BOMA Misses the Memo on How Loop BRT Will Work

Bus Rapid Transit -Washington
Rendering of BRT on Washington at LaSalle.

File this one under “People unclear on the concept.” On September 29, the Chicago Department of Transportation announced it had launched the bidding process for the $32.5 million Central Loop BRT project and released final plans for the corridor. Yesterday, the Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago published an ill-informed op-ed piece in Crain’s, warning that the current design for Washington Street will create carmaggedon, including crashes caused by right-turning vehicles.

It’s odd that the article, written by BOMA vice president Michael Cornicelli, contains so many misconceptions about the plan. The city met with the association several times to discuss the project, according to CDOT spokesman Pete Scales.

“It’s difficult to imagine Chicago’s downtown traffic becoming worse, but that could be the result if the city of Chicago doesn’t steer its Central Loop Bus Rapid Transit plan in the right direction,” Cornicelli warns. He claims that the BRT project will reduce the number of lanes available to motorists on Washington from the current four or five to only two, in order to make room for the dedicated bus lanes, island bus stations, and a protected bike lane. “Reducing vehicular capacity by half on this heavily traveled route means a dramatic increase in congestion and delays.”

Actually, in addition to maintaining two through lanes for motorists at all times, the design provides left- and right-turn lanes where these turns are permitted, which means three or four lanes will be available to motorists. True, car traffic will move somewhat slower on eastbound Washington and westbound Madison after BRT is implemented on these streets, but there are plenty of parallel streets that can be used as alternatives.

Meanwhile, CDOT predicts the project will make an eastbound trip across the Loop 25 percent shorter, and a westbound trip 15 percent shorter. While cars and taxis occupy most of the downtown street space and cause most of the congestion, buses make up only four percent of motor vehicles in the Loop but move 47 percent of the people traveling in vehicles. BRT will speed commutes for an estimated 30,000 people per day, which more than justifies slightly longer travel times for a much smaller number of drivers.

Michael Cornicelli, vice president of BOMA.

Cornicelli also frets that, after the street remix, delivery trucks parking in one or both of the remaining through lanes will bring car traffic to a standstill. “If curbside deliveries were made simultaneously on both sides of the street, vehicular traffic would be obstructed completely,” he warns.

It’s doubtful that two truck drivers would be dumb enough to create that kind of doomsday scenario. Rather, deliveries will be made via north-south streets or Calhoun Place, the alley that runs just south of Washington for most of the width of the Loop. Police enforcement will help keep drivers out of the bus and bike lanes; officers will also ticket delivery drivers who block the through lanes, so truckers will quickly learn they can’t make curbside deliveries on Washington.

Cornicelli really demonstrates his lack of research into the BRT project when he argues that it will result in crashes from drivers turning right across the bus and bike lanes. “Cyclists in the curbside lane will be hidden by the buses from view, creating serious risk of collisions when cyclists disregard traffic signals,” he argues. “Anyone who has traveled in downtown Chicago has witnessed firsthand how frequently traffic laws are ignored by large numbers of cyclists.”

Actually, as a recent CBS report found, traffic laws are frequently ignored by Loop motorists and pedestrians, as well as cyclists. Right turns by motorists from Washington onto LaSalle will be prohibited. At other intersections, drivers will be permitted to merge across the bus lane and into right turn bays.

To avoid conflicts between right-turning motorists and cyclists, each mode will get a dedicated signal phase, similar to how turns currently work on the Dearborn protected lanes. On Dearborn, red-light compliance by bike riders improved by 161 percent after CDOT installed dedicated bike stoplights, so it’s highly unlikely the bloodbath Cornicelli is predicting will materialize.

I’m not sure why BOMA waited more than six weeks after negotiations with CDOT were finished to voice these concerns. Utility work on Washington to prepare for the project has been underway for more than two months. At any rate, Cornicelli’s apprehensions are based on a misunderstanding of the project. Next time, he should follow the Bob Dylan rule: “Don’t criticize what you don’t understand.”

  • duppie

    John, you state:
    “In addition to maintaining two through lanes for motorists at all times, the design provides left- and right-turn lanes where these turns are permitted, which means three or four lanes will be available to motorists”

    Too bad then that the rendering at the top of the article shows a shared left turn/through lane, giving only two lanes to car traffic. And thereby validating one of BOMA’s concerns.

  • Pat

    “Police enforcement will help keep drivers out of the bus and bike lanes.”

    I’ll believe it when I see it, but maybe it being a flagship project will help. Take a ride on Wells between Division and North and see how well those rules are enforced. Worse yet, even when a delivery truck/van has ample space to park legally, they often lazily pull in 3 feet from the curb so as not block the car lane and as a result, block the entire bike lane. Infuriating to say the least.

  • JacobEPeters

    That is the LaSalle intersection, which along with its elimination of right turning movements makes it an atypical intersection layout for Washington. I’m not sure why they chose this intersection for the rendering other than that it will be directly outside the CDOT offices.

  • Per Pete Scales, intersections where left turns are permitted will have left-turn lanes. This particular one may have slipped his mind, or perhaps the design has been tweaked. Here’s an older rendering of Washington with a left-turn lane.

  • “Reducing vehicular capacity by half on this heavily traveled route means a dramatic increase in congestion and delays.”

