Eyes on the Street: Loop Link Lane Scofflaws Continue to Be a Problem

A cab driver blocks a bus in the Loop Link lane.

It’s been four months since the Loop Link bus rapid transit corridor launched downtown, but it seems like there are still some bugs to be worked out of the system.

The two main issues I’m aware of are bus speeds and private vehicles using the red lanes, which are marked “CTA Bus Only.” The city projected that the system, which also includes raised boarding platforms, and white “queue jump” traffic signals to give buses a head-start at lights, would double cross-Loop speeds from the previous, glacial rush-hour average of 3 mph to 6 mph.

A private car blocks one of the red lanes.

However, not long after the launch, bus speeds still averaged about 3 mph, largely due to a rule requiring the operators to approach the stations at that speed in order to avoid crashing into the platforms or creaming passengers with their rear-view mirrors. The speeds seemed to improve a bit in subsequent weeks, although CTA spokesman Jeff Tolman told me today that the 3 mph platform restriction is still in place.

“Performance and ridership are trending in the right direction but we still don’t have enough data to draw meaningful conclusions,” Tolman added.

The fact that private bus lines, motorists and taxis drivers sometimes drive or stop in the lanes can’t be helping Loop Link speeds either. This is particularly common with the charter bus lines that ferry office workers to and from Metra stations. When I talked to staff from The Free Enterprise System and Aries Charter Transportation last month, they were fairly unapologetic, arguing that their drivers don’t have much choice but to use the lanes for pick-ups and drop-offs.

An Aries Charter Transportation bus in a Loop Link lane.

Today a reader who works as an urban planner sent us a fresh batch of photos of charter buses, cars, and cabs in the red lanes. “I walk, cycle, or ride the bus through the Loop Link routes every day and see at least five violations in the 20 minutes of my trip,” her wrote. “In my experience, all of the violations are drivers trying to get past areas of heavy traffic. It is obvious that the answer to this problem is enforcement, of which there is none.” Unlike some BRT systems, Loop Link doesn’t feature camera enforcement.

I sent the images to Tolman. “We are aware of the issue and we are working with the city to make sure the traffic rules are enforced so that Loop Link delivers improved transit service as intended,” he responded.

Hopefully the police department will step up the ticketing of Loop Link lane lawbreakers, since this is key to ensuring the system is judged a success. “I would hate to see future BRT projects in Chicago and elsewhere curbed due to the failures of the Loop Link,” wrote the reader.

  • Mcass777

    Did the planners of this design not take into consideration that people might need to enter buildings from private cars, cabs, and private busses? What are people expected to do, exit on the street?

  • skelter weeks

    I find it humorous that you actually believe CTA buses will ever speed up.
    The union makes sure they go slow to protect jobs.
    There are many places in the system where buses could go faster, but don’t.
    It’s not about preventing ‘bus bunching’, or some other lame excuse.
    I’m sure the only reason the CTA is getting new express bus routes is that they promised to hire new bus drivers.
    Pace doesn’t do this nonsense, and have higher average speeds for their buses.

  • How about around the corner, where there isn’t a bus lane?

    “But I really, REALLY want to, and my life would be more convenient!” isn’t a valid excuse for private citizens to ignore any other city ordinance, either.

  • This is why curb-protected lanes work much better than simple paint.

    Chicago drivers are not used to respecting paint. They cut into bike lanes without warning, go across the dashed center yellow suddenly to go around “obstructing” vehicles, and on and on. Paint is not enforcement.

    Enforcement is enforcement. And infrastructure that prevents violation by design (or makes it very inconvenient or strange) is the best solution of all.

  • blockthatlane

    Great point – I work on wells between madison and washington, and it’s fun to watch the violations. Especially the private charter buses. Perhaps if the city didn’t clog the streets with this complete waste of money project, people would get where they’re going faster. now, the buses are just as slow as before, and cars have lost 50% capacity. This project is a complete failure, but people who are “urban planners” will continue to whine that there should be enforcement, or drop people off around the corner. Boo hoo. Go cry to the city.
    Now get out my way as I drive MY car in the bus lane.

  • Pet P

    Good point. The streets belong to the taxpayers who paid for them. We should not be afraid to drive on them.

