of private cars. Despite the MEB proposal’s BRT-like features, the MEB buses would only make 30 percent fewer stops than the locals, stopping almost three times as often as the X9, so they would likely be even slower than the old express bus. It’s obvious the coalition’s main concern isn’t improving transit but rather but rather avoiding having to change their driving habits.

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Roger Romanelli. The AWC also deserves credit for creating funny signs. Photo: Mike Brockaway

I wasn’t able to attend yesterday’s meeting, but let’s take a look at the coalition’s arguments as reported in DNA Info by Mike Brockaway, who also writes the blog The Expired Meter. He’s an often-insightful commentator on local parking policy, but it must be noted that his writeup for the news site, probably unintentionally, shows some anti-BRT bias.

For example, he writes that the meeting included “a presentation outlining the negative impact the city’s plan on the street and neighborhoods, an outline of the group’s alternative proposal and what the group needs to do next to succeed.” This phrasing assumes that BRT will have a harmful effect on communities. In reality, besides cutting travel times for bus riders, the plan will result in safer, more pleasant conditions for pedestrians. Judging by the experience of other cities, it will also lead to more vibrant retail districts and higher property values.

Also, like almost all recent articles about BRT in the local media, Brockaway’s piece include quotes from coalition members and other anti-BRT residents complaining about the plan, with responses from CTA officials. This creates a David-and-Goliath narrative, suggesting a struggle between community members and the city bureaucracy. No airtime is given to the dozens of businesses and organizations that have signed on as official supporters of the plan, let alone the 1,700-plus residents who have signed an Active Transportation Alliance petition supporting the plan or contacted their aldermen to endorse it.

1wab-center
CTA rendering of center-running BRT with travel lane removals.

Now let’s take a look at the arguments put forth at Wednesday’s meeting, held in the glass shop’s parking lot and led, once again, by Roger Romanelli, who has repeatedly denied being the leader of the coalition. “We want the best public transit for our city,” Romanelli said at the event. See the above chart again for a reminder of how this isn’t true.

“I’m confident an hour after this is done everyone in charge will realize ‘Oh my god, what have we done?'” said Jay Goltz of the Goltz Group. “To suggest it won’t have an impact on business is crazy.” BRT will indeed have an impact on business, a positive one, by making it much easier for employees and customers to get to industrial and retail businesses by bus, as well as improving pedestrian access.

Romanelli and others worried that the conversion of car lanes to bus lanes would force traffic onto residential streets. While it’s true that there will be 50 percent less capacity for motor vehicles on Ashland, the predicted Carmageddon is not going to materialize. On New York City’s First Avenue, where two out of five travel lanes were converted to a dedicated lane for Select bus service and a protected bike lane, the average car speed, as measured by GPS in taxis, actually increased. Meanwhile bus speed and ridership also rose and the crash rate fell.

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The meeting at Orlando Glass and Trim. Photo: Mike Brockaway

There would be an increase in traffic jams on Ashland if the same number of people who drive there now continued to do so with fewer lanes. But once people are given the option of taking a bus that’s virtually as fast as driving, minus the costs and headaches, many motorists will choose to switch modes. Other drivers will choose alternate routes, like Western Avenue, Damen Avenue, Halsted Street and the Kennedy Expressway.

There’s also the phenomenon of traffic evaporation, the fact that when you eliminate space for cars, you also take away the demand for it because people tend to make fewer unnecessary trips. For example, converting car lanes to bus lanes has been a core part of Paris’s traffic reduction strategy, and they’ve made huge progress. Since there will be fewer cars on Ashland, the CTA is projecting that vehicle speeds will only be reduced by 4.9 percent.

As for the left-turn prohibition, the city is planning for a few exceptions at locations like expressway entrances, but it won’t be hard for delivery trucks and other vehicles to plan their routes so as to eliminate left turns. In fact, delivery services like UPS already have a policy of avoiding left turns so as to save time and fuel.

“The CTA has not taken every measure they can to modernize the Ashland buses – we deserve to see that,” Romanelli said at the meeting. “The CTA has an obligation to improve Ashland bus service.” Although he was making an argument for implementing the anemic MEB proposal instead of city’s robust plan, his words were accurate. The CTA does have an obligation to provide the most modern, efficient bus service possible on Ashland, and that means repurposing car lanes to create BRT.