    This also shows a complete misunderstanding regarding appropriate roadway width. Decreasing capacity of a road does not necessarily mean increase in traffic. Two lanes can handle an immense amount of traffic, if it flows well. Under normal conditions most travel times are dependent on traffic signal timing rather than too many cars/not enough lanes. Where congestion does occur, it has more to do with vehicles acting illegally (i.e. the ‘ole cabbie makes a turn from the middle lane blocking everyone behind them comes to mind) or lack of clear roadway user organization (i.e. a bus has to swerve around cars and takes up two lanes.) BRT will provide greater organization of the street, making it clear where specific users should be.

    Lastly, are other people finding traffic in downtown to be that bad? I’ve been walking/biking/driving all over the central downtown area for almost 10 years now and, unless there’s a major event going on, i don’t find the traffic in the central area to be debilitating or unusually congested. There’s something like 1.5 million people that work in the central area everyday, i don’t think the traffic that we have is unreasonable. Any time i get stuck it’s usually due to a chartered bus driving like they own the place, a delivery/trash truck backing into an alley/loading dock, or a CTA bus getting stuck weaving around cars illegally stopped.

  • Shlabotnik

    For whatever it’s worth, compared to other big city downtowns, CBD traffic in Chicago is very tame. While I have some reservations on the Ashland BRT, I think a five star BRT system for downtown is fully warranted.

  • High_n_Dry

    Cornchilli should stick with what he knows – managing an association for greedy building owners with lax energy and environmental standards. Yeah, I said it.

  • duppie

    Misspelling the individual’s name on purpose, however well intended, diminishes your argument. Just sayin.

  • Yes, this.

    Capacity is not a function of the number of lanes on a block, but of the network and the dozens of other factors, several of which you mention in your final sentence.

  • sjwl

    Traffic is only bad on Wash/Mad when it backs up from the highway. It’s not a capacity issue on local streets.

    Those living and working downtown – or arriving by transit – shouldn’t be squeezed onto two 8 foot sidewalks and a patchwork bike network just so the few driving in/out of the loop can travel between a congested highway and crowded parking lots with minimal delay.

    But if they have the pull, they’ll continue to have their interests promoted above the majority. I’m surprised he didn’t complainabout all the peds in the crosswalks slowing turning traffic down.

  • Jim Angrabright

    Limit deliveries to off-hours.

  • Annie F. Adams

    As a person who drives in this area I agree with Chicagio “BRT will provide greater organization of the street, making it clear where specific users should be.”& I might actually want to walk or bike there. I find getting around DT in my car to be pretty easy. On foot or bike I feel vehicles often want me off the street “ASAP or I’ll HIT you!” That said these photos of Wacker at State’s temporary protected bike lane (due to Riverwalk construction) during morning rush hour seems to work fine for cars and is great for me catching the Dearborn protected bike lane. Should be a permanent protected bike lane. This lane also serves as free non-LAZ parking on weekends.

  • Annie F. Adams

    bigger/same pics.

  • hello

    One big source of “congestion” throughout much of the CBD (and really the whole city) is due to people “blocking the box.”

    I once had to drive through the Wacker/LaSalle intersection at rush hour. There were multiple cycles where cars weren’t able to take advantage of their signal because of cars blocking the box in the other direction.

  • David Altenburg
  • High_n_Dry

    Thanks, dumpie. If I wanted to present a serious argument, I wouldn’t do it posting anonymous comments on the interweb. But keep on keepin the internet safe.

  • No bickering please. Future comments along these lines will be deleted. Thanks.

  • Walk2Work

    Totally agree! And unless someone has never driven in Chicago before, there is really NO excuse for blocking the box, but I see it every single day on my walk home from work through the loop. I’d love some red light cameras in the loop to eliminate this issue and to help close our budget gap.

  • cjlane

    Tell it to the CTA bus drivers. They are awful about this in certain spots, one being Wacker/State.

  • cjlane

    Have to be cops downtown on a regular basis if cops are going to enforce it.

  • Brian

    John-stop deleting my comments. What is wrong with you?

  • John

    People get pretty sensitive around here. And people like John arent interested in opposing viewpoints and get very defensive. John likes to censor comments which don’t support his liberal agenda.

  • Dissenting opinions are welcome here, but abusive or irrelevant posting is not. Here’s our comment moderation policy: In particular, we look out for personal attacks and posts that don’t add anything to the discussion that’s underway. Also, back-and-forth bickering between commenters annoys other readers and floods our inboxes. Generally, we provide a warning and refer people to the moderation policy before deleting future posts. Repeat offenders are blacklisted.

  • Deni

    This is an accusation without any evidence. John and Steven run something here that is usually a very intelligent discussion on transit issues and all view points are respected, both by them and the readers. There is a reason this is the only place I post comments on the internet, because John and Steven do a pretty good job of keeping from devolving into YouTube or Yahoo News comment sections. Accusing them of censoring points of view they disagree with is completely unfounded and you cannot point to one example of such a thing.

    They just ask people to not be jerks to each other, hence the warning to High_n_Dry. And even then they give a lot more polite warnings before deleting comments or banning user than I would.

    I find this to be one of the best comment boards on the internet (not that that’s hard to accomplish) even with the occasional appearance of the tired old accusation of “liberal agenda.”


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