  • neroden

    Perhaps you shouldn’t be afraid to get arrested, either. If you’re blocking the bus lane because you feel entitled to delay hundreds of people by violating city ordinance for your personal ego, your car can and should be taken to the impound lot, and you can and should be taken to jail. More folks like you need to be behind bars.

  • neroden

    (a) There is absolutely no excuse for the 3 mph restriction. If it is not repealed within a month, Loop Link should be declared to have been *sabotaged* by the CTA.
    (b) There is absolutely no excuse for the constant lawbreaking. There should be blitzes ticketing the scofflaws blocking the bus lanes. If the police refuse to do this, then Loop Link should be declared to have been *sabotaged* by the police.

  • Carl Raymond S

    Cameras issuing automated fines work wonders.

  • Alicia

    Why is one taxi passenger’s time more important than time of the dozens of people riding the bus?

  • The thirty or forty people on the bus being held up are also taxpayers.

    Collectively, they probably pay more than the cabbie and their passenger.

  • You don’t get to accuse something of being a failure if you’re supporting people who actively vandalize it.

    Cars would be a failure, too, if people went around pouring sugar in all their gas tanks.

  • There should be a camera on every bus, taking a timestamped shot every time the driver presses a button (the bus is stopped, so this is perfectly safe).

  • The CPD doesn’t have staff to do stuff like this. They stopped ticketing even for blatantly cracked windshields or operable head- or tail-lights over a decade ago, because of staffing cuts.

  • JeffParkNIMBY

    That’s why automated enforcement cameras were invented!

  • JeffParkNIMBY

    There’s no way you pay enough taxes for the use of a car downtown, just factoring in actual upkeep of the street. We’ll leave out negative externalities like pollution to keep it simpler.

  • That’s not how the economics of the CTA work. A service hour saved in the loop will be spent elsewhere in the system, such as on preventing overcrowding or on reestablishing cut routes such as the 31 or 11. It’s in the union and the CTA’s interest to improve the customer experience in order to attract more farebox revenue and political support overall. That’s where the money comes from.
    The Metra unions in contrast are stuck in the mud.

  • At least citizens can enforce the bus lane against cabs. There’s a very strong incentive to taxi drivers to avoid complaints for illegal driving in Chicago.

  • Pat

    Let’s not forget the bike lanes!

  • Pat

    This also needs to be implemented on rush hour bus lanes like Clark between Diversey and Armitage.

  • JKM13

    A colossal disappointment.

  • RW

    I have a hard time not seeing the struggles of Loop Link, in large part due to the ‘me first’ mentality of other street users and not drawing parallels to the other struggles facing this country. It’s a microcosm for many of the issues being discussed in the political arena- the needs of the few vs many. Hard to watch in both places.

  • JacobEPeters

    Pace has higher average speeds because it picks up fewer passengers at fewer stops. The rest of what you laid out is conspiracy without a hint of understanding how contracts are negotiated or how service provision is managed.

  • This doesn’t bode well for future BRT projects if a flagship project flops.

  • ohsweetnothing

    Automated. Enforcement.

  • Concobhar Mac Conmara

    Good point. The buses belong to the taxpayers who paid for them. We should not be afraid to ride in them in the lanes dedicated to them.

  • cjlane

    “Unlike some BRT systems, Loop Link doesn’t feature camera enforcement.”

    Because that would require a change in State Law. And that ain’t happening any time soon.

  • david vartanoff

    The buses need to speed up, the scofflaws–particularly the private charters–need to be fined, and CTA needs to go POP and add ventra card readers at all doors on the buses. Other wise we can conclude that the entire project was just a patronage gift to the vendors, consultants, and contractors.

  • bettorworse

    Enforcement of the bus lane violation?? Hahahahaha! Every day I see more than one car running a red light in the Loop.

  • bettorworse

    What happened to the meter readers and the traffic control people – why not let them write tix for this?

  • Pet P

    You want someone to be JAILED for driving in a bus lane? And you think I’m the irrational one?

  • Pet P

    Nothing can be done about that. Mail carriers can park wherever they want, and any attempt to obstruct delivery of the mail is a federal offense.

  • Alicia

    You’re not “irrational,” per se … you’re just a selfish, antisocial jerk.

