Chicago to Pursue Center-Running Bus Rapid Transit on Ashland Avenue

After a year of study and outreach, today Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Chicago Transit Authority, and the Chicago Department of Transportation announced plans for center-running Bus Rapid Transit on Ashland Avenue. Once implemented, the project could set a national precedent for high-quality BRT, improving transit speeds as much as 80 percent during rush hour, according to today’s announcement.

By converting one general traffic lane in each direction to dedicated bus lanes, the design prioritizes transit on the highest-ridership bus route in CTA’s system. Limited stops, signal priority for buses, and pre-paid fares will also keep buses in motion instead of spending time stopped at stations and traffic lights (though it looks like passengers will be allowed to pay fares on the bus if they choose, according to the announcement). The vast majority of curbside parking and loading zones would be preserved.

The plan calls for a $160 million, three-phase implementation covering 16 miles of Ashland, from Irving Park Road to 95th Street. The first phase would run from Cortland Avenue to 31st Street, and today’s announcement marks the beginning of detailed design and public outreach for that 5.5-mile segment.

“Bus Rapid Transit is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to expand and modernize our city’s transit network for the 21st century and is an important component of my plan to create a world-class transit system,” Emanuel said in the statement. “We will work with our local communities to best determine how to maximize the positive impacts BRT would provide to riders, while boosting local economic development and improving quality of life for all city residents.”

Advocates welcomed the news today, with the Metropolitan Planning Council and the Active Transportation Alliance issuing a joint statement hailing the plan as “an important milestone in Chicago’s BRT vision that balances the needs of all street users, improves quality of life in local neighborhoods, provides better access to jobs and services, and makes local streets more attractive, safer and less congested.”

Streetsblog’s John Greenfield will have more on this story following a morning Q&A session at CTA headquarters.

Rendering of a BRT station at Ashland and Polk, with Rush University Hospital in the background. Image: CTA.

To tide you over, here are a few more details from today’s press release about the BRT features planned for the corridor:

According to the proposed design, a dedicated center bus lane in each direction would have limited stops – every ½ mile and at CTA stations as well as traffic-signal priority at intersections. New amenity-filled bus-boarding stations with enhanced, landscaped medians between stations will benefit bus riders, as well as area residents and businesses.

The vision to redesign streets to make transit more efficient includes bus-only lanes, transit signal priority and balancing the needs for all users, including autos. This vision maximizes street potential, enhances the pedestrian environment and represents the highest BRT standard.

In addition to faster travel, proposed BRT on Ashland will:

  • Save about 8 minutes per trip based on the current average trip length on the #9 Ashland bus of 2.5 miles
  • Preserve approximately 90 percent of parking on both sides of the street
  • Enhance streetscapes with more than 75 blocks of new streetscaping, including medians, better lighting, wider sidewalks and more greenery
  • Allow the potential for pre-payment for faster boarding, similar to CTA ‘L’ stations
  • Preserve approximately 95 percent of loading zones for delivery trucks
  • What, no stop at the Clybourn Metra stop? #FAIL

  • Perfect – hopefully someday it will go all the way north to Andersonville, an area that needs some more reliable rapid transit service.

    And to remove a traffic lane on Ashland up there, which is just an awful, awful street with too-fast-moving traffic and drivers that don’t care to stop at any crosswalks. Hopefully that slows drivers down.

  • Fbfree

    That’s the Courtland stop. It’s in the plan.

  • Right, the first phase will run from the Clybourn Metra stop, which is located on Ashland between Cortland and Armitage, and the Orange Line’s Ashland stop, at 31st.

  • Anonymous

    No sound?

  • Anonymous

    Wouldn’t Armitage have made more sense? The stop has to be on the south side of Cortland because of the columns from the Metra viaduct (unless UP is going to get that one redone soon). Either way, you’re under the Kennedy or under the Metra tracks. Armitage could be open and not so dark.

