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Posts from the Bus Transit Category

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Detroit Bus Driver Contract Offers Bonuses When Ridership Rises

A new labor contract between the Detroit Department of Transportation and ATU Local 26 explicitly ties bus driver bonuses to ridership increases.

If farebox revenue goes up, 30 percent of the increase will belong to drivers, up to a certain point, DDOT announced earlier this week. Individual drivers’ bonuses are capped at $350 per year the first year and can rise to $750 in the fourth year of the contract.

The bus drivers union ratified the agreement on Friday. “With fare box sharing, if DDOT succeeds, our drivers will share financially in that success,” Fred Westbrook, president of ATU Local 26, said in the press release.

Megan Owens of Detroit’s Transportation Riders United said she’s generally supportive of the revenue-sharing provision.

“If they have a little extra reason to help out a new rider to have a good experience or be a little more patient with a frustrating rider … that appears to be a worthwhile investment,” she said.

Steven Higashide of TransitCenter said revenue-sharing is a “really innovative and fascinating provision” that he hasn’t seen elsewhere.

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Eyes on the Street: Roosevelt Bike Lane and Bus Shelters Nearly Complete

Roosevelt Streetscape features

Each side of Roosevelt now has a long bus stop canopy with a massive “CTA” sign. Photo: Justin Haugens

The Chicago Department of Transportation may soon be cutting the ribbon on the Roosevelt Road streetscape and raised bikeway project. The initiative involved widening the sidewalk along Roosevelt between State Street and Michigan Avenue to make room for the two-way bike lane, which replaced conventional bike lanes on the same block of Roosevelt.

The new lanes extend a block or so past Michigan on the north sidewalk of Roosevelt, ending near the trunkless legs of the “Agora” sculptures and the Grant Park skate park. The last major step of the project is to install green pavement markings and bike symbols on the bike lanes. CDOT recently posted on Facebook that work will be done by November.

As part of the Roosevelt streetscape, crews installed new metal benches in places where people might actually want to sit. That’s not a given, considering that many of the benches put in as part of a similar road diet project on Lawrence Avenue in Ravenswood wound up facing blank walls or parking lots.

The Roosevelt benches, as well as decorative pavers inscribed with an odd group of words that are meant to be thought-provoking, or evoke the cultural facilities of the nearby Museum Campus.

Near the CTA ‘L’ station at Roosevelt and State, which serves the Red, Orange, and Green Lines, the department has installed extra-long bus shelters that will have ad panels. The #12 Roosevelt, #18 16th-18th, and #146 Museum Campus buses stop at this location. Above the canopies are massive vertical structures with the CTA’s logo and station name.

Between State and Wabash Avenue, the bikeway will exist as a pair of one-way bike lanes (just like now), located in the street. Eastbound bicyclists will use a special “crossbike” – a crosswalk for bikes – to move to the bi-directional raised bike lane on the north side of Roosevelt east of Wabash.

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More Before-and-After GIF Goodness: Bike Lanes, a Ped Scramble, and BRT


Images: John Greenfield, Google Street View

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

Inspired by a post from Streetsblog USA’s Angie Schmitt, I recently tried my hand at using a new-ish feature of Google Streetview to illustrate how Chicago street transformations have improved traffic safety and made neighborhoods more livable. Google now lets you access archived Street View images, so it’s easy to see how our roadways have changed for the better.

Streetsblog Chicago readers said they enjoyed the last round of before-and-after GIF animations, so here’s a fresh batch, this time using some original photos, rather than just Street Views. Above is a view of the new curb-protected bike lanes on Clybourn Avenue in the Old Town neighborhood, which involved repurposing one of the parking lanes. It’s become an instant hit with cyclists.

Below is the city’s first (and only) pedestrian scramble intersection at Jackson Boulevard and State Street in the Loop. In addition to east-west and north-south crossing phases, the scramble phase allows walkers to cross in all directions, including diagonally.


Images: John Greenfield, Google Street View

These bike lanes on Vincennes Avenue in the Longwood Manor community show how some paint and flexible poles can transform an overly wide speedway into a calmer, more bikeable street quickly and cheaply. It would be great if the buffers are replaced with concrete curbs in the future.


Images: John Greenfield, Google Street View

The Loop Link bus rapid transit project is under construction on Madison and Washington streets downtown. This corridor, connecting West Loop train stations with Michigan Avenue, will include dedicated lanes, limited stops, and queue jumps, plus near-level and (eventually) pre-paid boarding. The Washington corridor will include a protected bike lane; the old bike lane on Madison (shown) will be replaced with a PBL on Randolph Street, 2 blocks north.