  • HJ

    Good grief, I am sick of these people. I desperately hope Rahm lives up to the proud history of ramming projects down the general public’s throat with this project. For once it is clearly…PAINFULLY clear, that this will dramatically benefit the city.

  • Quickie typo report: you doubled a phrase.

    isn’t improving transit but rather but rather avoiding but rather avoiding having to change their driving habits.

  • Anonymous

    Other than comments at the CTA page, what’s the best way to express support for this proposal?

  • Andrew

    Sign this Active Trans petition and contact your alderman, thanks! http://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/50110/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=10813

  • Brian

    And your write-ups don’t show bias? You wouldn’t know balance if it hit you on the head!
    Anyway, I certainly don’t follow the argument that BRT will HELP business, especially if there are fewer cars on the road. There is not data to show how many car trips can be replaced by bus. My guess is very few, if any. Very few trips originate and terminate on Ashland, so you are going to have far fewer drivers on Ashland to visit the businesses. I”m not sure how vibrant a retail district would be when less people have access to it.

    BRT is a BAD idea, let’s hope this initiative goes nowhere.

  • Brian

    PAINFULLY clear that this will dramatically benefit the city? That’s a bit dramatic, don’t you think? Can you outline the benefits, because I certainly don’t see any

  • Anonymous

    DNA Info is not an advocacy group. They’re supposed to be objective. Streetsblog is an advocate for safer streets and never makes claims to be without bias. They are biased toward supporting people and communities over cars, and they don’t hide that! As for being good for business, it won’t be good for every business but it will be good for most and for economic development in general – check out http://www.masstransitmag.com/article/10879045/bus-rapid-transit-means-rapid-economic-growth

  • Anonymous

    How about picking any of the myriad of documented benefits and challenging it rather than simply playing the see no evil role, i.e., placing your hands over your eyes so that you don’t see what is in front of you?

    On the other hand, you could quite legitimately say that you can’t see any harm in the project, as there is a paucity of reasoned analysis behind any claim of harm. In fact, I can’t even pick out an argument to challenge. If, for example, Romanelli’s argument is that “The CTA has an obligation to improve Ashland bus service”, then the only answer is the proposed Ashland BRT. After all, the so-called MEB proposal doesn’t even achieve the level of service the X9 did. What a buffoon . . .

  • Thanks for all that sourced info. Unfortunately (for you and yours), anyone who actually follows the livable streets movement knows that there are scores of studies and real life, empirical evidence that improving transit service DOES replace car trips, IS good for businesses, and often doesn’t impact car travel nearly as much as drivers fear. I understand if you don’t like buses or don’t want to change your personal driving habits, but everything you just said has been contradicted by the actual evidence of results where BRT has occurred in other US cities and non-US cities.

  • Anonymous

    Rather than speaking from a position of fear and conjecture, try reading some of the studies of the economics of BRT. There are tons of them out there, and none have found that BRT has harmed the commercial areas that it serves. To the contrary, it has helped them to grow and prosper.

    In a city that increasingly home to people that walk, bike, and take transit, what value is there to corridor businesses to have pass-through traffic zipping by their doorstep – traffic that will discourage pedestrians and other users that do not constitute pass-through, but rather shopping traffic?

    It is not true that less people will have access to the district. It is true that less cars will drive through it on their way to other locales. The traffic gained – transit users (more people in less space than in cars), pedestrians, and perhaps a few bicyclists (though Ashland is not a bike route), will be of a the type that have time to actually look around and see businesses, even taking time to drop in and buy something.

    You’re looking at the project through a carnival mirror of distorted truth.

  • Al Lux

    Many times on the streetsblog comment section I encounter claims like “there is plenty of empirical evidence to show x” and the conversation ends at that. I don’t want to sound like a jerk, but it would help your argument, and the discussion in general, if people could link to the “empirical evidence” or just state a bit more.

    I certainly believe transit has the potential to replace car trips – if there is evidence to show that this is or isn’t the case, I’d like to know about it.

