WBEZ | buses http://www.wbez.org/tags/buses Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Bus rapid transit to ‘maximize potential’ of Ashland Avenue http://www.wbez.org/news/bus-rapid-transit-%E2%80%98maximize-potential%E2%80%99-ashland-avenue-106738 <p><p style=""><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Ashland..PNG" style="margin: 4px 0px 0px 0px; float: left; height: 195px; width: 350px;" title="Each direction would have one parking lane and one traffic lane. (Chicago Transit Authority)" /></p><p>The first phase of a closely watched Chicago bus project would &ldquo;maximize street potential&rdquo; along more than five miles of Ashland Avenue for about $50&nbsp;million, city officials announced Friday.</p><p>The project would establish bus rapid transit (BRT) along that congested artery from 31st Place to Cortland Avenue. The city will study possible extensions stretching as far south as 95th Street and as far north as Irving Park Road, according to a statement from the Chicago Transit Authority and the Chicago Department of Transportation.</p><p>&ldquo;Bus rapid transit is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to expand and modernize our city&rsquo;s transit network for the 21st century,&rdquo; Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in the statement. &ldquo;We will work with our local communities to best determine how to maximize the positive impacts BRT would provide to riders, while boosting local economic development and improving quality of life for all city residents.&rdquo;</p><p>WBEZ <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-planners-push-boldest-bus-rapid-transit-option-105187">revealed the Ashland route and the project&rsquo;s key design elements</a> in January. The buses would have a lane to themselves on both sides of a landscaped median. Traffic signals at some intersections would favor the buses. Passengers would board from platforms a half-mile apart. Parking would remain on both sides.</p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/6p1YGHLqDo8" width="560"></iframe></p><p><br />The statement says the design would &ldquo;allow the potential&rdquo; for off-board fare collection, a feature that averts delays from collecting fares in bus doorways. A new CTA video (above) shows that payment taking place at kiosks on station platforms.</p><p>Cars and trucks would have just one lane in each direction&nbsp;&mdash;&nbsp;a plan that has sparked opposition from some business groups along the route. City officials have responded that the project would slow automobiles and trucks just slightly and speed up bus service more than 80 percent during peak hours.</p><p>Transit experts say banning turns across bus lanes is the key BRT intersection treatment. The video renderings of reconfigured Ashland intersections do not show any left-turn lanes.</p><p>CTA spokeswoman Lambrini Lukidis confirmed Friday that the Ashland project will eliminate left turns from the avenue&nbsp;at some intersections. She said her agency is embarking on a study to help determine which ones.</p><p>The elimination of turns is another step that worries the business groups.</p><p>&ldquo;Getting trucks around, where they might turn left into a loading dock now, they&rsquo;ll have to obviously make three [right turns] to be able to do that,&rdquo; said Benjamin Spies, a spokesman for the Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago, which represents 430 member businesses in the Kinzie Industrial Corridor. &ldquo;They&rsquo;re concerned about what this would do to freight traffic.&rdquo;</p><p>The Emanuel administration was also considering Western Avenue for the BRT line but has put that possibility on the back burner.</p><p>The initial Ashland phase, creating a 5.3-mile leg of the BRT route, would link several CTA and Metra lines. It would also improve transit service to the University of Illinois at Chicago, Malcolm X College, the United Center and a cluster of hospitals within the Illinois Medical District.</p><p>&ldquo;One of the things that all of the hospitals talk to us about is a lack of parking,&rdquo; Warren Ribley, the district&rsquo;s executive director, said at a downtown roundtable promoting the BRT project. &ldquo;They all have parking decks that are full. If you drive along Harrison or Congress on any given day, you can&rsquo;t find a parking spot.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;Public transportation is critical to the growth of the medical district,&rdquo; Ribley said. &ldquo;There is going to be growth. That&rsquo;s why this is such an important proposal for us.&rdquo;</p><p>Neighborhoods along the planned initial route include Bucktown, Noble Square, East Village, West Town, University Village and Pilsen. The CTA&rsquo;s No. 9 bus, which runs on Ashland, in 2012 had 10 million boardings, the most of any Chicago route that year, according to the city.</p><p>The city&rsquo;s statement says CHA and CDOT will &ldquo;begin working with local stakeholders on developing a plan&rdquo; for Ashland.</p><p>The project&nbsp;<a href="http://docs.google.com/a/chicagopublicradio.org/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AluraWM750W7dHhKR25IX1RmTzFwUFJBM1lvbWQwSHc#gid=3">has potential to outshine</a> a bus line in Cleveland, Ohio,&nbsp;that transit experts consider the most advanced BRT system in the United States. The Cleveland line includes 4.3 miles of dedicated bus lanes but also some features that slow down the service. Those include tightly spaced&nbsp;stations &mdash; about four per mile&nbsp;&mdash; and&nbsp;turns across the busway.