Eyes on the Street: Private Buses in the Loop Link BRT Lanes

It’s been about two months since the Loop Link bus rapid transit system launched, and the system is still facing some growing pains. The city hopes the network of dedicated bus lanes with platform stations will eventually double bus speeds along the corridor from the previous, glacial, 3 mph rush hour average, but so far it doesn’t seem like that target has been reached.

One of the main reasons is the CTA’s current policy of requiring bus operators to approach the platforms no faster than 3 mph to avoid striking passengers with mirrors. The agency plans to lift this speed limit once the bus drivers and customers get more comfortable with the system.

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The Loop Link lane on the Madison Street bridge. Photo: John Greenfield

Another issue that needs to be addressed is unauthorized vehicles using the bus lanes. Unlike BRT systems in some other cities, the Loop Link lanes generally don’t have physical barriers to discourage the drivers of other buses and cars from entering them, and they’re not photo enforced.

So far, I haven’t witnessed or heard about major problems with car or taxi drivers in the Loop Link lanes. But a Streetsblog reader, who wished to remain anonymous, tells me there’s a recurring issue with non-CTA buses using the Loop Link lanes, especially on westbound Madison Street during the evening rush.

The reader sent us the videos in this post, showing private buses on the Madison bridge around 5 p.m. on a weekday. Although it’s hard to tell in the videos, the bridge has a red lane marked “CTA Bus Only,” delineated with flexible posts. Yes, the red paint on the bridge (unlike the red concrete used for most of the Loop Link lanes) has been chipping badly — the Chicago Department of Transportation says the contractor will be required to fix this.

It would be great if the city contacted the offending bus lines, The Free Enterprise System and the Aon Center shuttle, and ask them to remind their drivers not to use the Loop Link lanes. If that doesn’t work, the police department should do some ticketing stings.

As a staff member from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy told me, Chicagoans should try to be patient while the city works all the kinks out of the new system. But that trouble-shooting should include addressing all the issues that are currently slowing down CTA buses on the corridor, including unauthorized use of the lanes.

  • I agree with you. Ashland BRT I would expect to be judged by speed improvement. Although I guess that the CTA could lose the perceptions battle by over promising especially at the start of the delivery of the project.

    You have a much closer view of what is going on day to day than I. Really the stretch between Mich and State is a key bottle neck? I remember during the reconstruction of Congress between Michigan and the River they used to regularly have low level traffic “cops” (interns, newbies??) directing and managing the traffic. I bet two or three of those kinds of people personally calling out bad behavior on the spot would be even more effective and cheaper than towing in such a short stretch. What do you think?

  • neroden

    Drop off on the cross street.

  • neroden

    Can’t call it BRT if it goes at 3 mph, however. Really this *has* to be fixed and it should never have been required in the first place.

  • My suggestion for a fix for the Loop Link is to quit calling it BRT. I call it a Bus Priority Transitway. It real utility is as a test track for BRT features. Its own best feature is that it defines clear limits for cars and it smooths operation for the buses that use it.

    And right it is not Rapid, so lets quit claiming that it is or for that matter ever will be. Even doubling the speed to 6mph cannot make it rapid over such a short distance with so many close together stops.

  • That is true, I just assumed they do. That being said, I’d be rather surprised if large coach buses were routinely carrying very few people.

  • cjlane

    It would help–especially if there were on a Segway to move up and down the block quickly.

    Yes, most days, *during* rush hour, there are multiple cars blocking the left thru lane both bt Mich & Wabash, *and* bt Wabash & State. And *not* just pausing to let a passenger out.

    Were this just taxis (and ubers) dropping people off, and them being slow about it, that’s just something that won’t stop 100%.

  • J. Geoff Rove

    The placement of the NWM campus in general offers poor transits options of most city residents, patients and workers alike. Maybe all the new buildings should have been built on the vacant Michael Reese land. All the Streeterville land NWM goobles up pays NO property tax.

  • Dennis McClendon

    Northwestern Memorial has paid property taxes for the last decade.

  • Rather than a Seqway, have several traffic enforcers one at each spot were driver education is needed. Also cabs need to learn that their passengers need to be taught that they may need to walk a quarter block or even more.

  • giovanni

    Thanks for the reply.

  • cjlane

    But we get all sorts of complaints on here about cyclists maybe needing to walk their bikes for a half-block. NO ONE thinks that they should have to be inconvenienced by anything.

  • Help me out here giovanni. tl/dr is shorthand for “too long didn’t read”. Then there is a quoted two sentence paragraph “Sure the … being used.” which I don’t find anywhere here at this series of comments. I don’t recall writing it, but maybe I did and I don’t recognize it out of context.

    I want to engage with you as you strike me as thoughtful and honest, but I am having trouble making sense with something I do not recall saying and your reply doesn’t reference it directly. Did I say that in some other comment thread than this one?

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