Emanuel: BRT Part of the “Modernization” of Chicago Transit

Rahm Emanuel at yesterday's press event at the Forest Park bus garage. Photo: John Greenfield

At yesterday’s press conference touting the CTA’s claim of saving $10 million by cracking down on absenteeism, I asked the Mayor Rahm Emanuel why he’s in favor of reconfiguring Ashland Avenue to create “gold-standard” bus rapid transit. I also asked how he plans to overcome the resistance to turning two of the four car lanes into bus-only lanes. However, as urban planner Steve Schlickman argued at a recent forum on BRT, the best way to convince people of the merits of the street redesign may be simply “doing it.” The mayor’s response provided a decent summary of the city’s current strategy for improving transportation: working on multiple ways to move people around the Chicago more efficiently, not just people in cars.

John Greenfield: The city has proposed converting two travel lanes on Ashland Avenue to dedicated bus lanes for bus rapid transit. Why do you think that’s a good idea, and how do you plan to pull it off politically?

Rahm Emanuel: Well, first of all, they’re going to run a community process… The first part of any bus rapid transit is what we’re going to be doing downtown, which is the right way in terms of making sure that we can continue to move people efficiently and effectively.

One of the central parts of any city’s economic development is its mass transportation system. [In Chicago] … the great majority of people use the public transportation system to get to and from work, which is why we’ve made such a big effort to modernize the system throughout the city. And part of that modernization is new stations, new tracks, better service, more reliable service, and looking into future types of service, which is why we’ve added bike lanes. We now represent 21 percent of the country’s entire protected bike lanes [this figure is based on Chicago’s roughly 30 miles of protected and buffered bike lanes] and we’re getting more people going to work using that form of transportation, which is also helping us in the employment area, attracting new start-up companies that are continuing to come to the city.

In addition to that, we are also then looking, appropriately, at different places to bring a bus rapid transit system, and we’ve tried the first one on Jeffery. [CTA President Forest Claypool has said that the Jefffery Jump express bus doesn’t represent true BRT but is a step in that direction.] We’re studying that and seeing if it works for the city, as part of the way to modernize and move people efficiently and effectively from where they live to where they work, or from neighborhood to neighborhood.