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Posts from the "Bus Transit" Category

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Central Loop BRT Will Skimp On Key “Rapid” Features

Station platforms would have level boarding, a feature that helps to decrease dwell time. Image: CDOT

Station platforms would have level boarding, a feature that helps to speed bus boarding. Image: CDOT/CTA

The Central Loop Bus Rapid Transit project will launch without key features that distinguish BRT from conventional bus service. The busways, which the Chicago Department of Transportation will begin building later this year, will include most of BRT’s concrete features, like high-level bus-boarding platforms and dedicated lanes. These features will undoubtedly speed up six Chicago Transit Authority bus routes as they traverse the Loop.

However, key service improvements, which have been proven to speed up buses elsewhere, will only be “tested” in 2015, and their eventual adoption is far from certain. The initial absence of these features, namely off-board fare collection and signal priority, will knock Central Loop BRT down to a mere “basic” BRT system, using the methodology behind a new international standard meant to encourage effective, quality BRT.

At a May event, sources said that CDOT and CTA will “test” off-board fare collection at only one of the system’s eight on-street stations. At all other stations, riders will pay on the bus, one at a time, just like they now do on all CTA buses. CDOT would not comment on what the test will entail, how long the test will run, or how it will be evaluated. A test involving just one station, out of hundreds of bus stops along the routes, could confuse customers even more than a test at all eight BRT stations — and will offer only minimal travel time savings.

Collecting fares at the stations, before passengers board the bus, has been proven in several other cities to substantially reduce “dwell time,” or how long a bus waits at stops. In New York City, BRT features were added one at a time along the M34 route across Midtown Manhattan, which runs past the Empire State Building and Macy’s. When just prepaid boarding was added, total travel time for the entire route fell 10 percent. On Manhattan’s first BRT route, off-board fare collection alone reduced dwell times on New York City’s M15 Select Bus Service route by 36 percent.

Even though San Francisco hasn’t yet implemented any form of BRT, the city’s transit agency recently adopted “all-door boarding” — allowing passengers who’ve already paid (and have a valid transfer slip) or who will pay with a Clipper card (a contactless fare card, like a Ventra card or ticket) to enter buses through the rear door. As a result, dwell times fell by four seconds per stop, on average.

Another key technology that keeps BRT routes moving through heavily congested areas like the Loop is transit signal priority. Signal priority takes many forms, but the most far-reaching forms won’t be part of Central Loop BRT. Last year, CDOT spokesperson Pete Scales said that full transit signal priority, which re-programs the signaling system to better accommodate buses, won’t be included in Central Loop BRT. The J14 Jeffery Jump has signal priority as it travels through the South Shore neighborhood, but Scales said this technology is more appropriate for neighborhoods’ bus stop spacing than in the “dense grid of the Loop.” Sources also say that signal pre-emption, which allows buses to override normal signals, also won’t be used in Central Loop BRT.

Central Loop BRT will, however, include queue jumps — bus-only signals that turn green a few seconds before the other signals, and give buses a head start on other traffic where there’s no bus lane ahead. These work somewhat like leading pedestrian intervals, which have been added to many intersections around Chicago and give pedestrians a slight head start before turning drivers get a green light.

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3 Big CDOT Projects Have Been Postponed, But the Delays Are Reasonable

Divvy Bike Share Station

Sorry, Chicago won’t be getting any new Divvy stations until 2015. Photo: Steve Chou

In early June, I dubbed this the Summer of the Big Projects. The Chicago Department of Transportation was planning to start construction on, and/or complete, a slew of major infrastructure jobs this year. Now it seems more like the Summer of the Big Postponements.

Over the last month, we’ve gotten word that three major initiatives – the Bloomingdale Trail, the Central Loop BRT, and now the Divvy expansion — have been put on hold until 2015. That’s disappointing, but most of the reasons given for the delays are completely understandable.

When I interviewed CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld back in May, she expressed confidence that these projects would move forward as planned. The Bloomingdale, also known as The 606, is currently in the thick of construction, as you can see from photos Steven Vance and I took on a recent tour. The 2.7-mile, $95 million elevated greenway and linear park was slated to open in its basic form this fall, with additional enhancements being added next year.

However, on June 20, CDOT announced that the Bloomingdale opening was being postponed until June 2015, when the trail and its access parks will open in their completed state. They had a legitimate excuse: cold spring temperatures and frozen soil forced crews to delay the relocation of utilities and structural work. That, in turn, delayed the installation of new concrete in some sections, and forced the department to wait until next spring to do landscape plantings.

