Plans Unveiled for Downtown Bus Rapid Transit System

On Washington Street, colored pavement and signage will designate the BRT lanes. Curbside platforms and bus shelters will provide safe boarding options, while also protect bike lanes from traffic.

On Washington Street, colored pavement and signage will designate the BRT lanes. Curbside platforms and bus shelters will provide safe boarding options, while also protect bike lanes from traffic.

You may have heard that bus rapid transit (BRT) was coming to Chicago next year. The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) and the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) unveiled this week the proposed lane configurations for the Loop streets to be used for the service starting in 2014.

The city also unveiled plans for a new off-street transportation center just south of Union Station. Like the intermodal link that opened adjacent to LaSalle Street Station last year, the new transportation center will provide a connection point with other transit to the BRT system.

Through careful planning and design, the lanes will provide a balanced separation of bus, bike and regular traffic lanes. Two miles of bus-priority lanes on Madison, Washington, Canal and Clinton will serve Union Station, Ogilvie Transportation Center, CTA subways and Navy Pier with more than 1,700 buses per day, making it one of the busiest bus routes in the nation.

Colored pavement markings and conspicuous signage are designed to integrate BRT with other modes of travel in the Loop. Level-boarding, queue jumps for buses at key intersections, distinct bus shelters, digital bus tracking displays, sidewalk improvements and protected bike lanes are also planned as part of the system.

“By using a balanced approach to configuring the roadways for BRT, we will make cost-effective improvements without dramatically changing the current traffic setup,” said CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein. “At the same time, we will provide transit connections to downtown businesses and major destinations more reliable, fast and easy.”

Under the proposed lane configuration, eastbound Washington will feature a colored bus-only lane that will be serviced with island bus-boarding platforms. Two car lanes will remain for traffic through the Loop. A bike lane against the southern curb would be protected from auto traffic by the bus lane and boarding platforms.

The Union Station intermodal transfer point will connect Metra rail riders with CTA buses.

The Union Station intermodal transfer point will connect Metra rail riders with CTA buses.

CDOT will construct and manage the Central Loop BRT project, which is being financed by a $24.6 million Federal Transit Administration grant and $7.3 million in local Tax Increment Financing funds. The department is also in the process of acquiring a surface parking lot located south of Jackson between Canal and Clinton to build the transportation center. It will provide sheltered staging areas for CTA buses and connection to an existing Amtrak underground passageway, allowing commuters to access Union Station without crossing at street level.

“The Central Loop BRT corridor will provide a new, fast and reliable transportation option to connect people to jobs and major destinations such as Navy Pier,” said Metropolitan Planning Council Executive Vice President Peter Skosey. “This is a smart investment in Chicago’s public transit network.”

BRT improvements could improve overall bus travel times through the Central Loop corridor by three to nine minutes per trip. While buses are only 4% of the vehicles traveling through the corridor, they carry more than 47% of the commuters making trips in vehicles.

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