CTA and CDOT Unveil Proposed Designs for Central Loop BRT Corridor

Washington Street BRT configuration with protected bike lane.

Chicago just got a step closer to first-class bus rapid transit. Today the CTA and the Chicago Department of Transportation released proposed lane configurations for the Central Loop East-West Transit Corridor, a downtown circulator route connecting Union Station with Navy Pier, as well as renderings for a new transit center next to the train station. The corridor would include bus-priority lanes on two miles of streets: Canal, Washington, Madison and Clinton. This downtown BRT service is slated to launch next year.

The Loop BRT corridor would also serve the Ogilvie Transportation Center and multiple CTA train stations with more than 1,700 buses per day, making it one of the country’s busiest bus routes, according to the agencies. The streets with bus-only lanes would incorporate red pavement marking to delineate the lanes, level boarding, queue jumps for buses at key intersections, and other features.

Central Loop BRT Madison
Madison Street layout.

The proposed street configurations would involve converting car lanes to bus and bike lanes, which would help calm traffic on multilane Loop thoroughfares that often feel like speedways. The safety benefits of this kind of downtown “road diet” are already apparent on Dearborn, where CDOT recently changed a travel lane into a 2-way protected bike lane. Eastbound Washington would get island bus-boarding platforms and a protected bike lane to the right of the boarding area; two travel lanes will remain. Westbound Madison would have curbside boarding, two travel lanes and no bike lane, but a westbound protected bike lane would be built a block north of Washington on Randolph.

The transportation department is building and managing the Central Loop BRT project. It’s bankrolled by a $24.6 million Federal Transit Administration grant and $7.3 million in local Tax Increment Financing funding. The TIF program earmarks increases in property tax revenue within a designated TIF district for use in that district.

Union Station Transportation Center SE View
Union Station transit center with stairway access to the pedway.

CDOT is also in the process of buying a surface parking lot on Jackson between Canal and Clinton, just south of Union Station, for the new transportation center. The facility will include a staging area for CTA buses, plus access to an underground pedway that will allow bus riders to transfer to the train station without crossing Jackson at street level.

The agencies estimate that the proposed BRT configuration could cut travel times through the Central Loop corridor by three to nine minutes per trip. The tough part is going to be convincing local merchants and average citizens that removing travel lanes for faster bus service is a smart idea – there has already been resistance to proposed BRT corridors along Ashland and/or Western from business owners.

Map of downtown Chicago showing the location of the bus priority lanes (Washington, Madison, Canal, Clinton), and the new intermodal transfer center. The route between Michigan Avenue and Navy Pier will not have the bus lane improvements.

But the plan already has the blessing of the Chicago Loop Alliance and Greater North Michigan Avenue Association chambers of commerce, and for good reason. BRT has been shown to provide an economic boost to the areas it serves. And with buses making up only four percent of vehicles traveling through the Central Loop corridor but carrying more than 47 percent of commuters making trips in vehicles, rolling out the red carpet for them with dedicated lanes is only common sense.

  • Anonymous

    According to the press release, the BRT includes parts of Clinton and Canal. Any word on what will happen to the bike lanes on these streets? The press release does not mention any details about Canal and Clinton.
    Also, how far east will this go? To Michigan Ave?

  • I’ve got level boarding envy here in NYC.

  • Joseph Musco

    This is a great idea and will be a big improvement. Progress!

    That said, it’s too bad the more aggressive Focused plan was not chosen. That eliminated car lanes entirely. It improved average commuting times overall by 12% while making the air and environment healthier for everybody. CTA/CDOT called it “much more expensive” but their own estimates showed it only cost an additional $5 million. If you can’t find $5M to fund an improvement that yields a 12% improvement for 120,000 daily riders using 6 bus routes, Union Station, and Ogilvie Station then you aren’t looking very hard.

    More info on the selected “Balanced Option” below:

  • Cole

    A map would be nice…

  • this is how trick bikers into buying BRT. tell them they’re going to get protected bike lanes, then just pull the football out, a la Lucy.

  • Elie

    Hate surface lots in dense areas and love the idea of turning a surface lot into a transit center.

  • Ryan Wallace

    See the link provided by @d4767a24d6326207deaad211248ce9ca:disqus shows a couple maps that indicate which areas of Clinton/Canal (it is essentially arround Ogilvie/Union Station). Either Steve or Jon provided links to proposal for another east/west corridor I believe using Carroll Ave. The current proposal is a good stepping stone into getting that Carroll Ave project done as well.

  • Ryan Wallace

    It is great that CDOT has realized that the downtown streets provide far more capacity for vehicle traffic than is needed. I believe this conversion to bicycle and transit uses will continue. Someone (hint hint Steve/Jon) should start keep a tally of the amount of lane/miles that have been converted for transit/bike uses. I think the golden goose at the end of the road is BRT service on Michigan Ave (maybe even another loop on State/Michigan). It has the potential to benefit both residents and tourists.

  • Looks like standard bus-only lanes, not BRT. What am I missing? Yes, island boarding is nice, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. I’m in favor, but the rush to label any improvement in service as “BRT” is not good.

  • There would be dedicated lanes, level boarding and queue jumps, and probably limited stops and pre-paid boarding. What other elements are you looking for that aren’t present? By the way, when the CTA introduce the Jeffery Jump express service they made a point of saying it wasn’t BRT but was a step in that direction.

  • I don’t follow you here Peter. Cyclists would be getting protected lanes on Washington and Randolph.

  • Good idea! We’ll put that in the hopper… BRT on Michigan would be great and BRT on LSD would be even better.

  • Your wish is my command!

  • That would have been cool, but probably much tougher politically, and they already have enough funding to do the current proposal.