  • Anonymous

    Use Google – the research and data is easy to find.

    Just as a shoot from the hip quick anecdotal observation, take a look at what happened with the highly successful I-55 Shoulder-riding BRT/Express. Those folks were mode shifted, as they were sick of driving in traffic on I-55.

    The body of research contains a lot more scholarly support for high quality transit and mode shift. Pricing yields even greater mode shift where viable alternatives to driving exist.

  • Al Lux

    Your response is kind of in the same category: “there is plenty of evidence, just look for it.” Again doesn’t really help. If you really want to sway people, you need to show them that the evidence exists.

    Anyway, that said, despite my reservations on the overall usefulness of a stand alone BRT route on Ashland Ave (given the potential costs) I am curious for the project to go forward and to see how things turn out. They could turn out good, which would be great. They could turn out bad, which wouldn’t be so great. So let’s have an experiment and see how things turn out.

    Back to the original question I commented on – what Shane Phillips and you are discussing is the ability of transit to attract “choice riders” – riders who can drive or have some other means of getting from A to B.

    The most obvious points I consider in the choice rider question is: does the transit service fulfill an individual’s A to B trip pattern? If it doesn’t it’s not going to attract a choice rider. Second is cost: even if getting form A to B is somewhat convoluted with the transit system, how does the overall cost of the trip (money or time) compare? There are many other things to consider but I think these are the two most important.

    This is why, as I have said many times in the past on this message board – the “slam dunk” for BRT advocates would be to develop a BRT network for Chicago. It would fulfill more of the A to B trip pairs at relatively high speed (low time cost) and would therefore be highly attractive to many people – not just those with A to B trips along Ashland.

    Just my two cents…

  • Chicagio

    “Very few trips originate and terminate on Ashland…”

    You show the double standard that’s used for transportation planning that has gotten this country in the mess it currently is in right now.
    Every argument for a new highway, “Businesses will seek to locate near this new highway we’re building.”
    That same person arguing against public transit, “Why should we build new transit? No one goes along that route.”

    See the difference? Somehow it’s considered okay to build a road understanding that land development will eventually change to take advantage it. Whereas when we build transit, the land development must be in place before we’ll consider it. This is a terrible strategy as it drives the cost of building transit through the roof. Let’s build the Ashland BRT the right way, the way it’s currently planned by the CTA. Then over the next decade, watch the land use shift to take advantage of the infrastructure.

  • Anonymous

    People that are unwilling to take five or ten minutes to simply research their own questions are unlikely to be swayed by links that another provides for them, as they typically have a high level of disinterest in information that conflicts with their world view.

    Yes, that’s a generalization, but grounded in decades of experience. It is one thing to debate with someone that has reviewed literature and cites issues with it, it is a completely different thing to enter into debate with someone that is unwilling to invest the most minimal amount of time seeking answers to what they claim are legitimate questions.

    If a person has legitimate questions, they will not wait for others to lead them by the nose ring to the answers they seek, particularly where the answer is a few keystrokes away from them.

    Yes, transit does have to serve trips. As for the value of Ashland BRT in helping people get from point A to point B (trips they are already taking), I suggest that you might want to look at the RTA Travel Market analysis for the Cook-DuPage Corridor. That’s as far as I have time to lead you down the path to water.

  • Anonymous

    I’m sure all agree that BRT network (Irving Park, Western, etc.) would be better than BRT on Ashland only. I guess the worst outcome here would be if the Ashland project were to fail because the network effects were not great enough. (Like if Divvy only put in a few stations and no one used it.) My fingers are crossed.

  • Alex Oconnor
  • Alex Oconnor

    Wrong.

  • Thanks Lindsay, you are correct. Although we work hard to provide accurate info, we are an advocacy site and it’s not our mission to provide impartial coverage. However, DNA is supposed to be a “fair and balanced” news source. They’re generally do a decent job with this, but this is a case where they slipped up.

  • If you’d like one such study, read the follow-up to a study that was done on this matter in the latae 90s (the follow up is from the early 00s). It is called “Disappearing Traffic: The story so far”. I used it to respond to a Sun Times piece that said reducing any lane traffic on LSD to create bus lanes would cause traffic mayhem.