    I see there’s a Roscoe stop planned (not in phase one obviously) for the Brown Line, but there isn’t an L stop there. Hopefully that thought is combined with the ideas that have been floated about building a linear park under the tracks there (Southport to Paulina). Even better would be to add stairs/entrance at Marshfield, as the Paulina platform already goes that far east. Would make the connection a lot smoother.

  • Fbfree

    Even better would be a 1-block elevated walkway with stairs straight down to the BRT platform. I’ve been dreaming of ideas every time I pass Paulina on the L.

  • Anonymous

    I could see that getting really expensive at the Brown Line where the stop isn’t right there. At some of the other stops, however, I hope they seriously consider it. Green Line (Lake) and Orange Line the stops are right above Ashland, so new stairs could definitely work as could the other end of the Green Line (63rd). Even cooler would be steps down to the Division Blue Line.

  • Anonymous

    It is absurd to double-down on lesser transit, buses, which are worse than other rail alternatives. They should go for light rail, or elevated monorails, or anything else but buses. I truly hope this BRT-craziness in Chicago bust soon, or that some sort of public/politic backlash stall these projects until they are remade into rail projects.

  • Clevelander

    Lessons from Cleveland’s silver medal winning BRT (the HealthLine): (1) it takes at least 30 minutes to travel 4.6 miles, and (2) traffic signalization doesn’t work.

  • Alan Robinson
  • I’ll ask the CTA why they’re planning to put the stop on Cortland instead of Armitage. Here’s a street view of Cortland/Ashland:

  • The Health line is 6.8 miles. Which 4.6-mile segment are you referring to?

  • Anonymous

    That street view is a little misleading (google’s fault, not yours). It’s taken in the early to mid morning. Once it gets closer to noon, the Kennedy overhead blocks the sun for the rest of the day. ie, it’s not nearly that light most of the day

    The Paulina stop isn’t “just west”, the entrance is over 2 blocks away on the west side of Lincoln north of Roscoe. As I said, the platform extends to Marshfield (1 block away), but there isn’t an entrance/exit there. CTA would need quite a bit of wayfinding signage at this one, because if you just stand at Roscoe/Ashland and dont’ know, you’d have no idea if there’s a stop anywhere close.

  • The west side of Lincoln north of Roscoe is one full block, 1/8 miles, a 2.5-minute walk, west of Roscoe/Ashland. Therefore, a Roscoe stop on the BRT makes sense.

  • Anonymous

    You’re completely missing my original point, which is that CTA needs to do more than just drop a stop at Roscoe and say “it’s a connection to the Brown Line”. Ideally (as I said already), they’ll put the rumored linear park under the tracks between Southport and Paulina and add an entrance at Marshfield so that the connection is easy to make. Right now, yes, it’s only 1/8 of a mile, a short walk, but if you don’t know where the stop is, you’re not going to easily find it.

  • fresh

    At 2:31 in the video, the bus has a green light but the adjacent car lane has a red. I may be basing too much on this simple video, but what would be the logic of this?

    I’m also curious about how the bus only lanes will be enforced.

  • An additional entrance at Marshfield and/or a linear park petween Southport and Paulina would be great, but even if none of that happens, a BRT stop at Roscoe makes sense. But, sure, some wayfinding signs would make sense.

  • The bus lanes will be colored and will have some kind of physical treatment, not Jersey walls, but possibly bollards or rumble strips, to discourage cars from driving in them. They are also considering using camera enforcement. See our post on the details of the plan for more info:

  • Clevelander

    From Public Square (i.e., the HealthLine’s western terminus in downtown Cleveland) to University Circle, at the campuses of Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals. The HealthLine’s eastern terminus is beyond University Circle at Windemere Station in East Cleveland. According to Greater Cleveland RTA’s billing, riders are supposed to be able to get from Public Square to the tomb of the “twentieth president [located in Lakeview Cemetery, which is off of the HealthLine just beyond University Circle] in twenty minutes flat.” Sadly, the buses on this bus rapid transit line never come close to achieving that speed, as they can’t even travel the 4.6 miles to University Circle in twenty minutes. I am, however, a fan of the rider of the HealthLine (and there is no disputing the substantial development it sparked along its corridor), but it’s just not a rapid form of transit.

