— Streetsblog Chicago (@streetsblogchi) July 25, 2016
Bus rapid transit has the potential to be a cost-effective way to move people quickly and efficiently across Chicago, without the buses getting slowed down by congestion caused by private vehicles. However, if the bus-only lanes aren’t enforced, it hamstrings efforts to speed up the buses.
Ever since the CTA’s Loop Link system launched last December, downtown bus speeds have shown limited improvement. Things seem to have gotten better since the agency recently eliminated a preliminary rule requiring bus operators to approach the raised platform stations at a snail-like 3 mph. However, although the lanes are clearly marked “CTA Bus Only,” it’s still common to see private buses, delivery trucks, taxis, and cars in the lanes.
This isn’t just a minor annoyance. It’s a big deal because if lane enforcement continues to be a major issue and CTA bus speeds don’t get faster, that will make it less likely the city will implement dedicated bus lanes on other routes, such as the proposed Ashland Avenue BRT route.
The problem 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.
The CTA and the Chicago Department of Transportation have told me the problem is on their radar. “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,” CTA spokesman Jeff Tolman said in April.
While other cities like New York use traffic cameras to keep other drivers out of their bus-only lanes, the Loop Link lanes aren’t camera enforced. New Illinois legislation would be needed to add traffic cams to Loop Link and, since automated enforcement is already highly controversial, that would likely be a non-starter in Springfield.