Eyes on the Street: The Loop Link BRT Corridor Continues to Take Shape

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Washington Street west of Franklin Street. Photo: John Greenfield

The Loop Link bus rapid transit route, slated to be largely complete by New Year’s Day, seems to be moving along nicely.

As I’ve discussed, some of the project’s features have been reduced, modified, or delayed. We’re not getting transit signal priority, truly level boarding, or enclosed bus stations, and the pilot of prepaid boarding will be delayed until next year. But we are getting limited stops, dedicated bus lanes, queue jumps, near-level boarding, and extra-long shelters with lots of seating, and we’ll eventually be getting prepaid boarding at all stations. As such, Loop Link should demonstrate some of the benefits of BRT and help build support for a more robust BRT system on Ashland Avenue.

Recently, crews installed green thermoplastic and bike symbols in the eastbound curbside protected bike lane that has been constructed on Washington Street along with the island bus stops and giant bus shelters, each averaging about 90 feet long and 14 feet high. A two-way, north-south PBL is largely complete on Clinton Street, and a westbound protected lane will eventually be installed on Randolph Street.

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A crew installs pavers on the platform of a bus stop on Washington east of State. Photo: John Greenfield

When I stopped by yesterday, I saw that the platforms are also taking shape, as workers install pavers and tactile warning strips at the edge of the platforms — similar to those at ‘L’ stations. Underneath the pavers are electric heating coils, which will help keep the bus stops clear of snow this winter.

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Tactile warning strips are being added to the edge of the bus platforms. Photo: John Greenfield

Seating will run almost the entire length of the shelters, so just about everyone who wants to will be able to take a load off. Wooden benches are already in at some of the stops, with metal dividers to discourage people from sleeping or skateboarding on them.

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The view from inside a shelter. Photo: John Greenfield

As part of the project, Right turns for motorists will be banned at four locations: Washington onto LaSalle Street, Madison onto Dearborn Street, Madison onto Wacker Drive and Jackson Boulevard onto Canal Street. I noticed a right-turn lane that crosses the red bus lane on Washington is taking shape at Wells.

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The turn lane at Wells. Photo: John Greenfield

There’s also a special turn lane for a parking garage on Washington just east of Wells. Presumably, all garages along Washington and Madison will get a similar treatment.

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A turn lane for a parking garage. Photo: John Greenfield

Don’t tell CDOT, but I took a spin on several segments of the Washington PBL, although they’re not actually open to the public yet. Here’s some video to prove it. The first clip is the block west of Franklin; the second is the block west of State.

You’ll notice that some portions of the bike lane are protected with closely spaced flexible posts, rather than concrete. Hopefully, the protection on these sections will eventually be upgraded to curbs, not only to improve safety for cyclists, but also to improve the aesthetics of what could turn out to be a marquee transportation project.

  • cjlane

    “a marquis transportation project”

    marquee.

  • Actually, I meant that the mainstream media has been arguing that BRT will make car commutes painful, so they view this is a marquis project, as in the Marquis de Sade.

    Just kidding, fixed, thanks.

  • rohmen

    I like the idea of curb-protected lanes, and not to be a Debbie-downer, but it’ll be interesting to see how all of them are maintained going forward.

    My understanding is that the City only has a few of the plows and sweepers needed to clear the lanes of snow and debris (or at least that’s the excuse they give as to why Lake gets so bad), and unless they’ve bulked up on the number, or these are wide enough for regular road equipment, it’ll be an interesting winter and spring.

    I know construction is still underway, but the first pic illustrates how debris just kinda sits in these things once dumped there.

  • R.A. Stewart

    So, it’s not actually a Sade commentary on the state of transit in Chicago?

  • Well, I’m hoping the new BRT system will be a “Smooth Operator.”

  • G1991

    I think this is a great project, but I really hesitate to call it “BRT” as the routes will return to just being local routes or limited routes once outside of the Loop. BRT implies that it is a full-fledged rapid transit service that serves a given corridor and connecting branches. Dedicated lanes and stations in the most densely populated parts of the central business district are common in Europe, however, and is something that U.S. cities should continue to replicate for local and limited lines. But calling Loop Link “BRT” kind of waters down the meaning of bus rapid transit and makes the definition of BRT more vague.