The transportation department had also been planning to start building the $32 million Central Loop BRT corridor later this year, with service launching in 2015. The system will run between Union Station and Navy Pier, including dedicated bus lanes on Canal, Clinton, Washington and Madison, as well as a new transit center next to the train station.

In May, Scheinfeld told me CDOT was still planning to start construction this year. However, the timetable seemed a bit optimistic, because the city was still discussing the design with downtown property owners and merchants. Some of them had kvetched that creating dedicated bus lanes would slow car traffic, and that the extra-large bus shelters would obscure their storefronts.

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The Secrets of Successful Transit Projects — Revealed!

Green Line Trax at Gallivan Plaza

The Trax light rail system in Salt Lake City has the hallmarks of high-ridership transit. Photo: CountyLemonade/Flickr

All across America, cities are investing in new transit lines. Which of these routes will make the biggest impact by attracting large numbers of new riders? A landmark report from a team of researchers with the University of California at Berkeley identifies the factors that set successful transit investments apart from the rest.

The secret sauce is fairly simple, when you get down to it: Place a transit line where it will connect a lot of people to a lot of jobs and give it as much grade-separated right-of-way as possible, and it will attract a lot of riders.

What makes the work of the Berkeley researchers, led by Daniel G. Chatman, remarkable is that it compiles decades of real-world data to predict how many people will ride a given transit route. Their conclusions should bolster efforts to maximize the effectiveness of new transit investments.

The report authors examined 140-plus factors to build these ridership models, based on data collected from 55 “fixed guideway” transit projects, including rail and bus rapid transit routes, built in 18 metropolitan areas between 1974 and 2008.

They found the success of a transit project is almost synonymous with whether it serves areas that are dense in both jobs and population and have expensive parking — in short, lively urban neighborhoods. In the report’s model, the combination of these factors explains fully 62 percent of the ridership difference between transit projects.

Surprisingly, the only design factor that seemed to have a significant effect on ridership was whether the route is grade-separated (in a tunnel or on a viaduct). In isolation, transit speed, frequency, or reliability did not have significant impacts, but the great advantage of grade-separated routes is that they can run quickly and reliably through high-density areas.

While it may seem like common sense to put transit routes where they will connect people to jobs, agencies don’t always choose the best routes — often opting for expedience over effectiveness. Salt Lake City’s FrontRunner commuter rail service, for instance, very closely parallels a newly widened I-15, and many stations are located in low-density industrial or residential areas. Ridership has fallen short of expectations.

Elsewhere in Salt Lake City, the authors identify the University/Medical Center Trax light rail route as a good example of a high-ridership transit project. It connects major high-wage job centers — notably the university, its hospital, and downtown — and also many leisure destinations like museums, sports stadiums, the state fair park, concert halls, and nearly half of the region’s hotel rooms. Locals have embraced light rail as an alternative to costly parking, as well: Parking demand on the growing University of Utah campus has fallen 30 percent since the route opened. The route carries 78 percent more riders than initially projected.

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CMAP Tells IDOT: “To Each Municipality, According to Their Needs”

Urbanity fails again.

Uneven pavement abounds in Chicagoland. Photo: Josh Koonce

The Illinois Department of Transportation, whose secretary resigned last week after accusations about patronage hiring, distributed $545 million in gas tax revenue to fix streets in almost 3,000 jurisdictions last year. While this sounds like a lot of money, poor road and bridge conditions across the state can attest to the fact that these funds might not be going to the places that need them most. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the region’s federally designated metropolitan planning organization, has recently written about different methods that IDOT could use to more fairly distribute these revenues across the state’s cities and counties.

CMAP’s regional comprehensive plan, GO TO 2040, implemented for the first time a system of performance measures to make sure that transportation funding generally goes to where it’s needed, instead of just where it’s wanted. In that spirit, CMAP suggests a few alternatives to the state’s existing distribution mechanism, which state law currently divvies up based mostly on population as well as the number of licensed vehicles and street mileage. The current system steers 71 percent of statewide gas tax revenue to the seven-county CMAP region.

