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

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