Construction crews have begun work on what Chicago is billing as its first “bus rapid transit” route.
The Chicago Transit Authority project, funded almost entirely by an $11 million federal grant, will speed up buses along the South Side’s Jeffery Boulevard.
The CTA says buses there will get through stop lights more quickly and have their own lanes during rush hours. The buses will also have fancy stations spaced a half-mile apart with no stops between.
Joe Iacobucci, the CTA’s strategic-planning manager, said the crews began Monday. “They’re preparing those stations for new bus pads — they’re about a 60-foot length of concrete — and preparing the landscape for customer signage and bus shelters,” he said.
The CTA expects the upgrades to shave travel times. In northbound morning peak hours, for example, Iacobucci said the project will cut 7 minutes, enabling buses to complete the 16-mile route in 65 minutes.
BRT delivers many benefits of rail at a fraction of the cost. The most advanced systems are running in Bogotá, the Colombian capital, and Guangzhou, the Chinese city formerly known as Canton. More modest lines are up in Cleveland, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Las Vegas and Eugene, Oregon.
Experts compare BRT systems using various criteria. The New York City-based Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, for example, grades systems using 30 factors.
The four factors the institute deems most important are all missing from the Jeffery Boulevard project. Those include barriers between bus and car lanes, use of the road’s central verge for the bus lanes, off-bus fare collection and platform-level boarding.
A BRT route downtown, planned for 2014 construction, will be more robust but extend just a mile, running from Union Station to North Michigan Avenue. That project, which includes a redesign of the station, has $24.6 million in federal funding and $7.3 million in local tax-increment financing.
A third BRT route would span a 21-mile stretch of Western or Ashland avenues. The city is studying alternatives for that project using a $1.6 million federal grant.
In 2008, Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration announced that Chicago was diving into BRT with a $153 million federal grant, but the city missed a crucial application deadline and forfeited the money.
Rahm Emanuel’s mayoral transition plan last year promised a “full bus rapid transit pilot” within three years.