</p><p>Ashland would not stack up to BRT lines in several other countries. The world&rsquo;s&nbsp;most advanced bus system is TransMilenio in Bogotá, Colombia. That Andean city segregates&nbsp;65 miles&nbsp;of busways from traffic using physical barriers and grade separations.</p><p>Chicago has studied BRT options in the Ashland and Western corridor using a $1.6 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Emanuel administration estimates that the project would cost about $10 million per mile. Lukidis, the&nbsp;CTA spokeswoman, said the city would count on further FTA funding for some of the Ashland construction.</p><p>Chicago is planning another BRT project in a 1.1-mile&nbsp;downtown corridor between Union Station and Millennium Park. The project, managed by CDOT, will include a new bus terminal next to the train station. A CDOT spokesman says the city is aiming to finalize the route design this December and finish construction by November 2014. The project&rsquo;s funding includes $24.7 million from the FTA and $7.3 million in Chicago tax increment financing.</p><p>As the city unveiled the Ashland design elements, Emanuel prepared to join former President Bill Clinton at a Friday meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C. Emanuel&rsquo;s office described the topic as &ldquo;innovative and cost-effective ways for cities to invest in local projects.&rdquo;</p><div><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/cmitchell-0">Chip Mitchell</a> is WBEZ&rsquo;s West Side bureau reporter. Follow him on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/ChipMitchell1">@ChipMitchell1</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>, and connect with him through <a href="https://www.facebook.com/chipmitchell1">Facebook</a> and <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/in/ChipMitchell1">LinkedIn</a>.</em></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Fri, 19 Apr 2013 08:14:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/bus-rapid-transit-%E2%80%98maximize-potential%E2%80%99-ashland-avenue-106738 Chicago planners push boldest bus-rapid-transit option http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-planners-push-boldest-bus-rapid-transit-option-105187 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/BRT_option_Western_Ashland_0.jpg" style="margin: 4px 0px 0px 0px; float: left; height: 335px; width: 300px;" title="The BRT design favored by top Chicago staffers would preserve parking on both sides of Ashland Avenue but eliminate a traffic lane on each side. (Courtesy of Chicago Transit Authority)" />To create a state-of-the-art bus line, Chicago transit leaders and urban planners have coalesced behind a design that would limit left turns and remove a traffic lane on each side of Ashland Avenue, a busy thoroughfare that connects both upscale and low-income neighborhoods to a cluster of hospitals at the city&rsquo;s center.</p><p>Now the bus-rapid-transit plan must survive political vetting by Mayor Rahm Emanuel&rsquo;s office. Emanuel, a professed BRT supporter, could face a storm of criticism from business owners and motorists who want no part in one of the country&rsquo;s most ambitious bus projects. The mayor&rsquo;s office could order the preservation of all existing Ashland traffic lanes and kill plans to run the buses in lanes along the avenue&rsquo;s center &mdash; a feature vital for trimming travel times.<br /><br />Officials say the design backed by the city&rsquo;s planners would transform at least 4.5 miles of Ashland, stretching from the &ldquo;Ashland&rdquo; station of the Chicago Transit Authority&rsquo;s Orange Line to the &ldquo;Division&rdquo; station of the CTA&rsquo;s Blue Line. That route would extend further north and south when, if ever, the city secured funding. A proposal for BRT along nearby Western Avenue would go on the back burner.<br /><br />The Ashland plan has the backing of planning and policy directors in the CTA, the Chicago Department of Transportation and the Chicago Department of Housing and Economic Development, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren&rsquo;t authorized to discuss the matter publicly.</p><p>Some Chicago business owners along the route are already voicing worries about BRT, particularly about eliminating non-bus lanes. &ldquo;The idea of cutting the traffic capacity in half has caused a lot of questions for businesses and property owners,&rdquo; said Roger Romanelli, executive director of the Randolph/Fulton Market Association.</p><p>City officials respond that their BRT plan would slow automobiles just slightly and speed up buses dramatically. The city says the new bus service would be up to 80 percent faster than today&rsquo;s service.</p><p>Other questions concern the left turns. Romanelli said business owners are wondering how limiting them &ldquo;would economically impact businesses, truck deliveries, residents moving east-west, coming from shopping.&rdquo;</p><p>City officials say they must remove some left turns to keep the buses moving fast and protect pedestrians.