  • The RTA billing does seem unrealistic but, if Google Maps is to be trusted, it appears the travel times are quicker than the “at least 30 minutes to travel 4.6 miles” you claim.

    According to Google Maps, the 4.6-mile outbound trip you describe, from Ontario Station near Public Square to Aldebert Station near University Circle, takes 24 minutes at 5pm on a weekday: That’s 11.5 MPH.

    At 5pm on a Sunday it’s supposed to take 22 minutes: That’s 12.5 MPH.

    At 2am on a weekday it’s supposed to take only 16 minutes: That’s 17.5 MPH.

    One obvious reason that the Ashland BRT will be significantly faster than the Health Line is that while the Health Line stops every 1/4 mile, the Ashland BRT will only stop every 1/2 mile – half as often. Local buses will run curbside, so they won’t slow down the center-running BRT buses.

  • Clevelander

    My claim that the HealthLine takes “at least 30 minutes to travel 4.6 miles” is based on actually ride experience, not google maps. I agree that 20 minutes is not unrealistic, if only it was true. I don’t think that the traffic signal synchronization works on the HealthLine, and if it does work, it doesn’t work anything like as shown in the Ashland BRT video.

  • Any idea why the bus is going slower than expected, other
    than signal prioritization problems? Are there issues with cars blocking the buses?

    Have you ever timed trips on the Health Line at different times of day, or different days of the week? If not, if you feel like it, please try clocking the trip at a few different times of day and different days of the week and let us know what you find out. Thanks.

  • Clevelander

    I rarely see issues with cars blocking buses on the HealthLine, which is remarkable because the only physical separation from the motor vehicle traffic lanes on each side bus lanes is the painted stripe and a rumple strip. I think that most of the delays are due to the frequency of the stops, as you pointed out, and the fact that the bus still has to stop at traffic lights. I had heard that the City of Cleveland and RTA had resolved the problems with the signal prioritization, but I will try to confirm that that is the case. I will time my trips on the HealthLine at different times of day, and let you know what I find out. But regardless of the time it takes to travel on the HealthLine, I think that it is worth pointing out that this $200 million BRT project spurred over $1 billion of public and private investment along the corridor, which I contribute to the improved transit (I rode the HealthLine’s predecessor somewhat frequently, and it was much slower and less comfortable), the traffic calming effect the bike lanes and HealthLine have had on Euclid Avenue, and the improved landscape on the corridor (sharp bus stops/platforms and landscaped medians). And the HealthLine has increased RTA ridership on the corridor, which is partially due that some bus lines were discontinued and merged into the HealthLine.

  • Yes, please write up your findings and we may incorporate them into a short post on the subject, and send you a Streetsblog t-shirt for your troubles.

    Good to hear that the Health Line is having so many other benefits.

  • Miles Bader

    How on earth did something grade-separated end up yielding “only minimal speed improvements” over something non-grade-separated…?

    Did they have a station every 50 feet?

  • Anonymous

    Chicago’s famous elevated train otherwise called the “EL” or “L” is on the verge of collapse. It’s so badly rusted, I bet I can scrape it with my fingernail. The city is gonna need bus rapid transit if it’s gonna move all these people around when the first major accident sways people off the “EL”

  • I agree, ‘L’ infrastructure is in dire need of improvement. Hence, the 5-month south Red Line rehab that’s about to launch, current Green Line work and future north Red / Purple work which is in the works.

  • Elie

    Obviously, most of us would love a rail line on this same route, but presumably that is cost prohibitive. Are there any figures comparing the money that will be spent on BRT to that which would need to be spent to create an El line down Ashland or Western? I know some of the infrastructure used to be in place, but I believe most of it has been taken down.


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