This “formula funding” mechanism, CMAP says, ignores the transportation system’s changing needs. Plus, since the percentages are set in law, that means that fund distributions “cannot respond to changing needs over time.” For example, 16.74 percent of the $545 million in annual gas tax revenue goes to the one Illinois county with over one million residents — Cook County. Meanwhile, DuPage County has grown to 932,000 residents, and could reach one million residents before 2040. When that happens, DuPage would become eligible for that 16.74 percent slice, and Cook could see its own revenue cut in half overnight, even though its streets would remain heavily used by suburbanites driving into the region’s core for work or play. 

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Go Pilsen TDM Program Encourages Walking, Biking and Transit Use

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Go Pilsen ambassadors Alex Velazquez and Ray Arroyo. Photo: Active Trans

[This article also runs in Checkerboard City, John's column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings.]

Last September, the Chicago Department of Transportation launched the Go Bronzeville transportation demand program in the historic Near South neighborhood otherwise known as the Black Metropolis. The initiative provided resources for residents interested in getting around their community and the city on foot, bike, transit and car-sharing, with the goal of reducing the number of drive-alone trips.

Many of the people who participated in the free workshops, walking tours and bike rides found that using active transportation helped save them money, improved their health and gave them new opportunities to spend time with their family, friends and neighbors. Now, CDOT plans to run TDM programs in another four neighborhoods, at a cost of about $250,000 per community, mostly funded by federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement grants.

Pilsen, the largely Mexican-American community located three miles southwest of the Loop, was a logical choice for the next location, according to CDOT deputy commissioner Sean Wiedel. The area is well served by transit, including several CTA bus routes, the Pink Line and Metra’s BNSF line, and it has nearly a dozen Divvy bike-share stations. The Go Pilsen program debuted on June 4. Portland, Oregon-based Alta Planning + Design helped design the program, and the Active Transportation Alliance’s Maggie Melin is coordinating it on the local level.

As was the case in Bronzeville, Go Pilsen is reaching out to 7,500 residents, with the goal of having 750 of them fill out a survey on their travel habits and which active transportation modes they’re interested in using more frequently. Before the program launched, the department met with fifteen different local community organizations to gather input, such as El Hogar del Niño, an early childhood development center, and the Resurrection Project, a community development nonprofit.

The two Go Pilsen outreach ambassadors are Alex Velazquez and Ray Arroyo. Velazquez, who has worked as a community organizer for three years, heard about the job at the local bike shop Wheel of Time, which specializes in custom fixies. Arroyo, who has taught art via National Museum of Mexican Art programs, learned about the opportunity through Ciclovamos, a group that puts on monthly bike events in Pilsen and Little Village.

“I was a bicyclist for about three years, and I got in a couple of crashes that put me off the bike for a few years,” Arroyo said. “I took the job as my personal challenge to get back on my bike and learn about getting around and safe cycling.”

The ambassadors are distributing “Go Kits,” reusable shopping bags full of transportation resources, gifts and incentives, to residents. Tailored to each person’s interests, these include brochures on subjects like walking, safe bicycling, and how to drive safely around pedestrians and cyclists. The kits also may include transit and bike maps, one-day Divvy passes, coupons for local businesses, and gifts like Go Pilsen t-shirts, water bottles, and reflective bike gear.

The Go Kits also include a detailed map of the neighborhood, featuring transit stops, bike lanes, Divvy stations, bike parking, local landmarks, and public art. On the back is a map of a bike route to the lakefront, including protected bike lanes on 18th from Canal to Clark, and the hard-to-find bridge that allows pedestrians and cyclists to cross the Metra tracks near Soldier Field. “When we were talking to people, even though the lakefront is so close, they didn’t know a safe way to get there,” explains Alta’s Kristen Maddox (a former Streetsblog Chicago contributor) who helped design the map.

Almost all of the Go Pilsen literature is printed in both Spanish and English. “Sometimes bilingual materials can be a little bit stuffy, so Ray and I go over everything to make sure the language is relatable,” Velazquez says. “It helps that both of us are native Spanish speakers.”

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No Central Loop BRT in 2014 as CDOT Delays Launch Indefinitely

11,000 people ride the J14 Jeffery Jump each weekday

The 11,000 people who ride the J14 Jeffery Jump daily, plus 20,000 on other bus routes, will have to wait until 2015 — or later — for a speedier trip through downtown.

Construction delays have pushed back the Central Loop BRT project, from a projected 2014 start until next year or even later. The causes of the setback remain troublingly vague, and there is no clear timetable for the improvements proposed for four downtown streets, which are supposed to speed up six Chicago Transit Authority bus routes with a combined ridership of 30,000.