</p><p>Asked whether Emanuel was behind the plan and whether he would stick behind it if business owners revolted, his office had little to say. &ldquo;All of this is still under review,&rdquo; Tom Alexander, a mayoral spokesman, wrote in an email message to WBEZ.</p><p>In November, Romanelli&rsquo;s group helped form the Ashland Avenue-Western Avenue Coalition to give some area businesses a greater voice in the BRT planning. The coalition&rsquo;s other members include the Near West Side Community Development Corporation, the Near West Side Chamber of Commerce, the West Town Chamber of Commerce, and a business group called the West Central Association.</p><p>Last week coalition members met with city officials and area aldermen about the project. The officials said the city had made no final decision on the design.</p><p>The design favored by the Chicago planners resembles the boldest of four BRT alternatives the city presented last fall for the corridor. Each direction of Ashland would have one regular traffic lane and, near the middle of the avenue,&nbsp;a bus-only lane.</p><p>In each direction, the design leaves a parking lane next to the sidewalk, city officials say. There would be no bike lanes.</p><p>Several features would distinguish the project from a new express line along the South Side&rsquo;s Jeffery Boulevard that began in November. Ashland&rsquo;s inside lanes would be dedicated to the buses around-the-clock, not just during rush hours. For quick boarding,&nbsp;the route would include station platforms and extra-wide bus doors. Those doors would be on the left side of the buses. Passengers would pay before boarding or the city would find fare-card readers that would be almost as quick.</p><p>Like the Jeffery line, the Ashland route would include traffic lights rigged to favor the buses and station enhancements such as bike racks and electronic bus-tracking signs. Like the Jeffery bus stops, the Ashland stations would be limited to roughly every half mile.</p><p>The Ashland route would include a landscaped median, according to a city staffer familiar with the plan. The CTA said last fall it had decided against narrowing the avenue&rsquo;s sidewalks.</p><p>The CTA&rsquo;s No. 9 bus, which runs on Ashland Avenue, in 2011 had 10 million boardings, the second most of any Chicago route that year, according to a city web page.</p><p>An advantage of building BRT on Ashland instead of Western, city officials say, is closer proximity to the Illinois Medical District, which includes Rush University Medical Center, the University of Illinois Medical Center, the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center, and Cook County&rsquo;s John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital.</p><p>The city has studied the Ashland and Western options using a $1.6 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The city has not arranged construction funding.</p><p>A much shorter BRT line is scheduled for construction next year. That route will cross Chicago&rsquo;s Loop and include a new bus terminal at Union Station, a train depot. The project&rsquo;s funding includes $24.6 million from the FTA and $7.3 million in city tax increment financing.</p></p> Mon, 28 Jan 2013 19:52:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-planners-push-boldest-bus-rapid-transit-option-105187 BRT designs for Western, Ashland avenues start to take shape http://www.wbez.org/news/brt-designs-western-ashland-avenues-start-take-shape-103186 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/BRT_option_Western_Ashland.jpg" style="margin: 4px 0px 0px; float: left; height: 357px; width: 320px; " title="Chicago officials say they are considering this design, among others, for bus-rapid-transit routes between Howard and 95th streets. (Courtesy of Chicago Transit Authority)" />Chicago officials say they have decided to leave at least one parking lane on both possible routes of the city&rsquo;s most ambitious bus project. The officials say they have also ruled out narrowing sidewalks along those routes.</p><p>The details emerged Tuesday night at the first of three public meetings the Chicago Transit Authority is holding this week to unveil design alternatives for &ldquo;bus rapid transit&rdquo; along 21 miles of both Ashland and Western avenues.</p><p>All designs the city says it&rsquo;s considering for the corridor include around-the-clock dedicated lanes for the buses and pre-boarding fare collection. Those features would distinguish the project from an express line the city started building along the South Side&rsquo;s Jeffery Boulevard in August. That service, called &ldquo;The Jeffrey Jump,&rdquo; is set to start early next month.</p><p>The Ashland and Western routes would also include traffic lights rigged to favor the buses and station enhancements such as bike racks and electronic bus-tracking signs.</p><p>But CTA and Chicago Department of Transportation officials say they have yet to decide on a range of features that would shave travel times for riders. Those include station platforms and buses equipped with extra-wide doors for quick boarding.</p><p>Other big questions concern whether to put the bus lanes down the middle of the avenues or along the sides, whether each side would have one non-bus travel lane or two, whether to keep parking on both sides, whether to reserve space for a landscaped median, and whether to limit left turns.