    The study specifically states that in many instances and with proper, adequate planning, reducing traffic capacity (like reducing Ashland capacity by 50%) results in the traffic patterns shifting geographically, shifting temporally, shifting modes (car to bus/train/bike), or disappearing altogether.

  • Fred

    Well stated.

  • Al Lux

    Alex O’Connor, what on earth are you talking about.

    Evidence is irrelevant to me?? I am asking for evidence because I value it! I have pre-concluded the evidence based on my ideology? What is my ideology? My only ideology is in the evidence and generally the scientific process! Somebody makes a claim (an empirical claim) about transit trips replacing car trips so I ask for clarification. This really heats you up so much? I don’t think it was too unreasonable a thing to ask.

    Second, please know that the two links you have provided are not “studies” in the empirical sense. Call me an obstinate fool, I don’t care. The first “study” you link to is a “planning guide” for BRT systems. It contains no empirical research on the impacts of BRT systems. Moreover, section 3.9, “Planning Stage IX: Impacts” practically does not cite any empirical literature regarding the impacts of BRT. The best thing I found to our discussion was a citation on p. 281 that 10% of Bogota’s TransMilenio ridership where persons who previously drove a private vehicle to work. That’s interesting enough.

    The second “study” you linked to is an informational page from the Port Authority of Allegheny County with bullet points that is basically a BRT brochure. I don’t know why you linked to this.

    Finally, your third link is a google search link. Ok I get the point. I can look through everything and figure it out for myself. But that’s not the way rational discussion goes. When somebody makes an assertion (an empirical assertion) it would be nice if that person were able to back that assertion up when someone else asks for clarification. If there is no evidence to back the claim, then the assertion is not an assertion.

    I’m trying to be the reasonable on here but since my views don’t gel with yours I am somehow intellectually lazy and drowning in my wayward ideology…

  • StanleyZ

    So if people are given the BRT option, how many will give up the car and take BRT? Your comparison would be great to see the # of cars each option reduces car traffic. Also, can you show if there are increases on the alternate routes? My concern, living closer to Damen, is the additional cars weaving over to Damen. Are there any studies to say how many people will give up a car and take the BRT? It seems in Chicago, most people (whatever that number is) who already drive will keep driving.

  • Al Lux

    Hi Coolebra, I think I have a pretty good grasp of the literature although you may disagree. I generally don’t wait for others to lead me by the nose ring to the answers, though again you may disagree.

    Let me ask you this: when someone makes a claim, is the onus of proof on the person who makes the claim, or the person who questions the person who made the claim?

    Usually, in everyday life, it’s the former. Somehow the normal logic of argumentation has been flipped around here. Someone makes a claim, some questions the claim, and then all of a sudden the person who questions is the one who is intellectually lazy. This is known as an “ad hominem” argument.

  • Al Lux

    Thanks, I will look at this.

  • EGP_GUY

    I think one of the great things about the BRT (as opposed to immediately investing in a $500 million new EL line) is its flexibility. It could be adjusted to run an L path along, say, Fullerton or Irving Park some day. If it’s a disaster for cars the lines can be redrawn to allow cars and move toward a design where cars share the bus lane during certain hours. Not saying these are good ideas, but once complete the ability to tweak it is not over. Plus when driver-less vehicle technology gets here in 10 years a system like this will be able to take full advantage.

  • Al Lux

    I agree that flexibility is a plus of BRT vehicles/systems.

