Photo: Joseph DiJohn
BRT system in Bogota, Colombia
A few years ago, the CTA was eligible to apply for a $153 million federal grant to begin operating the first four pilot routes of what ultimately would have become a citywide bus rapid transit (BRT) network. Chicago’s four pilot routes had geographic diversity, high ridership, and unique design challenges. Unfortunately, deadlines were missed, and Chicago lost its ability to get the grant.
Fast-forward to a few months ago, when the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced a $280 million program to fund streetcar and BRT proposals. This encouraging news has led to the revival of the CTA’s BRT plan but with a twist: projects must not only be shovel-ready, they also must demonstrate the relationship to the six livability principles outlined by the federal government. These livability principles ask transit agencies to consider the effects of the service on the surrounding areas, its ability to improve access to jobs and housing, and the potential to reduce environmental impacts in local communities.
MPC has been working with the Chicago Dept. of Transportation (CDOT) and CTA on a BRT Evaluation Study to analyze potential BRT routes throughout the city, based on characteristics outlined by the livability principles. While current ridership is an important factor being considered, the study also analyzes potential connections to existing CTA rail and Metra services, impacts of providing transit options in underserved areas, and connections to employment centers and other destinations.
Another important piece of MPC’s study is in the definition of BRT. BRT often is too loosely defined and, therefore, confused with an express bus. However, for the purpose of this analysis, BRT is defined as a transit service operating along its own right-of-way with signal prioritization technology in place and prepaid boarding at stations. The study is examining true BRT services, not an express bus with elements of BRT.
MPC is encouraged that these additional and incredibly important criteria measures are being considered in federal applications. Like the bridge to nowhere, where you put transit matters. Ridership alone isn’t a strong enough factor to encourage people to use transit to get where they need to go.
MPC will be releasing the results of the study this summer. Stay tuned!