  • I share your concern. Someone needs to share the memo with the city that the expanding network of protected bikeways means that they also need to expand their fleet of equipment to maintain them.

  • what_eva

    Banning right turns from Jackson to Canal implies that CDOT would also get rid of the SB traffic on Canal between Jackson and Van Buren, as there would be no way to get to that SB lane.

  • You hit the nail on the head.
    We calculated the BRT score against ITDP’s BRT Standard and found that the Loop Link project barely scores a “standard”, and doesn’t come close to Bronze.

    And that’s fine. The project will still have great benefits for riders regardless of it’s calling.

    However, I’ve noticed over the past two years that CTA doesn’t use “BRT” and CDOT has lessened its use, especially after the “Loop Link” moniker was established.

  • That would be the case for private motorists. But there’s a SB section of Canal along Union Station between Adams and Jackson. Currently, though, CTA doesn’t run any buses on SB Canal south of Jackson.

  • what_eva

    I thought I saw somewhere in the planning that the transit center (approx where the 124 is on the map) will be the new turnaround for 1/28/151 as well as some of the “Loop Link” buses and the SB CTA lane from Adams to Jackson will be eliminated. ie, they’d go Adams to Clinton to the transit center, then back out on Jackson.

  • ardecila

    Yes, the contraflow lane and jersey barrier on Canal will be eliminated. This frees up some space on Canal for a more dignified taxi stand and dropoff zone with an island.

    I believe this is part of the Loop Link project, so we should see it fairly soon.

    http://www.unionstationmp.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/CanalStreet.jpg

  • al_langevin

    Sorry to disagree, but this whole project is a bust. Who and where are traffic analysis plans so we can compare the BEFORE and AFTER? Is this just someones guesstimate on time savings?

    The latest blunder on this project is “City Already Digging Up Newly Created Loop Link Bus Lane For Being Too Narrow” CBS News. Can the CTA or contractors not buy some rulers and figure out how wide the bus lanes should be? Where are the CTA staffers responsible for this project? Not inspecting the work?

    We need facts like actual stats and not a bunch of homers promoting this project. So far it’s being worked on at a snails pace as some areas have no one working and some only a few. No wonder this is taking months to finish (besides the screw ups).

  • “whole project is a bust.” Ok so right there you have caused your intended audience to assume that your comment will be a rant rather than an honest evaluation of the potential issues with the project.

    On the other hand asking where the traffic analysis is a legitimate question. But my guess is that you already have a negative bias against the project so that any before and after data presented will be discounted because it won’t be the facts you claim to want.

    You seem quick to notice the blunders. Are you noticing anything that is going well?

    As for your perception that the construction is going slowly, well think of that as a plus as it is giving drivers plenty of time to get used to no longer being able to use the lanes that will become bus exclusive.

  • If that’s the case, what should the city do with the “Extra” (southbound) lane on Canal from Jackson to Van Buren. I really dislike the configuration of streets there, because it limits the routes one must take and the routing/turn/direction configuration doesn’t seem optimized for anyone.

    And the bike lane on Canal south of Jackson is a joke. It feels unsafe to bike there to/from Harrison.

  • what_eva

    Clinton down to Harrison is much nicer

  • If the city can make it so the bike network is obvious and intuitive, then by all means reroute most cyclists onto Clinton.

    One of the issues that the city isn’t addressing after the addition of two-way bike lanes to the network, and the removal of a bike lane (of suspect usability) on Madison Street, is access-by-bike to destinations on the streets without bike lanes.

  • cjlane

    “access-by-bike to destinations on the streets without bike lanes”

    Um, it’s called “get off your bike and walk on the sidewalk”, just like transit users and car drivers and everyone else. You aren’t automatically entitled to use your preferred non-walking mode to the very threshold of your destination.

    Or do you feel that LoopLink users who no longer have a stop directly in front of their office building have a legitimate gripe, too?

  • Both Canal and Madison are having their bike lanes REMOVED.

  • cjlane

    Madison is having its bike lane moved to Randolph, and Canal to Clinton. To accommodate LoopLink.

    Is it too much burden to walk (perhaps) two blocks, for the advantages that LoopLink will provide? Someone else wants there to still be a bus stop right in front of 70 W Madison, so they don’t have to walk a block plus to catch the bus, or after getting off it.