  • Looking into that. See the map I just posted.

  • Where does it say pre-paid boarding? Separate branding, frequencies, signal priority, etc. The renderings look like garden variety bus only lanes with island platforms. They have that on Market St. in San Francisco, but I wouldn’t call it BRT.

  • Charles_Siegel

    The protected bike lane in the picture looks like it won’t work. Every time a bus stops, the bike lane will be blocked by bus users walking across the bike line to get to the sidewalk.

  • Ryan Wallace

    I have thought about BRT on LSD also, but the problem I cannot get around is that routes depart LSD on almost all exits. How do you prioritize buses?

    If you prioritize the left lane, then the buses have to cross two lanes of traffic to get to their exit. This may negate all the time savings.

    If you prioritize the right lane, you would have a serious safety concern as exiting vehicles would have to cross in front of buses that were not exiting.

  • Prepaid boarding and limited stops are mentioned as possibilities in the Central Loop BRT presentation: http://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/cdot/CDOTProjects/Central_Loop_BRT_Presentation_5.12.pdf
    The Jump has separate branding and will be getting signal priority this spring, so it’s likely the Loop BRT will have those features as well. NYC’s Select service already has pre-paid boarding, so it shouldn’t be hard to implement here.

  • It looks like fencing would keep bus riders from crossing the bike lane, except at intersections, where people will already be crossing it.

  • Ryan Wallace

    I assume there would be the same learning curve that we are seeing with the Dearborn two-way protected lane. At first peds “creeped” into lane as they were attempting to cross the street, over time they will learn (with some help from bikers and CDOT) to stay out of the lane.

    I assume the same will be true for this project. If the pedestrians do not have a walk symbol, they will need to learn to look for cyclists. The green pavement marking and additional signage should help with this.

    Also think about how it will likely operate. One would assume that the bus and the cyclists will have a green light at the same time, meaning that most of the cyclists will be past the pedestrian conflict point by the time the passengers begin to offload.

  • Traveler

    Common pracice in Copenhagen. Cyclists tend to yield to bus passengers. Dedicated signals may also help.

  • spencerrecneps

    I imagine these bike lanes will be safe from the chopping block. If CDOT wants bike share to be a success, they know they need to make good bike connections between Union Station, Ogilvie, and the rest of downtown. That’s probably the biggest reason why these bike improvements were included in the first place.

  • Why don’t you set up a Google Doc that we can all share to track lane mile conversions?

  • You and me both.

  • I was thinking about this, too, especially that CDOT will begin planning for Lake Shore Drive north segment reconstruction. Right now, the merge lanes are very short. In the rebuilding, the merge lanes could be longer so that the buses, moving at about 30 MPH, could be easily merged with.

  • Ryan Wallace

    But what about the cars that are exiting, when the buses are not??

  • Ryan Wallace

    Ask and you shall receive. This is just a start.


    Shoot me an email ryanericwallace[at]gmail[dot]com if you want to help build out the document.

  • Anonymous

    This is a great start.

  • Cyclist For Fun and Mobility

    Does anyone know if the Union Station Transportation Center (or whatever it will be called) will have high-quality, covered, abundant, and secure bicycle parking? Or if no one knows this, does anyone know who is the contact person / project manager is, whom one could ask about this? Such parking NEEDS to be part of this project, IMHO.

  • At the speeds people are supposed to be moving, merging shouldn’t be an issue. It happens every day without incident on highways around the state.

  • Ryan Wallace

    Agreed. (Its nice that you think people are moving at appropriate speeds or anywhere near 30mph). Maybe I will contact Shaun over at Transitized. He has made a point to have his blog be more about drawing out what is possible. He has already produced quite a few good mock ups.

    On a related note, do you have any additional info on the reconstruction of LSD??

  • BlueFairlane

    There’s also the issue of ramp traffic backing up onto LSD, though, which frequently happens during rush hour.

  • I’m wondering whether all turns will be allowed across the BRT lane, e.g. on the Madison route, whether truck/taxi/private motor vehicle drivers be allowed to turn right/north onto State, Dearborn, LaSalle, Franklin etc like they are now. If so, will they be given right turn green and red arrows, separate from the green light given to the buses, so that they don’t block the BRT lane?

  • You can contact Gabe Klein. gabe.klein@cityofchicago.org

  • I didn’t say I think people are moving at appropriate speeds. However, I should have expanded to say that a road – any road – can be designed to “force” the speeds that are appropriate. If the speed limit sign says 30 MPH (or 45 MPH, as I believe some parts of LSD allow), but the road design “says” otherwise, then history tells us there will be a mismatch between regulation and practiced speeds.

    I was in a car on LSD last night, for the first time in over a year (at least). It was weird, and a bit scary at some points. Also “awesome” to see how backed up that highway gets…

    I don’t have any additional info on the reconstruction of north LSD. I am expecting CDOT to begin a public planning process for it by the end of spring 2013.

  • Anonymous

    Any updates on this project?

  • Things have been quiet on this front, with all of the BRT focus on Ashland, but I’ll put some feelers out.

  • Anonymous

    Sweet. My new job has me riding further East on Washington, which requires EXTREME maneuvering after Wacker. A little road diet will make Washington better for all users.

  • Anonymous

    Oh, interesting; I think the tunnel west of the river and the bridge over the river is the unpleasant stretch; fairly smooth sailing after that IMO.

  • Anonymous

    In my experiences traffic is usually backed up between Canal and Wacker so it’s like riding by a parking lot, though the bridge can be sketchy. I’m probably comfortable with that stretch having ridden it for 3 years but have not ridden on Wash west of Wacker much.


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