Will CDOT and CTA Launch “True BRT” on the Central Loop Corridor?

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Washington Street BRT configuration with protected bike lane.

Last week the CTA and Chicago Department of Transportation unveiled the proposed lane configuration for the Central Loop East-West Transit Corridor. According to the city’s press release, the improvements will include dedicated bus lanes on Canal, Washington, Madison and Clinton, delineated with colored pavement and additional signs. The system, which is slated to open for service next year, would serve some 1,700 buses and would include level boarding via “island” bus platforms, plus queue jumps at key intersections.

While the city is calling this a bus rapid transit corridor, some Streetsblog commenters argued that these features alone don’t make for true BRT. CDOT spokesman Pete Scales and CTA spokewoman Lambrini Lukidis recently provided some additional details that provide a better picture of how far the city might take the proposal. If it has all the features it could have, the Loop project will be much more effective than if it only goes halfway. (For more background on what constitutes true BRT, check out the rating system devised by the nonprofit Institute for Transportation & Development Policy.)

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The J14 Jeffery Jump express bus in South Shore. Photo by John Greenfield.

CDOT is responsible for the physical changes to the streets, including pavement, signals, signs and more. Scales said that in addition to the queue jumps, the Canal/Jackson intersection will have a camera-actuated exclusive cycle for buses exiting the new Union Station Transportation Center, also part of the project. But he said there probably won’t be bus-priority traffic signals, like the ones that will soon be added along the route of the J14 Jeffery Jump, a BRT like express bus service with stops spaced every half-mile or so on the South Side. “They are more appropriate for the stop spacing of neighborhood arterials than the dense grid of the Loop,” he said.


View Loop protected bike lanes on BRT corridor in a larger map

Proposed downtown bike lanes: north- and westbound on Canal and Van Buren (green); 2-way on Clinton (red); eastbound on Washington (blue); westbound on Randolph (orange).

Will there be cameras to enforce the bus-only lanes, as is the case with New York City’s Select bus service? “We will evaluate camera enforcement during the final design and engineering phase,” Scales said. While the city’s press release stated that the proposed Washington configuration includes a protected bike lane and Randolph, a block north, will also get a protected lane, readers were curious whether the existing conventional bike lanes on Canal and Clinton would be retained. “The current design would install a two-way protected bike lane on the east side Clinton from Randolph to Van Buren,” Scales said. “The lane on Canal would be removed north of Van Buren and a transition lane would be installed on Van Buren. This solution will minimize bus-bike conflicts.”

Lukidis answered questions about bus operations. Will there be pre-paid bus boarding, as is the case in NYC? “CTA is examining the possibility of off-board payments in conjunction with its new Open Fare payment system, Ventra,” she said. Would there be less frequent stops, like the Jump? “There is currently no plan to eliminate bus stops in the Central Loop,” she said. “Unlike the Western & Ashland corridors, the Central loop is a shorter distance; dedicated bus lanes would improve the efficiency and reliability of all buses and ultimately improve travel times without removing bus stops.”

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Select Bus Service on First Avenue in Manhattan. Photo by John Greenfield.

Lukidis noted that the dedicated east-west lanes through the loop on Washington and Madison will be served by six CTA bus routes: the Jump, #20 Madison, #56 Milwaukee, #60 Blue Island/26th, #157 Streeterville/Taylor and #124 Navy Pier. She says that in addition to the blue-painted Jump buses, the #124 will also have branded service, since that route serves as a downtown circulator between Union Station and the pier. Asked if there will be an increase in the frequency of bus service along the Central Loop corridor, Lukidis responded, “CTA is always examining ridership and service frequency, and will take a closer look at this as we begin the next phase of the Central Loop BRT project.”

So while the Central Loop East-West Corridor won’t feature physically separated bus lanes, transit signal prioritization or less-frequent stops, it will serve multiple routes and could potentially incorporate many of the other BRT features: dedicated lanes with camera enforcement, queue jumps, pre-paid fares, and level boarding. If Chicago implements all these other features, the result should be fast, convenient trans-Loop bus service.

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