Dedicated lanes part of plan to bring bus rapid transit to Loop

BY ROSALIND ROSSI Transportation Reporter February 21, 2013 12:35AM
Updated: February 21, 2013 2:42AM

Source: Chicago Sun-Times

Sketch of eastbound Washington Street under the Central Loop East-West Transit Corridor plan. | Chicago Department of Transportation

Sketch of eastbound Washington Street under the Central Loop East-West Transit Corridor plan. | Chicago Department of Transportation

Dedicated bus lanes and bus boarding islands will replace car lanes and about 80 parking spots to bring bus rapid transit to Chicago’s Central Loop, officials said Wednesday.

The “balanced” approach to reconfiguring eastbound Washington and westbound Madison, from Clinton to Michigan, beat out two other designs to speed up bus travel in a major Chicago east-west corridor, Chicago Department of Transportation officials said.

“This was the clear winner. It balanced the right of way in favor of all users,” Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein said. The $32 million cutting-edge transit plan is scheduled for a 2014 kickoff.

“I think we’ll see big operational changes in the way the street works. We are segregating the cars and the bikes and the buses and the pedestrians, and by doing that, you’re creating less friction.’’

On eastbound Washington, there will be two car lanes, a dedicated bus lane and raised bus island, and a bike lane.

Westbound Madison will have a similar configuration, but with a curb-level boarding area, and the bike lane will be relocated to Randolph.

Designers expect to shave 7 1/2 minutes off a bus rider’s round trip by eliminating two to three stops in each direction; giving buses a few seconds head start at traffic lights, and speeding up boarding by using a raised island and pre-boarding ticket-purchase area, CDOT officials said.

Original estimates were that the reconfiguration would add 90 seconds minutes to a car driver’s round trip, but Klein said his guess was that “you will see no difference and possible improvements for automobiles” because he thinks the plan will make Chicago bus travel so attractive that fewer people will use cars.

About 80 parking spaces will have to be relocated, but Klein predicted that in the end, the city may pick up additional spaces. Any eliminated parking space requires the city to compensate the company that paid $1.15 billion to lease Chicago’s parking meters for 75 years.

A parking lot south of Jackson, between Canal and Clinton, will be acquired and converted to a bus shelter as part of another leg of the Central Loop plan involving Union Station that’s still under development. Klein expects drivers to park instead at a nearby Amtrak lot.

At rush hour, 50 percent of people around La Salle and Madison are on foot, Transportation Department officials said. Of the remainder, 47 percent are in buses and deserve priority, they said.

“We have more people in buses than cars,’’ Klein said. “We have to stop thinking about moving vehicles and start thinking about moving people.’’

Contributing: Fran Spielman