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Despite Reduced Features, Loop Link Should Still Prove the Benefits of BRT


A Loop Link shelter under construction on Washington Street. The location of a new protected bike lane is visible to the right. Photo: John Greenfield

Last week’s update on the Loop Link bus rapid transit project by the Chicago Tribune’s Jon Hilkevitch raised some valid questions about the ultimate value of the project. Hilkevitch noted that some of the planned features of the downtown express bus corridor have been reduced, modified, or delayed. However, it looks like Loop Link will still be a major win for the central business district, which could pave the way for a more robust BRT route on Ashland Avenue.

Let’s look at some of the timesaving elements the Loop Link system won’t – and will – have. For starters, as originally planned, the route will have seven fewer stops than currently exist. Having stops roughly every other block, instead of every block, will definitely speed things up. The system will also feature dedicated bus lanes with red pavement. That should provide a significant traffic advantage for the six bus lines that will use the corridor, provided that there’s decent enforcement to keep other vehicles out of the lanes.

Transit signal priority, which shortens red lights or extend greens to keep buses from getting stopped at intersections, isn’t planned for Loop Link. TSP already exists on part of the route for the Jeffery Jump, a South Side express bus that has a few BRT-style features. Because the downtown blocks are short and stoplights are closely spaced, providing TSP for one corridor might negatively affect intersecting or parallel streets, Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Claffey told Streetsblog.

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Rendering of the Loop Link corridor on Washington.

However, there will be “queue jumps” for the BRT buses, which will give them a short head start before other vehicles get a green light, similar to leading pedestrian interval walk signals, Claffey said. “This will allow [the buses] to leave a station in advance of general traffic and avoid conflict with right-turning traffic on the next block.”

CDOT is building eight Loop Link stations along Washington and Madison streets. The corridor, which also includes Canal and Clinton Streets, will link Union Station and the Ogilvie Center with Michigan Avenue. However, Hilkevitch reports, the planned station at Madison and Wabash Avenue won’t open until the spring, due to the construction of the new Washington-Wabash ‘L’ station, currently underway. That’s a little disappointing, but it won’t impact the ultimate performance of the BRT system.

Perhaps a more serious issue is that the Loop Link will lack prepaid boarding when it debuts. We’ve known for more than a year that the station at Madison and Dearborn Street would be the only stop with prepaid boarding to begin with, although the plan is to eventually expand the prepay system to all eight stations. However, Hilkevitch reports that even that pilot will be delayed until sometime next year.

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Citizens Taking Action Takes a Reactionary Stance on Bus Rapid Transit

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Citizens Taking Action’s Charles Paidock.

If you wanted to film a hit comedy based on Chicago’s transit advocacy scene, you’d definitely need to include characters based on the grassroots group Citizens Taking Action. They’re a small circle of colorful, wisecracking guys, who are always good for memorable quotes at Chicago Transit Authority hearings. They’re passionate about local transit history, and some of them have been speaking out against cuts to rail and bus service for decades.

While some of Citizens Taking Action’s ideas are charmingly eccentric, such as their push for Chicago monorail service, some of their more misguided statements can be downright harmful to the cause of creating a better local transit system. In general, they’ve got a “hang on to what we’ve got” mentality, which can be counterproductive when they oppose sensible new transportation projects.

Recently, the group came out against the city of Chicago’s proposal for bus rapid transit on Ashland Avenue, as well as Pace’s plan for Pulse express bus service on Milwaukee Avenue. The group was featured in a Sun-Times piece on Rahm Emanuel’s August 18 announcement that express bus service will be returning to Ashland and Western Avenue, with the addition of transit-priority stoplights.

Reporter Rosalind Rossi, who has delivered consistently negative coverage of the Ashland project, prematurely danced on its grave with the headline, “Ashland BRT Seems All But Dead With Return of Ashland, Western Express Buses.” However, the Metropolitan Planning Council’s Peter Skosey said that’s not the case.

Skosey said that high-level sources at the transit authority and the Chicago Department of Transportation told him the Ashland express service is a “down payment” on BRT. “As far as I can tell, the timeline hasn’t changed at all,” he said. “Once Loop Link [downtown BRT] begins operations, we will have a clear example of the benefits of BRT to help propel Ashland BRT forward.”

