urbanite take

A Chicagoan opines on land use, transportation and the walkable city

Chicago buses in the news: new bus lanes, cut bus lines

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Chicago bus lines have made an appearance in the news twice the week, with new bus lanes on the South Side and a whole host of potential route changes, including both increased frequency and service cuts.

Premature branding
Construction on the Jeffery Ave “bus rapid transit” lane — which the Tribune termed as BRT that “won’t be so rapid” — on the South Side began Monday. The Jeffery Express 14 bus will include limited stops and part-time bus-only lanes from 67th to 83rd. The bus line currently runs nonstop from downtown to 67th, at which point it stops every quarter-mile until 99th.

Jeffery & 71st: the site of a BRT “superstation” to be

Presumably, with limited stops, the stop frequency would increase to every half-mile. Combined with the nonstop portion, the 14 bus would essentially see express or nonstop service for nearly eight miles from downtown. Other improvements will include a “showcase” station at 71st and Jeffery — pictured at right — which is where the Metra Electric’s Bryn Mawr (not to be confused with the North Side’s Bryn Mawr on the Red Line) station currently is; signal priority from 73rd to 84th; and new, flashier buses with potentially Bus and Train Tracker information.

Notably not included are full-time exclusive bus lanes, prepayment or level boarding, all of which require a fairly large capital investment and significant repurposing of road space.

I’ve attended meetings on the Central Loop BRT and BRT on Western and Ashland. I understand the desire to call it “BRT,” as it can be a flashy trademark and communicates the fact that these aren’t just new bus routes slapped on. At the same time, it’s seemed to me that the CTA and CDOT have jumped the gun a little bit. To draw a little bit of an extended analogy, manufacturers and companies are often concerned about the genericization of their trademarks, in which the descriptive power of the trademark is diluted gradually over time: People come to call any tissue a “Kleenex” or any photocopy a “Xerox.”

What I’m afraid of happening in this case is “BRT” coming to mean just a flashy new bus, or incremental improvements, or at worst a marketing method that CTA is using to try to gussy up improved bus service. Indeed, as the “Citizens Taking Action” strongly-worded — and inaccurate — description of BRT as just vehicles that look like “rocket ship[s] piloted by Flash Gordon,” make clear, there’s a little bit of this setting in already. The Trib‘s story mentions that Forrest Claypool has already stopped referring to the bus lanes as even “BRT lite.” This is good. I just don’t want people to see that there are incremental changes being made to the bus service, see it being called “BRT” and then conclude that there isn’t anything real there.

CTA service changes
Aside from the BRT changes, the CTA announced yesterday significant planned changes to rail and bus service: this includes increased frequency on six of eight rail lines as well as bus frequencies on some of the most popular lines, such as the Western, Chicago and Ashland avenue buses! The Red Eye has a fairly good summary of the changes, which includes additions in bus frequency, route discontinuations, segment cuts and combinations.

There’s a meeting Tuesday, Sept. 4 at the CTA headquarters at 6 pm to discuss the planned service changes. Given the demographics of some  areas that will be affected by the bus cuts — including the 11 bus’ passing through Roscoe Village and Lincoln Square — I anticipate some very high attendance!

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Written by Andrew ACG

August 23, 2012 at 8:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. I think the fascinating thing about this is that it’s a pilot project and will allow the CTA to see how people react to and use the service in preparation for their true BRT projects in the loop, and on Ashland and Western. While the time savings isn’t much (I think only like 7 minutes) and the true BRT functions are not there, the bus does have traffic signal priority and is a cheap demonstration project. I am definitely interested to see the results.

    Ryan Richter

    August 23, 2012 at 10:46 pm


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