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Eyes on the Street: Chicago Ave. pop-up bus lanes aren’t robust, but seem to be helping

A #66 Chicago Avenue bus uses the new bus lane near Ashland Avenue. Photo: John Greenfield

Last month Streetsblog Chicago assistant editor Courtney Cobbs took a spin on the new pop-up bus-only lanes on 79th Street and was underwhelmed. She noted that the lanes lack red paint, so they're somewhat inconspicuous, and it doesn't appear that there's going to be much enforcement, so she wasn't convinced that drivers won't just clog the lanes anyway, nullifying any speed and reliability benefits for transit riders.

The city announced the pandemic bus lanes in late September, including three miles of 79th Street, from Cicero to Western, and 4.6 miles of Chicago Avenue, from Laramie to Ashland. Together these corridors average a total of almost 20,000 transit riders per day during non-pandemic times.

The view from inside the #22. Photo: John Greenfield
The view from inside the #66. Photo: John Greenfield
The view from inside the #22. Photo: John Greenfield

Last week I took a westbound ride on the Chicago Avenue during the evening rush and was left with a somewhat better impression. While these are cheap, quick pop-up bus lanes -- hence no red  paint -- drivers appeared to be reasonably respectful of them. Granted, traffic was somewhat lighter than during a typical non-COVID-19 PM rush period, certainly not bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Drivers generally seemed to be doing a decent job of staying out of the bus lanes. Photo: John Greenfield
Drivers generally seemed to be doing a decent job of staying out of the bus lanes. Photo: John Greenfield
Drivers generally seemed to be doing a decent job of staying out of the bus lanes. Photo: John Greenfield

But drivers generally stayed to the left of the solid white line, out of the way of the bus, and we kept a consistent, if not lightning-fast, pace. The 3.5-mile trip from Ashland to Laramie took 27 minutes, with an average speed of about 8 mph.

The only minor hiccup was when we caught up with the bus in front of us at Pulaski road, where it was was taking on passengers, so we leapfrogged it and continued on our way. I also wasn't thrilled to be on a non-articulated bus with about 20 passengers, well above the CTA's 15-passenger guideline for regular bus to be running express during the pandemic (22 for accordion buses) to avoid unsafe crowding. But mask compliance was good, except for the guy who boarded with an unlit cigarette in his mouth.

Photo: John Greenfield
Photo: John Greenfield
Photo: John Greenfield

All in all I'd say the Chicago Avenue pop-up bus lanes can't hurt, and might be helping somewhat. So if they can lay the ground work for more, and more robust, busways on corridors across the city, that can only be a good thing.

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