|Friday, August 26, 2011|
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is a star among the constellation of U.S. transit options and for a host of operational, cost, and community development reasons, is worth serious consideration by the Chicago region. It takes the best of rail – speed, limited stops, dedicated right-of-way, landmark stations – and puts it on the existing street grid, radically lowering construction cost. On Wednesday, Aug. 17th, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) released Bus Rapid Transit: Chicago's New Route to Opportunity, a vision for BRT in Chicago that presents the top 10 routes in Chicago where BRT is feasible, best supports existing community assets, and fills accessibility gaps in the current transit network.
According to the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), cities are choosing BRT because it takes a relatively short time to build, is cheaper than rail, and can support an extremely flexible network, boosting connectivity. But not all BRT projects reach their maximum potential. To be truly “gold standard,” ITDP found that a system must have four key elements: 1) dedicated lanes, 2) pay-before-you-board stations, 3) level boarding, and 4) signal priority at intersections. Only two cities in the world managed to reach this gold standard: Bogotá, Colombia, and Guangzhou, China.
To release the study, MPC held a luncheon featuring Enrique Peñalosa, the former mayor of Bogotá, who was instrumental in the development of their gold standard BRT: TransMilenio, a 52-mile system that moves about 47,000 passengers per hour/direction. Mayor Peñalosa advocated for TransMilenio because he believes that streets are a scarce, extremely valuable commodity that all people should have equal access to, regardless of if they can afford a $1 bus pass or a $50,000 car. That thinking is why converting an automobile lane to a dedicated bus lane makes sense. It’s about the number of people, not vehicles, moving through a corridor.
TransMilenio is a public-private partnership with oversight by a single public agency. The system actually pays its own operational costs through fares. It is so popular that a system expansion is already underway, which forecasts show will increase daily ridership to 2 million. Peñalosa commented that no one in Bogotá would refer to TransMilenio as “the bus.” It is a modern rapid transit system that feels more like rail.
So, could Chicago get gold standard BRT?
MPC certainly thinks so. Bus Rapid Transit: Chicago’s New Route to Opportunity integrates ITDP’s BRT research with an innovative livability screening method and ridership analysis. Answering the call from HUD, USDOT, and USEPA to integrate federal Livability Principles into development planning, MPC derived a screening process involving 14 livability metrics, and applied it on a block-by-block basis.
Ultimately, MPC’s analysis prescribes the 10 most feasible BRT routes in Chicago, based upon scoring routes across all 14 metrics, which include such things as access to medical centers, food stores, and employment centers. The study projects a minimum 71,000 daily increase in transit trips throughout the region, with only a 1 mph decrease (16 mph from 17) in automotive traffic speeds along BRT routes.
Following the release of MPC’s report, Chicago Dept. of Transportation (CDOT) commissioner Gabe Klein commented that he was excited about BRT in Chicago. In fact, CDOT and the Chicago Transit Authority are already moving forward with an alternatives analysis on the Western and Ashland corridors, two top candidates in MPC’s BRT study. This comes as no real surprise, as Chicago’s new mayor, Rahm Emanuel, offered ample support for BRT during his recent campaign and in his transition plan.
Thus, as the stars of global research, real-world advice, and concerted collaboration align, Chicagoans appear ready to strike BRT gold!
Do you ride transit? Would you ride transit?
Active Transportation Alliance is kicking off a new project called Riders for Better Transit to represent the needs of Chicagoland transit riders like you. How would you like to see transit in our region improved? Help Riders for Better Transit achieve transit reforms that matter to riders by telling us what issues are most important to you. Take the survey at www.ridersforbettertransit.org by September 30th and be entered into a raffle to receive a $100 gift card!
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