  • I’m looking into getting access to the CMAP study that the CTA is getting its numbers from. We may also do a future post that looks on the impact that BRT has had on driving patterns in other cities. Steven’s post on NYC’s Select bus service is a good starting point for info on this subject: http://chi.streetsblog.org/2013/05/23/new-yorks-experience-shows-ashland-bus-lanes-wont-cause-carmaggedon

  • Tamemeisce

    It WILL dramatically benefit the city. The fastest form of public transportation that the city has to offer is the EL. The EL can be a pain, but the majority of the time it is faster and cheaper than driving in the city. The only problem with the EL is that all of its lines go to the city center. Ideally the system needs a second loop outside the city center, so that people can take more efficient routes to where they want to go. The current configuration provides for great ability to move into the center, but the system lacks quick reliable transit north and south outside the city center, where a large majority of the population live. The only quick public transport that goes north and south is the red line. Other than that, you would have to drive via LSD or take the highway, and these many times are quite sluggish. The current transportation configuration is disadvantageous to a large majority of the population, since the red line only serves people living close to the lake. The Ashland BRT can provide people living farther west of downtown the ability to move more efficiently north and south at a far smaller cost than providing light rail or a new El line, not to mention how long it would take to vet an above ground rail to neighborhoods that would have to deal with the construction and noise from trains.

    The success of Divvy is showing that Chicagoans want transportation alternatives other than cars. This is a great opportunity to try and change how our city operates.

  • Anonymous

    No, Al Lux, now you also have the definition of an ad hominem argument wrong, as well.

    Again, the answers to both your initial question, as well as the correct definition of an ad hominem argument, are – and I’ll tug the rope a little harder here – both readily available just a few key strokes away using Google.

    Know what an argument from ignorance is? It is not your counterpart’s responsibility to prove your ignorance, as it is self-evident and easily remedied without the help of others.

    And BTW, in reading your reply to Alex above, you also need to Google what an assertion is. OK, I’ll throw you a bone on this one, but I really doubt it will do little other than bounce off your head. When you write, “If there is no evidence to back the claim, then the assertion is not an assertion”, you should know that is exactly when it is, in fact, an assertion: When something is stated in declarative fashion without support, it is, by definition, an assertion. Geeze, the assertion is not an assertion? You’ve gotta be kidding me, man.

    At this point I can see that your nose is bleeding from me tugging you down the right path, so in an act of overwhelming empathy for your intellectual incapacity to enter into debate, I’ll let you have the last word and will leave you to wander the wilderness in blissful ignorance, albeit with a bloody nose-ring.

  • Al Lux

    About assertions, if there is no evidence to back up the
    claim, then the assertion is false. That’s the only point I was trying to make. I hope that people understood the gist of what I was trying to say. I hope you can get over my slip up.

    I stand by my original point that if someone makes a
    claim the onus of proof should be on the person making the claim, not the person who questions the claim. Is so unreasonable?

    Finally I regret your snarky tone, nosebleeds/wandering the
    wilderness and all.

  • Anonymous

    Do you really “certainly believe transit has the potential to replace car trips”?

    It seems that if you’d really “like to know” about evidence of mode shift in response to transit you’d look for it, not wait for others to deliver it to you . . . and then try to pick it apart.

    Google disingenuous.

    Tug. Tug. I’m getting rope burns.

  • Al Lux

    Yes I do certainly believe transit has the potential to replace car trips. I don’t know why you think am being so disingenuous. What’s your beef with me? I don’t get it. Should I say that I take transit almost every day? (this is true) Brown line to Red line to Blue Line.

    As I have said many times before on this message board that there is nothing more I would like to see than a BRT network in Chicago.

    I think transit’s ability to attract choice riders hinges on a few things.

    One is the idea of coverage. Does the transit system fulfill the pattern of local/regional trips and does allow it allow for a diverse combination of origins and destinations to be linked together? The bus system is on basically on every major/minor arterial so most locations in space are are “covered” by the transit network but then there is the question of service quality. Even though two origin-destination pairs may be “covered” by the transit network – what is the time cost separating two points? A good transit network should strive to increase coverage and reduce the time cost of travel. I think these points are key to attracting choice riders.

    I think transit’s ability to attract choice riders also depends on overall pricing of the transportation system. If gas prices go up, parking costs increase, or basically if the cost of driving increases, then transit becomes more attractive from a cost perspective.

    There could be other things that affect the ability of transit to attract choice riders (safety, quality of the ride) but the points I have mentioned are the ones that jump out at me the most.

    Can you accept that I am genuinely curious to know about examples where transit investments attracted choice riders?