In 2013, the Chicago Department of Transportation and the CTA said that improved transit service would start in 2014, but the Sun-Times reports that construction has been delayed. While the Sun-Times said the project might proceed next year, the city is not providing a specific timetable.

CDOT and CTA plan to run the six routes via bus-only lanes on Canal, Clinton, Washington, and Madison Streets, so that bus riders won’t get slowed by congestion downtown. Combined with off-board fare collection at distinctive bus stations, along with priority at certain traffic signals, the improvements will reduce ride times across the Loop by 3 to 9 minutes. That would save a commuter going from Union Station to Illinois Center up to 75 hours over the course of a year.

As late as November, the plan was still to launch service this year. After CDOT acknowledged another Sun-Times report that water pipes under the proposed bus stations would have to be relocated, former commissioner Gabe Klein said (after he announced his resignation):

“As far as I know, the project will be done in December of 2014, just like it was supposed to be. You build in time for minor moves and changes. I’m not aware that there’s going to be a significant delay.”

The timeline began to slip one month ago, when CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld said that construction would start this year but added that service wouldn’t start until 2015.

Now the timeline has been pushed back again. Scheinfeld told the Sun-Times the design is taking “longer than expected to complete” and that, as the paper put it, “the Emanuel administration is more interested in getting it right than rushing it through.” However, she did not give the paper a new construction timetable.

It’s good that CDOT says it won’t sacrifice quality to get shovels in the ground, but the lack of a specific project timeline is troubling. Without knowing when the project is supposed to get built, it’s hard to know whether the department is still committed to this important improvement to the city’s transportation system.

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Transit Agencies Pull Out All the Stops for “Dump the Pump” Day

L.A. Metro Transportation Authority CEO Art Leahy smashing a gas pump yesterday. Photo courtesy of Gary Leonard, L.A. Metro

L.A. Metro Transportation Authority CEO Art Leahy smashing a gas pump yesterday. Photo courtesy of Gary Leonard, L.A. Metro

The perks of public transportation will be more tangible than usual today, the ninth annual “Dump the Pump” day. More than 135 transit agencies across the country are taking part in the campaign, attempting to lure drivers out of their cars with free rides and all sorts of promotions, contests and schwag.

In Los Angeles, they literally demolished a gas pump. Atlanta and Greensboro have hosted scavenger hunts on train and bus routes. Dayton, Ohio, is blocking cars from a stretch of Main Street today. And in Chicago, the White Sox mascot, Southpaw, has been popping up on commutes all week.

The American Public Transportation Association first launched the awareness campaign in 2006, when gas prices shot above the $3 mark. “Dump the Pump” is meant as a one-day boost to the ongoing effort to promote the environmental, financial, and health benefits of choosing transit over driving.

APTA, which teams up with the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council for “Dump the Pump,” is particularly focused on transit’s financial benefits. According to APTA’s latest Transit Savings Report, an individual can save an average of $10,187 a year, or $849 per month, by using public transportation instead of driving.

Though it’s a low-key affair in many jurisdictions, with stickers and handouts, some campaigns “go all out,” said APTA spokesperson Virginia Miller.

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The Ridiculous Politics That Slow Down America’s Best BRT Route

Cleveland's Healthline BRT has been named the best in the country. But it runs slower than expected. Photo: Wikipedia

Cleveland’s Healthline BRT is viewed as the best in the country — but the city has declined to make an easy change that would speed it up. Photo: Wikipedia

Cleveland’s Healthline is widely viewed as the best bus rapid transit project in the country — and for many good reasons. Running on dedicated center lanes, the Healthline isn’t bogged down by car traffic on the most congested portions of its 7.1-mile route. With about 14,000 daily trips, the Healthline has increased ridership nearly 50 percent (though some of that is attributable to elimination of redundant routes), and local officials credit it with spurring billions of dollars of development nearby.

But it could run much faster if officials fixed one small thing that is completely within their power to address: the signal timing.

While the Healthline has many hallmarks of good BRT like the center-running lanes and off-board fare payment, it lacks transit signal priority — the technology that turns traffic lights green as buses approach. As a result, Healthline buses don’t travel nearly as fast as they should.