</p><p>About three-dozen Chicago residents attended Tuesday&rsquo;s session, held in a Humboldt Park church. The meeting included a brief slide show by Scott Kubly, a top CDOT official. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re looking at what happens if we remove a travel lane and we want to hear back from you all [about] how you perceive those impacts,&rdquo; Kubly told them.</p><p>Fernando Benavides, a resident of the nearby Belmont Cragin neighborhood, said the plan to preserve at least one parking lane on each avenue was not enough. &ldquo;Elimination of lanes&nbsp;for cars and parking, my God, that&rsquo;s just going to create a lot of traffic,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Other residents voiced support for any steps to speed up transit service. New city estimates show the Ashland and Western buses averaging as fast as 16-18 miles per hour, almost rivaling CTA Red Line trains, which would average 21 miles per hour if slow zones were repaired. The BRT lines would run between Howard Street on the north and 95th Street on the south.</p><p>The other two meetings are set for Wednesday at Lindblom Math and Science Academy, 6130 S. Wolcott Ave., and Thursday at Lane Tech College Prep High School, 2501 W. Addison St. Both will take place at 5:30 p.m.</p><p>Officials say they will present final decisions on the design alternatives this winter. The city is studying the alternatives using a $1.6 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Construction would depend on further federal funding.</p></p> Wed, 17 Oct 2012 01:28:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/brt-designs-western-ashland-avenues-start-take-shape-103186 In Chicago, some find public transit fares linked to school attendance http://www.wbez.org/content/chicago-some-find-public-transit-fares-linked-school-attendance <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2011-December/2011-12-14/453195365_f247450774.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/insert-image/2011-December/2011-12-14/ms williams.JPG" style="margin-right: 10px; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; float: left; width: 299px; height: 400px;" title="Georgina Williams gets ready to pass out bus cards to students. (WBEZ/Kate Dries)">It’s just after final bell at Wells Community High School on Chicago’s West Side, and office manager Georgina Williams is spending this bit of her afternoon the usual way – handing out CTA cards.</p><p>Students swarm Williams for what they call brown cards or bus passes. To the&nbsp;Chicago Transit Authority, however, they're known as student reduced fare cards, and all full-time Chicago students can buy them -- for a dollar.</p><p>But even that seemingly low price started to concern some staff at Wells two years ago, when more and more kids were coming in and saying they couldn’t afford the dollar each way.</p><p>So Wells decided to use some of its discretionary dollars to give out free cards to 60 of the most needy kids. They sign up at the beginning of the year, and there's a waiting list for those who don't make it early enough. Kids who don't keep their attendance up are eliminated from the program, and new ones take their place.&nbsp;</p><p>Williams said the demand in this school of 600 students is high, and getting higher. They've spent over $5,000 this year alone; that's the same amount the school spent for all of last year.</p><p>Nineteen-year-old Joey Brown is a Wells student who gets the free passes to use on trains or buses.&nbsp;He lives with his cousins on the Northwest side, about a 45-minute commute from Wells on the 66 bus. He’s part of the 60 percent of Wells students who come from outside the neighborhood.</p><p>He said that he had a job when he started school this year, but it wasn’t enough to help pay for transportation.</p><p>“If you don’t got no money or no job that you can buy bus cards, because certain bus cards you have to buy…the 30 day, you have to buy $86. And for the one days, you have to pay $5 for one day, just to ride the bus."</p><p>"Yeah," he continued. "That’s a lot of money.”</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/insert-image/2011-December/2011-12-14/tip photo.JPG" style="margin-left: 10px; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; float: right; width: 224px; height: 300px;" title="The TIP program form, to be signed by student and parent. (WBEZ/Kate Dries)">“When you get poorer because you keep giving money out of pocket, and you realize that the kids are hitting up staff as well as yourself for money, you have to come up with something for the kids, and then that’s what I had thought of," said Ernesto Matias, the principal of Wells. It was his idea to start the free passes program, called the Transportation Incentive Program (T.I.P.), to curtail that kind of begging at school.</p><p>And though Matias says he can’t prove it, he thinks it’s helping. He said attendance at Wells went up 7 percent last year, and he’s seeing positive trends this year as well.</p><p>Still, it’s an expensive proposition. Power House High, on the West Side, managed to get a private donor to pay for cards for its students last year, but funding has since dried up.&nbsp;This leaves most CPS students left with the next best alternative to free cards -- the reduced fare passes.</p><p>Barbara Radner is director of DePaul University’s Center for Urban Education. She believes the reduced fare system comes with its own set of challenges.