After a year-long planning study, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), in partnership with the Chicago Department of Transportation, the Department of Housing and Economic Development, and the Federal Transit Administration, selected Ashland Avenue to be the first Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor in the Windy City. As BRT systems have many features in common with subway or light rail transit modes but come at a much lower installation cost, they have become popular with urban planners in many cities across the world.

BRT Rendering, Chicago

Following the model of Curitiba, Brazil’s pioneering transit system, Chicago’s new BRT would limit the number of stops buses have to make, give them a dedicated lane of travel and require pre-payment of boarding fare (see rendering above). Ashland Avenue’s #9 bus is currently the busiest line in the whole CTA network, with some 31,000 boardings per weekday; and CTA estimates that the new BRT system could result in an 83% increase in speed during those peak travel periods.

The BRT corridor would also improve system connectivity, with stops coinciding with seven elevated train or “L” stations,  two Metra heavy commuter train stations, and thirty-seven bus routes. Beyond connecting to existing transit nodes, the proposed corridor would have stops adjacent to the United Center, the University of Illinois at Chicago, Malcolm X College and ninety-nine other schools.

BRT Map, Chicago

A map showing the proposed BRT stations

Any project of this scale will undoubtedly encounter some opposition, due both to the number of political wards the corridor will cross and the localized changes in urban design at the street level. The alternative proposal removes many of the design elements of true BRT and instead favors an express bus service with signal prioritization and other minimally invasive changes. The Ashland-Western Coalition, an organization of BRT opponents, has been attempting to woo Aldermen who would need to approve the project. So far the opponents have had limited success and Alderman Ameya Pawar of the 47th ward has already stated his support for the project. The design is expected to be finalized by Spring 2014 and it remains to be seen what political opposition is yet to come.

What other cities have successfully implemented Bus Rapid Transit?

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