Get Your First Look at the Design for Loop BRT Stations

CL Platform on street 12-18-13
Rendering of the preliminary station design on Washington.

The Chicago Department of Transportation recently released a preliminary design for the Loop bus rapid transit corridor’s shelters, heavily influenced by the winner of the NEXT STOP: Designing Chicago BRT Stations contest. Construction on the downtown express bus corridor, featuring dedicated lanes on Washington, Madison, Canal, and Clinton, is slated for this spring, with service launching by the end of the year. Washington and Madison will each get four stations, according to Chris Ziemann, the city’s BRT manager.

The design competition was sponsored by the Chicago Architectural Club and the Chicago Architecture Foundation, with support from the Rockefeller Foundation (a Streetsblog Chicago funder), and drew submissions from 14 different countries. The winning entry, Form vs. Uniform, was submitted by Hesam T. Rostami and Bahareh Atash of Toronto. It features a long, sleek, capsule shape, with transparent glass walls.

According to the designers, while each station would have the same basic footprint, to ease construction, maintenance and access for people with disabilities, the layout of wooden strips incorporated into the roof entrances and walls can be customized to make each shelter unique. Amenities would include solar panels on the roof to provide a portion of the needed power, heat lamps, and bike racks at the rear of the shelter.

Image from the Form vs. Uniform design submission.

Ziemann said CDOT will incorporate many aspects of Rostami and Baharesh’s entry into the final design of the stations. They received $5,000 in prize money but will get no additional compensation. The runners-up won smaller cash awards. “A small investment in the design competition led to a really big payoff in terms of urban design and downtown beautification,” he said. “These are going to be very functional, world-class BRT facilities.”

The mostly glass composition of the design was one of the major selling points, Ziemann said. “We heard from local businesses that ground-level retailers didn’t want to have their storefronts blocked by a big [opaque] bus shelter,” he said. If anything, merchants along the corridor will benefit from the increased foot traffic generated by fast transit service. Proximity to the BRT stops should also attract tenants to nearby office and residential buildings.

The final design will feature level bus boarding from 14”-high platforms. The shelters will be located on islands on Washington and bumpouts on Madison, which will shorten pedestrian crossing distances. The stations will include lighting, seating, Bus Tracker displays, windbreaks inside the shelters, and possibly heat, Ziemann said.

Washington Street BRT configuration, including a protected bike lane.

Prepaid boarding is a likely scenario, he said. New York’s Select Bus Service requires customers to buy a ticket from a kiosk at the bus stop before boarding, which is enforced by occasional onboard checks by transit employees. However, it’s more probable that the downtown Chicago stations will use turnstiles to collect fares and control access to the platforms. Multiple bus routes will use the Loop corridor, so it would be impossible for passengers who board in other parts of town to buy a ticket to display during onboard checks.

Streetsblog Chicago readers have asked what’s to keep riders from simply stepping into the street to bypass the turnstiles and then hopping onto the platform. Some cities solve this problem by having sliding doors on the platform that open when the bus arrives. However, Ziemann said that most systems with prepaid boarding only experience five-to-eight-percent fare evasion. “We considered having doors on the platform, but it might be hard to justify the extra cost and maintenance,” he said.

An official unveiling of the station design will take place later this month at the architecture foundation, Ziemann said, adding that he’s happy that the CTA settled on an attractive and practical template for the shelters. “It’s an innovative design for an innovative project.”

  • Roland Solinski

    This is beautiful. A lot beefier than the original submission, and somewhat less graceful, but really nice. The materials will be key… right now it looks like the canopy elements and supports are some kind of bronze coating over steel. There will probably be slatted wood benches like those on L platforms. I hope something interesting is done on the ground… even stained concrete would provide a distinctive look, but pavers would be great.

  • Mark Walker

    These structures (combined with dedicated lanes) make a major statement about the changing nature of Chicago’s streets. NY needs to move in the same direction if we want to be taken seriously.

  • duppie

    Any more detail on the clinton and canal designs? How will they deal with all the office charter buses on Clinton

  • DanielKH

    This is overwhelmingly exciting. Functional *and* so pretty! Is it too optimistic to imagine that a handful of people will be more sympathetic about Ashland after this?

  • Green Machine Cycles

    Solar panels in the canyons of downtown aren’t likely to collect much sunlight. Arrangement of bike lane is odd but few options exist. I can foresee clogs and collisions while some people are trying to hurry into the BRT station from the crosswalk while cyclists are trying to pass through on a green light.

  • rohmen

    Do they intend to ban right turns as part of this design?

    If not, how do they intend to minimize the danger of bicyclists getting right-hooked by cars turning right that potentially now have a harder time seeing a cyclist going straight in the protected lane?? Will traffic signals make this a much smaller concern than I’m making it out to be???

    Looks pretty, but it seems like this design creates some serious blind spots with regards to cyclists in the loop–a place where drivers are already more distracted then usual.

  • If cyclists have the green, then those pedestrians have the red.

  • Green Machine Cycles

    Obviously, John, but I’m anticipating the realities of human behavior, not the theory.

  • Green Machine Cycles

    Design for the worst, hope for the best, not the reverse.

  • Ah, the Murphy’s Law school of urban planning.

