City Is Wrapping Up Loop Link Improvements on Canal, Prepaid Boarding Pilot

The new mid-block crosswalk and pedestrian island on Canal by Union Station. Photo: John Greenfield
The new mid-block crosswalk and pedestrian island on Canal by Union Station. Photo: John Greenfield

About a year after the Loop Link bus rapid transit corridor debuted downtown, the city is continuing to improve the route. Back in August the Union Station Transit Center opened, making it easier to transfer between buses, Metra, and Amtrak, and helping to organize West Loop traffic. Recently the Chicago Department of Transportation added new stretches of red bus-only lanes on Jackson and Canal streets, and completed other changes to Canal to sort out the different travel modes.

Previously there was a northbound conventional bike lane on Canal, which was difficult to use due to the chaotic mix of CTA buses, private buses, taxis, and private cars. As part of Loop Link, the Canal bike lane was removed and a two-way protected bike lane was built a block west on Clinton Street.

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Canal Street, as it appeared prior to the recent street remix. Image: Google Street View

CTA buses on Canal previously picked up and dropped off passengers at the train station via a southbound lane on the otherwise northbound street, separated from other traffic via a concrete Jersey barrier. That bus loading area has been moved to the transit center, located on a former parking lot directly south of the station, with a stairway, elevator, and tunnel under Jackson Boulevard providing a car-free pedestrian route to the Metra and Amtrak platforms.

The old bus lane in front of the station on Canal has been replaced with a cabstand. There are two mixed-traffic through lanes to the right of that.

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The current configuration on Canal by Union Station. Photo: John Greenfield

A median has been striped in the middle of the road, and then there’s the red bus lane, which also has a wheelchair symbol on it to indicate that people with disabilities may use it to access the station. To the right of that is a curbside lane that may used by private vehicle drivers from drop-offs, pick-ups, and right turns.

A mid-block crosswalk with a pedestrian island has also been added in front of the station. Previously the Jersey wall prevented people from crossing the street in this location.

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The southeast corner of Jackson/Clinton. The two-way protected bike lane on Clinton was recently extended a block south to Van Buren, and a bus-only lane was added on Jackson between Clinton and Canal. Photo: John Greenfield

According to CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey, the Loop Link work on Canal is complete except for modifications to the traffic lights at Jackson/Canal to provide a dedicated phase for buses leaving the transit center, plus the addition of a small pedestrian island on the south side of the Adams/Canal intersection. This work will likely happen the first quarter of 2017.

The Clinton two-way protected lane was extended a block south from Jackson to Van Buren Street this year, and it should be extended two more blocks to connect with the Harrsion Street protected bike lanes this spring, Claffey said.

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The prepaid boarding pilot at Madison/Dearborn. Customers swipe their Ventra cards at portable readers on the way to the bus waiting area. Photo: John Greenfield

While the Loop Link system has led to a modest improvement in bus speeds during its first year of operations, hopefully these recent improvements will help shorten transit commutes a bit more. Meanwhile, the CTA continues to test pre-paid boarding during the evening rush at the Madison/Dearborn, with the pilot scheduled to wrap up at the end of this month.

Assuming the experiment is deemed a success, hopefully we can look forward to this timesaving featuring being implemented at all eight Loop Link station. That would go a long way towards helping the express bus corridor live up to its full potential.

Update 12/8/16 9:30 AM: 

CTA spokesman Jeff Tolman provided the following update about Loop Link bus operations:

The new bus lane on Canal is now in operation but we will not be able to fully analyze the benefits until construction impacts have concluded. [Currently Adams east of Canal and the Adams bridge are closed due to construction at 222 South Riverside (east side of Canal between Adams and Jackson. The block and the bridge are expected to reopen this spring, according to CDOT].  

Anecdotally, we can report that buses are operating smoothly throughout most of the corridor.  We have had some issues with vehicles using or blocking the bus lane especially near the Union Station entrance [on Canal] between Jackson and Adams.  We are working with CDOT to resolve these issues.

Since Loop Link launched, we continue to see improvements in bus speeds and we’re monitoring and evaluating service performance. We have generally received positive feedback from customers about Loop Link, such as the station formats and the bus-only lanes.

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