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Get On Board: Central Loop Bus Rapid Transit Is Coming Soon

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Image provided by Chicago Department of Transportation

Big changes are coming to the way buses move through The Loop and they could dramatically speed up commuters' daily rush and make moving across downtown much easier. As of this point, buses aren't a very efficient way to move through downtown as they have to contend with the rest of traffic on most streets, and even streets with marked bus lanes tend to be obstructed by parked or standing vehicles. In addition to the chaos of vehicles competing for position, traffic signals aren't optimized to treat buses any differently from normal traffic. The Chicago Department of Transportation says that buses move through downtown at average speeds of 3-5mph. In order to remedy this and bring those speeds up to 12-15mph, CDOT and the Chicago Transit Authority are working toward launching a Bus Rapid Transit system operating through the central Loop within a year. Unlike some other CTA projects you've been hearing about lately, this isn't simply a proposal that may or may not be happening within a few decades if the money shows up, this plan is already paid for and it is happening as soon as this year.

[Image provided by Chicago Department of Transportation]

Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, is perhaps the hottest term in urban transit design in the last few years. It refers to the changes made to bus systems that adds some of the advantages of light rail, like our city's L system, for increased speed and usability. Different cities across the globe have been experimenting with different interpretations of that goal, but common aspects among them are dedicated bus lanes, fewer stops, at-grade boarding stations allowing direct access to buses without stepping up or down, automatic prioritization of traffic signals so that buses move through intersections smoother, and the ability to pay for your trip before boarding the bus in order to speed up the boarding process.

In our case, all of those features are intended to be included in the CTA's Central Loop BRT system.

[Image provided by Chicago Department of Transportation]

What this plan means in practical terms is that few streets within The Loop and between Olgilve and Union Station will be upgraded to allow bus routes to move much more quickly through them, increasing speeds dramatically and making buses a more practical option for moving around town.

[Image provided by Chicago Department of Transportation]

Washington Street and Maddison street within The Loop, and Clinton and Canal in the West Loop will have their lanes adjusted to add strictly-enforced bus-only lanes and enclosed stations at stops roughly every 4 blocks. In addition, a new bus transit center will be built directly across the street from Union Station which will allow easier boarding and more capacity for several bus routes connecting to the station.

As the city's population grows and more and more residents are choosing to live without cars, the CTA and CDOT are eager to expand and improve transit service to keep people moving, but upgrades and extensions to the L system are costly and problematic. By looking instead to the bus system, the city can make more cost-effective improvements in shorter a shorter time. With the Central Loop program expected to begin construction this year, Chicago is likely to become the largest US city to offer a true BRT system.
· BRT Chicago [Official Website]
· Central Loop BRT [CDOT]
· Previous BRT coverage [Curbed Chicago]
· Previous CTA coverage [Curbed Chicago]

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