Another try at BRT in Chicago - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Another try at BRT in Chicago

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!


  1. 1. Ernestine G. Standberry from Chicago, IL on September 14, 2011

    I like the idea of Bus Rapid Transit..,however, I don't like it if it will privatize the railways. Will this new bus transportation be privatizedT and/or end up needing private investors? (Today's discussion on CAN-TV does not mention one asked this question and it appear to be an issue which deliberately looked over!


    I Know that HB1091 has passed in Springfield and is now on Gov. Quinn's desk for signing. I have already sent out memos to my constiuents and others to call or email Gov. Quinn to VETO this bill which privatize the railways i.e. public transportation is not exempt!

    Message from the International Prolife Federation
    Ernestine G. Standberry, Dir. and
    William "Dock" Walls", 1st V.P. National and
    International Offices

  2. 2. Peter Skosey, MPC Vice President on September 14, 2011

    Ernestine: that is a good question and the short answer is we don't know how it will be financed yet, all options are on the table. The MPC is most interested in providing the service at the best value. Currently, we're talking to the CTA/CDOT and some private firms, both of whom are qualified to operate BRT.

    Though HB 1091 has already become law, (a bill that MPC strongly supported) the City of Chicago already had the authority to pursue public private partnerships for transit before that. HB1091 extends the ability to the Toll Highway Authority and to the Illinois Department of Transportation.

    thanks for your comment.

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