  • Al Lux

    By the way, I’d love a free philosophy lesson, I took one in college and I didn’t do so well. But according to these (you told me to google it):

    https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/ad-hominem
    http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/ad-hominem.html

    I don’t think i was too far off in my usage of ad hominem.

    I make a claim questioning you,
    You say I am lazy

    Therefore I am wrong and you are right.

  • Anonymous

    This is THE question. Everything about the BRT not disrupting traffic/businesses or causing increased traffic on other side streets comes back to this single assumption: how many drivers will switch to the bus. If I remember correctly, their model implies that that 1/8 vehicles on Ashland will instead choose the BRT. How they figure lane capacity will be reduced by 50% while the number of vehicles will be reduced by 13%, yet vehicle speeds will be virtually unaffected is beyond me, and I still haven’t heard an explanation of it. How CMAP arrived at 1/8, we dont have the foggiest idea, although we do know that their model is flawed to begin with because it assumed a large network of over 100 miles of BRT (which would cost over $2 billion!!!) that spanned the city, which isn’t anywhere close to the real world and will lead to inflated estimates.

    Obviously, we know that as long as it’s got all these bells and whistles (dedicated lanes, signal priority, fewer stops, preboard pay) the BRT itself will be much faster than the current #9. The benefits are pretty obvious and I mostly dont dispute them. The problem is that the proponents instantly dismiss every drawback associated with it…just seeing what they want to see, or in some cases just saying they dont care.

  • Anonymous

    Even one BRT line has network benefits, because all of CTA is a continuous network. A choice rider who previously balked at taking two buses to their destination might reconsider if one of those buses was actually BRT. I also believe many existing CTA riders will alter their trips to use the Ashland BRT, probably instead of a transfer in the Loop.

    All this discussion has focused on the poor Ashland drivers, but little attention has been paid to the people who don’t even travel along Ashland currently because it’s so slow and inefficient.

  • Anonymous

    No, I agree; I hope this is the outcome.

  • Anonymous

    Looking at this from a 50,000 ft perspective…

    Ignoring the community/activist context for now, the compromise “Modern Express Bus” (a dedicated lane would help, but isn’t really crucial) may actually be better for transit. Branching divides frequency, and a local/limited split is a form of branching. At peak hours, and perhaps the weekday mid-day, the frequency may be high enough that additional waiting time is made up for with slightly quicker trip times. The problem arises at off peak times, when each service can only support a frequency of every 10-15 minutes or worse. The result in that case will likely be scheduled bus bunching, and unbalanced passenger loads. Instead of one bus scheduled every 7-10 minutes, in some locations along the route two buses may be scheduled every 15 minutes. As customers have been shown to board the first bus that comes that goes where they want to go, regardless of the destination sign, the end result will be unbalanced passenger loads, worse frequency, and worse overall travel times.

    See Jarrett Walker’s comments on Geary Ave in San Francisco: http://sf.streetsblog.org/2013/08/13/jarrett-walker-new-geary-brt-option-could-provide-faster-service/ and my comment/analysis on Colfax Ave in Denver: http://pedestrianobservations.wordpress.com/2013/07/16/are-express-trains-worth-it/#comment-10157 for further analysis of the problem of local/limited splits.

    Using my second example (both routes feature front-door boarding, no TSP, no bus lanes), the savings from stopping every 1/2 mile instead of every 1/4 mile is about 1 minute per mile. As transit trips, especially off peak, are usually skewed to locations relatively close to the users origin, the frequency of both routes needs to be very high in order for a split to save overall time.

    For sake of completeness, I would like to see a proper total (waiting+trip time) analysis for all options, plus two additional options:
    BRT as proposed, but with 1/4 mile stop spacing.
    Curbside bus “MEB” as proposed, with 1/4 mile stop spacing.

  • Thanks for the feedback. MEB isn’t a compromise, except in the sense that it would compromise the CTA’s ability to provide fast, reliable bus service. As outlined above, MEB buses would almost certainly run slower that even the old, 10.3 mph X9 Express buses, because they would stop almost three times as often.

