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Dream Big: What would you do to improve Chicagoland’s transit?

Photo Courtesy of Brandon Farley

Imagine a bus rapid transit system running along our major corridors!

For the first time ever, federal decision makers on housing, transportation and environment are all at the table, talking the same talk and walking the same walk.  This effort, known as the Sustainable Communities Initiative, got its first wave of funding last week in the form of a $130 million grant for new transit projects in urban areas and another $150 million to upgrade aging buses and shelters.  Projects will improve transportation choices, promote affordable housing, support existing communities, and improve the environment.

So what could CTA, Metra and Pace do with a chunk of that change?

I envision a new bus rapid transit system along Chicago’s major arterials to help us fill in the gaps between rail stations and improve mobility. We could provide more transit service from suburb to suburb to connect the region’s job centers with where people live. What about digital displays that let you know when the next bus is coming, station lighting, and better accessibility for disabled riders? And no one in the region would deny that more bus shelters sure would come in handy for these brisk winter breezes and slushy snow storms!

What would the region be like if people could choose transit instead of driving for their everyday needs? As my mind starts to piece together a vision for a comprehensive and world-class transit city, I’m curious to know: What would you do to improve transit service?

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Comments

  1. 1. WPN from Evanston on December 10, 2009

    Chicago ought to continue to contribute to its bicycling infrastructure! Bicycle commuting is the ultimate "green" choice, and if Chicago continues its strong push for better bicycling infrastructure, it has an opportunity to become a leader among its peer cities in this area of sustainable transportation.

    Bicycle commuters need safer bike lanes that will encourage new riders to make the transition, and in addition, bicyclists need safe, convenient storage options. Also, funds could be spent on outreach and education- the more respect motorists give cyclists, the more likely riders considering commuting will take the leap.

  2. 2. Emily from Chicago on December 10, 2009

    Excellent point! While I don't bike much in the winter, having my bike in the warmer weather keeps me moving, gives me the chance to exercise, and saves me money. Unfortunately these particular grants are only for transit projects but hopefully we'll be seeing more dollars towards projects that promote multimodal transport.

  3. 3. Kat from Chicago on December 10, 2009

    I also believe that bus rapid transit (BRT) could change the way Chicagoans think about public ground transportation. Often times a 5 mile trip on a bus in Chicago can take up to an hour. BRT would allow heavily traveled corridors to have a dedicated bus lane. Additionally, drivers would be more likely to leave their cars at home if they knew they could hop on a bus that would get them to their destination quicker.
    Finally, I think that CTA should take a look what AC Transit in California is doing with Hydrogen fueled buses! http://www2.actransit.org/environment/hyroad_main.wu?r=n

  4. 4. Mandy Burrell Booth on December 10, 2009

    Kat, we couldn't agree more. Thanks for the link, and we hope you'll find more resources on bus rapid transit on our site: http://www.metroplanning.org/brt

  5. 5. Kevin from MPC on December 11, 2009

    A couple of changes that could help Chicago transit:
    1. Better Information: Letting riders know how times between buses/trains will give some piece of mind.("This bus runs until late evening" means nothing to me.) Electronic signs at major stations with minutes until next arrival, on-bus/on-train info on time to upcoming stops, a "Train Tracker" like the "Bus Tracker" - would all be good things.
    2. Better Fare Cards and Structure: I won't pay $2.25 for a three-block bus ride. For $1.00 I'd probably do it. Fares based on distance traveled would make more sense and could increase revenues by capturing shorter trips. Also, a zone-based rail fare - like Metra has - for CTA rail is more fair and rational. Finally, universal fare cards for Metra/CTA/Pace - do it already.
    3. Better "Wedge" Service: For the areas in between the spokes of Chicago's hub-and-spoke rail system, there is a real lack of network connectivity. It's up to buses to fill that void, but they are slow and unreliable. I think that BRT would help the situation a lot - it's like light rail on wheels. Like a train system, you can have your express service (BRT) and local service, regular old buses.

  6. 6. Larry M. from Chicago on December 11, 2009

    I think its important when implementing any project to communicate effectively to potential users what is hoped to be accomplished and how the project will affect their lives for the better. In terms of BRT, many people have a poor image of buses and they need to understand how BRT will be different from the current system in place. I think a lot needs to be put into marketing/branding and public outreach so the public is aware of the benefits of BRT (dedicated lanes, prepaid boarding, increased capacity, traffic signal priority, etc.). This will create a buzz around the project and give it a better chance for success.

  7. 7. Annie from Chicago on December 14, 2009

    Although I agree with the points made in support of BRT, I'm dreaming big - could bike infrastructure be considered a part of transit if the project was a bike highway, like the ones being planned in Copenhagen? (http://www.copenhagenize.com/2009/08/bicycle-commuter-superhighways-in.html)

  8. 8. Dennis McClendon from Chicago on December 15, 2009

    Run the existing Metra lines as an actual regional rail system instead of as old-fashioned collection of rush-hour-focused suburban train lines. Put the trains on half-hourly "memory" schedules for the whole day; completely integrate fares with CTA and Pace; offer additional service to in-city lines (particularly along the north and south lakefront). This regional armature, if well integrated with feeder buses and downtown buses, would speed up crosstown trips, encourage suburban job growth and higher residential densities around existing suburban stations, and help strengthen the Loop as the region's center.

  9. 9. Mark from Chicago on December 17, 2009

    At some point, someone will have to come up with something sexy if transit is to become mainstream. Otherwise, these same old ideas will keep us transit professionals happy, but the common citizen will continue to think transit sucks (and they are probably right).

    Someone needs to design the hybrid transit-personal transportation system. One could imagine a combination of a high speed, low cost, dedicated guideway with small automatic vehicles called on demand. These vehicles could also migrate to the public street system as user operated vehicles (think of PRTs without rails and smart, mini, iGo cars instead). This would bring together the benefits of all transit concepts. But it needs to have a splash in a high profile location with a big upfront investment to make users take notice (can anyone say "lakefront" or "Kennedy"?). Make Burnham proud.

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