It’s been four months since the Loop Link bus rapid transit corridor launched downtown, but it seems like there are still some bugs to be worked out of the system.
The two main issues I’m aware of are bus speeds and private vehicles using the red lanes, which are marked “CTA Bus Only.” The city projected that the system, which also includes raised boarding platforms, and white “queue jump” traffic signals to give buses a head-start at lights, would double cross-Loop speeds from the previous, glacial rush-hour average of 3 mph to 6 mph.
However, not long after the launch, bus speeds still averaged about 3 mph, largely due to a rule requiring the operators to approach the stations at that speed in order to avoid crashing into the platforms or creaming passengers with their rear-view mirrors. The speeds seemed to improve a bit in subsequent weeks, although CTA spokesman Jeff Tolman told me today that the 3 mph platform restriction is still in place.
“Performance and ridership are trending in the right direction but we still don’t have enough data to draw meaningful conclusions,” Tolman added.
The fact that private bus lines, motorists and taxis drivers sometimes drive or stop in the lanes can’t be helping Loop Link speeds either. This is particularly common with the charter bus lines that ferry office workers to and from Metra stations. When I talked to staff from The Free Enterprise System and Aries Charter Transportation last month, they were fairly unapologetic, arguing that their drivers don’t have much choice but to use the lanes for pick-ups and drop-offs.
Today a reader who works as an urban planner sent us a fresh batch of photos of charter buses, cars, and cabs in the red lanes. “I walk, cycle, or ride the bus through the Loop Link routes every day and see at least five violations in the 20 minutes of my trip,” her wrote. “In my experience, all of the violations are drivers trying to get past areas of heavy traffic. It is obvious that the answer to this problem is enforcement, of which there is none.” Unlike some BRT systems, Loop Link doesn’t feature camera enforcement.
I sent the images to Tolman. “We are aware of the issue and we are working with the city to make sure the traffic rules are enforced so that Loop Link delivers improved transit service as intended,” he responded.
Hopefully the police department will step up the ticketing of Loop Link lane lawbreakers, since this is key to ensuring the system is judged a success. “I would hate to see future BRT projects in Chicago and elsewhere curbed due to the failures of the Loop Link,” wrote the reader.