    The dedicated, car-free lanes are the crucial element for moving buses quickly and reliably during peak hours, the most important time for commuting. They’re the main reason the BRT buses will run about 60 percent faster than the X9, and about twice as fast as the current local buses. And since there will be no cars to block the buses, customers will be able to plan on catching a bus at its scheduled time and calculate accurately how long their trip will take.

    BRT that stopped every quarter mile would not only be much slower, it would also be more expensive, since twice as many stations would need to be built. The Curbside MEB as proposed would stop more frequently than every quarter mile, which would be eliminating 50 percent of stops. MEB only eliminates 30 percent of stops. As a result, it would be likely be slower than leisurely bicycle riding, so it’s not worth taking seriously as a strategy for speeding up bus service.

  • Anonymous

    “The dedicated, car-free lanes are the crucial element for moving buses quickly and reliably during peak hours, the most important time for commuting.” What your reply is missing is any discussion about frequency of both routes. A more frequent route on a “compromise” 1/4 mile stop spacing can easily offset two relatively infrequent routes, of which one stops every 1/2 and another 1/8 mile. This is basic transit route geometry, and can’t be avoided.

    I am working from a few assumptions:

    – 1/2 mile stop spacing is too far for some customers, like seniors and people with disabilities to travel, but preferred by customers who are travelling a longer distance. Therefore, additional stops are needed for the first group of customers.

    – 1/8 mile stop spacing is too close to be efficient, but favored by *some* seniors and people with disabilities. Therefore, fewer stops are needed for service to be more efficient.

    – Even with the planned BRT route, end-to-end trips (of which there are fewer in number than local trips) are more quickly served by some combination of walking or east-west bus routes to either the Red, Green, Purple, or Brown CTA routes. The CTA is a grid system with rail express lines, with the result that one-transfer trips of which one leg is on an Ashland route may find it quicker to use another radial, depending on their destination. The sum is greater than the parts!

    – – Subpoint: A RER-ified frequent Metra system with high-quality bus-rail transfers would be very useful for non-CBD trips like from one end to the other on Ashland. Even assuming a current operating paradigm, it is possible for Metra+CTA trips to be quicker than an Ashland BRT route. http://goo.gl/maps/SmWNn Even without additional capital spending, Metra could be made more like an express-CTA network through a minimum 30 minute frequency off peak and integrated ticketing. Organization before concrete!

    – If one route is tailored for the customers who are able and fit to walk further distances, and another for customers unable to walk greater distances (read, the current proposal), then service will need to be divided between each route. This works best at peak hours, but falls apart more and more as demand requires less service at other hours. Therefore, a single service will mathematically produce the highest frequency.

    And this is how a single route with 1/4 mile stop spacing is preferable to the current plan.

    The current 9 – Ashland route takes 114 scheduled minutes to travel one way between 95th and the terminus at Clark and Irving Park during the evening rush hour, a short distance past the BRT route planned terminus at Irving Park and Ashland. Of course, a two hour bus ride is unacceptable, but remember that most customers will find a rail/rail+bus combination to better serve their needs, especially if one end of their trip isn’t on Ashland.

    The BRT route is modeled at just about 61 minutes between 95th and Irving Park. Surely a 53 minute difference seems rather drastic (and indeed it is), but look closer.

    I will just go ahead and round off the additional three minutes as a consequence of diverting the terminus over a few blocks, to make the routes most comparable. Now the difference is 50 minutes.

    There usually is a slight optimistic bias in favor of transit vehicle speed when modeled. The Orange Line in LA and the Health Line in Cleveland both slightly underestimated modeled trip time compared to actual trip time. While I am uncertain how well the CTA did their homework, I will assume a 4 minute penalty, which is about an additional 15 seconds per mile, for a BRT trip distance of about 65 minutes. The difference between a *scheduled* trip and a *modeled* trip is down to 46 minutes.

    Using the Denver example in my original comment, switching from 1/4 to 1/2 mile stops saves about 1 mile a minute. As the corridor is 16 miles long, this saves 16 minutes. The difference is 30 minutes

    The 30 remaining minutes are the result of some combination of TSP, dedicated lanes, off board payment, or any other small improvements not listed. These BRT-like features save about 2 minutes per mile (which is less outside of rush hour). In other words, the BRT improvements help, but the off board payment and TSP should be implemented on all CTA routes systemwide anyway. I don’t know exactly how many minutes hybrid all door boarding (cash paid to the driver like now, but everyone else can use rear door(s) if desired) would save the current #9 route, but I would guess about 30 seconds per mile, or 8 minutes.

