Talking Transit: BRT has the support of Chicagoans, and for good reason - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Talking Transit: BRT has the support of Chicagoans, and for good reason

Flickr user AC Transit (cc).

Proposed BRT corridor in Oakland, California.

Published monthly, MPC’s Talking Transit provides updates about transit-related activities around the world.

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Did you know? Over 70 percent of Chicagoans interviewed in a recent study agreed that efficient public transportation is essential to help communities grow and thrive. A similar number agreed that they would be willing to pay 10 cents a day to guarantee better transit options.

Chicago’s BRT initiative

The City of Chicago is at the forefront of bus rapid transit (BRT) development in the United States, long advocated for by the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC). The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) hopes to use faster, more efficient buses to decrease travel times and spur transit-oriented development (TOD)—all at a significantly lower cost than with new rail services. The city expects that BRT will attract more riders and provide effective transit access to areas of the city currently far from rail lines.

The city has a “BRT lite” line currently operating to the city’s far Southeast Side (the Jeffery Jump) that has some aspects of true BRT, like transit signal priority and a dedicated lane on part of the route; there are also “gold standard” routes planned for the Central Loop and Ashland Avenue. The Ashland Avenue line will augment the #9 CTA bus, which currently has the highest daily ridership in the system, with over 30,000 daily boardings. The Ashland bus already carries 14 percent of the traffic on the street. Implementation of the first phase of Ashland BRT, from 31st Street to Cortland Street, is expected by 2015.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduced a TOD ordinance to the city council’s zoning committee, which approved it on Wednesday, Sept. 4. The rule changes will allow developers building near transit stations to construct more units and do so with less required parking—two changes that will encourage the city to grow near its rapid transit system and encourage less car use. Assuming it is approved by the full council, the ordinance will make it easier for developers to build in areas within 600 or 1200 feet of stations.

MPC is holding a public Roundtable on development near BRT on Wednesday, Sept. 11. Registration is still open for the event, which will feature Melinda Pollack from Enterprise Community Partners, as well as Annie Weinstock and Walter Hook of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.

Commute zones from planned Cermak and Ashland BRT Station.

Yonah Freemark, with data from Mapnificent.

Big benefits from better transit

CTA currently estimates that BRT services on Ashland Avenue will operate at speeds almost twice as fast as existing local bus services—15.9 mph on average versus 8.7 mph today. This increase in speed will be made possible thanks to dedicated bus lanes, level boarding, off-board fare payments and traffic signal priority at intersections. BRT will make it possible to travel from Fullerton Avenue to 79th Street, for example, in just 46 minutes—compared to 83 minutes today.

The immediate impact of new BRT services will be quicker commutes for people who live and work along the Ashland corridor. Stations along the full proposed Ashland BRT corridor (from 95th Street to Irving Park Road) will be within a quarter mile of more than 100,000 Chicagoans and a half mile of more than 400,000 Chicagoans, equivalent to 15 percent of the city’s population.

Quicker travel times will make access to important job centers easier and more direct. This is particularly true thanks to the increasing reliability made possible by BRT improvements.

As the map above, created with the aid of data from Mapnificent, demonstrates, the area of the city accessible within 20 minutes on transit from the proposed Ashland/Cermak BRT station will expand tremendously with the arrival of BRT. The following table, derived from U.S. Census Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics data, demonstrates that BRT will help make the City of Chicago a more connected place.

Compared to existing transit options, the number of jobs accessible within 20 minutes from the Ashland/Cermak Station will expand by 88 percent with the addition of BRT. That new access will make it easier for people to get to jobs and provide a bigger market from which employers can select employees. The table also shows changes in jobs accessible from second-phase Ashland/Fullerton and Ashland/63rd Stations.


Existing—no BRT

Future—with BRT


Number of jobs accessible by transit within 20 minutes from Ashland and Cermak




88 percent increase

Number of people accessible by transit with jobs* within 20 minutes from Ashland and Cermak




77 percent increase

Number of jobs accessible by transit within 20 minutes from Ashland and Fullerton




103 percent increase 

Number of jobs accessible by transit within 20 minutes from Ashland and 63rd




83 percent increase 

 * Does not include unemployed people, children, senior citizens, etc.

Public support is growing

CTA will hold a series of public meetings this fall on its plans for BRT on Ashland Avenue. The meetings will offer residents and business owners a chance to chime in with their thoughts about how to make public transportation work most effectively on the corridor.

A newly released survey by the Rockefeller Foundation, which interviewed a sample of 500 Chicagoans (in addition to residents of Boston, Nashville and Pittsburgh), shows that Chicago residents are excited about the possibilities of newer, faster public transportation, like BRT. The results of the survey are shown in the following table:


Percent of Chicagoans agreeing

Public transportation is necessary to help economy and grow jobs

88 percent

Public transportation is necessary to help communities grow and thrive

71 percent

Would pay an additional 10 cents per day for better transit options

71 percent

Support bus rapid transit

59 percent

A large majority of Chicagoland residents who benefit from one of the nation’s largest transit systems recognize that rail and bus services are essential to keep the economy moving. And as people become more familiar with faster and more reliable BRT, support will surely grow.  It is likely that, as the city’s BRT project gets underway and the benefits of the transportation mode become obvious, the percentage of people on board with BRT will only increase.


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