However, Citizens Taking Action’s Charles Paidock backed up Rossi’s thesis that Emanuel has buried the $160 million, 16-mile Ashland BRT project, and applauded this supposed decision. “It makes no sense to spend $10 million a mile on some rock candy mountain gimmick,” Paidock said. “It’s a totally unnecessary infrastructure project that doesn’t enhance service.”

That’s a pretty absurd statement to make about an initiative that would nearly double bus speeds on the city’s busiest route, from the current 8.7 mph to 15.9 mph. However, Paidock does make one good point, that the original Ashland express should never have been cut in the first place.

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Pace Pulse Express Bus Service Will Help Improve Traffic Circulation


The Pulse stops will feature heated shelters with vertical markers.

If you’re a fan of faster bus service with handy amenities, here’s some news to get your pulse racing. Pace Suburban Bus Service is planning Pace Pulse, a new network of express bus routes along major roads throughout Chicagoland. The agency has proposed establishing the service, which they refer to as arterial bus rapid transit (ART), on several busy arterials, including Milwaukee Avenue, Dempster Street, Harlem Avenue, Cermak Road, Halsted Street, 95th Street, and Roosevelt Road.

Pulse, slated to launch on Milwaukee Avenue in 2017, will include roughly three-quarter of a mile stop spacing, transit signal priority, buses with WiFi and USB charging ports, plus stations with real-time arrival information signs and – best of all – overhead heat during the winter. However, it’s worth noting that the service can’t be classified as true bus rapid transit, because it will lack features like prepaid boarding and car-free bus lanes, which are necessary for bringing buses up to train-like speeds on congested streets.


The #270 local bus route

The flagship Pulse route on Milwaukee Avenue will run between the Jefferson Park Transit Center on Chicago’s Northwest Side and the Golf Mill Shopping Center in northwest-suburban Niles. Pace currently operates the #270 Milwaukee Avenue bus daily between Jefferson Park and Golf Mill. During select hours, the route is extended to Glenbrook Hospital in Glenview and the Allstate Insurance corporate headquarters in Northbrook.

The #270 is one of Pace’s key north-suburban routes, with strong ridership. According to the Regional Transportation Authority which oversees Pace, the CTA, and Metra, the line’s ridership as of June 2015 is 2,995 boardings on weekdays, 1,966 on Saturdays and 1,418 on Sundays.

The Jefferson Park Transit Center is a major transportation hub on the Northwest Side of Chicago. It is served by the CTA Blue Line, Metra’s Union Pacific / Northwest Line, nine CTA bus routes and three Pace Suburban bus lines. Golf Mill is a large shopping mall located at the intersection of Milwaukee and Golf Road. It attracts shoppers from all over the surrounding area to its department stores, specialty stores, and movie theater. Many people from Chicago’s Northwest Side ride the #270 to shop and work at the mall.


The Milwaukee Pulse route.

Planning for the Milwaukee Pulse route started in 2014 and is currently in the design phase. Construction is expected to begin next year, with service debuting in 2017, according to the project schedule.

The total cost of the shelters and signage is estimated at $9.1 million, while the cost of new buses, which will be used exclusively on this route, is estimated at $4.5 million. The funding is largely provided by a federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grant, with a 20-percent local and regional match.

The Milwaukee ART buses will only make stops at eight locations between the mall and the transit center, including (from south to north) Central Avenue, Austin/Ardmore Avenues,Haft Street/Highland Avenue (near Devon Avenue), Touhy Avenue, Howard Street/Harlem Avenue, Oakton Street/Oak Mill Mall, Main Street, and Dempster Street. The transit signal priority feature shortens red light phases and extends greens to help prevent buses from getting stuck at intersections.

Each Pulse stop will feature a heated bus shelter with a bus tracker display with real-time arrival info, plus a vertical marker that will make it easy to spot the express stops from a distance, and bike parking racks. In addition to Wi-Fi and charging ports, the buses will feature audio/visual stop announcements.

The Milwaukee Pulse route will operate from 5 a.m. to midnight on weekdays, with buses running every ten minutes during rush hours, 15 minutes during most non-peak periods, and every 30 minutes from 10 p.m. to midnight. On weekends, it will run from 5:30 a.m. to midnight on Saturdays and 6 a.m. to midnight on Sundays, with buses every 15 minutes until 10 p.m. and every 30 minutes between 10 p.m. and midnight. The frequency of the local #270 Milwaukee buses will be reduced to every 30 minutes on weekdays and every 60 minutes on weekends. Service north of Golf Mill will remain the same.