&nbsp;She – and a lot of school staff, parents and kids WBEZ talked to – said what kids have to go through just to get a reduced pass is way too convoluted.</p><p>“If you’re going to solve a problem, I think you should not solve it with a complicated&nbsp;solution," said Radner.</p><p>How complicated? Students can buy their own reduced fare cards, which seems simple enough – at first. To be a part of the system, you have to have a permit pass that costs $5 – which you can either reload with more money or use with your separately purchased brown card. That $5 doesn’t go on the permit card, but if you use just the permit, rides are 85 cents. And you need to have your student ID on you.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/insert-image/2011-December/2011-12-14/browncard2.jpg" style="margin-right: 10px; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; float: left; width: 300px; height: 347px;" title="A student reduced fare card, or 'brown card'. (WBEZ/Kate Dries)">To buy a permit, you can apply though the CTA (payment by money order only) or sign up through your school, a process that changes depending on the school structure. You then have to go to stores like Jewel-Osco, Walgreen’s or a currency exchange to buy the brown cards. The&nbsp;CTA estimates they provide 150,000 rides to students using reduced fare cards, two-thirds of whom go to public school.</p><p>"The reduced fare card solution does indeed give the kid, in a sense, more money, because they have the reduced fare, so there’s a better chance of that kid having enough pennies to get on the bus," said Radner. But what it doesn't do is simply say, in Radner's words, "‘Kid, you are a Chicago public high school kid, we want you in the building, here’s your fare card. That’s it – get to school.'"</p><p>Radner thinks a free card could really help the attendance problem in Chicago high schools. Last year, the average Chicago high school attendance rate was at 83 percent.</p><p>“It will not help 100 percent of the kids," said Radner. "But it will help the kid who, as they get up in the morning, among their problems is, the problem that they don’t have enough bus fare. So it’s going to be a choice between the bus or eating. It could be that serious.”</p><p>If it could be that serious, it seems likely that CPS would be looking into strategies that could help.&nbsp;When asked to comment on schools using their own funds to pay for student transportation, they said in a statement,&nbsp;“Discretionary funds exist to help schools address their specific needs and principals can certainly use these funds to help pay for CTA cards in order to help student get to and from school.”</p><p>But when asked about whether he wanted to see a free student fare card in Chicago, CEO Jean-Claude Brizard was resoundingly positive.</p><p>"The answer is yes," said Brizard. "I’d love to see us be able to do that, again, being used to the New York system. I think it’s something that can happen, and we should make happen, if there is a problem."</p><p>Brizard is familiar with free student transportation; he grew up with it in New York City. He brought free rides to Chicago on the first day of school this year, though those were paid with donations from private businesses.</p><p>In New York City, high school students get three free rides a day if they live more than a mile from school, and a half fare card if they live closer.&nbsp;Those cards are automatically passed out at school.</p><p>But the roughly 585,000&nbsp;New York students that use the free or reduced cards do so at a cost that’s probably sobering for budget-strapped Chicago: New York's free transit for students accounts for more than $217 million&nbsp;a year in lost revenue for the Metropolitan Transit Authority there. That cost is partially reimbursed by the City and State of New York.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/insert-image/2011-December/2011-12-14/wells 1.JPG" style="margin-left: 10px; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; float: right; width: 299px; height: 400px;" title="School's not yet out at Wells High School, and the bus stop is empty. (WBEZ/Kate Dries)">It’s tough on New York too. In fact, last year, it took mass protests on behalf of students and parents to convince officials not to cancel the program.</p><p>But to Brizard, the decision will be based on more than budget.</p><p>"What I’m saying very simply is that I don’t have enough information to determine [whether a free fare card is feasible]," said Brizard. "It’s something I would love to sit with the CTA leaders and just discuss, but before I do that, I’m going to ask my demographers to give me some idea as to how many kids are traveling, how far they’re traveling to school, so I can walk in armed with the information to have an intelligent conversation about the best way to solve this problem."</p><p>But many teachers, parents and students are convinced there’s a direct link between transportation and attendance.&nbsp;</p><p>And as Brizard looks into ways to make travel better, he’s sure to hear from a lot of them.</p><p><em>LaCreshia Birts contributed reporting to this story.</em></p></p> Thu, 15 Dec 2011 12:38:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/content/chicago-some-find-public-transit-fares-linked-school-attendance