  • Green Machine Cycles

    It’s the realist’s school. Tell me you honestly can’t see the scenario where a cyclist with the green is tearing ass through that intersection as a BRT approaches from behind. A ped at the crosswalk sees the bus and darts across the little six foot gap between the curb and the station ramp to catch the bus. Blam-o. Sure, ped’s fault, but why invite that inevitable collision when design can restrict its chances?

  • Fred

    The renderings seem to show the stations mid-block, so there shouldn’t be much blind spot. Also there will be a bus only lane buffer between traffic and the bike lanes. I would think those two things would minimize the issue.

  • BlueFairlane

    The world would be a much better place if more engineers went to that school.

  • John

    Why should we design for cyclists “tearing ass” anymore than we design for motorists speeding thru downtown? Cyclists need to be mindful and slow down too.

  • Green Machine Cycles

    My choice of modifier isn’t the issue. Don’t straw-man me. I’m not absolving cyclists of the responsibility to control their machines. Again, the point is that if the design of lanes and controls better anticipate how people inevitably behave we can reduce the severity and frequency of unwanted collisions and improve efficiency for everyone. This article isn’t about chastising reckless cyclists. It’s about the design and engineering of a bus stop.

  • rohmen

    The bus only lane buffer is my worry, actually.

    The bus buffer means a bicycle will be traveling in a lane over 8 feet away from the turning vehicle. Can the mirrors in a truck or cargo van (where the driver can’t check the blind spot themselves and must check mirrors) even see an object behind it but 8 feet off to the side?

  • cjlane

    linky to the design released by CDOT??

  • rohmen

    The above link/image better conveys what I’m getting at

  • Reuben Hussmann

    By the time the car begins its turn, it is possible that the car could actually be facing the lane in which the bicycle is traveling- which makes the likelihood of the driver seeing the cyclist better than glancing into a rear view mirror for a split second.

  • Reuben Hussmann

    While I realize this doesn’t explain the very straight bike lane shown on the renditions- it does explain how the car drivers are looking forward at the potential crossing point rather than behind them before turning.

  • rohmen

    I watched the video, and I agree the dutch design fixes the problem I describe above, but that’s not what’s being proposed here at intersections (that I can tell). Drivers looking forward at the potential crossing point would seemingly not work in the BRT design since cyclists stay in a straight line through the intersection. The blind spot problem I describe above is the exact reason the dutch design their intersections differently now.

    I take interest in this issue because the only time I have ever been hit by a car in Chicago was in a right-hook situation where a driver didn’t check his blind spot before making a right turn into a parking garage in the loop.

  • Jajuan Marsh

    Part of the proposal calls for westbound bike lanes to be moved from Madison onto Randolph Street instead. So if what turn restrictions are put in place would quite probably be more focused on Washington.

  • Details on how cycling is facilitated have been light from the beginning of this project. Like, where should people bike on Madison to reach their offices or Chase bank, now that the bike lane is going to be removed?

    I imagine that automobile right-turns across the bike lane will be managed with a bike signal, like on Dearborn.

  • Alex_H

    Why is it necessary to remove the Madison bike lane simply because of the bus/bike lane projects on Washington and Randolph? I know a lot of people don’t like the Madison bike lane, but why not just keep it? Won’t removing it (and inserting a “car” lane) just increase speeds and dangerousness?

  • rohmen

    This is what scares me.

    I love that Rahm and the City are finally taking on efforts to improve the City’s cycling network and create lanes that are designed to encourage more people to integrate cycling into their transportation plans, but places like London reflect what can happen when cycling infrastructure is simply added into these type of projects wherever it fits. The “it’s better than nothing,” or “at least we’re trying something,” approach is not an acceptable planning strategy.

    In the London situation, for example, that type of planning has apparently resulted in a bunch of cycle “superhighways” that give the illusion of making cycling safer and more accessible while in reality creating several new dangers at intersections that have allegedly resulted in several cyclists’ deaths.

    It would be a shame to see Chicago go down the same path of building what is intended to be “protected” cycling infrastructure without really considering from the beginning how it should properly function.

  • Madison is getting BRT; Randolph is just getting a new bike lane. The bus lanes and BRT platforms will occupy the equivalent of two car lanes on Madison, so keeping the bike lane would probably require removing one of the two remaining car lanes or parking, which would be pretty tough politically. There won’t be a new car lane there, so car speeds are unlikely to increase. See attached rendering of the Madison layout.

  • Alex_H

    My mistake, thanks John. I had my streets backwards.

  • London is a great example of the type of planning “strategies” you mention but that’s not happening here.

    London tried to grow ridership with marketing and this article by David Hembrow explains why using marketing to increase the number of people cycling is like shooting yourself in the foot.

    More data is needed, but based on what data I have (1.0-1.5 years of post-installation crash data), the protected bike lanes in Chicago seem to be protecting bicyclists.

  • But the bike lane is still being removed. CDOT has the opportunity to build the first “super sharrow”, which is running a 4-feet green stripe down the middle of the travel lane.

    Here’s an example in Oakland. (There’s disagreement in what super sharrow means, though, which is kind of inherent in the sharrow classification because it has no legal standing.)

  • RoundRock 33

    It is great that CDOT is planning a protected bike lane on an east-wast street downtown. Traffic flow will improve now that cyclists no longer have to risk their lives weaving in and out of traffic…especially in rush hour!


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