Construction started this week on Chicago’s first bus rapid transit line running from the South Side to downtown. But just how rapid the new line will be when the project is completed this fall is still in question.
Bus rapid transit systems (BRT) are gaining in popularity and are a cheaper alternative to rail. In their best form, BRT systems have dedicated bus lanes along the routes, which, ideally, are completely blocked off from regular traffic by a barricade. Other important components of a successful BRT also include: off-bus fare collection at stations, priority traffic signals at intersections, and less frequent stops. Combine all of these and you get a system that’s quick, efficient, and easy to use.
But with bus rapid transit cities can pick and choose which elements to add and to what extent. In Chicago, when the new Jeffery Corridor BRT line opens in November or December, the aspects of an ideal BRT system won’t all be in place. The bus-only lanes will be marked with paint instead of a barricade and will only be available to bus-only traffic during rush hour, which could cause confusion with drivers and slow down the bus. Also, the traffic signal priority won’t be ready when the system is expected to launch.
So the concern is whether this incomplete launch of the system will detract from ridership and cause people to question the point of this fancy looking bus that might seem no more efficient than a regular bus. John Hilkevitch reports for the Chicago Tribune:
Experts said that while it would be great to be able to marshal the resources to roll out a full-blown, “gold standard” BRT system like China has done in the city of Guangzhou, it’s not uncommon for bus rapid transit to be incrementally constructed.
“I think the CTA is taking a smart approach,” said Dennis Hinebaugh, director of the National Bus Rapid Transit Institute at the University of South Florida. “They are saying, ‘Let’s put what we think we need out there and see what happens.’ That’s one of the big benefits of bus versus rail, where you must build the whole system before you start any service.”
At the very least, this route will serve as a test case for future routes in the central Loop and along Western and Ashland avenues. And even without the improvements to the new BRT line, it is expected to shave about 7 minutes off the 16-mile route.
Related on SmartPlanet:
- Bus rapid transit: like a subway, only cheaper
- U.S. cities reinventing buses with bus rapid transit
- Global Bus Rapid Transit database launches; 134 cities, 36 countries
- Which states spend most on transit?
- How to make public transit popular