The Plain Dealer reported in 2010 that it takes an average of 44 minutes to travel the seven miles from downtown’s Public Square to East Cleveland. That’s only three minutes faster than the bus line it replaced, and more than ten minutes off the 33-minute pace that project planners promised. Despite some tweaking around the margins, not much has changed since 2010, according to sources familiar with the project.

The frustrating thing is that the Healthline could easily run faster. But the city of Cleveland simply hasn’t activated the transit priority technology for most of the route, according to advocates.

“We all know it takes 10 more minutes than it should because of the light issue,” said Marc Lefkowitz of GreenCityBlueLake, a Cleveland-based environmental think tank that has been active in trying to resolve the issue.

John McGovern, current chair of RTA’s Citizen’s Advisory Board, said shortly after the Healthline began operating, the city turned off the transit priority technology for most of the traffic signals.

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Central Loop Busway Will Reorganize, Expand Downtown Bike Lanes

Mike Amsden describes bikeway component of the Central Loop BRT project

The Loop’s poorly connected bicycle network.

Bicycle routes through the Loop suffer from “poor connectivity,” admits Mike Amsden, assistant director of transportation planning at the Chicago Department of Transportation. At yesterday’s Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting, Amsden revealed details about how the Central Loop BRT project will improve the situation by spring of 2015.

The Central Loop BRT project, Amsden said, will “move people more efficiently across the Loop,” ending the days when it’s faster to walk than take the bus across downtown, and also ”optimize use of space, because most of it is devoted to cars” right now. Not only will buses get dedicated lanes, but so will bikes — a sea change from present conditions, where, as Amsden says, ”I’m ashamed to say we don’t have a network in the Loop.”

By next year, new protected bike lanes will be added to Clinton Street, Washington Street, and Randolph Street.

  • Clinton will have a two-way, protected bike lane from Fulton to Harrison. The lane, similar to Dearborn Street’s, will be on the east curb, with direct access to Ogilvie Transportation Center and the Union Station Transit Center.
  • Washington will have a one-way, protected bike lane from Wacker to Michigan. It will be protected from car traffic by parked cars on some blocks, and bus stop islands on others.
  • Randolph will have a one-way, protected bike lane from Michigan to Clinton, separated from traffic by a parking lane. Amsden said they will be improving the existing bike lane on upper Randolph, but didn’t provide specifics.

We’re awaiting more information from CDOT about how cyclists will cross on Washington and Randolph west of Wacker or Clinton, particularly to the bike lane along Desplaines through the West Loop.

Meanwhile, the existing bike lanes on Canal and Madison, the latter of which Amsden called “not the best example of a bike lane,” will be removed. Read more…

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The Street Ballet of a Bike Lane Behind a Transit Stop

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Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Why don’t more cities escape the curse of bus-bike leap-frogging by putting bike lanes between transit platforms and sidewalks?

Though “floating bus stops” and similar designs are being used in many cities, others have avoided doing so, sometimes out of concern that people will be injured in collisions with bikes while they walk between platform and sidewalk.

But is this actually a problem? An intersection in San Francisco that uses a similar design seems to be working just fine.

The annotated video above shows one minute of the self-regulating sidewalk ballet.

Seleta Reyolds, the San Francisco Municipal Transportaiton Agency’s section leader for livable streets, calls the corner of Duboce Avenue and Church Street “a great example of how to design for transit-bike interaction.”

Though it’s only been open since June 2012 and hasn’t worked its way into the city’s official collision records yet, Reynolds said she couldn’t find any record of a complaint arising from the intersection.

A few details worth noting:

  • This block is unusual in that it’s closed to cars, even on the other side of the transit stop. This removes any risk of right hooks due to limited visibility, an issue that other such designs must handle differently.
  • The relatively narrow bikeway here, with a curb on each side and a flat grade, prompts people to move at manageable speeds. This wouldn’t work as well on a slope.
  • There is no fence here between platform and bike lane. This gives people maximum visibility and maximum flexibility as they negotiate past each other.

A key lesson here is that what’s often true of car traffic — that the safest designs are the ones that avoid as many potential conflicts as possible — is not true for people on bikes and foot. In pedestrianized areas (a British study of 21 such spots turned up exactly one bicycle-related collision in 15 years) people are very good at negotiating around one another. Sometimes, we can all just get along.

Video shot by Charly Nelson. You can follow The Green Lane Project on Twitter or Facebook or sign up for its weekly news digest about protected bike lanes.