CBS 2 Presents the Windshield Perspective on Loop BRT

Construction work to build the $32 million Central Loop Bus Rapid Transit project has been postponed until next year, but workers are already out replacing utility lines on downtown streets to prepare for the project. CBS 2 anchor Rob Johnson responded with a faux exposé that trots out tired clichés about the city’s purported war on cars.

“We noticed crews digging up Loop street after street with no seeming plan,” he intones. “Then we started digging and found a city plan to radically alter the heart of the Loop.” Quite the scoop, except that the BRT project, announced back in February of 2013, has been in the news for a year and a half.

The system will run between Union Station and Michigan, including dedicated bus lanes on Canal, Clinton, Washington and Madison, as well as a new transit center next to the train station. The city has said time-saving features will cut 7.5 minutes off a roundtrip across the Loop. As part of the project, workers will build a protected bike lane between the bus lane and the curb on Washington.

“If you commute to downtown Chicago for work, your life is about to change,” Johnson warns before setting off to interview people in automobiles. “City planners have decided to move buses and bikes ahead of cars.”

“I hate it,” says one motorist. “It’s crazy. Guess I’ll be on that bus.” CBS apparently couldn’t be troubled to interview an actual bus rider who would appreciate the faster ride.

CL Platform on street 12-18-13
Rendering of the Loop BRT on Washington Boulevard.

It would have been easy to find a bus rider since, as the Metropolitan Planning Council’s Peter Skosey points out in the clip, half the people who travel these streets in vehicles are already in buses. BRT will reduce travel times for all of these existing customers, while making the bus a more attractive option for new riders.

“I’m not sure the incremental inconvenience [to motorists] is going to be that great,” Skosey said. “Driving is still going to be a viable option for those who have no other choice.”

Or will it be hellish gridlock serving absolutely no purpose? “Take a look at this mess here,” says Johnson, standing by the Washington construction zone. “Three lanes shut down [and] traffic slowed to a crawl… This will be the new normal along Washington and other streets in the Loop.”

Actually, if you want to keep score by counting lanes, only two traffic lanes will be affected: There will still be two through lanes, plus left-turn lanes for motorists. The bigger mistake, though, is to frame the issue as if the bus lane and bike lane have only as much value as a construction site. If you get around the Loop without using a car, apparently, CBS2 doesn’t expect you to be watching.

Johnson concludes that the project is “driving home the point that cars are no longer welcome” in the Loop. That is to say, no longer welcome except on the remaining 95 percent or so of Loop road space.

  • skyrefuge

    Generally, I think that Streetsblog is pretty biased in their BRT reporting (ignoring/dismissing any downsides created by its implementation), but holy crap, this piece makes Streetsblog look like a paragon of journalistic integrity!

    The “scoop” framing is hilarious, and it makes me wonder what the genesis of this story actually was. Normally I would assume it was just standard ratings-bait that motivated the pro-car angle, but could this one have more simply been Rob Johnson getting pissed off by the construction on his drive into work, deciding to find out what it was for, and then getting even more pissed off when he discovered it was for buses and bikes?

  • Streetsblog is a sustainable transportation advocacy website. It’s not our role to report the news in an impartial manner. However, that is what a CBS news anchor is supposed to be doing.

  • Sarah

    Now, if this was a project to add more lanes or make the Loop even more car-friendly than it already is, they would be more than happy to put up with the construction.

  • John

    The article says a bike lane will be built on Madison. I think that is incorrect. Last I heard, the protected and/or buffered bike lanes will be on Washington and Randolph.

  • Duane

    “Rob and his wife, Stacy, live with their son in the western suburbs.”

  • skyrefuge

    Yeah, I understand Streetsblog’s approach, though I don’t know why you think a CBS news anchor “is supposed to be” held to a different, impartial standard. Just like you, they can be as biased as they want to be. Historically, news organizations have tried to be impartial because they understand that being a trustworthy source of information is what gives them an audience. Incidentally, that’s also why I think Streetsblog’s bias is actually more harmful to your goals than more-impartial arguments would be; eventually smart people start tuning out when the bias reaches Rob Johnson levels. The arguments for sustainable transportation are strong enough on their own that extra shaping isn’t worth the hit to credibility.

  • Duane

    I still find your reporting more…ahem… “fair and balanced” than most because it is comprehensive and informed. For example – despite what skyrefuge says, anything substantive I I know about the objections to BRT come from you – not other news sites with clear biases against it.

  • skyrefuge

    Oh, I agree. I might not have been able to tell quite how bad the CBS2 story was without all the information I’ve learned from SB. It would be nice if I didn’t have to run my bias-removal algorithm to get to that information, but like I said, I can still run it on a much lower setting here than I did for CBS2 story, where, even after running it on 11, I was left with no useful information.

  • Correct. Fixed the typo; thanks for pointing that out.

  • Driving in the Loop seems to be hard enough, and the fact that they were able to pull people aside in their cars to ask this only seems to reinforce that most drivers are sitting around in traffic anyway.

    What really gets me is that every day I walked to work I’d see multiple articulated buses full of passengers sitting in all the traffic caused by drivers, often alone, in their cars. Walking was faster. People may want to or have to drive, but they’re going to have to pay an increasingly higher premium to do so, in some form or another, because the Loop can’t support this.

    Love the jab about “severe weather” limiting Chicago’s bike lane use, too. As if cities with severe winters don’t have bicyclists… perhaps if the lanes were actually plowed adequately and promptly.

  • duppie

    The thing I’m looking forward to most wasn’t even mentioned: a bi-directional bike lane on Clinton. No more putting up with charter buses blocking the bikelane!

  • C Monroe

    My favorite part was when the moron was standing there on the street with all the lanes closed and said “If you think this is bad, traffic is only to get worse.” While in the background was an carless street for at least a block and a half. Also, do they pay attention to any of the government agencies press release info they receive? “We had to investigate why there is construction” what literal morons. No talking to any bus riders about the needed improvements, despite half of vehicle occupants are in buses, Just people in cars and the “bicycle elitist(guy wearing bike helmet and outfit)” I love that they even had a driver shaking her head in discust when they had the city guy talk about BRT. Even as a outsider I have been on an overcrowded bus between Union and Millennium Park train stations during rush hour(put on wrong bus from a CTA worker to wrong station, long story, crowded bus to Union and another to Millennium). Why not compare this to where it has been done elsewhere(NYC Manhattan)? Shoddy hit piece, but looking at many stories from this station on their fb page what do you expect. Hopefully no one actually watches this “news” program.

  • Eric

    The part of Washington that is torn up is directly across from the CBS studio, and maybe even more important, the CBS garage is accessed from Washington. Maybe Rob is just worried he’ll his commute will suffer a little.

  • cjlane

    “There will still be two through lanes, plus left-turn lanes for motorists”

    So, no right turn lane? Will right turns across the bus lane be prohibited?

  • cjlane

    CBS 2 has free use of the public airwaves; because of that, there was (historically) the Fairness Doctrine. It was weakened several times and withdrawn in 2011. There is no longer any ‘duty’ of impartiality.

    J-School teaches that journalists should strive for impartiality in reporting (as opposed to opinion) pieces. Rob Johnson never went to J-School–his degree is in communications.

    John’s concept of the ‘impartiality’ of TV news is simply out of date.

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