In the Loop: March 31, 2015 - Metropolitan Planning Council

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In the Loop: March 31, 2015

Flickr user DearEdward (cc).

A new CTfastrak station in Connecticut offers better service for bus riders.

In the Loop is your round-up of what’s going on in the transportation world, posted in conjunction with Talking Transit.

@metroplanners news

For people living near transit, particularly in dense neighborhoods in places like the city of Chicago, cars are often purely optional. Indeed, in many areas closest to Chicago Transit Authority El stations, more than half of all households have no cars, because they’re able to take a train or bus to work and walk to many community amenities. Yet, too often zoning rules require developers to include far more parking than people actually need or use. That increases the cost of construction and reduces affordability.

Even more people are likely to switch to transit with the expansion of the network through investments such as Chicago’s new Loop Link, which will reduce travel times for buses through downtown by giving them dedicated lanes and, in the case of one planned station, off-board fare collection.

Yet without dedicated, reliable funding to pay for transportation improvements, we won’t be able to see more improvements like that. At a recent Metropolitan Planning Council roundtable, Michigan Dept. of Transportation Director Kirk Steudle, Chicago Dept. of Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld, Regional Transportation Authority Executive Director Leanne Redden and Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning Deputy Executive Director Tom Kotarac discussed how their respective agencies are currently addressing the need to further invest in infrastructure, and how new funding would allow them to improve the public’s experience on the road or in transit.

transit in the Chicago region

Last year, Chicago’s El system provided a record number of rides—238.1 million, or about 88 for every Chicagoan. In order to improve service to all these riders, the Chicago Transit Authority began construction on a new station downtown at Washington and Wabash streets. The stop will replace both the Randolph and Wabash and Madison and Wabash stations with a new, glass-covered “superstation.”

Despite the strong showing of ridership on the El—a result of growth across the system—ridership on Chicago Transit Authority buses declined. One way to build bus ridership is to ensure that the buses provide fast, frequent and reliable service—exactly what the Metropolitan Planning Council has been pushing for with its bus rapid transit initiative for years. Ron Burke of the Active Transportation Alliance and Jacky Grimshaw of the Center for Neighborhood Technology wrote an interesting op-ed on the importance of the Ashland Avenue bus rapid transit line in the Sun-Times.

further afield

Other areas across the country are also continuing to ramp up their investments, especially in bus rapid transit. Connecticut launched its CTfastrak line last week, a new 9.4-mile route that connects the state capital in Hartford with the nearby city of New Britain. The bus service operates on an almost entirely dedicated right-of-way on an abandoned railroad corridor.

Montgomery County, Md.’s leaders have also recognized the importance of investing in bus rapid transit. They’re developing a new network designed specifically to appeal to the millennial generation by offering them a fast, reasonable-cost transportation option that lets them live without a car.

Yet the Washington, D.C. region (Montgomery County is just north of the nation’s capital) has suffered from declining transit ridership over the past year. One of the primary reasons, it turns out, is that the federal government has reduced its transit tax benefit to a maximum of $130 in expenses a month. That’s about half of what the feds allow people who park to pay tax-free, and it means that the government is giving a tax preference to drivers over transit users.

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