The public meeting at the Copernicus Center. Photo: Jeff Zoline

Pace held a public meeting on the project last night at the Copernicus Center in Jefferson Park, with about 30 people in attendance. Most of the residents I talked with were in favor of the new express bus service, and said it would speed up their commutes. Garland and Heather Armstrong of Elmwood Park said Pulse will be a significant upgrade from the current #270 bus service, which they said is a lifeline for people with disabilities.

However, not everyone was a complete fan of the Pulse plan. Jacob Aronov, from the grassroots transit advocacy group Citizens Taking Action, said he’s worried about the longer headways for the local buses, and wants to make sure the local route isn’t eventually eliminated.

A majority of riders will likely opt to take the faster Pulse service, since the stops will be no more than a quarter-mile (a five-minute walk for most people) from any of the local stops. However, some seniors and people with mobility issues may prefer to continue using their closest local stop. Hopefully, riders’ concerns will be factored into the final plan.


The Suburbanophile: Renn Praises Chicago Big-Boxes, Pans Ashland BRT


Aaron Renn

Aaron Renn, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor at City Journal, writes the popular blog The Urbanophile, and sometimes his articles are right on the money. For example Streetblog NYC reporter Stephen Miller tells me Renn was justified in complaining about the high cost of New York infrastructure projects in a Daily News op-ed earlier this year.

However, the Chicago-centric piece that Renn published today in the urban planning site, cofounded by pro-sprawl guru Joel Kotkin, is a real doozy. He argues that our city’s Ashland Bus Rapid Transit project is example of wrongheaded one-size-fits-all thinking by car-hating urbanists that’s about “actively making things worse for drivers.”

Renn, a former Chicagoan, actually makes some good points about the benefits of transit-oriented development and protected bike lanes in the article. I even agree with his assertion that, for many residents, the fact that Chicago offers numerous sustainable transportation options, as well as the ability to own, drive and park a car relatively cheaply and conveniently, represents “the best of both worlds.” He argues that, along with more affordable housing prices, the fact that it’s easy to live with or without with a car in Chicago is one of its main advantages over peer cities like New York, San Francisco, and Boston.

However, the article goes south when the author, who currently lives in Manhattan, argues that big-box stores with vast parking moats are one of Chicago’s finest features. He tells a harrowing tale of trying to whip up a batch of artisanal mayonnaise, only to discover that his local grocery store in the Upper West Side didn’t stock the right kind of olive oil.

“I can assure you in my old place in Chicago, one quick trip to Jewel or any of the other plentiful supermarkets would have taken care of that,” he writes. “Stores like that, or like Sam’s Wine and Spirits and host of others, only exist because they are able to draw from a trade area served by the car, and because people can buy large quantities best transported by car.”

A more serious problem with Renn’s piece is his assertion that the Ashland BRT project would be a case of transit advocates intentionally “degrading the urban environment” for drivers, which would make Chicago a less livable city. The plan calls for converting two of the four travel lanes on Ashland Avenue to dedicated, center-running bus lanes, which would require the elimination of most left turns off of the street.

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Will the Return of the Ashland Express Bus Lay the Groundwork for Full BRT?


A sign for the old X49 Western Express. Photo: John Dunlevy

This morning Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CTA President Dorval Carter announced the return of the #X9 Ashland Express and #X49 Western Express buses. These limited-stop, morning through evening routes formerly paralleled the #9 Ashland and #49 Western local bus lines. While the stops for the local routes are generally spaced a mere one-eighth of a mile apart, the express buses only stopped every half-mile or so, for a roughly 75-percent reduction in stops.

The old #X9 and #X49 routes had good ridership because they offered modest savings in travel times compared to the locals. For example, the CTA estimates that the Ashland express bus traveled an average of 10.3 mph during rush hour, including stops, compared to the 8.7 mph local buses. However, the Ashland and Western express bus routes were eliminated due to funding shortfalls back in 2010, along with nearly every other Chicago express route, save for the Lake Shore Drive lines.

The city plans to make the new #X9 and #X49, as well as the locals, run somewhat faster than before by adding a bus rapid transit-style feature on Western and Ashland. Transit-signal priority will be implemented on these streets, so that stoplights will turn green earlier or change to red later to keep all buses from being delayed. Fewer stops plus TSP means express bus riders will save up to 22 minutes on trips along each route, compared to the current local service, according to the CTA.

