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Forget opponents—even supporters are debating whether the city has gone far enough in its BRT ambitions. Let's acknowledge, right from the start, that there's a lot to like about Chicago's long-awaited, much-anticipated Central Loop BRT project, which is scheduled to break ground in March.
Now for the rub: Some of the strongest supporters of better bus service in Chicago are wishing that step forward had been even bigger.
The Central Loop BRT corridor will serve six bus routes and eight stops as well as the new Union Station Transportation Center, along mostly exclusive bus lanes.
The Central Loop BRT stops are more enhanced bus shelters than "train-like stations" that the city promised. The winning BRT station design from a 2013 contest held by the Chicago Architecture Foundation, in partnership with the city, showed an enclosed station design.
The most glaring design omission will be the absence of off-board fare payment at every BRT shelter. An ITDP analysis from September 2013 tested seven potential service plans connecting Ashland and Central Loop. An ITDP analysis from September 2013 found potential benefits of a service plan connecting the Ashland and Central Loop BRT corridors (top, an S-shaped connector on Division).
The $43 million Union Station Transportation Center (above, rendered) will facilitate train transfers for BRT passengers.
Farmer outlines the corrosive ways that the deal might impact Chicago's emerging bus plans in a 2014 paper in Environment and Planning A. Farmer says BRT is the transit mode "most impacted by true-up revenue penalties," because it needs so much space for dedicated lanes.
Officials hope the Central Loop (above, rendering) will be ready for service by the end of 2015. But while it's the job of advocates to make the good the enemy of the perfect, many of these critiques go away under some label other than BRT. In that highly democratic sense, then, Chicago BRT may become a very American endeavor after all.
Do you need transportation down to a wedding in the Trump Tower or a party bus to go out to the Northwest Suburbs of Chicago?
What better way to sit back, relax and enjoy Chicago if not with the transportation services that Odyssey provides. The basic skeleton is an accomplishment in its own right: nearly two miles of exclusive rapid bus lanes through one of the most traffic-choked cities in the United States.


They share a general fear that skimping on core BRT elements could compromise the project and make it harder to gain public support later on for service expansions or improvements.
By making riders pay at the stop instead of on the vehicle, off-board fares enable travelers to board through any bus door, just as they would on a train. The CTA plans to monitor the pilot's success and decide whether the benefits of faster boarding are enough to warrant an upgrade across the board, which in addition to installation would include higher costs of enforcement.
Peter Skosey, executive vice president of the Metropolitan Planning Council, which is part of the Chicago BRT Steering Committee, calls the pilot approach "prudent" and says CTA's job, in addition to running a strong bus service, is to spend public money wisely.
Weinstock gives the project high praise for having "many of the important elements of high-quality BRT," and for running a service with those elements through the central business district. The most promising, in terms of travel time benefits to both riders and cost benefits to the transit agency, involved an S-shaped route connecting the two BRT lines via an express bus that continues along Division Street (bottom right, Scenario 7).
The agency is considering public feedback gathered during community meetings in 2013 and working through the "higher-than-anticipated number of comments," as part of the standard procedure for a federal environmental analysis.
In some cases, the city has taken out bonds to meet true-up penalties, meaning it owes interest on them over time, too. She reports that some early Chicago BRT routes avoided adverse action payments because they found sites for replacement meters. Farmer reports that CTA conducted a "parking utilization analysis" for each potential BRT route, which required workers to drive up and down the corridors for a week, assess the meter situation, then find comparable meter sites. Purists defend the BRT brand for the right reasons: public officials should strive for best practices when using taxpayer money, and it's in the interest of cities to introduce a bold new era of buses that shatter the expectations of old buses. No matter the event, dance, getaway or social you are planning on having Odyssey Transportation can provide your transportation services. The Central Loop BRT will serve six bus routes, protect new bike lanes, connect to city rail service, and reduce travel times for about half all people moving through the corridor on wheels. The Central Loop BRT represents the cornerstone of a three-pronged, $150 million transit investment for the downtown, along with a new bus terminal near Union Station at the west end of the loop and a remodeled 'L' station on the east. There are no current plans to connect it with the Central Loop despite benefits for both riders and bus operations. Such concerns have left some BRT advocates wondering if Chicago is in danger of failing to become the American model of world-class bus service.
Buses won't get signal priority at stop lights but they will get to jump the queue—giving them a head start on other traffic. Scheinfeld says other stops will be wired for the equipment in case the city does choose to expand the feature. He believes if the pilot shows that off-board fares are worth the extra expense, "the clamor will be there to do it." But ITDP's Weinstock says that isn't always the case.
The plan would amplify the total number of riders along Ashland, in particular, over the existing (0) and basic BRT (1) designs.


He also disagrees that either Ashland or the Central Loop BRT needs the other to succeed: both connect to city rail systems, and since BRT strives for train-style service anyway, the lines might be better viewed as rail extensions. As bad as the deal seems at face value, sociologist Stephanie Farmer of Roosevelt University in Chicago recently found it's even worse in the weeds.
Some of these protections, known as "adverse action" clauses, prevent the city from disrupting the meters for any reason. Together, the compensation rules could "have the effect of ossifying a particular configuration of the urban built environment," writes Farmer, as costs force planners to abandon projects entirely.
But all the planners she spoke with felt that eventually the city will run out of alternative locations, leaving planners to pay true-up fees, target suboptimal corridors, or design poor systems. Ultimately, she writes, planners are in the unenviable position of worrying about Morgan Stanley's well-being rather than that of Chicago commuters. Yet even with its flaws, Chicago's big bus plan should make life better for millions of everyday riders. In a larger sense, the project announces the start of the city's Big Bet on Buses, with a second BRT corridor on Ashland Avenue in the works, raising the stakes from novelty to network. And the city's notorious parking deal makes it mighty tricky (and costly) to acquire new lanes for transit.
The stops will have lots of seating, real-time arrival information, and a clear 90-foot canopy that in renderings looks a little like a huge rake that's been buried in the sidewalk.
ITDP encourages cities in extreme climates to weather-proof their BRT stations, and early designs for the Central Loop seemed to do just that.
He adds that several nearby businesses owners were concerned that enclosed stations might block their visibility from the street. It runs for 16 miles without any turns through a congested north-south corridor with the possibility of expansion at both ends, operating in a dedicated lane along a center median alignment. If Chicago shuts down meters temporarily for a parade, for instance, or permanently for a bus lane, it triggers an automatic "adverse action" compensation. The buses will lack camera-enforcement for exclusive lanes and even lose that exclusivity for a block. That's amazing." But as a short corridor, she adds, the Central Loop will provide only a modest boost to mobility.
The next seven or so decades of the parking deal could—well, OK, that one's less rosy.



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