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Did you know? 60,000 daily riders—about as many as are carried by Orange Line ‘L’—will benefit from improved transit service when the Central Loop bus rapid transit (BRT) project opens for service late next year. They will be riding on the 1,700 buses that cross downtown Chicago each day on Washington and Madison Streets.
The Chicago Dept. of Transportation (CDOT) will begin construction on the project, which will include dedicated bus lanes, priority signals at intersections and permanent station designs, early next year. But the Central Loop project is just the beginning of BRT investments in the city.
A New Look for Ashland Avenue
This week, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) released its environmental assessment (EA), the next step in the design process for the proposed Phase I Ashland Avenue BRT corridor. The EA shows that the project will offer big benefits to bus riders and have minimal impact on the city’s overall traffic patterns. Ashland BRT, running the same route as the city's most popular bus, the number 9, which serves more than 30,000 passengers on an average weekday, will be up to 80 percent faster on one of Chicago's primary north-south arteries. CTA predicts that BRT improvements, which will include dedicated lanes in both directions, buses featuring off-board payment and larger stations positioned roughly every half-mile, will increase ridership by 29 percent and connect to all but one of the existing CTA rail lines.
The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has been a big supporter of BRT investments and advocates for a fully phased-in, 16-mile Ashland BRT line from Irving Park Road to 95th Street as part of a citywide network. The first stage of the project will extend from Cortland Street to 31st Street. The EA is a necessary step in the federal funding process.
Installing BRT on Ashland will change the streetscape considerably. Because of this, over the summer, CTA and CDOT heard from various key stakeholders about the plan. Two public meetings are scheduled for Dec. 10 and 11, in Pilsen and West Town, two communities on the proposed line, as an extension of this outreach to gather additional input from the public. MPC will be present and active at the meetings, which will focus on the next phase in the project's design.
Members of the public are invited to participate in the sessions and submit their feedback directly to CTA and CDOT. The agencies are still developing the Ashland BRT design and considering options and modifications, including the implementation of additional left turns, based on continued feedback from the public.
The comment period is open now through Dec. 20. A final project design will be released next year. Several explanatory videos are posted here.
Linking Up Downtown
While Ashland BRT will help provide north-south connectivity in the city, Central Loop BRT will expand connections east-west and provide better service for downtown commuters, who already use transit predominantly. By around this time in 2014, passengers on six CTA bus lines will be zooming through downtown between Union Station, Ogilvie Station and Michigan Avenue.
Plans for the line include dedicated bus lanes on Washington, Madison, Clinton and Canal streets. Adjacent dedicated bike lanes will be installed on Washington, Randolph and Clinton streets. It is being paid for through a $24.6 million federal grant, plus $7.3 million in local funds.
The project has been endorsed by downtown businesses that see the benefits of faster connections to commuter rail at Union and Ogilvie Stations. The BRT system will also spruce up the streetscape with beautiful, distinctive bus stops unlike any other in the city. The design is inspired by the Chicago Architecture Foundation's 2013 Burnham Prize award winner, "Form vs. Uniform," created by Hesam Rostami and Bahareh Atash and lauded by a distinguished panel of architects as an elegant, iconic new element for Chicago’s downtown.
BRT as a Way to Remake the City
Both of Chicago's planned BRT projects will speed the commutes of tens of thousands of daily commuters. And Chicagoans who learn about BRT’s benefits support the improvements. A public poll conducted in July 2013 showed that of those respondents familiar with BRT, 74 percent supported bringing it to Chicago due to better connections, time savings and reliability.
In addition, particularly on Ashland, the new BRT line will be a generator of economic development. MPC's BRT tool demonstrates the significant opportunities for new construction along many parts of the line. MPC will be working with communities, the City of Chicago and others to ensure that new development provides a wide range of opportunities for many types of people, guaranteeing sound planning and connecting transportation investments to land use.