CBS 2 Presents the Windshield Perspective on Loop BRT

Construction work to build the $32 million Central Loop Bus Rapid Transit project has been postponed until next year, but workers are already out replacing utility lines on downtown streets to prepare for the project. CBS 2 anchor Rob Johnson responded with a faux exposé that trots out tired clichés about the city’s purported war on cars.

“We noticed crews digging up Loop street after street with no seeming plan,” he intones. “Then we started digging and found a city plan to radically alter the heart of the Loop.” Quite the scoop, except that the BRT project, announced back in February of 2013, has been in the news for a year and a half.

The system will run between Union Station and Michigan, including dedicated bus lanes on Canal, Clinton, Washington and Madison, as well as a new transit center next to the train station. The city has said time-saving features will cut 7.5 minutes off a roundtrip across the Loop. As part of the project, workers will build a protected bike lane between the bus lane and the curb on Washington.

“If you commute to downtown Chicago for work, your life is about to change,” Johnson warns before setting off to interview people in automobiles. “City planners have decided to move buses and bikes ahead of cars.”

“I hate it,” says one motorist. “It’s crazy. Guess I’ll be on that bus.” CBS apparently couldn’t be troubled to interview an actual bus rider who would appreciate the faster ride.

CL Platform on street 12-18-13
Rendering of the Loop BRT on Washington Boulevard.

It would have been easy to find a bus rider since, as the Metropolitan Planning Council’s Peter Skosey points out in the clip, half the people who travel these streets in vehicles are already in buses. BRT will reduce travel times for all of these existing customers, while making the bus a more attractive option for new riders.

“I’m not sure the incremental inconvenience [to motorists] is going to be that great,” Skosey said. “Driving is still going to be a viable option for those who have no other choice.”

Or will it be hellish gridlock serving absolutely no purpose? “Take a look at this mess here,” says Johnson, standing by the Washington construction zone. “Three lanes shut down [and] traffic slowed to a crawl… This will be the new normal along Washington and other streets in the Loop.”

Actually, if you want to keep score by counting lanes, only two traffic lanes will be affected: There will still be two through lanes, plus left-turn lanes for motorists. The bigger mistake, though, is to frame the issue as if the bus lane and bike lane have only as much value as a construction site. If you get around the Loop without using a car, apparently, CBS2 doesn’t expect you to be watching.

Johnson concludes that the project is “driving home the point that cars are no longer welcome” in the Loop. That is to say, no longer welcome except on the remaining 95 percent or so of Loop road space.

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