    Your time is not more important than the dozens of people on any given bus at any given time. Hopefully the city gets its act together to give serious fines at least to self-centered jackasses like you and “blockthatlane”.

  • Frank Kotter

    Do you have any proof of this? Did Chicago somehow miss the massive increase of police funding and mandated staffing increases in the ’94 crime bill?

  • Frank Kotter

    Ah, how about take the next right turn – off the route – and unload there?

    Nah, because that gets in the way of the exclusive rights of the private automobile driver to do whatever the hell they want.

    If no one enforced the prohibition from driving on sidewalks, cars would drive right up to the lobby. Sorry, but ‘you expect people to follow the law?!’ is not a valid reason to claim the success of a system is hopeless.

  • Frank Kotter

    I think an initial heavy fine of a couple hundred bucks with knowledge of a second infraction leading to jail would do the trick.

  • Mcass777

    I am not questioning bad behavior, just wondering if planners take in to consideration every aspect , good or bad, into a development. There are one way streets involved, confused drivers, fire services, delivery access, mail, etc. that should get addressed in a plan.

  • Cab GPS can be told to find the nearest curb where it is legal to stop. And every cab in Chicago has GPS.

    There are loading zones ALL OVER the loop where it is legal for any vehicle to pause long enough to drop passengers.

    This is laziness on the driver’s part combined with being convinced that any passenger who has to walk any distance except “straight across the sidewalk” will retaliate financially upon the cabbie.

  • Frank Kotter

    It is and all these options exist in literally half a block from any given location on this route. What remains a very difficult factor to calculate in this type of planning is if law enforcement will enforce laws. It appears that, no, they will not.

  • Mcass777

    agree. I ask if it is part of the job of an urban planner to think of worst case scenarios. If the goal was 6mph for busses and we are at 3, blaming cars is easy, but does some blame go to the urban planner who was unrealistic in not planning associated measures to curb these issues i.e cameras. Should that be baked into the original plan? Now we will be asked to pay more to attain the original goal. Everyone here is blaming drivers. Humans are creative and planning is supposed to take care of that “creativity”

  • Same reason people choose to take a cab on routes that are already well served by buses. Fear and general disrespect for anything ‘public’

  • The cameras/automated enforcement are currently banned from Springfield, statewide. Red light cams are a sort of experimental, narrow exception on a trial basis.

  • I know that in 1998 nobody could drive a car with an out headlight or a cracked windshield for more than a week without being ticketed.

    Now I know people who’ve been doing so for a year (for financial reasons, knowing they’re courting a ticket), on main public well-traveled Chicago streets, driving every week, and no enforcement.

    Nobody’s bothering.

    I’ve been told it’s because the manpower needs to be “saved” for “real crimes”, but the overall ability of people for the past 15+ years has let a whole decade of new drivers grow up knowing that half the vehicle code will never be enforced.

  • Pet P

    Ok, then let’s also jail cyclists who ride on the sidewalks, ignore stop signs,don’t respect crosswalks, etc. Sound fair?

  • That’s already fairly well enforced. The percentage of cyclists who are total assholes to everyone else is small — as is the percentage of drivers.

    If the fines won’t affect you, and will lead to smoother operation of all transport downtown, what’s your problem?

    (and if they will affect you, quit breaking the rules, and they won’t)

  • Blockthatlane

    No, I’m not really thinking about whether or not I’m delaying 100s of people, especially if I’m driving in a bus lane, I’m probably not “blocking” a bus, I’m mov of along quickly.
    But I’ll wait to be taken to jail for driving in the bus lane. That’s the most insane thing I’ve ever heard. What kind of a country do you think you live in?
    I’ll wave to you Frank as I whiz by in my car while you’re on a bus moving 3 mph. Have fun!

  • Frank Kotter

    Because they are delaying the development of transportation alternatives and making an expensive system inoperable? Apples to oranges.

  • Alicia

    You’re good at rationalization, but next time maybe you should try thinking instead.

  • Alicia

    Do you also feel entitled to drive on sidewalks and through park walkways because they’re built with taxpayer money?

  • Guy Ross

    I think he was suggesting an action to solve an actual problem (people illegally obstructing a designated lane). What is the problem you are suggesting will be solving through your rebuttal other than ‘people doing things that make me angry’?


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