    Should there be a south loop E-W bike route somewhere N of Harrison? Yep! Van Buren might even work pretty well for a two way route. Which still wouldn’t get you with safe, legal, bike travels all the way to every point in the Loop.

  • People ride bikes because it’s cheaper and more convenient than driving and transit, and faster than walking. Having bikeable access to businesses on every street – similar to a motorist having streets everywhere designed for their vehicle, and a parking space in front of it – is what will promote more bicycling.

  • cjlane

    But there aren’t parking spaces in front of every building in the loop, and the density requires that everyone play nicely together.

    What you are implying (even tho you will deny it) is that bikes should be prioritized over every other non-walking mode in the Loop, lest not enough people will bike into/across the Loop.

  • Alex

    You also called it “The Loop Loop” instead of the Loop Link in the first sentence

  • Fixed, thanks.

  • Bicycle infrastructure in the Loop is deficient to attain the kind of mode share shift to bicycling that the city administrations (current and prior) have said they wanted.

    Not only that, it’s really not enough to move the needle from the current low rate of bicycling, which is the only mode aside from walking that’s free and non-polluting.

    Consider this: The convenience of drivers and their access to their destination is protected and codified. Any accessory (required) parking for a property cannot be further than 600 feet away. Yet tens of thousands of businesses have no bicycle infrastructure within 600 feet. And tens of thousands more residences lack such convenient access!

  • cjlane

    First, nothing in the Loop has required parking, so that’s a strawman in this discussion.

    Second, you were complaining about a bike lane being moved 850 feet, and cited a 600 feet reference point.

    Third, the changes you were complaining about are because of LoopLink, that will make similar “negative” distance changes for some number of transit users. They should just suck it up, I guess, but it’s a problem for cyclists? I makes cycle advocates sound whiny to me.

  • al_langevin

    Yes, it’s a rant because the city is broke and I’m not seeing the benefits of spending another $100-$150 million on another questionable CTA project. When do we get our $400 million back on the Subway Superstation?

    It’s stuff like this “Just one BRT bus can take as many as 60 cars off of the road.” that make me question the whole project. People are already taking buses so you’re not taking cars off the road. What are we getting from BRT? Puffy press releases instead of data on actual travel times (before/after)?

    For now we’re stuck with more congestion as slowly moving construction crews (some days no one is working on some of the stations) try to complete this before year end. We’ll see.

  • You are right to question the benefits of infrastructure projects. Your example of the subway superstation is an excellent example of why it is reasonable to question. But that project comes from a past full of mistakes. Remember the parking meter deal? Since then the CTA, especially under Claypool, has successfully completed several expensive projects essentially on time and within budgets and delivering the predicted results. Yes like any major project this one could end up with disappointments.

    While I support this project for many reasons, I do not support it as a good example of BRT. What I support it for is its returning valuable loop geometry to transit, bicycle and pedestrian uses. Automobile usage in densely occupied spaces is a dysfunctional use that degrades the quality of the overall space. We should never have allowed individualized motorized machines at street level in downtown areas. They should have their own dedicated level separate from a transit level and separate from the human powered level. But since drivers and no one else is willing to pay for such separate levels of travel they don’t exist in downtowns.

    Therefore cars need to be placed into a second or even lower class position subservient to the better uses of movement space in downtowns. Effectively that means fewer lanes that cars may use. Keep in mind that this is a natural consequence for cars. Because they take up so much space per person cars are huge causers of congestion. As such it is only natural that they bear the brunt of their destruction of available movement space.

    You strike me as a person that sees themself as primarily a driver. Our society has created vast spaces designed for and around automobile usage. They are called suburbs. Our society has moved everything you might need into the suburbs in order to support a complete lifestyle there. In order for there to be the freedom to live without cars, for there to be a choice of a lifestyle not centered around cars, society is now restricting car usage in places designed around walking and transit. Natually since cars destroy the quality of life in dense urban city spaces any way, it is in those spaces that cars are now being driven out of.

    That’s what this Loop so-called BRT thing is doing and doing well. Indeed cars are already banned from the lanes intended for pedestrians, bikes and buses so that construction may proceed. And the loop is doing just fine in spite of the loss of some car spaces.

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