    A side note about TSP: While it would be great for it to be on every route, when multiple frequent routes intersect, who gets priority. TSP shows diminishing returns when multiple buses from various routes can be expected to arrive at the same intersection at the same time.

    A full BRT route with 1/4 mile stop spacing will take about 77-81 minutes, with a savings of about 2 minutes a mile, and a 35 minute total time savings over the current route.

    While I don’t have detailed on-off data, my guess is that very few people ride the route the whole way. The NTD reports that the average CTA bus trip is 2.3 miles. Assuming system averages apply to this route, the average customer would only notice a 6 minute difference. A small number like this is easily outweighed by the increase in frequency both routes inevitably experience when branching occurs. Also keep in mind that most travel surveys penalize out-of-vehicle time over in-vehicle time (rain, wind, bad drivers don’t affect the customer inside).

    Who wins with a divided service?
    – Customers making long trips. (Who would likely win even more with existing or more frequent rail service).
    Who loses?
    – Customers making short trips (Reduced frequency)
    – Customers unable to walk to a 1/2 mile station (Who don’t experience any BRT improvements)

    What can be seen here is that a BRT route with 1/4 mile stop spacing serves the greatest number of customers effectively.

  • Anonymous

    In addition to the novel above, three additional points:

    “…during peak hours, the most important time for commuting” Be mindful of middle-class bias. Not every customer is commuting to work, and not every customer is travelling at peak hours. It is the off-peak customers most affected by branching.

    “…10.3 mph X9 Express buses”
    Customers don’t care about the speed of the vehicle so much as the total time. See a related Human Transit article: http://www.humantransit.org/2010/03/illusions-of-travel-time-in-transit-promotion.html

    “…would also be more expensive”

    http://pedestrianobservations.wordpress.com/2011/05/19/high-costs-should-not-be-an-excuse-to-downgrade-projects/ High costs should not be an excuse to downgrade projects. If the slightly more expensive (remember that stations are only a fraction of the total budget, the rest in curb work, repaving, traffic lights, etc that would be needed anyway) alternative serves customers better, then a way to fund it should be found.

  • Alex Oconnor

    Yes it is a search link to indicate to you that evidence in support of BRT & economic benefit are quite easy to find if one takes even a modicum of effort. Or Try Google scholar if you want more “studies” which you will then also dismiss as not valid.

    And no your are not intellectually lazy because your views disagree with mine. You are intellectually lazy because you are too lazy to even search and look into evidence presented.

    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=empirical+data+economic+brt+benefits&hl=en&as_sdt=0&as_vis=1&oi=scholart&sa=X&ei=OuIlUpqWM6O4sATNwoGACg&ved=0CCkQgQMwAA

  • Anonymous

    Alright, I’m sold. I suggest doing some research to feed your curiosity. Key terms might include “transportation elasticities”, “evidence of transit mode shift”, etc.

    When you find the studies, review the references as well. Then build new search terms based on what you’re seeing and/or search for author names that tend to pop-up on the studies you find.

  • Anonymous

    [shaking head]

    You’re missing the point, Al Lux. There can’t be an ad hominem argument where no disagreement exists. As you’ve noted, we’re in agreement on the question of whether mode shift occurs in response to transit, not debating who is right and who is wrong.

    The question is whether you should invest time in locating the research you seek rather than trying to get others to do your work for you.

    Clearly you can use Google, so that isn’t the obstacle, apparently.

  • Al Lux

    Thanks for taking the time to write all that down. A most informative post for anyone who is interested in transit operations. You obviously know what you are talking about.

  • Alex Oconnor

    Hear, Hear! Yes. And Yes

  • David

    Question for everyone here. Do we know why the CTA is keeping the local service as well as the BRT? I don’t understand why we need both. Won’t the continuing local busses slow down the only lane for cars?

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