The #9 Ashland is currently the CTA’s highest-ridership bus line, while the #49 Western has the third-highest ridership, after the #79 bus on 79th Street. The agency predicts that the new express service will lead to a four-percent increase in ridership on the Ashland route, according to its application for a federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement grant, which will help bankroll the TSP features.

Of course, an express bus ride that’s, say, seven minutes shorter than traveling the same stretch on a local bus doesn’t save you any time if you wait ten minutes longer to catch the express. Hopefully, the #X9 and #X49 will have short headways to maximize the time savings for customers. Otherwise, it might make more sense for riders to simply board the first bus that shows up, rather than wait longer for an express.

Meanwhile, the CTA also plans to speed up the local bus service on these streets by eliminating some of the least-used stops, a strategy that the agency says could save #9 and #49 riders up to 12 minutes per trip. The CTA will undertake a community input process this fall to solicit feedback about the stop consolidation plan.

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No Bike or Walking Goals in Rahm’s New Transition Plan, But TOD Is a Priority


Construction has started on a new TOD project at the former site of the “Punkin’ Donuts” at Belmont and Clark. Photo: John Greenfield

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago 2011 Transition Plan set several bold goals for sustainable transportation, many of which have already been achieved. Emanuel’s first transition team included a number of heavy-hitters from the local transportation advocacy scene, including representatives of the Active Transportation Alliance, the Metropolitan Planning Council, the Center for Neighborhood Technology, and the SRAM Cycling Fund. Their influence was evident in the document’s big plans for transit, walking, and biking.

As promised in the 2011 transition plan, the CTA overhauled the South Red Line within Emanuel’s first term. The agency launched the Jeffery Jump express bus service, began the Loop Link downtown bus rapid transit project, and started the planning process for BRT on Ashland Avenue. The Chicago Department of Transportation published the city’s first pedestrian plan and introduced a number of pedestrian safety initiatives. And, as outlined in the transition plan, CDOT launched the Divvy bike-share system, built the Bloomingdale Trail, and came close to achieving the goal of installing 100 miles of buffered and protected bike lanes within four years.

In contrast, when Emanuel appointed his second-term transition team last April, it didn’t include any transportation experts, except for then-CTA president Forrest Claypool. The mayor asked the team to focus on ideas for strengthening City Hall’s public engagement process, driving economic growth in the neighborhoods, and expanding early-childhood education. As a result, the committee’s report on priority policy recommendations, released this morning, has relatively little transportation content.

The main transportation-related initiative in the new document is a call for expanding transit-oriented development as a way to foster economic growth in the neighborhoods. The 2011 transition plan called for supporting “development near transit stations, including zoning changes to enable transit-oriented development.”

In 2013, those changes became a reality, when City Council passed Chicago’s first TOD ordinance. In general, it halved the parking requirements for residential developments within 600 feet of rapid transit stations, 1,200 feet on designated Pedestrian Streets, as well as providing density bonuses for some developments.

Last month, Emanuel introduced a reform ordinance that would eliminate the parking requirement altogether within the TOD districts, which would be expanded to within a quarter-mile of stations, and a half-mile on P-Streets. The new report lists Emanuel’s first-term public transportation accomplishments and argues that promoting more TOD is a way to capitalize on these:

To maximize the economic value created by this investment, the City should promote greater density and development near transit locations. Transit-Oriented Development reduces costly car congestion by promoting walkable streets and commuting by public transit. It also promotes healthy commercial corridors that offer the amenities needed to keep families in Chicago.

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Cities Lead the Way as U.S. Car Commuting Takes Historic Downturn

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Graph: U.S. Census Bureau

The decline is small in number, but in the scheme of things, it’s huge: New census data [PDF] out last week show car commuting among Americans is finally, after decades of growth, starting to reverse itself.

Driving to work is still the predominant mode to a depressing extent. Almost nine in 10 Americans get to work by car and about three in four drive alone. But those numbers are beginning to fall.

Since 1960, the percent of Americans driving to work rose from 64 percent to a high of 87.9 percent in 2000. Since then, it has declined slightly but meaningfully to 85.8 percent. The percent of the population commuting by car ticked down again in 2013, the latest year for which numbers are available.

Even solo car commuting is down from its high in 2010 of 76.6 percent. Despite a precipitous decline in carpooling, solo car commuting was down to 76.4 percent in 2013, after two decades of rapid growth.

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Declines in car commuting for the 10 cities with the highest transit commuting rates by age. Table: U.S. Census

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